Black History Month: A Resource Guide

February is Black History Month. This month offers an opportunity to learn about the histories and cultures of Black people in the United States. The library aims to explore these topics through programming and collections development throughout the year, but this month serves as a chance to focus our efforts.

The origins of Black History Month date to the early 20th century, when historian Carter G. Woodson, in collaboration with other Black advocates and scholars, campaigned for an annual week dedicated to Black history. The organizers scheduled the week for February because it coincided with two dates of significance, particularly for Black Americans: the birthdays of Frederick Douglass, a prominent abolitionist and civil rights advocate, and U.S. President Abraham Lincoln. The first observance enjoyed ample grassroots involvement, and by the mid-20th century the week had gained widespread national attention. In 1976, the federal government officially recognized African American History Month for the first time; the U.S. president has made an annual pronouncement formalizing the month every year since.

Both African American and Black are widely used terms. While the month is also referred to as African American History Month, the library primarily uses Black History Month to stay current with national conversations about respectful language. As always with language of this nature, it is recommended to defer to the preferences of the person or people who are members of a given community.


Learn about Black History

See below for lists of nonfiction, biographies and memoirs, and contemporary fiction geared toward adult readers and centered around the experiences and perspectives of Black Americans.

For teens, kids, and the youngest readers, below are lists of books that highlight Black history, culture and experiences.

Online resources include:


Programs & Exhibits at the Library

The library launches its Black History Month programming with the return of Ruha Benjamin. On Feb. 5 at 7 p.m. in the Community Room, the award-winning author is joined in conversation with Lorgia García Peña to discuss Benjamin’s new book, “Imagination: A Manifesto,” and its connection to her previous book, “Viral Justice.” Her new title promises to champion the power of the imagination to topple rigid social structures and paradigms of thought, making space for solidarity rooted in our interdependence. The author will be available for a book signing, hosted by Labyrinth Books, after the conversation.

The Black Voices Book Group also continues its monthly meetings and it plans to celebrate Black History Month by reading “Horse” by Geraldine Brooks and discussing this novel on Feb. 8 at 7 p.m. This group meets via Google Meet, which works best using the Chrome internet browser. No registration is required for the meetings of this book group, and all are welcome to join.

To highlight the contributions of Black inventors, the library welcomes James Howard for an Inventors Day Presentation, “Black Inventors Got Game,” on Feb. 11 at 2 p.m. in the Community Room. Historically, the contributions and significance of Black inventors and designers of the toy and game industry have remained sequestered and largely unnoticed. James Howard of the Black Inventors Hall of Fame highlights the Black designers, entrepreneurs and inventors who have made an impact in this ever-flourishing industry while discussing the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion in innovation. Following the presentation, attendees can examine and explore some of the inventions discussed and also take part in other activities related to the “Three Eras of African American Inventor Experience” exhibit on display in the library’s main lobby from Feb. 1-15. This interactive exhibit showcases the 400-year history of African American inventions from smallpox remedies to cell phone technology to the games we play and more.

This year’s Douglass Day Transcribe-a-thon, a crowdsourcing transcription project in which people work side-by-side on digitized manuscripts of Frederick Douglass, focuses on his general correspondence of Frederick Douglass from the Library of Congress. describes it as follows: “In 2024, we are going to transcribe the “Frederick Douglass Papers: General Correspondence, 1841 to 1912″ in the archives of the Library of Congress. This collection is extraordinarily rich. It includes public letters, intimate family moments, and much more. These letters show us the many versions of Frederick Douglass across so many parts of his long and storied lifetime fighting for Black rights and citizenship.” During the library’s event, participants will be shown by our staff how to access digitized files from the Library of Congress and how to create machine-readable transcriptions of the hand-written documents. The resulting datasets will allow the correspondence of Frederick Douglass to be more discoverable and accessible by communities all over the world. Stop in to the Tech Center to help us transcribe anytime between noon and 3 p.m on Douglass Day, Feb. 14. 

In the award-winning biographical drama “Lady Sings the Blues” (R; 2 hours, 24 minutes), Diana Ross portrays legendary jazz singer Billie Holiday. Beginning with Holiday’s traumatic youth, the film depicts her early attempts at a singing career and eventual rise to stardom, as well as her difficult relationship with Louis McKay, her boyfriend and manager. Casting a shadow over even Holiday’s brightest moments is the vocalist’s severe drug addiction, which threatens to end both her career and her life. The film will be screened in the library’s Community Room at 4 p.m. on Feb. 16, in advance of author Paul Alexander’s visit to the library on Feb. 20 to discuss “Bitter Crop,” his newly released biography of Holiday. This author presentation, hosted in collaboration with Labyrinth Books, is scheduled for 7 p.m. in the library’s Community Room.

Paul Alexander has published eight books, among them “Rough Magic,” a biography of Sylvia Plath, and “Salinger,” a biography of J. D. Salinger that was the basis of a documentary that appeared on “American Masters” on PBS, Netflix, and HBO. His nonfiction has appeared in numerous publications, including The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe, Newsday, New York, The Guardian, The Nation, The Washington Post and Rolling Stone. He teaches at Hunter College in New York.

At 6:30 p.m. on Feb. 21, the library welcomes to the Community Room a panel discussion commenting upon a screening of “Revolution ’67” (Not Rated; 1 hour, 22 minutes), a documentary which explores how Newark, New Jersey was affected by social unrest over six days in mid-July, 1967. Arising in response to poverty and police brutality, the tumult is remembered now as a landmark event in the ongoing struggle for social justice. Testimony to the event is provided by activists Tom Hayden and Amiri Baraka, journalist Bob Herbert, Mayor Sharpe James, as well as National Guardsmen and Newark citizens. A panel featuring the filmmaker, Marylou Tibaldo-Bongiorno, together with informed experts will provide context and go deeper into the film’s enduring significance.

Finally, A Journey Through African American Music offers a 45-minute storytelling and musical experience for all ages presented by Yearning To Learn. This event, at 2 p.m. on Feb. 24, connects the inception of African American music to its transformation through the growth of America. The presentation includes music, storytelling and audience participation, involving important instrumentation including the all-powerful drum. 


Resources for Educators

See the materials below for potential starting points for engaging learners. You’ll find lesson plans, digital tools, primary source collections, and more.

Content made possible with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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