Considering HBO’s recent and ill-conceived move in terms of future television, I thought I would present a brief list of books to read that will either educate you about slavery that are not objectification. Please keep in mind that I am undoubtedly missing or forgetting some books simply because my area of interest is not Civil war. I am trying to highlight books that are slightly less popular than Roots, the works of Frederick Douglas, or Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
1. The Hanging of Angelique by Afua Cooper. This book is not about American slavery but about slavery in Montreal. Angelique was a slave woman who was accused and found guilty of setting a fire that destroyed part of the city. The book details slavery in Canada and illustrates something that people in the United States really don’t know about. Cooper spent at least 15 years researching this book, and she expands the topic slightly to deal with slaves in the colony in general.
2. Kindred by Octavia Butler. So, you can’t read Sci-fi and not include Butler’s book on a list like this. Butler’s heroine finds herself in a time jump, where she is forced backwards to exist at the same time of her ancestors, including both slaves and the “owner” who raped them. It is a stunning and wonderful novel.
Segu by Maryse Conde. This novel concerns a family in Africa at a time when both slavery and Islam take hold. Members of the family responded to the conflicts differently. While most of the book takes place in Africa, there is a sequence set in the New World that deals with slavery and one members of the family’s reaction to it. Conde’s writing is impassioned and her characters live. There is also a sequel, Children of Segu. Her book I, Tituba is about the slave in the Salem witch trials and is highly recommend as well.
4. The Benjamin January novels by Barbara Hambly. Hambly’s series is about Ben January a listened doctor who returns to New Orleans from Paris after the death of his wife. Ben is a black man, his mother and father were slaves, and he cannot practice medicine in New Orleans, which is part of the recent purchase. The series concerns January solving various crimes while dealing with tensions between Americans and member of New Orleans, as well as the racism that he is subjected to every day. His mother (a freed slave) and his sisters (both free, one a mistress) also play central roles. The book takes a harsh look at slavery as well as what free blacks dealt with; Hambly even uses real life cases in the books. Much of the series’ strength comes from the development of Ben who eventually remarries and resists the slave owning structure.
5. The Land Shall be Deluged in Blood by Patrick Breen. Breen’s book is a history of the Nat Turner Rebellion. He presents as much biographical detail about those involved in the Uprising as he can, examines why there wasn’t more support, and compares it with the events of Haiti.
6. The Underground Railroad by Coulson Whithead. In a slim volume that imagines the Underground Railroad as a truly a railroad, Whithead uses real life examples of reactions and escapes from slavery to chronicle one woman’s fight for freedom. The book is quick read and worthy of all the praise it gets. Every section has a real-life story that it is based on.
7. Gateway to Freedom by Eric Foner. Foner’s book is about the Northern areas on the Underground Railroad. He looks at the various groups in places lIke Philadelphia who tried to help slaves to freedom. He also highlights the various laws that made such actions illegal as well as how slave catchers took everyone who was black regardless.
8. Confederates in the Attic by Tony Horowitz. This book is less about the Civil War or civility, but about how certain people cannot get over the Confederacy losing. In other words, Horowitz’s book showcases why a show such as Confederate is wrong. Scary reading.
9. And finally – slave narratives. Today, with the advent of ereaders and Project Guttenberg, it is quite easy to read slave narratives in addition to 12 Years A Slave or Narrative of a Life by Frederick Douglass. This is not only due to the copyright free nature of the works (copyright expired to be more exact) but also Federal Programs that sent people out to record the narratives. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Escape in a Chest, William Brown’s narrative (as well as his fiction story about Jefferson’s daughter), Noah Davis’ narrative. You can also read the works of Ida B. Wells, who wrote about lynching as well as various anti-slavery tracts. All for free.