In honor of Black History Month, Newsweek asked Sarah O’Neal Rush, a professor of psychology and social sciences at Argosy University—and the great-granddaughther of Booker T. Washington—for a reading list.
These books are meant to inspire hope, uplift the soul and enlighten the mind. As the great-granddaughter of Booker T. Washington, it is no wonder I selected books that tell stories of great success in spite of extreme circumstances. I am encouraged when I read inspirational books, and I hope others will be as well.
For Teens, Young Adults and Older Adults
Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race, by Margot Lee Shetterly
This is the amazing story of three black women who defied the myth that women, especially women of color, stayed passively in the background while men dominated the field of science. This is a must-read for anyone who has big dreams that get snuffed out by self-doubt. The overarching message is that if you want something bad enough, and you’re willing to work hard for it, it can be yours.
Up from Slavery, by Booker T. Washington
Written by former slave turned educator Booker T. Washington, this is one of the most inspirational books ever written. It walks the reader through the beginnings of his life as a slave, and leads them to his opening of a school now known as Tuskegee University. Washington’s ideals are as timely today as when this book was published in 1901. People from all walks of life—black, white, rich, poor—have reported that this powerful and inspirational book changed their life.
The Bond: Three Young Men Learn to Forgive and Reconnect with Their Fathers, by George Jenkins, Rameck Hunt, Richard Allen and Sampson Davis
This book tells the remarkable story of perseverance and forgiveness for three boys who grew up on the rough side of the tracks. It not only sheds light on how these three young men beat unimaginable odds to achieve their common dream of becoming doctors, but also about healing relationships between fathers and sons.
Long Walk to Freedom, by Nelson Mandela
Most people today have not lived through the depths of oppression as Nelson Mandela did. It’s extremely moving to read his story, in his own words, of overcoming adversity, including 27 years in prison. It’s a remarkable story of how he was able to rise above extreme conditions to become the first black president of South Africa, and improve the lives of so many.
For Younger Readers
Who was Harriet Tubman, by Yona Zeldis McDonough, Nancy Harrison (Spanish translation available)
When I first read about Harriet Tubman in elementary school, my life was forever changed. She became my hero. This book does a great job of covering her life’s work, and describing the history of the Underground Railroad. As children turn the pages, they will be enlightened about the risks slaves took to break free from bondage; amazed by Tubman’s courage as she led them to freedom; and motivated by her determination to never give up.
President of the Whole Fifth Grade, by Sherri Winston
This author takes the reader through the experience of an elementary-age girl who has hope beyond measure. It demonstrates how far hope can take you when you believe. In this day and age of negative “noise” all around us, little girls can use this kind of optimism to help them stay focused on what’s possible when you have confidence in yourself.
A Weed Is a Flower: The Life of George Washington Carver, by Aliki
This book tells the engaging story of a former slave who became a famous researcher, and the head of the agriculture department at Tuskegee Institute. At a time when racism was so prevalent, Carver made tremendous discoveries and become a world-renowned scientist.
Fifty Cents and a Dream: Young Booker T. Washington, by Jabari Asim
This is another thought-provoking book that will engage and interest boys and girls alike. It wonderfully tells the story of how Booker T. Washington refused to let negative thoughts get in the way of his dreams. It explains how he was able to lead masses of other former slaves, and their descendants, to improve their lives in times of unimaginable oppression. This book demonstrates how positive thinking and hard work go a long way in accomplishing one’s dreams.