Many historical fiction authors have confronted our nation’s cruel, inhumane past by crafting books about slavery.
In the early 17th century, Dutch traders first captured Africans for forced labor in tobacco fields and planted the seeds of slavery in America. All Thirteen Colonies legalized slavery, but it was particularly important to the South’s economy. Large cotton plantations below the Maxon-Dixon line used and abused slaves sold through the Atlantic slave trade.
After the bloody Civil War ended in 1865, slavery was formally abolished in the United States. However, slavery is still practiced today with an estimated 30 million living enslaved worldwide.
Books about slavery don’t shy away from this traumatic social justice issue; they follow characters living through its brutal effects. Even in the fiction genre, authors pull our attention and heartstrings by portraying historically accurate accounts on the reality of slavery. Readers connect with dehumanized slaves who are severed from their African homeland and forced into unspeakable acts. Certain scenes can be tough to witness, but books about slavery also celebrate the ingenuity and bravery of slaves who fought for freedom. Back-breaking work and deprivation lead to stories of triumph over great adversity.
Gain a better appreciation for African American history by picking up the following books about slavery.
#1 – The Glory Field
Walter Dean Myers
Spanning nearly 250 years,The Glory Fieldis an emotionally charged YA novel about the ongoing turmoil of one African American family. The story begins with young Muhammad Bilal who’s captured in Sierra Leone and sent to the Americas on a slave ship. Readers then meet one of Muhammad’s descendants, Lizzy, who works on the Live Oaks plantation in South Carolina. After the Civil War ends, Lizzy’s son Elijah struggles for freedom in Chicago.
#2 – The Confessions of Nat Turner
Pulitzer Prize-winning author William Styron’s controversial novel tells a first-person narrative about a Black slave named Nat Turner. In 1831, Nat leads a slave revolt that causes the deaths of dozens of white people in Virginia. After capture, he’s urged by a smug attorney, Thomas Gray, to “confess” his crimes. Nat Turner tells his story through flashbacks from a jail cell while awaiting execution.
#3 – The Book of Negroes
Adapted into a television mini-series,The Book of Negroesintroduces an 11-year-old Aminata Diallo as she’s captured from her West African village in 1750. She’s shackled aboard a slave ship and sent to a cruel master, Robinson Appleby. But Solomon Lindo, an Indigo grader, helps Aminata escape to New York. There she’s recruited by the Black British Loyalists and makes a tension-filled passage with 1,200 former slaves back to Africa.
#4 – Beloved
Toni Morrison’s spell-binding novel tells the harrowing tale of Sethe, a young mother who escapes slavery at the Sweet Home plantation. After just 28 days of freedom in Ohio, a posse hunts her under the Fugitive Slave Act. Fated for abuse and torture, Sethe kills her two-year old daughter before her capture. But years later when the Civil War ends, the child’s ghost appears to haunt Sethe’s home.
#5 – Nightjohn
One of Gary Paulsen’s most popular books about slavery isNightjohn.Set in the 1850s on the Waller plantation, this YA novel is narrated by a young female slave named Sarny. She witnesses a scarred man being dragged and beaten in chains. Sarny learns that the man, John, was an escaped slave who returned to teach others to read. John begins teaching Sarny the alphabet, despite threats of dismemberment.
#6 – Copper Sun
Sharon M. Draper
As a National Book Award finalist,Copper Sunis a multi-faceted story painting the shocking reality of the Atlantic slave trade. 15-year-old Amari is happily living in an Ashanti village when slavers invade and murder her family. With her beloved Besa, Amari’s shackled and sent to auction in the Carolinas. Percival Derby purchases her as his son’s 16th birthday present. Amari’s systemically raped and stripped of everything, except hope.
#7 – Roots: The Saga of an American Family
Published in 1976,Rootsis perhaps one of the most well-known books about slavery in America. Kunta Kinte, a young Gambian man, is captured and sent to Maryland on a British slave ship. After being bought by John Waller, Kunta tries to escape four times. Hunters eventually cripple him by amputating his right foot. Kunta marries Waller’s cook, Bell, and the saga follows the enslaved lives of their descendants.
#8 – Uncle Tom’s Cabin
Harriet Beecher Stowe
Noted as the 19th century’s second best-selling novel,Uncle Tom’s Cabinis a literary masterpiece centered on Uncle Tom, a long-suffering Black slave. To pay master Shelby’s debt, Tom is sold and sent down the Mississippi River. Thus begins Tom’s plight of being traded to several brutal slave masters. Despite unbearable anguish, he remains dedicated to inspiring fellow slaves and preaching the Word of God.
#9 – Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Adventures of Huckleberry Finngives insights into pre-Civil War culture in the Mississippi River Valley through the eyes of a curious 13-year-old boy. Raised by the town drunk, Huck is placed in Miss Watson’s guardianship. However, his father kidnaps him and takes him to Jackson’s Island. Here Huck is reunited with Watson’s slave, Jim, who has escaped auction. Together the pair venture towards freedom in Illinois.
#10 – Gone With the Wind
Most identifyGone With the Windfor the love story between Rhett and Scarlett, but the Southern fiction novel also offers perspective on slavery. Scarlett O’Hara is the spoiled young daughter of a wealthy slaveholder in Georgia. As Civil War sparks, the plantation’s men rush off to battle. Union soldiers soon loot her home in Sherman’s March to the Sea, leaving Scarlett desperate and penniless.
#11 – Invisible Man
Ralph Ellison’s debut bildungsroman novel introduces a young, nameless Black man whose color renders him invisible. Once his high school’s valedictorian, the narrator has been expelled from his Southern Negro college for showing the reality of Black life to a white trustee. Puzzled, he moves north to New York City to seek truth. He finds a mixed-race “Brotherhood” and joins the fight for equality tracing back to slavery.
#12 – The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman
Ernest J. Gaines
Dramatized on TV by actress Cicely Tyson,The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittmanis a realistic fiction novel depicting a Black woman who has lived 110 years. Jane was born into slavery on a Louisiana plantation. Orphaned, she works in the Big House until she’s freed under the Emancipation Proclamation. From Ohio to Texas, the story follows Jane’s legendary life through the Black Power movement of the 1960s.
#13 – The Book of Night Women
Though fiction, Marlon James’ novel explores the real, cruel practices of slavery on a Jamaican sugar plantation in the 18th century. Lilith, a daring green-eyed orphan, was born into slavery. As she matures, her beauty draws unwanted attention and Lilith must fight off rape. She’s then placed under Homer’s care at the Big House. Here Lilith learns that Homer leads the Night Women, a female slave group plotting revolt.
#14 – Mandingo
Mandingocenters around a fictional Alabama plantation called Falconhurst that’s owned by Warren Maxwell and his son Hammond. The slaves are treated as animals and forced to breed to produce enslaved children for auction. When traveling to his Cousin Beatrix’s plantation, Hammond purchases a virile Mandingo slave named Ganymede. The Maxwells soon capitalize on Mede’s unparalleled strengths by forcing fighting matches and wagering their bets.
#15 – Cane River
Touted among the best books about slavery by Oprah’s Book Club,Cane Riverfollows five generations of African American women. The story begins in 1834 with nine-year-old Suzette, a house servant for a Creole planter. Her life dreams are dashed when a Frenchman makes her his mistress. Suzette’s daughter, Philomene, faces a similar fate in Narcisse Fredieu’s “side family.” But can her light-skinned daughter, Emily, find hope after the Civil War?
#16 – Hang a Thousand Trees with Ribbons
Belonging to Ann Rinaldi’sGreat Episodesseries, this historical fiction novel portrays the life of Phillis Wheatley. Born in Senegal, she recounts her capture by African slavers and her horrendous journey on the Middle Passage. In America, Phillis’ is sold to John Wheatley in 1761. The prominent master educates her and encourages her to write. Soon Phillis stuns the nation by becoming the first published Black poet.
#17 – Absalom! Absalom!
Absalom! Absalom!is a Southern Gothic novel focused on Thomas Sutpen, a poor white man from West Virginia. Thomas travels with some slaves to Jefferson, Mississippi, with the goal of gaining wealth. He purchases spacious land from a Native American tribe and erects Sutpen’s Hundred. Soon Thomas Sutpen is married to Ellen Coldfield and a powerful plantation patriarch. But his dynasty could fall into decadence as the Civil War rages.
#18 – The Good Lord Bird
Among the books about slavery to win the National Book Award for Fiction,The Good Lord Birdtells the story of Henry Shackleford, a young slave in the Kansas Territory. One day, Henry accidentally meets the legendary abolitionist John Brown in a tavern. Disguised as a girl, he escapes with Brown’s help. Soon Henry finds himself joining the anti-slavery crusade and beginning the cataclysmic raid on Harpers Ferry.
#19 – Kindred
Octavia E. Butler
Kindredis a wildly popular time-travel tale centered on a young Black writer, Dana, who lives in California in 1976. While celebrating her 26th birthday, Dana’s abruptly snatched and transported back to the Antebellum South. Here she meets her ancestors: a spoiled white slaveholder and his enslaved concubine. Dana’s summoned to save Rufus, the owner’s drowning son. Each time she’s forced to return, the more dangerous her journey becomes.
#20 – The Kitchen House
Unlike most books about slavery,The Kitchen Housefocuses on a young, white girl named Lavinia who’s orphaned on her voyage from Ireland. She’s sent to a 19th century tobacco plantation in Virginia. Belle, the master’s illegitimate Black daughter, takes her under her wing. Lavinia begins caring for the opium-addicted mistress. She attempts befriending the slaves, but finds her skin color leaves her straddling two different worlds.
#21 – Sacred Hunger
Taking placed in England during the Age of Enlightenment,Sacred Hungeris a historical novel following Matthew Paris, a physician. His wife Ruth died while he was imprisoned for writings contrary to the Bible. Left with nothing, Paris accepts a job on theLiverpool Merchant,a slave ship owned by his uncle William Kemp. But as the ship sets sail with its African cargo, disease strikes and threatens mutiny.
#22 – I Thought My Soul Would Rise and Fly
Within theDear Americaseries, this YA novel presents the diary of Patsy, a shy 12-year-old slave living in South Carolina in 1865. After teaching herself to read and write, Patsy secretly records her observations of slave life. She offers glimpses into the changing politics as the Civil War ends and Reconstruction begins. Readers watch as Patsy determines what freedom means to her.
#23 – A Respectable Trade
Taking place in Bristol in 1787,A Respectable Tradeintroduces Frances Scott, a wealthy, well-connected English woman. She agrees to a mutually convenient marriage with a merchant, Josiah Cole. Together they develop a respectable fortune by trading sugar, rum, and slaves. Mehuru, a former priest from Yoruba, is among their newest slaves. Drawn to his warm, caring nature, Frances finds an intimate bond with Mehuru that sparks forbidden love.
#24 – A Million Nightingales
Starting theRio Secotrilogy, Susan Straight introduces Moinette Antoine, a beautiful, self-taught slave of mixed race. At age 14, she’s taken from her mother at the Bordelons’ sugarcane plantation in New Orleans. Despite escape attempts, Moinette is sold to Laurent de la Rosiére. She becomes pregnant by rape and gives birth to a boy, Jean-Paul. With the help of a lawyer, Julien Antoine, Moinette seeks freedom for her son.
#25 – Our Nig
Harriet E. Wilson
Our Nigbeautifully fuses two types of books about slavery: the slave narrative and sentimental novel. Harriet E. Wilson is credited with being the first African American novelist published inNorth America in 1859. In this landmark work, she portrays Frado, a mulatto girl abandoned by her white mother after her father’s death. Frado grows up enslaved on a plantation in 19th century Massachusetts.
#26 – Property
Named with the “10 best historical novels” byThe Observer,Valerie Martin’s writing weaves the story of Manon Gaudet and her servant, Sarah. As the master’s wife, Manon lives on a thriving sugar plantation in Louisiana. She’s been given Sarah as a wedding present, but resentment of the slave soon grows. Sarah has become her husband’s unwilling mistress. Audiences are drawn into a dramatic triangle set against the backdrop of the Civil War.
#27 – I, Dred Scott
Shelia P. Moses
Dred Scott was born into slavery in Virginia in the late 18th century. Growing up with the master’s family, he traveled to several free Northern states. Reaching adulthood with his wife Harriett, Dred learns that the Missouri Compromise’s stipulations would end his slavery. With abolitionist lawyers, he decides to sue for freedom. What ensues is an 11-year legal struggle with the Supreme Court that’s immortalized in U.S. history.
#28 – Sweetsmoke
Sweetsmokeis a meticulously researched historical mystery novel following the life of Cassius Howard, a secretly literate slave. He’s learned that Emoline, a freed Black woman who served as his mentor, has been murdered. Cassius risks everything, including his life, to uncover the answers of her brutal death and avenge her loss. His investigation leads to Underground Railroad conspirators, Northern spies, and an unlikely friend, Quashee.
#29 – Flash for Freedom!
George MacDonald Fraser
George MacDonald Fraser’s historical series continues withFlash for Freedom!In this fifth book, a game of cards causes Harry Flashman to forfeit his ambition for the House of Commons. Instead, he settles for the West African slave trade under the command of Captain John Charity Spring. Traveling up the Mississippi River, Flashman finds himself as a plantation slave driver and then a slave stealer assisted by Congressman Abraham Lincoln.
#30 – Chains
Laurie Halse Anderson
As the American Revolution begins, 13-year-old slave Isabel is waging her own war for freedom. Upon their master’s death, Isabel and her sister Ruth were promised escape from the brutal bonds of slavery. However, a sudden twist of fate makes them the property of the malicious Lockton family. Isabel connects with a fellow slave, Curzon, who has secret ties with the Patriots. Will she risk becoming a spy to cast off her chains?
These top 30 fiction books about slavery allow readers to view one of America’s most painful periods through the eyes of courageous, inspiring characters seeking to overcome their bondage for liberty.
See also:Top 30 Books About Slavery (Nonfiction)
Who wrote a famous book about slavery? ›
Written by the abolitionist author Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom's Cabin was the most popular book of the 19th century, outsold only by the Bible. Millions of copies of the book were printed, and the novel was a smashing success both in America and abroad. Stowe became an international superstar.What is considered the best book of all time? ›
- 1 . In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust. ...
- 2 . Ulysses by James Joyce. ...
- 3 . Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes. ...
- 4 . One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. ...
- 5 . The Great Gatsby by F. ...
- 6 . Moby Dick by Herman Melville. ...
- 7 . War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. ...
- 8 .
- The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett. ...
- Just As I Am by Cicely Tyson. ...
- On Beauty by Zadie Smith. ...
- What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi. ...
- Behold The Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue. ...
- Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi. ...
- The Water Dancer by Ta-Nahesi Coats. ...
- Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
1. Ken Follet, Born 1949. Ken Follet was one of the greatest historical fiction writers of all time. He has sold more than 160 million copies of his works, and many of them have found their way onto lists of the best historical fiction works of all time.What was the first anti slavery novel? ›
By Richard Hilcireth. Adapted by Barbara Ritchie.What year did slavery end? ›
Passed by Congress on January 31, 1865, and ratified on December 6, 1865, the 13th amendment abolished slavery in the United States and provides that "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or ...What is the #1 selling book of all time? ›
According to Guinness World Records as of 1995, the Bible is the best-selling book of all time with an estimated 5 billion copies sold and distributed.What is the one book everyone should read? ›
"Pride and Prejudice" by Jane Austen. "The Diary of Anne Frank" by Anne Frank. "1984" by George Orwell. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" by J.K. Rowling.Which is the No 1 novel in the world? ›
|1||Da Vinci Code,The||Brown, Dan|
|2||Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows||Rowling, J.K.|
|3||Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone||Rowling, J.K.|
|4||Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix||Rowling, J.K.|
- #1 – (213 Times on List) Zane.
- #2 – (97 Times on List) Jawanza Kunjufu.
- #3 – (78 Times on List) Karrine Steffans.
- #4 – (76 Times on List) Teri Woods.
- #5 – (76 Times on List) Wahida Clark.
- #6 – (53 Times on List) J. A. Rogers.
- #7 – (47 Times on List) Iyanla Vanzant.
- #8 – (47 Times on List) Kimberla Lawson Roby.
Who is the greatest Black author? ›
Zora Neale Hurston
Of Hurston's more than 50 published novels, short stories, plays and essays, she wrote her most famous work Their Eyes Were Watching God in 1937. Unlike the style of contemporaries Richard Wright and Ralph Ellison, Hurston did not write explicitly about Black people in the context of white America.
Also called grimoires, these are handbooks of magic in which the names of demons are often set out, with instructions for their invocation and exorcism.What's the best selling fiction book in history? ›
- #1 – Don Quixote (500 million copies sold) ...
- #2 – A Tale of Two Cities (200 million copies sold) ...
- #3 – The Lord of the Rings (150 million copies sold) ...
- #4 – The Little Prince (142 million copies sold) ...
- #5 – Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (107 million copies sold)
The first ever books
The first book ever written that we know of is The Epic of Gilgamesh: a mythical retelling of an important political figure from history.
- Leo Tolstoy – 327.
- William Shakespeare – 293.
- James Joyce – 194.
- Vladimir Nabokov – 190.
- Fyodor Dostoevsky – 177.
- William Faulkner – 173.
- Charles Dickens – 168.
- Anton Checkhov – 165.
From the first day of its existence, Haiti banned slavery. It was the first country to do so. The next year, Haiti published its first constitution.What was Uncle Tom's real name? ›
This article pointed out that Uncle Tom was a real-life character whose name was Josiah Henson. He shared his life experiences with author Harriet Beecher Stowe.Why is Uncle Tom's Cabin banned? ›
The history of books being banned in America is thought to stem back to 1852 when Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin was published. Stowe's novel was banned in the south preceding the Civil War for holding pro-abolitionist views and arousing debates on slavery.Does slavery still exist? ›
Global estimates indicate that there are as many as forty million people living in various forms of exploitation known as modern slavery. This includes victims of forced labor, debt bondage, domestic servitude, human trafficking, child labor, forced marriage, and descent-based slavery.Who started slavery in Africa? ›
Beginning in the 16th century, European merchants initiated the transatlantic slave trade, purchasing enslaved Africans from West African kingdoms and transporting them to Europe's colonies in the Americas.
What was the last state to free slaves? ›
Mississippi Becomes Final State to Abolish Slavery.What is the most famous book in the world? ›
The Holy Bible is the most read book in the world. In the past 50 years, the Bible has sold over 3.9 billion copies. It is the most recognizable and famous book that has ever been published.Who Wrote the Bible? ›
Even after nearly 2,000 years of its existence, and centuries of investigation by biblical scholars, we still don't know with certainty who wrote its various texts, when they were written or under what circumstances.Which is the second most read book in the world? ›
The second most read book in the world is the Holy Quran. As per survey the Quran is not only most read book of the Islamic world, but it also the most recited book of all time. The Third most read book is Quotation from the works of Mao Tse –tung.What is the name of 10 famous book? ›
David Copperfield by Charles Dickens. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert. Moby-Dick by Herman Melville. Wuthering Heights by Emily BrontëWhich is the best book to read? ›
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (1813)
Jane Austen's classic Pride and Prejudice adorned shelves of many a learned reader in the 1800s and 1900s, but its timeless story and lessons earn it a spot in many home libraries (and on many school reading lists) even today.
Slavery Throughout the Ancient World
Sumer or Sumeria is still thought to be the birthplace of slavery, which grew out of Sumer into Greece and other parts of ancient Mesopotamia. The Ancient East, specifically China and India, didn't adopt the practice of slavery until much later, as late as the Qin Dynasty in 221 BC.
Life of Josiah Henson: Formerly a Slave. The character Uncle Tom, fr om Harriet Beecher Stowe's bestselling novel, ""Uncle Tom's Cabin,"" is based on the life of Josiah Henson (1789-1882).When was the kitchen house written? ›
Kathleen Grissom's debut novel, "The Kitchen House," about life on a Southern plantation, was barely noticed when published by Touchstone, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, in February 2010. With an initial print run of 11,500 copies, the book didn't get traction right away.What was the effect of John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry? ›
Although the raid failed, it inflamed sectional tensions and raised the stakes for the 1860 presidential election. Brown's raid helped make any further accommodation between North and South nearly impossible and thus became an important impetus of the Civil War.