A Wynk, a Blynk, and a Nod to African American History Books
African American History Month, or Black History Month, as it is often referred to, is observed every February in the United States. We thought it might be interesting to take a look at the history behind this annual celebration. Negro History Week was first conceived in 1925 by Harvard educated historian, Carter G. Woodson, who founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH). The event was first celebrated during a week in February in 1926 that included the birthdays of both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, two great Americans who played a prominent role in shaping black history. The response was overwhelming, and by 1950, Negro History Week had become a central part of African American life. Progress had also been made in bringing more Americans to embrace the celebration. In 1976, our nation’s bicentennial, the celebration was expanded to a full month. President Gerald Ford urged Americans to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.” That year, fifty years after the first celebration, ASNLH held the first African American History Month. Since 1976, each American president has issued African American History Month proclamations, and Woodson’s association – now the Association for the Study of African American Life and History – continues to promote the study of African American history all year. With February approaching, we thought it fitting to take a look at some noteworthy new books on the topic. And, as always, we’ve included a list of old favorites, too good to miss.
The Cart That Carried Martin by Eve Bunting, illus. by Don Tate
This is not your typical biography, as it tells the story of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s funeral procession through Atlanta. Bunting focuses on the rough-hewn cart “borrowed” from an antique store. The cart was hitched to a pair of mules, Belle and Ada, symbolizing that upon freedom slaves were each given forty acres and a mule. Today, this funeral wagon sits inside the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site in Atlanta.
With the tremendous success of the Air Force’s Tuskegee Airmen, President Roosevelt ordered the formation of an all-black Army paratrooper unit, nicknamed the Triple Nickles. They were used as smoke jumpers in the forests of the western U.S. rather than in battle. They were segregated from white soldiers and relegated to menial tasks. Stone explores the history of African Americans in the military and the prejudices they endured.
Janet Collins, who, in 1951, was the first African American prima ballerina to perform at the Metropolitan Opera House, inspires a young African American girl from Harlem, who aspires to become a prima ballerina. This fictional story provides an inspirational message to budding ballerinas everywhere.
Hey, Charleston!: The True Story of the Jenkins Orphanage Band by Anne Rockwell, illus. by Colin Bootman
In 1891, Reverend Daniel Joseph Jenkins, a former slave, opened an orphanage in Charleston, South Carolina, determined to give homeless African American children a better life. He came up with the idea of teaching the children to play musical instruments. He collected old band instruments, some of which had been used by Confederate soldiers in the Civil War, and formed a marching band. He recruited teachers to show the kids how to play. The Jenkins Orphanage Band caused a sensation on the streets of Charleston, bringing people to their feet. Their style of music was called “rag”, and they performed at Theodore Roosevelt’s inauguration and for King George V of England.
Knock Knock: My Dad’s Dream for Me by Daniel Beaty, illus. by Bryan Collier
In this poignant tale, a young African American boy experiences the pain of growing up in a single parent home. The author’s own father was incarcerated, and he uses his experience to tell this story of loss from a child’s perspective. The stunning collage and watercolor artwork is very typical of award winning illustrator Bryan Collier.
Martin and Mahalia: His Words, Her Song by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illus. by Brian Pinkney
This tribute to the civil rights movement focuses on two voices that stirred listeners to action: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s preaching and Mahalia Jackson’s singing. The author emphasizes that both grew up in a gospel tradition, he as an orator, and she as a singer. It is interesting to note that the illustrations accompanying King are rendered in cool blues and greens, while those of Jackson are done in warm oranges and reds. The scenes where they come together, as they did in the 1968 March on Washington, are done in purples, blending their respective colors to represent their unity and merging of talents for the sake of social justice.
The Montgomery Bus Boycott by Martin Gitlin
This book is part of the Perspectives Library series in which key historical events are told from three different viewpoints, illustrating the fact that events can look different depending on one’s point of view. This particular book focuses on the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955 and 1956.
My Daddy, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by Martin Luther King III, illus. by A.G. Ford
This picture book biography is written by the second child and oldest son of Martin Luther King, Jr., who was assassinated when the author was just ten years old. Marty, as he was called, writes from a child’s perspective and tells some family stories from their unusual household. He doesn’t shy away from talking about his father’s arrest or the ugliness of the Civil Rights Movement.
Philip Reid Saves the Statue of Freedom by Steven Sellers Lapham & Eugene Walton, illus. by R. Gregory Christie
This is a biography of former slave, Philip Reid, who in 1859, solved a construction puzzle that had baffled both craftsmen and engineers. His solution led to the casting of the Statue of Freedom that sits atop the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. An epilogue and historical documents are included, adding another layer of authenticity to the story.
The Price of Freedom: How One Town Stood Up to Slavery by Judith B. Fradin and Dennis B. Fradin, illus. by Eric Velasquez
Oberlin, Ohio is the setting of this picture book biography of John Price, who escaped from slavery in Kentucky in 1856 by crossing the frozen Ohio River. Oberlin was a town that basically ignored the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, and when slave hunters captured Price, the townspeople came to his aid by storming the hotel in which he was being held. The Rescuers, as they came to be called, carried Price to freedom. Thirty-seven men later served several months in jail for having violated the law. An original photo of The Rescuers along with author notes accompanies the text.
This is the Rope: A Story from the Great Migration by Jacqueline Woodson, illus. by James Ransome
This is a work of historical fiction as it is based on Woodson’s family, who in the 1960’s migrated from South Carolina to Brooklyn, New York. From the early 1900’s to the 1970’s, nearly six million African Americans moved from the rural South to northern cities. They wanted better jobs, a better education, and a better life. This period in history became known as the Great Migration.
We Shall Overcome: The Story of a Song by Debbie Levy, illus. by Vanessa Brantley-Newton
The author traces the history of this iconic song from its beginnings as black church music during slavery to its emergence as a labor protest song in the 1940’s to its prominence as the anthem of the Civil Rights Movement. Included is a timeline which shows the evolution of this song, citing its role in specific protests.
When Thunder Comes: Poems for Civil Rights Leaders by J. Patrick Lewis, illus. by Jim Burke, R. Gregory Christie, Tonya Engel, and John Parra
Through poetry, this book pays homage to seventeen civil rights leaders, both well-known and lesser known figures from around the world. Coretta Scott King, Jackie Robinson, and Gandhi are among the more prominent activists. Endnotes include brief biographical information.
You Never Heard of Willie Mays?! By Jonah Winter, illus. by Terry Widener
Willie Mays is considered one of the greatest baseball players of all time. In 1947 he joined the Negro Leagues, but by 1951 he was playing in the major leagues having signed with the New York Giants. The cover of the book is very appealing as it includes an eye-catching 3-D design showing Mays in three different poses. Included throughout the text are sidebars, shaped like baseball tickets, which include information about other baseball players and baseball history. A glossary of baseball terms is also included.
Favorites from the Past
Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass: The Story Behind an American Friendship by Russell Freedman
Barack Obama: Son of Promise, Child of Hope by Nikki Grimes, illus. by Bryan Collier
Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip Hoose
Coretta Scott by Ntozake Shange, illus. by Kadir Nelson
Dave the Potter: Artist, Poet, Slave by Laban Carrick Hill, illus. by Bryan Collier
Emancipation Proclamation: Lincoln and the Dawn of Liberty by Tonya Bolden
Fifty Cents and a Dream: Young Booker T. Washington by Jabari Asim, illus. by Bryan Collier
Freedom Like Sunlight: Praisesongs for Black Americans by J. Patrick Lewis, illus. by John Thompson
Freedom Song: The Story of Henry “Box” Brown by Sally M. Walker, illus. by Sean Qualls
The Great Migration: Journey to the North by Eloise Greenfield, illus. by Jan Spivey Gilchrist
Hand in Hand: Ten Black Men Who Changed America by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illus. by Brian Pinkney
Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans by Kadir Nelson
A Kid’s Guide to African American History: More than 70 Activities by Nancy I. Sanders
Promises to Keep: How Jackie Robinson Changed America by Sharon Robinson
Malcolm X: A Fire Burning Brightly by Walter Dean Myers, illus. by Leonard Jenkins
Many Thousand Gone: African Americans from Slavery to Freedom by Virginia Hamilton, illus. by Leo and Diane Dillon
Martin’s Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by Doreen Rappaport, illus. by Bryan Collier
Michelle by Deborah Hopkinson, illus. by A.G. Ford
Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford, illus. by Kadir Nelson
Muhammad Ali: Champion of the World by Jonah Winter, illus. by François Roca
A Nation’s Hope: The Story of Boxing Legend Joe Louis by Matt de la Peña, illus. by Kadir Nelson
Touch the Sky: Alice Coachman, Olympic High Jumper by Ann Malaspina, illus. by Eric Velasquez
Unspoken: A Story from the Underground Railroad by Henry Cole
We are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball by Kadir Nelson
What Color is My World?: The Lost History of African-American Inventors by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Raymond Obstfeld, illus. by Ben Boos & A.G. Ford
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