Black History Month
Black literature and history is entirely too rich to cover in just one month, but the librarian's at SPL have picked through the collection to get you started this February! Find movies and books for all ages in our catalog!
- Barack Obama
- Malcolm X
- Rosa Parks
- Madam CJ Walker
- Duke Ellington
- Harriet Tubman
- Jackie Robinson
- Marsha P Johnson
- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
- Toni Morrison
- Sojourner Truth
- Shirley Chisholm
Obama received his bachelor’s degree in political science from Columbia University before going on to graduate magna cum laude from Harvard University’s law school. He organized Project Vote, a drive that registered many thousand African Americans in Chicago in the early 90’s. Barack Obama was elected to the Illinois Senate in 1996 then to the U.S. Senate in 2004 before going on to run in and win the 2008 Presidential Election. In 2009, Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 2009 for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples. Obama sought and secured a second term as President in 2012. Barack Obama was the 44th president of the United States and the first African American to hold the office.
While in prison for robbery, Malcolm Little underwent a conversion to join the Nation of Islam. He quit his vices, stopped eating pork, and changed his name to Malcolm X. He was an articulate speaker, with charisma, and a knack for organizing. Malcolm X expressed shared anger and frustration with the treatment of African Americans during the civil rights movement. However, Malcolm’s tactics did not mirror Dr. King’s peaceful philosophy or his priority for sit-ins or voting. X’s focuses were on Black identity, integrity, and independence. His efforts helped to change the terms used to refer to African Americans from “Negro” and “coloured” to “Black” and “Afro-American.” His influence provided a foundation for the Black Power and Black consciousness movements in the 60’s and 70’s.
Rosa Parks is a civil rights activist whose refusal to give up her bus seat to a white man is credited for being the spark that ignited the civil rights movement. She was a member of the Montgomery chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, serving as its secretary until 1956. She was arrested December 1, 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama for violating the city’s racial segregation ordinances when she refused to surrender her seat for a white man. The resulting 381-day bus boycott by the Montgomery Improvement Association and Dr. King caused a U.S. Supreme Court decision ruling Montgomery’s segregated seating unconstitutional. People say she didn’t give up her seat because she was tired, but she said that isn’t true. “I was not tired physically … No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.
After moving from Louisiana to St. Louis, Missouri, Madam C.J. Walker tried her hand at commercial hairdressing and began experimenting. She sought a solution for scalp infections that caused baldness. In 1905 she moved to Denver and worked as a cook for a pharmacist from whom she learned basic chemistry. With her newfound knowledge, Madam Walker perfected an ointment that healed dandruff and other ailments. Later she opened a school in Pittsburg named after her daughter: the Leila College of Beauty Culture then relocated the Madam C.J. Walker Manufacturing Company to Indianapolis in 1910. Madam Walker was once of the first African American female millionaires and is remembered for her philanthropic contributions to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s anti-lynching fund, preservation of Frederick Douglass’ home, and her advocating for the rights of African American soldiers who served in WWI.
Pianist, composer, and one of the greatest bandleaders of his time, Duke Ellington led his band for more than half a century. From leading a sextet, to growing the band by four members, soon the Ellington band enlarged to 14, Duke strived for individuality. Each of his band members were unique in their talents and contributions which allowed Duke’s composition to stray from convention. Becoming interested in composing jazz within classical forms, Ellington composed musical suites linking pieces by a common subject matter or theme like his suite Black, Brown, and Beige, which portrayed African-American history. Some suites were created for television production, were the basis of film shorts, and even reimagined the likes of Shakespeare and Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite. Elegant, regal, and inventive, Duke Ellington was a star of the jazz age.
Born into slavery as Araminta Ross, she later married free Black man named John Tubman and took her mother’s name—Harriet. She always had a need for justice. At 12 years old she came in between a fugitive and an overseer, causing her to be struck in the head by a weight. This caused her to have headaches and narcolepsy for the remainder of her life. As a firm Christian woman, she attributed the dreams and hallucinations she had as being religious visions. In 1849, Harriet fled to Philadelphia after hearing rumors she was about to be sold. She left behind her parents, siblings, and husband John as he refused to leave. She went on to be an Underground Slave conductor, leading a reported 300 slaves to freedom. During the Civil War, she was recruited to be a scout, laundress, and cook for the Union forces.
Jackie Robinson was an all-around athlete at Pasadena Junior College and UCLA. In 1942, Robinson joined the Army and in 1944 faced court-martial for refusing an order to sit at the back of a military bus. Although the charges were dismissed, he received an honorable discharge. After leaving the military Jackie played pro football in Hawaii and baseball for the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro American League. On October 23, 1945, Branch Rickey signed Robinson to play for the Montreal Royals of the International League. In 1947, he was brought up to play for Brooklyn. He led the National League in stolen bases and earned Rookie of the Year. In 1949 his .342 batting average won him the batting championship and the league’s MVP! Although he was an excellent player and individual, this did not stop fans from hurling bottles at Jackie. Fellow baseball players even complained about having to play with a Black man, tried to spike him with their cleats, and deliberately pitched balls at his head. Jim Crow laws at the time even forbade Black players from staying in the same hotels or eating at the restaurants his white teammates ate at. Nevertheless, Jackie Robinson persisted. He led the Dodgers to six league championships and a World Series victory. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962—becoming the first Black player to receive the honor.
Marsha P. Johnson was an activist and self-identified drag queen who was a prominent figure during the Stonewall uprising in 1969. Marsha said the "P" stood for "Pay it no mind" - a phrase they used when people commented negatively on their appearance or life choices. When Marsha was 23, police raided a gay bar in New York called the Stonewall Inn forcing over 200 people from the bar into the streets using excessive violence against them. Marsha resisted arrests and led a series of protests in the days following, demanding justice and rights for the LGBTQ+ community. A month after the protests, the first openly gay march took place in New York. Marsha and Sylvia Rivera founded Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR), which was an organization dedicated to support gay and trans individuals who had been left homeless. Marsha’s death in 1992 was hastily ruled a suicide, though NYPD had no forensic evidence to support the claim. Private investigations in the years following hinted at foul play and cover-ups leading the cause of Marsha’s death to be changed to “undetermined.”
Baptist minister and social activist Martin Luther King Jr. is best known for his involvement in the mid-1950’s civil rights movement. His oratorical skills and charisma started young—he was elected to be student body president of almost exclusively white students at Crozer Theological Seminary. Having received his bachelor degree, he went on to earn a doctorate at Boston University before becoming a pastor in Montgomery, Alabama. Dr. King was the leader of the Montgomery Improvement Association, which boycotted the segregation of the public transit system after Rosa Parks’ courage on one bus. He also organized the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which provided a national stage on which to spread his campaign to end segregation and his non-violent philosophy. On August 28, 1963 during the historic March on Washington, Dr. King delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech to an interracial crowd of more than 200,000. With the strong national attention from his civil movements, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed. Later that year, Dr. King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Even though he was jailed and threated, Dr. King persevered with the hope of bringing about equality and change through peaceful and non-violent protest.
Toni Morrison is an acclaimed American writer known for her poetic writing style, use of fantasy and mythic in her works examining the Black experience, especially the Black female experience. Morrison attended Howard University for her bachelor’s and Cornell for her Master’s degree. She went back to teach at Howard before working as a fiction editor at Random House. Her 1987 novel “Beloved,” was based on the true story of a runaway slave who, when she was recaptured, killed her infant daughter to spare her enslavement. “Beloved” won a Pulitzer Prize for fiction and was adapted into a film featuring Oprah Winfrey. In 1993, Morrison received the Nobel Prize for Literature. Morrison also won the Coretta Scott King Award in 2005 for her book “Remember” which featured archival photos from the integration of the American public school system. In 2012, Toni Morrison received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama. August 5, 2019, the renowned and honored author Toni Morrison passed away at age 88.
Isabella Bomfree was bought and sold four times before running away to a nearby abolitionist family. This family bought her freedom for $20 and helped her regain custody of her young son who was illegally sold into slavery. She moved to New York City in 1828, and moved by the Spirit to speak the truth, renamed herself Sojourner Truth. Throughout her preaching, she met abolitionists Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison, as well as women’s rights activists like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. In Akron, Ohio in 1851, Sojourner delivered her famous “Ain’t I a Woman?” where she challenged racial and gender inferiority notions. She later became involved with the desegregation efforts and the Freedmen’s Bureau by helping freed slaves rebuild their lives and find jobs
Shirley Chisholm was the first for many achievements in history. Not only was she the first African American woman in Congress, she was also the first woman and first African American to seek the presidential nomination. She earned her master’s degree from Columbia University in 1951. Being both Black and female, Shirley was well aware of the hardships both of these groups faced. She sought advocacy and joined the local New York chapters of the League of Women Voters and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. In 1964 Shirley became the second African American in the New York legislature, later earning her seat in Congress in 1968. She championed racial and gender equality as well as the plight of the poor and the ending of Vietnam War. She desires to be “remembered as a woman…who dared to be a catalyst of change.”