The BuzzFeed Black History Reading List

From the black panthers to HBCUs to fights for representation, here are our biggest stories on some of the most important people, places, moments, and movements in black American history. Time for some education.

1. Are These Former Black Panthers Murderers or Martyrs? — Elena Carter

North High School, Creighton Prep

In 1971, Omaha Black Panther leaders Edward Poindexter and Mondo we Langa were sentenced to life in prison for a bombing that killed a local police officer. In the 45 years since, they’ve been fighting for a quieter type of liberation — their own.

2. The Fight for Wilcox County’s First Integrated Prom — Max Blau

Clint Alwahab

In 2013, black and white students from a tiny south Georgia county attended prom together for first time. Was this a big step away from the past or a small aberration in a community doomed to repeat it?

3. How an Unknown Boxer Knocked Out Segregation in Louisiana — Steve Knopper

Courtesy Johnson Publishing Company, LLC. All rights reserved.

In 1955, an African-American boxer in New Orleans named Joe Dorsey sued the state of Louisiana for the right to fight against white opponents. What started out as a chance to advance his career wound up changing sports and culture in the state forever.

4. Inside Hollywood’s Shocking Blackface Problem — Kelley L. Carter

Jenny Chang / BuzzFeed

A civil rights fight that was thought to have been eradicated years ago is nevertheless taking place in the entertainment industry. So why is Hollywood still “painting down” stuntpeople?

5. The Fight to Resurrect America’s Most Important Black Beach — John Stanton

Arthur P. Bedou Portfolio

Gulfside Assembly — the only place where black Americans could visit a coastal beach during Jim Crow — was once known as a civil rights mecca. Just as it was to make a comeback, Hurricane Katrina laid ruin to the retreat, leaving a dedicated few struggling to keep it from fading into historical obscurity.

6. You Have Heard Bernard Purdie Play Drums — John Lingan

Ebet Roberts / Redferns

You may not know his name, but you’ve heard Bernard “Pretty” Purdie play drums. Over five decades, the prolific session musician has backed some of the 20th century’s biggest hits. Now, at 74, he’s ready to take center stage.

7. The Battle for the Soul of Oakland — Joel Anderson

Joel Anderson / BuzzFeed News

In a city wrestling with demographic change, the attack of a poor black man at Whole Foods has come to represent what many black residents fear: Oakland wants them out. “When I moved here, Oakland was one of the few places where blacks had actually realized their own power.”

8. How a Fatal Boxing Match on a Navy Ship Marked a Pivotal Point for Race in the U.S. Military — Aram Roston

Bill Bragg for BuzzFeed News

In 1905, at the dawn of America’s empire under Teddy Roosevelt, a black sailor and a Jewish sailor boxed in a makeshift ring on the deck of a U.S. Navy ship. What was intended to be entertainment for hundreds of idle soldiers instead turned into a tragedy, marking a pivotal, if overlooked, moment in the history of race in the American military.

9. "This Is What They Did for Fun": The Story of a Modern-Day Lynching — Albert Samaha

Rogelio V. Solis / AP Photo

Craig Anderson was headed home to celebrate his birthday with his partner. Instead, he became the victim of a brutal and violent form of racism that many in Mississippi had thought was long gone.

10. What Happens When Women at Historically Black Colleges Report Their Assaults — Anita Badejo

Melissa Golden for BuzzFeed News

For decades, students at Spelman — the elite historically black women’s college — have spoken out about instances of sexual assault committed by students from Morehouse College, their unofficial brother school. Now, in the wake of a petition, protests, and a federal investigation, their messages are ringing louder than ever. Why haven’t we heard them?

11. Discovering "Blind Tom," the Slave Turned Civil War-Era Pop Star — Jeffrey Renard Allen

Jenny Chang / BuzzFeed

Born a slave in Georgia in 1849, Thomas Greene Wiggins was one of the first African-American classical performers and composers. Mark Twain once referred to him as an "'angel' who derived his musical abilities from supernatural forces." So why haven't more people heard of him?

12. Bill Cosby’s Famous “Pound Cake” Speech, Annotated — Adam Serwer

Kevork Djansezian / Associated Press

Over a decade ago, Cosby gave a speech excoriating poor blacks for not living up to the promise of the civil rights movement. Here’s a look back based on what we know now.

13. The Woman Who Helped Change How Police Treat Transgender People — Nicole Pasulka

BuzzFeed News

After D.C. resident Patti Hammond Shaw was arrested, she claimed male officers searched her and locked her up with men who allegedly abused and threatened her. This is how she fought to make sure this won’t happen to others.

14. Why I Became a Southern Writer — James Hannaham

Andrea Hickey / BuzzFeed

On realizing that racism isn't confined to America's most maligned — and misunderstood — region. "The South does not have a lockdown on any of the bad qualities for which Northerners make fun of it."

15. The Rise, Fall, And Improbable Comeback of Morris Brown College — Donovan X. Ramsey

Jarrett Christian / BuzzFeed News

How the embattled, groundbreaking Atlanta college — one of the few HBCUs with black founders — is hoping to go from cautionary tale to redemption story. "Morris Brown cultivated a reputation as an institution that could educate and uplift the most economically and socially disadvantaged black students, only to find itself crippled by financial scandal."

16. Teaching the Camera to See My Skin — Syreeta McFadden

John Gara for BuzzFeed

On the history of photography’s inherited bias against dark skin — and how to navigate it. "The absence of our likeness accurately rendered in photographs is one more piece of the construct of white supremacy."

17. How College Wrestling Star "Tiger Mandingo" Became an HIV Scapegoat — Steven Thrasher

Justine Zwiebel for BuzzFeed

Unraveling the racism and tropes about black male sexuality that led everyone to want a popular college wrestler — until he had HIV. "His persona had no shortage of willing white sex partners...but he is the only one facing the law because of it."

18. How A Small-Time Drug Dealer Rescued Dozens During Katrina — Joel Anderson

Owen Freeman for BuzzFeed News

To the cops, Jabbar Gibson was just a low-level drug pusher. But to the residents of a New Orleans public housing complex, he’s the man who rescued them from Hurricane Katrina when no one else would.

19. After 20 Years, “Friday” Is (Still) The Most Important Film Ever Made About The Hood — Kelley L. Carter

BuzzFeed News

The stars and the director of the genre-busting sleeper hit on why the movie still resonates. “I know you don’t smoke weed. I know this. But I’m gonna get you high today. ‘Cuz it’s Friday, you ain’t got no job, and you ain’t got shit to do!”



A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.