This book list contains African Americans who aren’t well known to many people. Thankfully, there are picture books that can help us all be more informed about these influential and inspiring people!
I will update this list as I find more books! Follow me on Instagram to get updates and ideas for other picture books! If there’s a book you think I should add, comment below!
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Mamie “Peanut” Johnson (1935-2017) loved baseball wanted to play professionally. She could not play for the white All-American Girls Professional Baseball Leagues, so she joined the men in the Negro Leagues. Mamie is known as the first female pitcher in the league.
Mary Walker (1848-1969) learned how to read at 116 YEARS OLD!
She lived through 26 presidents. 😲 In The Oldest Student, we find out why she didn’t learn how to read and write until later in her life.
Junius G. Groves (1859-1925) was what we would consider an agricultural scientist who, in one year, grew around twelve million potatoes. His success in farming would make him one of the wealthiest African Americans in the 19th century.
Augusta Savage (1892-1962) loved sculpting as a young girl, and her principal was so impressed with her talent, he paid her to teach the other students. Eventually, Augusta leaves home and moves to New York and becomes a prominent figure in the Harlem Renaissance.
Horace Pippin (1888-1946) loved to paint when he was a child, but he put his passion to the side and went to fight in World War I. After the war, a life-changing injury, Horace finds a way to paint again.
George Moses Horton (1798-1884) was a poet and was the first southern African American man to published.
Melba Liston (1926-1999) was a self-taught trombone player from Kansas City, Missouri. In Little Melba and Her Big Trombone, we follow Melba’s journey to becoming a renowned jazz musician.
Fannie Lou Hamer (1917-1977) was a civil rights leader who was determined to make a change. Her story is heartbreaking, but it was why she refused to let the brutality of racism continue.
This is an excellent book that I highly recommend for parents and teachers to read. This book contains content and language that is more appropriate for older elementary/middle school students. You should use your best judgment if you’re reading this to your students.
Dr. Carter Godwin Woodson (1875-1950) was a historian that dug for the facts. He collected information so that he could share African and African-American history with the world. Dr. Woodson eventually created Negro History Week, which would ultimately become Black History Month. This book gives us a glimpse of his life and work. The illustrations are done by my favorite illustrator, Don Tate.
Lewis H. Michaux (1895-1976) was a civil rights activist and owned the National Memorial African Bookstore in Harlem. The bookstore not only sold books but was a meeting place for some of the most notable African Americans at this time. You could frequently see Malcolm X give speeches here. Muhammed Ali, W.E.B. Dubois, Langston Hughes, Earth Kitt, and others were visitors of The National Memorial African Bookstore. Lewis Michaux’s bookstore would become the most prominent place to find books by and about African Americans.
Vivien Thomas (1910-1985) 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. This book takes us through his journey of becoming a medical pioneer. With his research and inventions, 1944 he assisted in the first open-heart surgery of a child. Babies today still benefit from Vivien Thomas’ medical efforts. If you’ve never seen the movie about him, it’s called Something the Lord Made, check it out!
At the age of 85, Bill Traylor(1853-1949) would become an artist in Montgomery, Alabama. His story proves it is never too late to start over.
Dr. Patricia Bath (1942-2019) loved science as a girl and turned her passion into a career. After attending medical school at Howard University, she intervened at Harlem Hospital Center, where she found that African-Americans were two times more likely to be blind than whites. She performed eye surgeries for free to members of this community to help them regain their sight. Dr. Bath studied overseas, where she learned more about laser cataract surgery and eventually invented the laserphaco probe. Later in her career, she became the first woman ophthalmologist at UCLA and became the chief of their residency program.
I love the Amazing Scientists Series because they feature some amazing women that are unknown to most of us. This book is all about the engineer, Raye Montague (1935-2018). After seeing her first boat, Raye knew she wanted to become an engineer. Of course, at that time, African Americans becoming engineers was almost impossible. But, she would become an engineer and get a job working for the Navy, where she would design ships.
Gordon Parks (1912-2006) was the first African American to write and direct a major film and the first African American photographer at Vogue and Life magazines.