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Black History Month: The History and Legacy of Slavery

At Beacon Press, we have published many books that examine the most troubling parts of our history and culture. In honor of Black History Month, here are a few of the titles we've brought out in recent years that look at slavery and its lasting impact on American society.

KindredKindred by Octavia Butler

"Octavia Butler is a writer who will be with us for a long, long time, and Kindred is that rare magical artifact . . . the novel one returns to, again and again."
—Harlan Ellison

A 2012 World Book Night USA selection

While Kindred is a work of fiction, it is one of those books that vividly illuminates history through imaginative storytelling. We couldn't make a list of Beacon Press books on the legacy of slavery without including it. 

Dana, a modern black woman, is celebrating her twenty-sixth birthday with her new husband when she is snatched abruptly from her home in California and transported to the antebellum South. Rufus, the white son of a plantation owner, is drowning, and Dana has been summoned to save him. Dana is drawn back repeatedly through time to the slave quarters, and each time the stay grows longer, more arduous, and more dangerous until it is uncertain whether or not Dana's life will end, long before it has a chance to begin.

Read the first two chapters of Kindred on Scribd.

View the reading group guide: HTML or PDF

View the discussion guide for UU communities: HTML or PDF.


InheritingthetradeInheriting the Trade: A Northern Family Confronts Its Legacy as the Largest Slave-Trading Dynasty in U.S. History by Thomas Norman DeWolf

"I cannot recommend it highly enough. The book is terrific."
—Harry Smith, anchor, The Early Show, CBS

"DeWolf's intimate confrontation with white America's 'unearned privilege' sears the conscience." 
—Kirkus Reviews

In 2001, Thomas DeWolf discovered that he was related to the most successful slave-trading family in U.S. history, responsible for transporting at least ten thousand Africans. This is his memoir of the journey in which ten family members retraced their ancestors' steps through the notorious triangle trade route—from New England to West Africa to Cuba—and uncovered the hidden history of New England and the other northern states. 

Listen to Thomas DeWolf on Uprising Radio. 

Watch Thomas DeWolf discuss Inheriting the Trade. 



SoundsofslaveryThe Sounds of Slavery by Shane White and Graham White

"Shane White and Graham White's book is a joy."
-Branford Marsalis

The singing of slaves on plantations, while chopping weeds in cotton fields, or while working at a corn shucking; the sound of a slave preacher delivering a sermon or an elderly slave telling Brer Rabbit stories to children; newly freed blacks exchanging greetings or whistling on southern city streets--all these and many more made up the sounds of slavery.

Shane White and Graham White break new ground and bring history vividly to life through an exploration of the varied and nuanced sounds of slavery. Moving through a complex soundscape, White and White use anecdotes and firsthand accounts to illuminate the depth of slave culture and history, where each sound played a critical role in defining the slave's world, expressing movments of joy, defiance, and pain. The authors also recover some of the surprise and shock these sounds evoked in white listeners--some dismissed them as primitive while others marveled at their skill and beauty. This book expands our historical ear from the 1700s through the 1850s and continues into the modern era, drawing connections between the rich aural history and such beloved American music as the blues. Allowing us to eavesdrop on the past, The Sounds of Slavery is the closest modern listeners will ever get to experiencing the diverse sounds that surrounded slave life. 

Listen to 18 tracks of songs discussed in the book at

"Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child" on YouTube.


EpicjourneysEpic Journeys of Freedom: Runaway Slaves of the American Revolution and Their Global Quest for Liberty by Cassandra Pybus

During the American Revolution, thousands of slaves fled from their masters to find freedom with the British. Having emancipated themselves--and with rhetoric about the inalienable rights of free men ringing in their ears--these men and women struggled tenaciously to make liberty a reality in their lives.

This alternative narrative includes the stories of dozens of individuals--including Harry, one of George Washington's slaves--who left America and forged difficult new lives in far-flung corners of the British Empire. Written in the best tradition of history from the bottom up, this pathbreaking work will alter the way we think about the American Revolution.

Read the first chapter (.pdf)

Watch Cassandra Pybus discuss Epic Journeys of Freedom at Cambridge Forum.