Yesterday night saw the UK premiere of the 2016 Roots (http://roots.history.com/) miniseries based on Alex Haley’s Roots: The Saga of an American Family, which will be showing on BBC Four over the coming weeks. Context is everything in these troubled times, especially when it comes to the fraught history of slavery and the abolition, so we’ve compiled a list of suggested readings from critical theory to science fiction and slave narratives. Let us know if you’ve read them or suggest some titles of your own!


1. Alex Haley – Roots: The Saga of an American Family.

As with any adaptation, the original text is the first stop for context. Alex Haley researched into his own family background about tales of ‘the African;’ a figure of myth and courage told by his grandmother. That research culminated into this historic fiction that still shines light on the oppression and heroic resistance of the past. Get the book>>

 

2. Lawrence Hill – The Book of Negroes.

Drawing inspiration from a historical document of the same name that notes the Black Loyalists who escaped slavery, this novel recounts the tale of Aminata Diallo who was sold into slavery as a child and joins other escaped slaves to find their way home to Africa. Get the book>>

 

 

 

3. Margaret Walker – Jubilee.

Jubilee tells the true story of Vyry, the child of a white plantation owner and his black mistress. Vyry bears witness to the South’s antebellum opulence and to its brutality, its wartime ruin, and the promises of Reconstruction. Weaving her own family’s oral history with thirty years of research, Margaret Walker’s novel brings the everyday experiences of slaves to light. Jubilee churns with the hunger, the hymns, the struggles, and the very breath of American history. Get the book>>

 

 

4. Sherley Anne Williams – Dessa Rose.

This novel turns two separate historical incidents into bridged narrative. Dessa Rose is a pregnant slave woman with a stay of execution till her child is born and Mrs. Rufel is a white woman who take in runaway slaves. An unlikely friendship is born between them after Dessa is saved by 3 stranger before giving birth. Get the book>>

 

 

 

5. Dolen Perkins-Valdezs – Wench.

Before the Civil War, Tawawa House in Ohio was a resort for Southern white men who brought their black slave mistresses to vacation. Lizzie, Mawu, Reenie, and Sweet forge a friendship over several visits and dare to take their lives into their own hands. Get the book>>

 

 

 

6. Toni Morrison – A Mercy.

During the early years of the slave trade in the the Americas, an Anglo-Dutch trader and adventurer takes in a slave girl called Florens in lieu of a debt from a plantation owner in Catholic Maryland. The novels follows Florens quest for love and validation while showing the depths of slavery. Get the book>>

 

 

 

7. Octavia Butler – Kindred.

In this science fiction masterpiece, interracial couple Dana and Kevin travel to the past and experience the horror of slavery firsthand. Both return to the present changed and must struggle to overcome the traumatic journey. Get the book>>

 

 

 

8. Nalo Hopkinson – Midnight Robber.

This afrofuturist novel opens with David Findlay’s poem Stolen, which sets the tone and Caribbean perspective of the things people lost to the horror of the transatlantic slave trade. Our heroine; Tan-Tan was similarly stolen into exile by her father from a technologically advanced planet to a mirror colony. Get the book>>

 

 

 

9. Sowande’ M. Mustakeem – Slavery at Sea: Terror Sex and Sickness in the Middle Passage.

The harrowing journey across the middle passage that separated slaves from everything they knew and the dehumanization that marked the beginning the loss of their freedom as well as their identity takes centerstage in this groundbreaking study. Get the book>>

 

 

10. Joy DeGruy – Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome: America’s Legacy of Enduring Injury and Healing.

This book applies trauma theory to the slave experience and the resulting scars modern day African Americans still bear and the structures in place to keep those hurts alive. Get the book>>

 

 

11. Marcus Rediker – The Slave Ship: A Human History.

Drawing on maritime research, this book reveals the social structures of the slave ship, its purpose as a tool of history’s greatest forced migration and role as a in fostering the growth of global capitalism without losing sight of the human cost. Get the book>>

 

 

 

12. Olaudah Equiano – The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano: or, Gustavus Vassa, the African.

This autobiographical work tells of Olaudah Equiano’s life from the terror of slavery to the joy of regaining his freedom and dignity as a person. Get the book>>

 

 

13. Elizabeth Fox-Genovese – Within the Plantation Household: Black and White Women of the Old South.

Based on research into diaries, oral histories and other accounts, this book offers a look into the gender and class dynamics between white women and their black slaves or servants in Southern plantations. Get the book>>

 

 

14. Sven Beckert –  Empire Of Cotton: A Global History.

This book attributes and ties  Europe’s imperial expansion, the growth of capitalism and social inequalities into the history of the transatlantic slave trade and the story of cotton. Get the book>>

 

 

 

15. Joseph C. Miller –  Way of Death: Merchant Capitalism and the Angolan Slave Trade.

This book tackles the structures that supported transatlantic slave trade in Africa, Europe, and the South Atlantic that collectively supported the slave trade by placing slaves at the heart of its inquiry. Get the book>>

 

 

 

16. Stephanie M. H. Camp – Closer To Freedom: Enslaved Women & Everyday Resistance in the Plantation South.

Emphasising the spatial dynamics and bodies of slaves, this text examines the power plays and gender relations of the deep South till highlight the growth of slave resistance through small acts of defiance by women. Get the book>>

 

 

17. David Brion Davis – Inhuman Bondage: The Rise and Fall of Slavery in the New World.

Looking into the ancient history of slave trade, this book relates it to the experiences of slaves in the American South to provide a global perspective. Get the book>>

 

 

 

18. W.E.B. Du Bois – The Souls of Black Folk.

This collection of essays was the first to give us  the notion of “double consciousness” as “two-ness — an American, a Negro […] two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body” words to describe the alienation and displacement of people emancipated from slavery. Get the book>>

 

 

 

19. Paul Gilroy – The Black Atlantic.

In this modernist work, Gilroy extends the use of double consciousness to communities who experienced similar displacement and crisis of identity as a result of forced or voluntary migration across the black Atlantic to create a culture that transcends ethnicity and nationality and rejects Afrocentric views of previous black scholars. Get the book>>

 

 

20. Gerald Horne – The Counter–Revolution of 1776: Slave Resistance and the Origins of the United States of America.

This intriguing work traces the reaction of Africans living in Europe and colonies to the abolition of slavery. All the militaristic response of Britain and other European nations to the successful 1776 revolt against British rule in North America. Get the book>>

 


What’s missing from this list? Let us know in the comments below.

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