This book. I wish I had had it when I was teaching history to high schoolers. I tried to use primary sources whenever possible, especially in my AP class.
It is arranged into sections by theme, and within each theme the letters are in chronological order. Some of the letters are from everyday, non-famous people. Others are from well known names in history.
There’s a letter from James Henry Gooding, a corporal in the Massachusetts infantry, to President Lincoln protesting the Militia Act of July 1862, which set separate, unequal wages for white and black soldiers.
Canute Frankson writes to “Dearest” on his birthday, from an outpost in Spain where he was fighting in the Spanish Civil War.
These men show that African American were not passive recipients of rights generously bestowed upon them by the whites in power. Often that’s the tone of Civil rights narratives. Here we see that they fought not only for themselves, but for those they saw engaged in similar struggle.
My favorite letters were between Zora Neale Hurston and Langston Hughes. There is such love, respect, and affection between them. And of course, they are both wonderful writers.
Bottom line: read this.