In honor of Black History Month and the visiting exhibit from The Automotive Hall of Fame (AHoF) called Achievement that the library is hosting all month long, we’ve decided to honor some of the many stories of African American achievement and innovation that often get lost to history. Celebrate these “hidden figures” of history by checking out any of these titles below.
The Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict / Adult Fiction BENEDICT
In her twenties, Belle da Costa Greene is hired by J. P. Morgan to curate a collection of rare manuscripts, books, and artwork for his newly built Pierpont Morgan Library. Belle becomes a fixture in New York City society and one of the most powerful people in the art and book world, known for her impeccable taste and shrewd negotiating for critical works as she helps create a world-class collection.
But Belle has a secret, one she must protect at all costs. She was born not Belle da Costa Greene but Belle Marion Greener. She is the daughter of Richard Greener, the first Black graduate of Harvard and a well-known advocate for equality. Belle’s complexion isn’t dark because of her alleged Portuguese heritage that lets her pass as white—her complexion is dark because she is African American.
The Black Cabinet: The Untold Story of African Americans and Politics during the Age of Roosevelt by jill watts / Adult nonfiction 323.1126 w
In 1932 in the midst of the Great Depression, Franklin Delano Roosevelt won the presidency with the help of key African American defectors from the Republican Party. At the time, most African Americans lived in poverty in the South, denied citizenship rights and terrorized by white violence. But Roosevelt’s victory created the opportunity for a group of African American intellectuals and activists to join his administration as racial affairs experts. Known as the Black Cabinet, they organized themselves into an unofficial council. They innovated antidiscrimination policy, documented the New Deal’s inequalities, led programs that lifted people out of poverty and paved the way for greater federal accountability to African Americans and a greater black presence in government. But the Black Cabinet never won official recognition from Roosevelt, and with his death, it disappeared from history. This is its story.
Hidden Figures: The American Dream and The Untold Story of The Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win The Space Race / Adult Nonfiction 510.92 S
The phenomenal true story of the black female mathematicians at NASA at the leading edge of the feminist and civil rights movement, whose calculations helped fuel some of America’s greatest achievements in space—a powerful, revelatory contribution that is as essential to our understanding of race, discrimination, and achievement in modern America as Between the World and Me and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot / Adult Nonfiction 616.0277 S
Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. She was a poor Southern tobacco farmer who worked the same land as her slave ancestors, yet her cells—taken without her knowledge—became one of the most important tools in medicine: The first “immortal” human cells grown in culture, which are still alive today, though she has been dead for more than sixty years. HeLa cells were vital for developing the polio vaccine; uncovered secrets of cancer, viruses, and the atom bomb’s effects; helped lead to important advances like in vitro fertilization, cloning, and gene mapping; and have been bought and sold by the billions.
Half American: The Epic Story of African Americans Fighting World War II At Home and Abroad by Matthew Delmont / Adult Nonfiction 940.54 D
Over one million Black men and women served in World War II. Black troops were at Normandy, Iwo Jima, and the Battle of the Bulge, serving in segregated units and performing unheralded but vital support jobs, only to be denied housing and educational opportunities on their return home. Without their crucial contributions to the war effort, the United States could not have won the war. And yet the stories of these Black veterans have long been ignored, cast aside in favor of the myth of the “Good War” fought by the “Greatest Generation.” Half American is American history as you’ve likely never read it before.
Black Tudors: The Untold Story by Miranda Kaufmann / Adult Nonfiction 942.05 K
A black porter publicly whips a white Englishman in the hall of a Gloucestershire manor house. A Moroccan woman is baptised in a London church. Henry VIII dispatches a Mauritanian diver to salvage lost treasures from the Mary Rose. From long-forgotten records emerge the remarkable stories of Africans who lived free in Tudor England…
They were present at some of the defining moments of the age. They were christened, married and buried by the Church. They were paid wages like any other Tudors. The untold stories of the Black Tudors, dazzlingly brought to life by Kaufmann, will transform how we see this most intriguing period of history.
African Samurai: The True Story of Yasuke, a Legendary Black Warrior in Feudal Japan by Thomas Lockley / Adult Nonfiction 952 L
When Yasuke arrived in Japan in the late 1500s, he had already traversed much of the known world. Kidnapped as a child in Northeast Africa, he served as a bodyguard to the head of the Jesuits in Asia, traveling to India and China, and eventually arriving in Japan, where everything would change. Most Japanese people had never seen an African man before. Some believed he was a god. Others saw him as the black-skinned Buddha. Among those drawn to him was Lord Nobunaga, head of the most powerful clan in Japan, who made Yasuke a samurai in his court. Soon, Yasuke was learning the traditions of martial arts and ascending the upper echelons of Japanese society, where he would live on to become a legend for the centuries to come.
Black Fortunes: The Story of the First Six African Americans Who Escaped Slavery and Became Millionaires by Shomari Wills / Adult Nonfiction 973 W
Between the years of 1830 and 1927, as the last generation of blacks born into slavery was reaching maturity, a small group of industrious, tenacious, and daring men and women broke new ground to attain the highest levels of financial success.
Mary Ellen Pleasant, used her Gold Rush wealth to further the cause of abolitionist John Brown. Robert Reed Church, became the largest landowner in Tennessee. Hannah Elias, the mistress of a New York City millionaire, used the land her lover gave her to build an empire in Harlem. Orphan and self-taught chemist Annie Turnbo-Malone, developed the first national brand of hair care products. Mississippi school teacher O. W. Gurley, developed a piece of Tulsa, Oklahoma, into a “town” for wealthy black professionals and craftsmen that would become known as “the Black Wall Street.” Although Madam C. J Walker was given the title of America’s first female black millionaire, she was not. She was the first, however, to flaunt and openly claim her wealth—a dangerous and revolutionary act.
Benjamin Banneker And Us: Eleven Generations of an American Family by Rachel J. Webster / adult nonfiction BIO BANNEKER
In 1791, Thomas Jefferson hired a Black man to help survey Washington, DC. That man was Benjamin Banneker, an African American mathematician, a writer of almanacs, and one of the greatest astronomers of his generation. Banneker then wrote what would become a famous letter to Jefferson, imploring the new president to examine his hypocrisy, as someone who claimed to love liberty yet was an enslaver. More than two centuries later, Rachel Jamison Webster, an ostensibly white woman, learns that this groundbreaking Black forefather is also her distant relative.
Acting as a storyteller, Webster draws on oral history and conversations with her DNA cousins to imagine the lives of their shared ancestors across eleven generations, among them Banneker’s grandparents, an interracial couple who broke the law to marry when America was still a conglomerate of colonies under British rule.
Invisible: The Forgotten Story of The Black Woman Lawyer Who Took Down America’s Most Powerful Mobster by Stephen L. Carter / Adult Nonfiction BIO CARTER
She was black and a woman and a prosecutor, a graduate of Smith College and the granddaughter of slaves, as dazzlingly unlikely a combination as one could imagine in New York of the 1930s―and without the strategy she devised, Lucky Luciano, the most powerful Mafia boss in history, would never have been convicted. When special prosecutor Thomas E. Dewey selected twenty lawyers to help him clean up the city’s underworld, she was the only member of his team who was not a white male.
Eunice Hunton Carter, Stephen Carter’s grandmother, was raised in a world of stultifying expectations about race and gender, yet by the 1940s, her professional and political successes had made her one of the most famous black women in America. But her triumphs were shadowed by prejudice and tragedy.
Black Radical: The Life and Times of William Monroe Trotter by Kerri Greenidge / Adult Nonficition BIO TROTTER
Black Radical reclaims William Monroe Trotter (1872–1934) as a seminal figure whose prophetic yet ultimately tragic―and all too often forgotten―life offers a link from Frederick Douglass to Black Lives Matter. Kerri K. Greenidge renders the drama of turn-of-the-century America, showing how Trotter, a Harvard graduate, a newspaperman and an activist, galvanized black working-class citizens to wield their political power despite the virulent racism of post-Reconstruction America. Situating his story in the broader history of liberal New England to “satisfying” (Casey Cep, The New Yorker) effect, this magnificent biography will endure as the definitive account of Trotter’s life, without which we cannot begin to understand the trajectory of black radicalism in America.