Learning more about Black history is highly necessary to understanding who we are and where we are from.
DNA testing for ancestry and ethnicity is increasingly popular and a number of companies offer a careful breakdown of our lineage. Black buyers especially should prepare themselves for the truths that lie within the DNA results. This means learning a bit about Black History: the brutal truths and treatment of slavery, including the separation of families and sexual assault at the hands of the white slaveowners.
This also means learning about how populations moved from the South to the North, as Black families sought to escape Jim Crow and find work opportunities. So many of the anomalies that people are sure to find in their own DNA may not be so surprising after reading the books on this list.
Prepare yourself for the truths that lie in your results by reading the following recommendations.
“The Book of Negroes”
There were slaves in America during the Revolutionary War. Those slaves were offered a chance at land and freedom if they fought for the British. This book is based on a journal that cataloged the men who were deemed “loyalists” and sent to Nova Scotia to claim their land. Nothing prepared them for the harsh weather and the reality that going north didn’t mean escaping the brutalities of racism. Lawrence Hill’s novel explores this era through a female character who was brought to America as a child and lived as a slave until the war broke out. “The Book of Negroes” will give you a good look at the beginning of the slave chain, where the bodies were snatched and stowed on a boat bound for bondage.
“Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass“
The famous speaker and abolitionist with the unmistakable coif was also the author of one the most famous slave narratives today. This book is one of three biographies that explore the life of the slave in the clear and honest voice of a survivor. Learn what it took for your ancestors to survive that life and preserve your family DNA. Douglass also details his escape and freedom in the tome, which is just as educational.
Alex Haley’s follow up to “Roots” was “Queen”, the tale of a girl born of the assault by the slaveowner. The novel was a fictionalized version of a true story. Just like the girl in the book, Haley’s grandmother was born in slavery and was the daughter of the master. She is thrown out into the world and must fend for herself. The book tackles subjects like “passing” and the conundrum the biracial people often found themselves in. Ostracized for being the master’s kid by black people, but too tainted with black blood to be white. Haley didn’t live to finish the book, another writer did so. However, the insight this book brings will enlighten those who open a test to find the unexpected European ancestry.
Another look at the slave era in American history, Octavia Butler’s “Kindred” is actually a time travel story that starts in the 1970s and ends up in the 1800s. Dana is somehow connected with this white kid from back then. Her first trip back in time lasts a few minutes, allowing her time to rescue the boy from danger and return home. She figures out that the boy is her white ancestor and she must keep this often racist, a spoiled child living long enough to create her line—long enough to rape her black ancestor. This book pits a modern woman against the slave atmosphere to amplify the atrocities and injustice. “Kindred” is a fictional, but eye-opening look at a time that is most vital yet most mysterious to Black people today.
Richard Wright’s novel is the perfect tome for learning how your ancestors probably migrated from the post-slavery South to the North where the was greater opportunities for Black people. He discusses growing up a gifted child and eventually working his way north to Chicago. His story depicts life in the south in the early 1900s and his eventual journey north as a teenager. Wright introduces readers to a view of the working Black community that might include your ancestors.
“Song of Solomon”
Toni Morrison’s novel about a man who is trying to find out where he is from and where he belongs ends up being a backward look the same migration we saw in “Black Boy”. In this case, after some trouble in his northern home, the character head south to locate the truth behind the rumors of his origins as wells as other answers to his identity. This book represents one of the hardships that DNA testers may face: falsehoods and rumors that the family told, which may or may not be vindicated by the test results. If the answer is not what you expect, a trip to talk to an old family member to reconcile the truth is in order.
“The Bluest Eye”
Another Toni Morrison selection, “The Bluest Eye“, is a stark look at a black community in the early 1900s. The issues of racism, classism, and colorism can offer insight into some of the treatment you ancestors faced in certain communities.
“Your Blues Ain’t Like Mine”
Sometimes you may stumble upon a family tragedy that seems to change the course of the family story you are trying to build. Beebe Moore Campbell’s novel “Your Blues Ain’t Like Mine“ can help. The story mimics the events surrounding the murder of Emmitt Till in the 1950s for allegedly whistling at white women. This book is a dramatic look at race relations and the razor’s edge Black people walked to survive the Jim Crow South.
“Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America”
Ibram X. Kendi’s look at the origins or racist ideology in America is the only non-character driven book on the list. It is also the most vital. You must yourself to understand and sort through what will be a painful ancestry for Black people whose ancestors arrived in America on the slave boat. This means looking at and understanding the attitudes which would enable another human to brutalize and often kill your ancestor over nothing more than the color of his skin.
“The Color Purple”
Alice Walker’s novel ends our list in an effort to drive home the power that a racist system held over families even after the turn of the century. A common theme in the book is the breaking and reforming of families. Your DNA test may hand you a result full of questions, which required further investigation in order to complete the story. Consider the struggle Black families had to make in order to keep their families together long after slavery ended and realize that, when you do find that lost ancestor, it may be an amazing addition to your family story.