African American

Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom


"I would like for young people to know that each day of your life is a journey into history and that you are making that history. And you have the ability to change something each day of your life. Believe it or not, people, it can't happen without you." 

- Lynda Blackmon Lowery, interview on National Public Radio

Lynda Blackmon Lowery was the youngest person to walk with Martin Luther King, Jr., Congressman John Lewis and other civil rights activists who marched from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, in 1965 to demand that African Americans have the freedom to vote. She was 14 when the march began. She turned 15 on March 22, 1965, the second day of the four-day march, and was admittedly terrified of what harm might come to her and others as they proceeded toward the capital city governed by devout segregationist George Wallace. But she was also determined."Determination is a way of overcoming terror. So by the end of second day, I felt fine. I was ready."

Lowery's memoir is a powerful account of and tribute to the many young people who participated in the Civil Rights movement. Her personal experiences are followed with succinct explanation of the injustices many African Americans encountered when they attempted to vote in the 1960s and earlier, and the need for their voting rights to be legally delineated.

Her story does describe the violence she endured during some of the public demonstrations. But it is framed by the strength and courage she gained by joining her classmates and adults leading peaceful protests designed to overcome hate and racism. And it concludes in victory, as we celebrate this year the 50th Anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, passed by Congress on August 6, 1965.

Says Lowery: "We were determined to do something and we did it. If you are determined, you can overcome your fears, and then you can change the world."

For additional stories and nonfiction books about the participation of young people in the Civil Rights Movement, see our Civil Rights Movement booklist. World Book Online, an informational resource available to Library cardholders for free through the Library website, includes a Timeline of the Civil Rights Movement. You can also find a display in the Children's area at the Main Library of images from the Civil Rights Movement to help prompt discussion about this time period and help inform children who may be attending the Power of Words presentation at the IU Auditorium September 21, where Congressman John Lewis will be speaking about his book March and the pivotal role he played in the Civil Rights Movement.

Civil Rights Display

Leaving Before the Rains Come


If you’re read Fuller’s first two memoirs you know that 1. Her family drinks a lot 2. Is a tad dysfunctional 3. But everyone loves each other and also madly loves the people, wildlife, landscape of southern Africa.

In this book, Fuller (whose nickname is Bobo) recounts picking up stakes, giving up her Read more »

Claire of the Sea Light


This Sunday at 2 p.m. in Room 2B, join our Booksplus discussion about Edwidge Danticat’s Claire of the Sea Light.  In honor of Black History month, we will discuss this luminous book set in Haiti just before the cataclysmic earthquake of 2009.

Danticat, who emigrated from Haiti as a child, has won many awards including the MacArthur Award (nicknamed the genius award).

If you like folklore and learning about other cultures, Claire of the Sea Light is the book for you. It tells the tale of a young girl whose mother died just after her daughter’s birth. According to Haitian folklore, this makes Claire a revenan, a child who battled with her mother’s spirit and won.

On each of her birthdays, Nozias, Claire’s father, takes her to visit her mother’s grave. In the cemetery they meet Madam Gaelle, a fabric store owner and wealthy widow in town, who lost her own daughter on the same date as Claire’s birthday. Read more »

The Invention of Wings


Two young women characters guide the reader back to 19th century South Carolina where the institution of slavery affected everyone’s life and relationships. Hetty (nicknamed Handful) is a skinny wisp of a girl with amber eyes and wild braids in her hair. 

At the age of ten, the Missus gives her to her middle child, Sarah, who has just moved up from the nursery.  In this society it’s normal to have your own slave, and one who can mend and sew is highly valued.

At an elegant birthday party attended by the privileged young of Charleston society, Sarah refuses this lady’s maid/slave.  Sarah does not believe in the institution although her family’s life centers around its abuse and brutality.  The Missus walks everywhere with a cane, but the slaves know its real use—to hit them on the head should they bring this lady displeasure. Read more »

Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans


Kadir Nelson“Painting historical American subjects pushes me to learn more about who I am, where I come from, and the role my ancestors played in helping form our country.” – Kadir Nelson, author and illustrator of Heart and Soul.

Kadir Nelson’s work brings history alive for students today. In the Prologue to Heart and Soul he notes that young people won’t always have the chance to speak with the people who lived through the Civil Rights Movement, or who played baseball for a league that no longer exists. So he documents the stories from these people, vividly portrays them, so that they will be known and remembered, learned and absorbed by future generations.

"Heart and Soul is not only the story of my family, but an intimate introduction to American history that I hope will remind readers of our extraordinary story and inspire them to learn more about America as I have done – by exploring their unique family stories and their connection to the American story."

Find Heart and Soul and other outstanding  books by Kadir Nelson through the Library’s catalog. See Kadir Nelson’s website to learn more about him and his art. Visit the African American History Month website from the Library of Congress to discover more about the remarkable people and events that connect us all.


Detroit: An American Autopsy

DetroitLeading the news today is the announcement that Detroit filed for bankruptcy. They aren’t the first municipality to file, but they are the largest. What this means for residents, city workers, retirees and the state of Michigan remains to be seen. 20 billion dollars is hard to wrap my mind around, and is a figure without names and faces.

Hoping to personalize this story is native son Charlie LeDuff. His recent nonfiction work is called Detroit: An American Autopsy. LeDuff is a journalist who left Detroit at an early age and traveled the world covering international conflicts and won a Pulitzer for his contributions at the New York Times. He returns to Detroit to work for The Detroit News.

This book covers a variety of stories, including the fall of ex-Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, city council corruption, the crumbling auto industry implications, and the struggles of a local fire station. You also meet LeDuff’s family and follow them while they are coping (or not) with living in and near Detroit. Read more »

February Books Plus

Silver Sparrow"My father, James Witherspoon, is a bigamist" is the shocking opening line of Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones. This memorable novel is set in Atlanta in the mid-80s and unwraps the themes of family, love and loyalty often with some painful results.  Two half-sisters are caught in the middle of the two families, one secret and one public. 

Books Plus has been on a mini-break over the holidays, but the first book discussion of the year will take place next Sunday. Please join us on February 3rd to discuss this raw and memorable novel.


Books Plus meets the first Sunday of each month. All are welcome. Join the discussion or simply come to listen.

No registration necessary. Drop in.

2 p.m., First Sundays Read more »

The Last Runaway


In The Last Runaway (as in all Tracy Chevalier's historical novels), you feel as though you are living exactly in the time period that she is describing. Her combination of research, realistic dialogue, characters true to the day, plus her skill at capturing the myriad details of daily life make her writing very believable.  In this novel, Chevalier transports us back to 1850s Ohio to a small town at the edge of the wilderness. But first, we experience a grueling ocean voyage from Quaker Honor Bright's perspective.  

Honor Bright accompanies her sister to America where Grace plans to wed someone from their English hometown.  After Honor suffers terrible seasickness on the journey, she refuses to take the lake route to Ohio, so they proceed by train and carriage. However Grace comes down with yellow fever and dies on the trip. Not knowing what else to do, Honor continues the journey to Faithwell, Ohio.

She catches yellow fever also and stops in Wellington at a local milliner's shop. Belle Mills takes her in.  Unfortunately, she's already met Belle's brother on the journey. Donovan is a slave hunter and he has stolen the key to Honor's trunk after ransacking the carriage while searching for runaway slaves. Read more »

Oprah's Book Club 2.0

Twelve Tribes of HattieJust released today (so new, it isn't even in our catalog yet!) is The Twelve Tribes of Hattie, the debut novel by Ayana Mathis.  This book has gotten some good reviews, including a glowing review from the often hard to please New York Times reviewer, Michiko Kakutani.  But what makes this book especially noteworthy?  One word: Oprah.

Yep. In case you missed it, last year Oprah renewed her book club, renamed Book Club 2.0 and chose Wild, Cheryl Strayed's memoir of her redemptive and inspring through hike of the Pacific Crest Trail. 

This year Oprah chose something completely different, but no less interesting sounding.  The Twelve Tribes of Hattie is about a young African-American woman who during the Great Migraration leaves Georgia and settles in Philadelphia.  Hattie's struggles and those of her children are interwoven in twelve narrative threads coming together to paint an intimate picture of a singular family, but also that of a greater nation.  Sounds great.  I can't wait until it hits the library shelves!


Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith

flygirlIda Mae Jones is a young African-American woman living with her family in Louisiana.  Her father who taught her to fly a small crop duster has passed away, and her brother has signed up to serve in World War II.  It is not surprising that Ida Mae feels caught between her family obligations and her love of flying.  She learns about the Women Airforce Service Pilots -- a civilian organization that served to fly airplanes under the military with the goal of freeing up qualified men to serve in combat.  The WASP pilots transferred planes and equipment from assembly plants to military bases and often trailed targets in the air for anti-aircraft artillery practice. 

Not only was the WASP a highly selective group that underwent rigorous training, but Ida Mae faces even more difficulty because she knows she can't sign up as a black woman.  Her fair skin allows her to pass for white, but the stress of this combined with the training proves difficult.  On the positive side, the friends Ida Mae makes in WASP training are fantastic and provide support for Ida Mae even if they don't know her secret for sure.  Read more »

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