Evidence of the past appears in many forms. We find history in manuscript records, old newspapers, artifacts in a plowed field. But history is also alive in our daily lives—the family recipe that’s never been committed to paper, the church homecoming that’s older than the church building itself, the children’s rhyme chanted with each swing of a jump rope.

As Virginians reckon with the impact of racism on our society, we’re also reckoning with history—some of it buried, some of it in plain sight. Where do our ideas about race come from? How has the past shaped our public institutions? What are the stories we’ve told ourselves about the history of race and racism, and whose stories have been left untold in the process?

In this post, we’ve highlighted nonfiction books from the Library of Virginia’s collection that attempt to tackle these questions. This list is not a comprehensive history of race in our state. Instead, it attempts to serve as a jumping-off point for those striving to understand how Virginians have shaped and been shaped by a history marked by colonialism, slavery, and white supremacy—as well as by acts of private and public resistance.

(Hover over the book covers to see title and author, and click to go to the Library of Virginia catalog record).

That the Blood Stay Pure: African Americans, Native Americans, and the Predicament of Race and Identity in Virginia

Arica L. Coleman (2013)

Foul Means: The Formation of a Slave Society in Virginia, 1660-1740

Anthony S. Parent (2003)

Complicated Lives: Free Blacks in Virginia, 1619-1865

Sherri L. Burr (2019)

Gerrymanders: How Redistricting Has Protected Slavery, White Supremacy, and Partisan Minorities in Virginia

Brent Tarter (2019)

Sketches of Slave Life; and From Slave Cabin to the Pulpit

Peter Randolph (2016; originally published 1855/1893)

Narrative of the Life of Henry Box Brown, Written by Himself

Henry Box Brown (1851)

Slave Patrols: Law and Violence in Virginia and the Carolinas

Sally E. Hadden (2001)

Roots of Secession: Slavery and Politics in Antebellum Virginia

William A. Link (2003)

A Way out of No Way: Claiming Family and Freedom in the New South

Dianne Swann-Wright (2002)

Before Jim Crow: The Politics of Race in Postemancipation Virginia

Jane Elizabeth Dailey (2000)

Managing White Supremacy: Race, Politics, and Citizenship in Jim Crow Virginia

J. Douglas Smith (2002)

Daughters of the Dream: Eight Girls from Richmond Who Grew Up in the Civil Rights Era

Tamara Lucas Copeland (2018)

We Face the Dawn: Oliver Hill, Spottswood Robinson, and the Legal Team That Dismantled Jim Crow

Margaret Edds (2018)

Fearless: How a Poor Virginia Seamstress Took on Jim Crow, Beat the Poll Tax and Changed Her City Forever

Charlene Butts Ligon (2017)

For more book titles related to the history of race and white supremacy, we recommend the following guides from the Library of Virginia and other Virginia libraries:

-Rebecca Schneider, Senior Reference Librarian

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