Short Stories for Black History Month: African-American & Black Lives Matter

These short stories were written by black authors. Some of the stories on this page can be found in Black American Short Stories: A Century of the Best. See also:

Short Stories by Black Authors

“The Lesson” by Toni Cade Bambara

An inner-city class goes on a field trip to an expensive toy store. The children try to understand the differences in people’s wealth. (Summary & Analysis)

“The Lesson” is the first story in the Amazon preview of The Penguin Book of the Modern American Short Story(22% into preview)

“The Treasure of Lemon Brown” by Walter Dean Myers

Greg Ridley is a fourteen-year-old student in danger of failing math. His father tells him he can’t play basketball anymore. While out walking one night, Greg takes refuge in an abandoned tenement building. He finds a local homeless man there, Lemon Brown. (Summary & Analysis)

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“Marigolds” by Eugenia W. Collier

Lizabeth recalls a time when she was fourteen, in Maryland, during the Depression. A woman in her neighborhood, Miss Lottie, lives in a dilapidated home, but has a colorful marigold garden. She’s an outcast, and the children make her a target of taunts. (Summary & Analysis)

This is the first story in the preview of Breeder and Other Stories

“The Flowers” by Alice Walker

Myop is a ten-year-old girl who is out exploring the woods behind her family’s sharecropper cabin on a beautiful summer day. As she starts to head home she makes a shocking discovery. (Summary & Analysis)

“The Flowers” is the fourth story in the Amazon preview of The Penguin Book of the Modern American Short Story. (88% in)

“Thank You, Ma’am” by Langston Hughes

Mrs. Luella Jones, a large woman with a large purse, is walking home late at night in Harlem. A boy rushes up behind her and tries to grab her purse, but the strap breaks and he falls down. Mrs. Jones grabs the boy and brings him to her apartment. (Summary & Analysis)

Read “Thank You, Ma’am”

“King of the Bingo Game” by Ralph Ellison

A black man sits through a movie, waiting for the bingo game to follow. He’s very hungry but knows he can’t ask to share anyone’s food, because things in New York aren’t like back South. He’s unemployed and has no money. He needs to win the bingo jackpot so he can take his sick wife to the doctor. (Summary & Analysis)

“Everyday Use” by Alice Walker

Mama is an African-American woman living in the Deep South with her daughter, Maggie. Her other daughter, Dee, an educated woman who’s drawn to a traditional African identity, is coming for a visit. (Summary & Analysis)

“Saturday Afternoon” by Erskine Caldwell

Tom Denny’s lazy Saturday afternoon is interrupted when a lynching party is formed. He joins the mob in search of Will Maxie, a black man accused of talking to a white woman.

This is the fourth story in the preview of The Stories of Erskine Caldwell(43% into preview)

“Blood-Burning Moon” by Jean Toomer

Louisa is a black woman working as a domestic helper for a white family, the Stones. She has a secret relationship with Bob Stone, a son of her employer. A black man, Tom Burwell, is also interested in her.

This story can be read in the preview of Black Voices: An Anthology of African-American Literature(Pg 19)

“Half a Moon” by Renée Watson

The seventeen-year-old narrator remembers when her Dad left when she was seven. Her Mom doesn’t think she remembers her Dad, but she does. She remembers lots of things from back then. She works at Oak Creek Campgrounds on spring break to help with the bills. She’ll be going to college next year, so she wants her last year on the job to be good. When the sixth-grade girls arrive, she recognizes one of them—Brooke, her Dad’s daughter.

This story can be read in the preview of Black Enough: Stories of Being Young & Black in America(19% into preview)

“The Comet” by W. E. B. Du Bois

Jim is a black man working as a messenger for a New York bank. Everyone is talking about a comet. The bank president sends Jim into the filthy and dangerous vaults to find two missing volumes of records. While he’s down there, there’s a great crash and the door slams shut.

This is the eighth story in the preview of The Big Book of Science Fiction(61% into preview)

“Baxter’s Procrustes” by Charles W. Chesnutt

The Bodleian Club contains mementos from famous authors and rare books, many of which it printed itself. Its members are avid book collectors. The narrator tells us the story of the book that brought the highest price at auction in the club’s history. It was Procrustes, written by one of their own members, Baxter.

This story can be read in the preview of Black Voices: An Anthology of African-American Literature(Pg 4)

“Since You Went Away” by Frankie Y. Bailey

Lizzie tells the story of a murder aboard her grandfather’s train just after WWII. His name was Walter Lee, and he was the porter. The troops were being demobilized and civilians were also traveling. Among the passengers is a young couple, a spinster schoolteacher, a major and a cartoonist.

This story can be read in the preview of Shades of Black: Crime and Mystery Stories by African-American Authors(22% in)

“The Cookout” by Jacqueline Turner Banks

Frances has to go away for a few days to visit her sick grandma. Her daughter, Stacey, warns her not to go. She hates Phil, and doesn’t want to stay with him, even though he’s never done anything to her. She has a really bad attitude.

This story can also be read in the above preview of Shades of Black: Crime and Mystery Stories by African-American Authors. (73% in)

“On the Road” by Langston Hughes

An African-American vagrant looking for some food and a place to sleep gets turned away from a parsonage and a shelter before trying to break down the door of a church.

“The Boy Who Painted Christ Black” by John Henrik Clarke

Aaron Crawford is the smartest student in the Muskogee County School. The teacher said if he were white, he could become President. He has many talents, including painting. Aaron paints his teacher a picture for her birthday. He presents it happily. When the teacher sees it, she’s surprised.

“The Reunion” by Maya Angelou

The narrator, Philomena, is an African American jazz pianist. In 1958, at a Sunday matinee at the Blue Palm Café, she notices Beth, who’s seeing a black man. Philomena’s family used to work as servants for Beth’s family. They were paid very little. When the band leader introduces Philomena, they look at each other with recognition.

“A Party Down at the Square” by Ralph Ellison

A young boy is at his uncle’s house in the South when the town’s white population excitedly gathers in the town square for the lynching of a black man.

“The Gilded Six-Bits” by Zora Neale Hurston

Joe and Missie, happy newlyweds, live in a modest house in an all-black community. A new man in town, Otis, opens an ice cream parlor, and makes a show of his gold accessories. He talks about his money and his success with women. Joe and Missie’s marriage is put to the test.

“The Man Who Was Almost a Man” by Richard Wright

Dave Saunders, a plantation worker, is annoyed that he’s treated like a boy. He thinks that he would be a man if he could buy a gun, so he goes to the local general store.

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