African American History, Library History

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Something unusual happened at the Youth Media Awards on Monday.  A single book, March: Book Three (written by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin and illustrated by Nate Powell), won 4 major awards:

  • Coretta Scott King (Author) Book Award, recognizing an African-American author and of outstanding books for children and young adults
  • Michael L. Printz Award for excellence in literature written for young adults
  • Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award for most distinguished informational book for children
  • YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults

The book already won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature in November.  You might have heard Representative John Lewis give an emotional acceptance speech, in which he recalled “I remember in 1956 when I was 16 years old, going down to the public library, trying to get library cards, and we were told that the libraries were whites-only and not for coloreds…To come here and receive this award — it’s too much.”

The history of library services for African Americans has included both exclusion and inclusion.  Here are some books (for a slightly younger audience than March) that help tell the story:

Finding Lincoln
Finding Lincoln by Ann Malaspina
In segregated 1950s Alabama, Louis cannot use the public library to research a class assignment, but one of the librarians lets him in after hours and helps him find the book that he needs. Includes an author’s note with historical information about library segregation in the South.

Goin' Somplace Special
Goin’ Someplace Special by Patricia McKissack
In segregated Nashville during the 1950s, a young African American girl endures a series of indignities and obstacles to get to the public library, one of the few integrated places in the city.

Richard Wright and the Library Card
Richard Wright and the Library Card by William Miller (also available in Spanish)
Based on a scene from Wright’s autobiography, Black Boy, in which the seventeen-year-old African-American borrows a white man’s library card and devours every book as a ticket to freedom.

Ron's Big Mission
Ron’s Big Mission by Rose Blue and Corinne Naden
One summer day in 1959, nine-year-old Ron McNair, who dreams of becoming a pilot, walks into the Lake City, South Carolina public library and insists on checking out some books, despite the rule that only white people can have library cards. Includes facts about McNair, who grew up to be an astronaut.

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