A blog by the staff of the Thomas Ford Memorial Library
The United States and Canada have been celebrating Black History Month every February since 1976. For this year’s observance Thomas Ford offers this list of biographies that represent the variety of African American experiences. They are just a sample of the titles available in our collection. For further reading suggestions, visit us at the Reference Desk or send us an email.
Bound for the Promised Land: Harriet Tubman: Portrait of an American Hero by Kate Clifford Larson (B Tubman)
Known for her escape from slavery in 1849 and for often risking her life to guide other slaves out of the South, Harriet Tubman (1820?-1920) also lived a life of advocacy for women’s rights and justice for poor blacks after the end of the Civil War.
Mrs. Dred Scott: A Life on Slavery’s Frontier by Lea Vander Velde (973.7115 VAN)
Who was Mrs. Dred Scott, wife of the slave whose claim for freedom was denied by the U. S. Supreme Court in 1857? According to Lea Vandervelde, Harriet Robinson was a black woman born in Virginia around 1818 and taken to the supposedly free Northwest Territory in 1835, where she met and married Etheldred Scott, a slave at Fort Snelling. To make up for the lack of verifiable information about Scott, the author thoroughly describes her life, work, and situation in frontier Minnesota and later in boom-town St. Louis, Missouri. In doing so, VanderVelde brings to life many forgotten slave women.
The Last Hero: A Life of Henry Aaron by Howard Bryant (B Aaron)
Baseball star Henry Aaron has been justly recognized for his achievements on the field, but his trials off the field are less known. He coolly integrated the southern-based Sally League in the early 1950s and broke local racial barriers when the Braves moved to Atlanta in 1966, becoming the first major league team in the Deep South. While striving to surpass Babe Ruth’s home run record, he quietly endured constant threats from avowed racists. In this detailed psychological biography, sports correspondent Howard Bryant examines the enduring character of a man who still champions racial equality in retirement.
Stormy Weather: The Life of Lena Horne by James Gavin (B Horne)
In 1994, when celebrity journalist James Gavin first met glamorous African American singer and actress Lena Horne, he found her bitter about how racial discrimination had limited her career. Despite beauty and talent, she had lost many roles deemed inappropriate for a black. In her late seventies, Horne was releasing a new album and doing concerts to resurrect her career. In this sympathetic biography of a tenacious woman, Gavin recounts setbacks and rebounds of the first black actress to land romantic roles in Hollywood.
Carrying Jackie’s Torch: the Players Who Integrated Baseball – and America by Steve Jacobson (796.357 JAC)
For nearly two decades after Jackie Robinson broke the major league baseball color barrier, black players faced quotas and discrimination that required they do better than whites to stick with their teams. Sports reporter Steve Jacobson recounts the careers of eighteen players and an umpire who weathered abuse to win fans and pave the way for the next generation.
The Greatest Fight of Our Generation: Louis vs. Schmeling by Louis A. Erenberg (796.83 ERE)
When African American Joe Louis fought German Max Schmeling in 1938, more than sports was at stake. For the first time, the international reputation of the American way of life was entrusted to an African American who had the tasked of defeating a symbol of Nazism. Ironically, the men became friends decades later.
In Black and White: the Life of Sammy Davis, Jr. by Will Haywood (B Davis)
Sammy Davis Jr. was always walking a tight rope, trying to succeed in a world dominated by whites without turning his back on fellow black Americans. Author Wil Haygood recounts the troubled times of an insecure man who broke many color lines.
My Face is Black is True: Callie House and the Struggle for Ex-Slave Reparations by Mary Frances Berry (323.092 BER)
Callie House was a washerwoman from Nashville with five children when she was elected assistant secretary of the National Ex-Slave Mutual Relief , Bounty, and Pension Association in 1898, a time when Jim crow laws were being strengthened. Her advocacy for slave reparations was declared illegal by the U.S. Postal Services and she was imprisoned for improper use of the mail. Mary Frances Berry recounts the hard life of a civil rights worker in a time of great injustice.