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7 new books to read during Black History Month

Is there a better way to observe Black History Month than reading a book? Here are seven recently published works of nonfiction and biography that illuminate the African-American experience.

‘Barracoon’ by Zora Neale Hurston

Photo Credit: Amistad

In the late 1920s, Zora Neale Hurston, best known for her novel “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” interviewed Cudjo Lewis, an octogenarian born in Africa and brought to America aboard the last slave ship to have made the transatlantic journey. “Barracoon: The Story of the Last ‘Black Cargo’” — the title comes from the Spanish word for the barracks where enslaved Africans were held — presents Cudjo’s epic, heartbreaking story in his own voice, employing his colorful Southern dialect. Rejected by publishers during Hurston’s lifetime, this classic was finally published in 2018. (Amistad, $24.99)

‘Unexampled Courage’ by Richard Gergel

Photo Credit: FSG

In February of 1946, Sgt. Isaac Woodard — a uniformed African American soldier decorated for World War II service — was beaten and blinded by the police chief of a small South Carolina town, after a dispute with the driver of a Greyhound bus. The policeman was acquitted by an all-white jury, but the case inspired the judge, who went on to issue important civil rights decisions, and President Harry S. Truman, who formed a committee on civil rights and would ultimately desegregate the armed services. The author is himself a district judge in Charleston, South Carolina. (FSG, $27)

‘Frederick Douglass’ by David W. Blight

Photo Credit: S&S

One of the great figures of 19th century American history now has the monumental biography he deserves. Born a slave in Maryland in 1818 (his father was an unknown white man), Frederick Douglass escaped captivity in 1838 and settled in the North, becoming a legendary orator and abolitionist. His three autobiographies, including “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass,” became classic accounts of slavery. Yale historian David W. Blight captures the many sides of this complex man, charting his political evolution and family life, including his relationships with two women activists. (Simon & Schuster, $37.50)

‘Tigerland: 1968-1969’ by Wil Haygood

Photo Credit: Alfred A. Knopf

This chronicle of the 1968-69 season for two Columbus, Ohio, high school sports teams cries out for a movie adaptation. (The author’s reporting for The Washington Post already inspired the movie “The Butler.”) The East High Tigers basketball team competes to recapture the state championship, but the underdog Tigers baseball team rides the book’s real dramatic arc, as they rise through the ranks to defeat an all-white team from Upper Arlington High in the state finals. Along the way, Haygood offers a vivid sense of the African-American community of East Columbus — the parents, pastors and local businessmen who cheered the Tigers on to victory. (Alfred A. Knopf, $27.95)

‘Looking for Lorraine’ by Imani Perry

Photo Credit: Beacon Press

Lorraine Hansberry (1930-1965) is best remembered today for her groundbreaking 1959 play “A Raisin in the Sun.” But this book by a professor of African American Studies at Princeton offers a wider context for Hansberry’s accomplishment — examining her Depression-era Chicago upbringing, her radical politics and activism, her lesbianism and her marriage to a man, her friendships with figures such as James Baldwin and Nina Simone, her early death from pancreatic cancer. Not a full-fledged cradle-to-grave biography (one is apparently in the works), “Looking for Lorraine” is a passionate homage to a black cultural icon. (Beacon Press, $26.95)

‘Arthur Ashe: A Life’ by Raymond Arsenault

Photo Credit: Simon & Schuster

In 1993, the African-American tennis champ who won three Grand Slam titles died of AIDS at the age of 49, having contracted HIV from a blood transfusion during heart surgery. This biography sheds light on a tennis pioneer, the best-known black player of his time, who learned the game growing up in segregated Richmond, Virginia, and went on to integrate the sport at the highest levels — while also advocating for civil rights and challenging apartheid in South Africa. (Simon & Schuster, $37.50)

‘Invisible’ by Stephen L. Carter

Photo Credit: Henry Holt

The author of such novels as “The Emperor of Ocean Park” and “Palace Council” here turns to nonfiction with a portrait of his remarkable grandmother, Eunice Hunton Carter (1899-1970). Subtitled “The Forgotten Story of the Black Woman Lawyer Who Took Down America's Most Powerful Mobster,” the book chronicles how a married Harlem mother enrolled in Fordham Law School — the rare institution that would accept a black woman at the time — and earned a law degree in 1932. She was hired by prosecutor (and future presidential candidate) Thomas Dewey to probe mob activity, leading to a prosecution of Lucky Luciano. (Henry Holt, $30)

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