Literature of Black History Month

Celebrating African American Literature In the Past and Present

Black History Month is an annual celebration of African American people, events, and culture that takes place in the month of February. In recognition of Black History Month, we are taking a look at some of the most famous literary contributions made by the African American community throughout time.

In the 1700s African American literature began with slave narratives. Since then, we have seen some of America’s greatest and most prominent literary works. The original literary movement was dedicated to promoting equality among races. The first African American book, Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral came in 1773 and was written by author Phillis Wheatley, a slave in Boston, Massachusetts.

The next significant African American novel came to be in 1852; Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe has since become a classic, and had a significant historical impact on Americans’ understanding and perception of slavery.

The Colored Cadet at West Point was the 1878 autobiography of Henry O. Flipper which chronicled his historic appointment to the West Point Military Academy and service in the military thereafter.

The 1900s began with commentary on slavery from Booker T. Washington’s 1901 autobiography Up From Slavery and an analysis of being African American in a white man’s world from W. E. B. Du Bois’ 1903 compilation of essays The Souls of Black Folk. Poet Langston Hughes rose to prominence in the 1920s and wrote poetry inspired by the Harlem Renaissance, published in compilations such as The Weary Blues (1926).

The mid-1900s saw several prominent works as well. 1937 brought Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God. Initially criticized by other African American authors for starring an African American narrator without accurately starring the difficulties of African American life in America, Their Eyes Were Watching God was still well-received for its depiction of young love as a black woman. 1969 saw Maya Angelou’s critically acclaimed I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings which chronicled her young life in St. Louis and Arkansas as an African American.

The end of the 1900s brought works such as Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison which further discussed African American abuse in America, through the lens of a fictional protagonist who maneuvered familial issues and his racial heritage while growing up and coming of age in Michigan. Toni Morrison was the first African American woman to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for her works Song of Solomon, Beloved, and The Bluest Eye.

Most recently, the 2000s have boasted some fantastic African American literature from the 2008 Toni Morrison novel A Mercy about the underlying truth of slavery in America to President Barack Obama’s Change We Can Believe In outlining his policy plans to reform America while he was in office. African American literature has been a prominent part of American literature for centuries, and will continue to leave its mark on American literature with each passing day.

Blog by Karenna.

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