This book list has 29 books that can help children and yourself highlight some of the known and relatively unknown members of the Black community.
I intentionally picked these books because many of us tend to focus on the same few Black figures, and this list allows us to explore members of the community who deserve the same recognition.
I’ve included a brief overview of their accomplishments but, I encourage you to learn more about each person.
And remember these books can be shared all year long! Black history is American history.
Just a friendly reminder, I am an Amazon and Bookshop Affiliate, so if you decided to use the links below to purchase the books, I do get a commission. The price of the books does not change for you. ❤️
Accomplishments: Known as the Father of Black History Month, Dr. Carter Godwin Woodson was a historian who wanted to increase the study of African American History in the United States.
In 1912, he became the second Black American to receive a doctorate from Harvard University.
In 1916, Woodson published the Journal of Negro History to help teachers with Black American studies.
In February of 1926, Dr. Woodson created Negro History Week, later (1976) turning into Black History Month.
His most popular book, The Mis-Education of the Negro was published in 1933. Buy on Amazon
Accomplishments: Florence Mills, also known as the Queen of Happiness was an international singer, dancer, actor, and prominent figure during the Harlem Renaissance.
Florence was given her first Broadway part at the age of four and was the first Black woman to headline on Broadway.
She was featured in Vogue in 1925 and was the first Black person featured on a full page. Florence Mills was also the first Black artist to sing at New York’s Aeolian Hall. Buy on Amazon
Accomplishments: Born in Puerto Rico, Arturo Schomburg was an Afro-Latino historian and curator of African-American artifacts.
Schomburg collected more than 10,000 artifacts that showed the achievements of Black people and members of the African diaspora.
Schomburg was also a prominent figure during the Harlem Renaissance. Buy on Amazon
Accomplishments: Marian Anderson is known for being a very talented opera singer. In 1955, Marian Anderson was the first African American to perform at the New York Metropolitan Opera. She performed the national anthem at President John F. Kennedy’s inauguration In 1961. And in 1963 President Kennedy honored her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Buy on Amazon
Accomplishments: Bass Reeves was the first African American to become a U.S. Marshal in the West. He arrested more than 3,000 outlaws. Buy on Amazon
Accomplishments: Barbara Jordan was a congresswoman from Texas and was the first African-American congresswoman to come from the south. She is known for her powerful voice; her most well-known speech was her opening speech for Richard Nixon’s impeachment investigation. Buy on Amazon
Accomplishments: Charles “Charlie” Luther Sifford was a professional golfer. He won United Golf Association National Negro Open six times. Sifford became the first African-American to play on the PGA Tour in 1961. In 2014, President Barack Obama awarded Charlie Sifford with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Buy on Amazon
Accomplishments: Raven Wilkinson was a ballerina from Harlem who began dancing when she was nine.
In 1955, Raven signed a contract to dance with Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo of New York making her the first African American ballerina to join a major classical ballet troupe.
Once Wilkinson retired, she began teaching ballet at the Harlem School of Arts and later became a mentor to Misty Copeland. Buy on Amazon
Accomplishments: Gordon Parks was a photographer, film director, musician, and writer.
In 1969 Gordon directed The Learning Tree, making him the first African American to direct a major Hollywood film.
In 1970, Gordon Parks was part of the start up of Essence magazine and served as the editorial director for the first three years of its publication.
In 1971 Parks directed the box-office hit, Shaft.
He would also become the first African American photographer at Vogue and Life magazines. Buy on Amazon
Accomplishments: Mabel Fairbanks was a Black-Native American figure skater.
As a young woman, Mabel was denied opportunities to compete in competitions and qualifying events for the Olympics because she was Black.
So, Mabel performed in shows nationally and internationally until she retired.
After she retired from skating, she became a coach and coached popular skaters like Scott Hamilton and Kristi Yamaguchi.
In 1997, she would become the first Black-Native American woman inducted into the U.S. Figure Skating Hall of Fame. Buy on Amazon
Accomplishments: Ethel L. Payne was a journalist from the South Side of Chicago who would become the “First Lady of the Black Press.”
As a young woman, she began writing letters to newspapers about discrimination against African Americans, fueling her growing interest in politics.
In 1945, she would travel to Japan as a reporter for a newspaper, where she would document her observations. Her writings about the African American soldiers’ experiences in World War II would put her name in households all over the United States.
Ethel Payne was the first Black woman to join the White House Press corps and the first Black woman to be a commentator on a national radio and television network.
In 1982 Ethel L. Payne received the National Association of Black Journalists, Lifetime Achievement Award. Buy on Amazon
Accomplishments: About 100 years before Claudette Colvin and Rosa Parks, there was a school teacher named Elizabeth “Lizzie” Jennings.
In 1854, Lizzie tried boarding a streetcar in New York City but was denied a seat and brutally attacked.
Lizzie sued the company, driver, and conductor of the streetcar and won.
Her case helped the movement for equality on public transportation in New York. Buy on Amazon
Accomplishments: Effa Manley was the co-owner of the Negro League Team, the Newark Eagles. Under her ownership, In 1946 the Newark Eagles won the Negro World Series.
Manley was also a civil rights activist and was the treasurer for the New Jersey NAACP.
In 2006, Effa Manley became the first woman inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Buy on Amazon
Accomplishments: Jelly Roll Morton, Born Ferdinand Joseph Lamothe was an early jazz musician in the 1920s who is known by some as the creator of jazz.
Historians believe he may not have been the creator of jazz, but he was the first jazz musician to put his arrangements on paper.
Accomplishments: Augusta Savage was a sculptor during the Harlem Renaissance.
In 1934 Augusta was elected to the National Association of Women Painters and Sculptors, making her the first Black woman to join the organization.
In 1934, she opened an art studio in Harlem called The Savage Studio of Arts and Crafts. It would later become the Harlem Community Art Center. At her studio, she taught many artists including Jacob Lawerence and Gwendolyn Knight.
In 1939, Savage was one of two Black artists asked to present their art at the New York World’s Fair.
Today, you can find the Gamin, one of her most famous busts, at the Smithsonian Museum. Buy on Amazon
Accomplishments: Melba Liston was a self-taught trombonist, arranger, and composer from Kansas City, Missouri.
In the 1940s she was the first woman trombonist to play in big bands.
As a trombonist, she worked with Dizzy Gillespie, John Coltrane, Billie Holiday, and Quincy Jones.
She was also an arranger for Motown and composed music for films.
In the 1970s she was the director of popular music studies at the Jamaica Institute of Music. Buy on Amazon
Accomplishments: Fannie Lou Hamer was a civil rights leader determined to make a change.
In the 1960s, Fannie Lou Hamer worked in Mississippi as a voting rights activist.
In 1964 she spoke at the Democratic National Convention as a representative of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP). The MFDP’s purpose was to challenge Mississippis’s all-white Democratic Party, which did not represent the rights and needs of its Black constituents.
This televised speech led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act.
Although she lost, in 1964 Hamer ran for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, to show other Black Americans that they can run for office. Buy on Amazon
Accomplishments: Born enslaved, Bill Traylor discovered his love of art at a late age. When Traylor was 85 he began drawing. Using pencils and paint, he drew his artwork on the streets of Montgomery, Alabama.
In 1940 he had his first exhibit, Bill Traylor: People’s Artist. Buy on Amazon
Accomplishments: George Moses Horton was a poet and was the first southern African American man to be published.
Horton published his first book of poetry in 1829, called the Hope of Liberty. He would go on to publish three more books.
In 1978 Chatham County, North Carolina declared June 28 as George Moses Horton day.
He is also the namesake of George Horton Middle School in North Carolina.
George Moses Horton was inducted into the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame in 1996. Buy on Amazon
Accomplishments: Althea Gibson was a fierce tennis player and golfer.
In 1950 Althea was the first Black tennis player to compete in the U.S. National Championship.
In 1951 she was the first Black player to compete at Wimbledon.
Gibson won the French Open in 1956 and 1957-1958 she won Wimbledon and The U.S. Open two years in a row.
Making Althea the first Black tennis player to win The French Open, Wimbledon, and The U.S. Open.
She also would become the first Black golfer in the Ladies Professional Golf Association in 1964.
In 1971, Gibson was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame. Buy on Amazon
Accomplishments: Vivien Thomas was a medical researcher during the Great Depression that had dreams of going to medical school. He worked hard to save money to go to school but lost all his savings during the Great Depression. In 1930, he became a laboratory assistant that quickly excelled in the medical field.
With his research and inventions, in 1944 he assisted in the first open-heart surgery of a child. He helped create what is known as the Blalock-Taussig shunt. Blalock and Taussig never gave credit to Thomas when the procedure was documented in a medical journal. To this day, it is still commonly known as the Blalock-Taussig shunt.
Thomas was presented with an honorary doctorate from Johns Hopkins University in 1976.
In 2004, HBO released a film about Vivien Thomas called, Something the Lord Made.
Accomplishments: Mamie “Peanut” Johnson was the first female pitcher to play in the Negro Leagues and only one of three women in the league.
Mamie Johnson began playing for the Indianapolis Clowns in 1953. She pitched and played second base, eventually replacing her teammate Hank Aaron.
Johnson credited Satchel Paige for perfecting her curveball.
In 2008 Johnson and other Negro League players were drafted by MLB franchises. Mamie Johnson was drafted by the Washington Nationals. Buy on Amazon
Accomplishments: Today, we would consider Junius G. Groves an agricultural scientist. In one year, he grew around twelve million potatoes. Rightfully earning the name, The Potato King.
His success in farming would make him one of the wealthiest Black Americans in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
He was so successful, Union Pacific Railroad built a railroad spur (similar to a stop) to his property because of how many potatoes he shipped from his property.
He also built a community center, church, and golf course (for Black citizens) in Edwardsville, Kansas. Buy on Amazon
Raye Montague was an engineer that worked for the U.S. Navy.
During the Vietnam War, she was given a month to design a warship. Montague completed it in 19 hours.
In 1972 Raye Montague received the U.S. Navy’s Meritorious Civilian Service Award for her design.
Raye Montague also taught at U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland
Known as the U.S. Navy Hidden Figure, many of her ship designs are still used today. Buy on Amazon
Accomplishments: Lewis H. Michaux was a civil rights activist and owned the National Memorial African Bookstore (1932-1974) in Harlem.
The bookstore not only sold books but was a meeting place for some of the most notable African Americans at this time. Muhammed Ali, W.E.B. Dubois, Langston Hughes, Earth Kitt, and others were regular visitors of The National Memorial African Bookstore.
Malcolm X was known to give his speeches at the bookstore.
Lewis Michaux’s bookstore would become the most prominent place to find books by and about African Americans during this time. Buy on Amazon
Accomplishments: In 1895, Mary Fields also known as Stagecoach Mary would become the first Black woman to become a mail carrier. Her official title was a Star Route Carrier, and she would travel by stagecoach during the harsh weather of Montana.
Mary did whatever it took to ensure her cargo was delivered safely. She fought off wolves, thieves, and had no problem traveling the dangerous mountain trails.
Stagecoach Mary was a Star Route Carrier for 8 years, quitting in her early 70s. Buy on Amazon
Accomplishments: Dr. Patricia Bath was an inventor and ophthalmologist.
Dr. Bath became the first African American to finish an ophthalmology residency in 1973.
In 1983 she helped create UCLA’s ophthalmology residency program and would become the chair of the program. Being the first woman to hold that position in the U.S.
In 1986 Dr. Patricia Bath invented the Laserphaco Probe, a device to treat cataracts. In 1988 she received a patent for her invention and she became the first female Black doctor to receive a patent for a medical device. She also has patents in Japan, Europe, and Canada. Buy on Amazon
Accomplishments: James Van Der Zee was a photographer known for his photos from the Harlem Renaissance. Van Der Zee photographed celebrities and people around Harlem.
In 1969, the Metropolitan Museum of Art displayed an exhibition called Harlem on My Mind, that showcased Jame Van Der Zee’s work.
In 1979 he was awarded the Living Legacy Award by President Jimmy Carter and the recipient of the International Black Photographers. Buy on Amazon
Accomplishments: Bessie Smith was a blues singer known as the Empress of the Blues.
Bessie worked with many performers, including Ma Rainey, who helped Smith navigate the vaudeville circuit.
Bessie’s unique voice helped her become a successful recording artist, Downhearted Blues was one of her first tracks and sold about 800,000 copies.
By the end of the 1920s, Bessie Smith would become one of the highest-paid Black performers at that time.
This list was so much fun to create! I hope you found some new faces to recognize all year long!