ANTEBELLUM AND CIVIL WAR:
Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs
--This is the first-hand account of Harriet Jacobs, a young slave woman. She appeals particularly to the white women of the north and highlights the dangers and difficulties of living as an enslaves woman. She highlights the sexual abuse and the breaking-up of slave families. This was daring stuff when it was published in the 1860s.
Narrative of a Life by Frederick Douglass
--Douglass "stole himself" out of slavery and was so smart and eloquent that he quickly became a leading spokesman for the abolition movement. But because he was so well-spoken, some didn't believe that he could have been a slave. He wrote this narrative at least in part to prove otherwise. He had to go to England, since otherwise he might have been dragged back to his former master. Friends helped to pay for his "freedom" (which of course should have been his all along; think of it as a bribe), and Douglass was able to return to America.
Journal of a Residence on a Georgia Plantation by Fanny Kemble
--Fanny Kemble was a young English actress touring America when she met Pierce Butler in Philadelphia. They fell in love, but apparently unbeknownst to her, Butler was actually the owner of a large plantation on Georgia's Sea Islands. In 1838, Fanny traveled to Georgia and spent one season there. She was already against slavery, but her visit was enough to turn her fully against the Peculiar Institution. She later divorced her husband, and this journal wasn't published until 1863.
Hospital Sketches by Louisa May Alcott
--Louisa May Alcott is known for writing Little Women, but she was also briefly a nurse during the Civil War, and she wrote about her experiences in this slim but engaging books. Louisa approaches the horrors of a Civil War Hospital with humor and pathos, making for a fantastic read.
Charlotte Cushman: Her Letters and Memoires of Her Life by Emma Stebbins (1878).
--Charlotte Cushman was a prominent actress in the Antebellum period, and her life was an interesting one. This account is written by Emma Stebbins, who appears to have been her lover. Some aspects of her life as an actress informed my character Emily.
The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano: Written by Himself by Olaudah Equiano.
--This is a bit earlier than when I write about the American South, but Equiano writes so memorably and eloquently about his experiences, that I have to include it here.
Images of America: St. Simon's Island by Patricia Morris (Arcadia, 2003).
St. Simon's Island: A Summary of Its History by R Edwin Green (Arner Publications, 1982).
Within the Plantation Household by Elizabeth Fox-Genovese (UNC Press, 1988).
America's great debate: Henry Clay, Stephen A. Douglas, and the compromise that preserved the union by Fergus Bordewich (Simon & Schuster, 2012).
Lincoln's Sword: The Presidency and the Power of Words by Doug Wilson (Knopf, 2006).
Lincoln's Melancholy: how depression challenged a president and fueled his greatness by Joshua Wolf Shenk (Houghton Mifflin, 2005).
Fanny Kemble's Civil Wars by Catherine Clinton (Simon & Shuster 2000).
The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom (Touchstone, 2010).
Mary: Mrs. A. Lincoln by Janis Cooke Newman and Amy Rennert (Mariner, 2007).
Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe (1852).
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (1885).
Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchel (). [Some aspects of it may be unpalatable to the modern reader, but it's worth reading because it's a ripping good yarn with some memorable characters, and because it's necessary to know the power of fiction--this book/movie in particular--on public perception.]
Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier.
The Color Purple by Alice Walker.
Beloved by Toni Morrison.