9 Great Historical Novels That Tackle Racial Issues

All too often, we look at history from the view of white people, ignoring the important contributions and struggles of people of color. Historical fiction is a great way to share these stories in an entertaining and immersive way. The nine well-written novels listed here don't shy away from racial issues and can provide readers with a new perspective on the past. This video was made with Ezvid Wikimaker.

Historical Fiction That Focuses on Race: Our 9 Picks

Title Author
1. Glow Jessica Maria Tuccelli
2. The Story of Beautiful Girl Rachel Simon
3. Sugar Money Jane Harris
4. Chasing the North Star Robert Morgan
5. Freedom Ride Sue Lawson
6. Lazaretto Diane McKinney-Whetstone
7. Trouble the Water Jacqueline Friedland
8. A Big Dose of Lucky Marthe Jocelyn
9. The Orphan Mother Robert Hicks

5 Organizations That Fight for Civil Rights

  1. American Civil Liberties Union
  2. People's Action
  3. NAACP
  4. Equal Justice Initiative
  5. Center for Constitutional Rights

Getting to the Root of Racial Injustice

In Depth

History can be a complicated thing. While it's important to appreciate the innovations, leaders, and accomplishments that have made the world a better place, it's also helpful to be aware of the difficult, often painful struggles that have disproportionately affected people of color. In a diverse American landscape, embracing tales of social change and progress is essential. Here, in no particular order, are some excellent novels that face racial issues head on.

In the #1 spot is "Glow" by Jessica Maria Tuccelli. At only eleven years old, Ella McGee has already lived a lifetime. The child of a Black military father and an activist mother of Cherokee descent, she's been brought up to fight back against racism and intolerance. When Ella's trip back to her Southern hometown gets derailed, readers are taken through the history of the family line, from the 1880s up until the outbreak of World War II. This tale of one family's resilience, depicts a violent country on the verge of rebirth.

For #2, we have Rachel Simon's "The Story of Beautiful Girl." In 1968, the world isn't too kind to folks who don't fit in. That includes Lynnie, a young woman with a learning disability, and her lover Homan, a deaf Black man. Inside the prison-like atmosphere of the School for the Incurable and Feebleminded, the lovers languish until the night of their planned escape. But when only Homan manages to make it out, Lynnie is left with a choice: raise her child in the institution, or hand her over to someone on the outside to make sure she gets her best chance.

In 1968, the world isn't too kind to folks who don't fit in.

At #3 is "Sugar Money" by Jane Harris. Brothers Emile and Lucien have a job to do. At the command of their master, they must leave the French colony of Martinique for their home island of Grenada to apprehend forty-two slaves claimed by the British. But while teenaged Lucien is excited to go on a new adventure, his brother knows better. Danger awaits the siblings as they venture further into the world of the 18th-century Caribbean slave trade, a desperate place where barely anyone makes it out alive.

For #4 we get Robert Morgan's "Chasing the North Star." On the day of his eighteenth birthday, Jonah Williams decides he's had enough. He wasn't born to be a slave. Escaping from the South Carolina plantation he's always called home, he takes with him only what he can carry and sets off. But the South is full of bounty hunters, law men, and other shady characters who stand between him and the free states in the North. With only the night sky to guard and guide him, he'll have to live in the shadows until he's home free.

At #5 is Sue Lawson's "Freedom Ride." The small Australian town of Walgaree isn't exactly a tolerant place, especially in 1965. The segregated society of Robbie's hometown has always seemed normal to him. But with the Civil Rights movement firing up in America, it's only a matter of time before the Aboriginal people decide to take a stand for equality. The question is, does Robbie have what it takes to commit to the movement and speak out for what's right?

The segregated society of Robbie's hometown has always seemed normal to him.

At #6 is "Lazaretto" by Diane McKinney-Whetstone. In the early 19th century, those who wish to start a new life in Philadelphia must first visit the Lazaretto for a clean bill of health. The nation's first quarantine hospital is staffed by a group of live-in Black employees who act as each other's found family. When tragedy strikes on the eve of a wedding between two staffers, however, the tension between the Lazaretto's white doctors and Black workers is in danger of pushing everyone over the edge.

Coming in at #7 is Jacqueline Friedland's "Trouble the Water." When British-born Abby is sent to Charleston to finish out her teen years under the care of a family friend, she doesn't imagine that the visit to the colonies is going to end up turning her life around. Staying with family friend Douglas Elling, a proud abolitionist with ties to the Underground Railroad, Abby sees everything she thought she knew totally overturned. Will her passion for the cause send her down a righteous path, or straight into Douglas's arms?

For #8, we find "A Big Dose of Lucky" by Marthe Jocelyn. Malou may have just turned sixteen, but she still doesn't know who she is. Abandoned as a newborn, she's now the only mixed-race child in her orphanage. When she ventures out into the town of Parry Sound, Ontario in 1964, she finds something totally unexpected. Plenty of the people here look like her, but do any of them hold the answers she seeks? If someone out there knows Malou's story, she's ready to hear it, no matter how painful it might be.

When she ventures out into the town of Parry Sound, Ontario in 1964, she finds something totally unexpected.

Finally, at #9 is "The Orphan Mother" by Robert Hicks. Former slave Mariah Reddick has been making a name for herself against all odds. She has a thriving midwife practice in Tennessee, and her adult son, Theopolis, is making strides in the political world. When Theopolis is murdered, Mariah is stricken with grief and shock. Who could have done this, and why? As she starts out on a journey to learn the truth about what happened to her son, Mariah finds herself reckoning with damaging truths that she can no longer ignore.