6 Revealing Autobiographies by African-American Thinkers

Like the narratives written by former enslaved African-Americans, the ability to tell one's story has played an important role in the lives of African-American men and women. Below are six autobiographies that highlight the important contributions men such as Malcolm X and women such as Zora Neale Hurston played in an ever-changing society. 

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Dust Tracks on a Road by Zora Neale Hurston

Zora Neale Hurston.

In 1942, Zora Neale Hurston published her autobiography, Dust Tracks on a Road. The autobiography offers readers a glimpse into Hurston’s upbringing in Eatonville, Fla. Then, Hurston describes her career as a writer during the Harlem Renaissance and her work as a cultural anthropologist who traveled through the South and Caribbean. 

This autobiography includes a forward from Maya Angelou, an extensive biography written by Valerie Boyd as well as a P.S. section that includes reviews of the book’s original publication.  Buy from Amazon »

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Autobiography of Malcolm X by Malcolm X and Alex Haley

Malcolm X.

When Malcolm X’s autobiography  was first published in 1965, The New York Times lauded the text  as a “…brilliant, painful, important book.”

Written with the help of Alex Haley, X’s autobiography is based on interviews that took place over the span of two years—from 1963 to his assassination in 1965.

The autobiography explores the tragedies X endured as a child to his transcendence from being a criminal to a world-renown religious leader and social activist. 

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Crusade for Justice: The Autobiography of Ida B. Wells

Ida B. Wells - Barnett.

When Crusade for Justice  was published, historian Thelma D. Perry wrote a review in the Negro History Bulletin calling the text "An illuminating narrative of a zealous, race-conscious, civic- and church-minded black woman reformer, whose life story is a significant chapter in the history of Negro-White relations."

Before passing away in 1931, Ida B. Wells-Barnett  realized that her work as an African-American journalist, anti-lynching crusader, and social activist would be forgotten if she did not begin to write about her experiences.

In the autobiography, Wells-Barnett describers her relationships with prominent leaders such as Booker T. Washington, Frederick Douglass and Woodrow Wilson.  Buy from Amazon »

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Up From Slavery by Booker T. Washington

Booker T. Washington
Interim Archives/Archive Photos/Getty Images

Considered one of the most powerful African-American men of his time, Booker T. Washington’s autobiography  Up From Slavery offers readers insight into his early life as a slave, his training at Hampton Institute and finally, as president and founder of Tuskegee Institute.

Washington’s autobiography has offered inspiration to many African-American leaders such as W.E.B. Du Bois, Marcus Garvey and Malcolm X.  

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Black Boy by Richard Wright

Richard Wright.

In 1944, Richard Wright published Black Boy, a coming-of age autobiography.

 The first section of the autobiography covers Wright’s early childhood of growing up in Mississippi.

The second section of the text, “The Horror and the Glory,” chronicles Wright’s childhood in Chicago where he eventually becomes a part of the Communist Party. 

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Assata: An Autobiography

Assata Shakur. Public Domain

Assata: An Autobiography was written by Assata Shakur in 1987. Describing her memories as a member of the Black Panther Party, Shakur helps readers understand the effect of racism and sexism has on African-Americans in society.

Convicted of murdering a New Jersey highway patrol office in 1977, Shakur successfully escaped the Clinton Correctional Facility in 1982. After fleeing to Cuba in 1987, Shakur continues to work to change society.