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15 Coffee Table Books That Celebrate Black History

15 coffee table books that celebrate black history

At Reflektion Design, we celebrate Black History Month year round because the contributions African Americans have made to science, art, politics, business and more did not just occur during the month of February. So I curated a list of 15 Coffee Table Books That Celebrate Black History to liven up your home and inspire you year round.

This is a robust list of books with topics ranging film, hip hop, fashion to photography and more once you pick up any of these coffee table books you won't want to put them down.

I've got plans to add #5, 11, and 1 to my library let me know in the comments which books you're picking up.

15 Coffee Table Books that Celebrate Black History

 

 15. 1001 Things Everyone Should Know About African American History -Jeffrey Stewart

Considered the encyclopedia of African African American History, 1001 Things Everyone Should Know About African American History covers a significant amount of information in six sections: Great Migrations; Civil Rights and Politics; Science, Inventions and Medicine; Sports; Military; Culture and Religion.

Chocked full of information and photos, this book is a necessary addition to every family's library and will be a resource to kids of all ages when it's time for class projects and book reports. 

 

14. Hollywood Black: The Stars, the Films, the Filmmakers - Turner Classic Movies

 

Hollywood Black: The Stars, the Films, the Filmmakers takes us on a cinematic journey from silent films where others portrayed us in black face to us changing the narrative and game with films like Selma (Ava Du Vernay) and Black Panther (Ryan Coogler).

The forward is written by legendary director John Singleton (Boyz in the Hood) and the book is filled with vivid photographs and stories of stars and filmmakers on and off set.

Hollywood Black presents our history in film in a way that's never been told making it a must have for your library or the film buff in your life.

 

13. The Black Book - Middleton A. Harris & Toni Morrison


Another encyclopedic style book that examines the black experience in America from 1619 through the 1940s the good, the bad and the ugly. Glimpses into our history before we arrived to the US and examples of what followed: Nineteenth-century slave auction notices, twentieth-century sheet music for work songs and freedom chants, antebellum reward posters for capturing runaway slaves and more. 

Now in a newly restored hardcover edition, The Black Book is a astounding testament to the wisdom, strength, and perseverance of black men and women intent on freedom.  A black history buff would love this book.

 

12. Black: A Celebration of a Culture - Deborah Willis 

 

Breathtaking photos rich in history and emotion you will see yourself, your parents, your grandparents and community in Black A Celebration of Culture because it's a celebration of us.

This book focused on twentieth-century black culture in America and around the world. Each photograph, handpicked by Deborah Willis, America’s leading historian of African American photography, the book is broken up into segments that examine in detail such subjects as children, work, art, beauty, Saturday night, and Sunday morning, the photos detail the history and the evolution of a culture. 

This book will spark conversations and be a permanent fixture on your coffee table for its relevance and beauty.

 

11. The Selected Letters of Ralph Ellison - Ralph Ellison, John F. Callahan 

The select images of ralph ellison

An insightful collection of letters from the renowned author of Invisible Man, Selected Letters of Ralph Ellison gives us a glimpse into his life, work, his friendships, rivalries, anxieties, and all the questions he had about identity, art, and the American soul that tormented and inspired him until his death.

What I love about this book is the letters are written in first person and share a vulnerable side of Ralph Ellison's life from a wide-eyed student to a public intellectual who confronted and articulated America’s complexities. 

This is great snuggle under your blanket with hot tea or coca kind of book.

 

10. Contact High: A Visual History of Hip-Hop - Vikki Tobak

No list about Black History would be complete without a book on Hip Hop. This pivotal genre of music not only changed American history forever but also global culture. Contact High: A Visual History of Hip Hop does the culture proud.

It features over 100 photos plus interviews and essays from industry legends like Fab 5 Freddy, DJ Premier, Rza and Michael Gonzales to name a few. You'll be taken on a chronological journey from old-school to alternative hip-hop and from analog to digital photography. A must have book for hip hop and photography heads. 

 

9. I Too Sing America: The Harlem Renaissance at 100 - Wil Haygood 


We did our thing during the Harlem Renaissance impacting art, music, dance and literature for over a decade staring in the 1920's. I Too Sing America beautifully highlights this intellectual, social, and artistic explosion of work by famed black artists Romare Bearden, Allan Rohan Crite, Palmer Hayden, William Johnson, Jacob Lawrence, Archibald Motley, and James Van Der Zee to name a few.

This award winning book illuminates multiple facets of the era through paintings, prints, photography, sculpture, and contemporary documents and more. This is a classic book that highlights a phenomenal period in African American history.

 

8. Black Fortunes: The Story of the First Six African Americans Who Survived Slavery and Became Millionaires - Shomari Wills

As a black female entrepreneur this book is especially important to me because these six brave individuals paved the way for me and many other black entrepreneurs to flourish.

Black Fortunes: The Story of The Six First African Americans Who Survived Slavery and Became Millionaires tells the stories of a small group of industrious, tenacious, and daring men and women who broke new ground to attain the highest levels of financial success which at the time was a very dangerous endeavor. 

They built empires in Harlem, owned massive land in Tennessee, they created Black Wall Street and used their wealth to support abolitionists. This book is a great for aspiring entrepreneurs, history buffs or anyone who appreciates black pioneers.

 

7. Dapper Dan: Made in Harlem: A Memoir - Daniel R. Day

His legendary fashion has been seen on cultural icons including Eric B. and Rakim, Salt-N-Pepa, Big Daddy Kane, Mike Tyson, Alpo Martinez, LL Cool J, Jam Master Jay, Diddy, Naomi Campbell, and Jay-Z. But his story is just as intriguing as his creativity. 

Dapper Dan: Made In Harlem A Memoir tells the remarkable story of the high end streetwear designer who went from selling drugs to creating some of the most iconic fashions ever created. His gift is remixing luxury logos/brands in innovative ways that speak to black culture and beyond. The imagery in this book is beyond cool and his story is nothing short of amazing.

 

6. Unseen: Unpublished Black History from the New York Times Photo Archives - Darcy Eveleigh

Our stories and images are often buried and overlooked in history even by major publications. Luckily New York times Photo Editor Darcy Eveleigh discovered dozens of photographs showcasing black history in the Times vault and decided it was time to shine a light on those images. 

But these weren't just any photos a few include a young Jesse Jackson leading an anti-discrimination rally of in Chicago, Rosa Parks arriving at a Montgomery Courthouse in Alabama, a candid behind-the-scenes shot of Aretha Franklin backstage at the Apollo Theater, Ralph Ellison on the streets of his Manhattan neighborhood, and the firebombed home of Malcolm X. 

This one of a kind book contains iconic photos and the stories behind them a real page turner you'll want in your collection.

 

5. Fighting for Freedom: National Museum of African American History and Culture (Double Exposure)  - Gail Lumet Buckley 

Black Americans have fought for our country with little to no recognition so when I discovered Fighting for Freedom: National Museum of African American History and Culture I had to include it in this list.

This fascinating book features fifty images of African Americans in uniform, from the Civil War to the War in Iraq. The selection of photographs exemplify stories of patriotism, courage, and dignity.  If you have a friend or family member who has served or currently serving in the military this coffee table book is a must have. We truly stand on the shoulders of giants.

 

4. Let Your Motto Be Resistance: African American Portraits - Deborah Willis

This stunning collection of photographic portraits traces US history through the lives of well-known abolitionists, artists, scientists, writers, statesman, entertainers, and sports figures.

Let Your Motto Be Resistance is the inaugural publication of the Smithsonian's new National Museum of African American History and Culture. Filled with new and rare photos, insightful essays, this book is very well done. A must have for your coffee table - It will be a topic of great discussion and a wonderful journey through the strength of Black history.

 

3. Invisible Man: Gordon Parks and Ralph Ellison in Harlem - Michal Raz-Russo

Did you know that the famed photographer Gordon Parks was close friends with Ralph Ellison, author of the acclaimed 1952 novel Invisible Man? I didn't and was instantly intrigued by the idea of them joining forces. 

Invisible Man: Gordon Parks and Ralph Ellison in Harlem showcases the photography of two projects they collaborated on in 1948 and 1952. They shared a common vision of racial injustices, coupled with a shared belief in the communicative power of photography using the streets of Harlem as their place of departure.

Ellison's writing combined with Parks' photography wow it's more than a coffee table book it's a keepsake you'll pass down to future generations.

 

2. Separate Cinema: The First 100 Years of Black Poster Art - John Kisch

Separate Cinema: The First 100 Years of Black Poster Art is a visual feast! This magnificent book is a celebration of the first 100 years of black film poster art. These images recount the diverse and historic journey of the black film industry from the earliest days of Hollywood to the present day. 

You'll see poster art for films you know but what's better is the hidden gems, films you may not have heard of. This book reminds us of the black film pioneers of the past whose creativity and bravery paved the way for future generations. If you're looking for the perfect gift for an artist, film maker or film enthusiast this is it.

 

1. Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power - Mark Godfrey

I had the opportunity to see the exhibit at the Broad Museum in Los Angeles. The words blown away, fired up and inspired come to mind when describing it the book is no exception.

Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power is a powerful expression of art, resistance and radical change that can only be expressed by black artists from 1963-1983. 

Featuring the works of pivotal artists including Sam Gilliam, Melvin Edwards, Jack Whitten, Romare Bearden, David Hammons, Barkley L. Hendricks, Senga Nengudi, Noah Purifoy, Faith Ringgold, Charles White and more this book showcases some of the best art of the 20th century.

With over 170 striking images Soul of a Nation is the very definition of art history - our history during a pivotal time. It is a must have for your coffee table/collection.

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I hope you enjoyed checking out 15 Coffee Table Books That Celebrate Black History. All or anyone of these books would make a great addition to your home. If you have suggestions for other black history books that should make the list please share in the comments.

For more culturally inspired ideas for your home, check out our collection of African decor and accessories at www.reflektiondesign.com


4 comments

  • I am thrilled to know that I can finally replace my original copy of The Black Book….continue making more lists. I have several from this list.

    Rosalyn
  • Amazing! I’m working on one myself so will check these out for inspiration.

    Sheila
  • So thankful to have come across this site. Very helpful!!!

    Zaineb
  • Great selection of books for and about Black Men and Women.

    Quindell Doyle

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