I’ve been looking for books about uncommon figures in black history and gathered a good bunch.
1. The Black Russian by Vladimir Alexandrov
Born in Mississippi in 1872, African-American Frederick Bruce Thomas travels to Moscow where he establishes new business foundations, gains Russian citizenship, and a new name: Fyodor Fyodorovich Tomas. Yep, true story!
2. Spectacle: The Astonishing Life of Ota Benga by Pamela Newkirk
Be prepared to be angry and flip a couple of tables. Author Pamela Newkirk uncovers the short, horrendous life of Ota Benga, a Mbuti Pygmy who was taken from his homeland to be presented as an exhibit for the St. Louis World’s Fair of 1904 and the Bronx Zoo.
3. Prince of Darkness by Shane White
Jeremiah G. Hamilton, known as “The only black millionaire in New York” during his lifetime, started out trading counterfeit coins in Haiti (and hiding from authorities in a boat) to becoming an incredibly successful New York wall street broker battling over property with America’s well-known businessman Cornelius Vanderbilt.
4. The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Oladuah Equiano or, Gustavus Vassa, The African by Himself
Olaudah Equiano’s slavery memoir sparked influence to end African trade in Britain and its colonies with the Slave Trade Act of 1807. After gaining his freedom, Equiano traveled extensively and worked actively as a slave abolitionist. He had indeed an interesting life. Unfortunately, the location of this gentleman’s grave is unknown.
What’s that all about?
5. Incidents in the Life of A Slave Girl by Harriet Ann Jacobs
Harriet Ann Jacobs describes in detail the obstacles she faced as a slave, a woman, and a mother trying to get her children away from a dreadful fate in chains.
6. King Peggy by Peggielene Bartels and Eleanor Herman
D.C. secretary Peggielene Bartels discovers she is next in line to become king after the death of her royal uncle in Otuam, Ghana. Not only Peggy takes the crown, she fixes her village’s issues by opening up a city bank account and networking with sponsors to establish a school for the city youths.
7. Jazz Age Josephine by Jonah Winter
Sorry, you won’t find anything about Josephine Baker’s role as a WWII spy in this children’s book. This book narrates the life of the jazz queen from her meager beginnings in Chicago to her rise in stardom in Paris. Josephine Baker is personally one of my favorite black women of all time!
8. Before There Was Mozart by Lesa-Cline Ransome and James E. Ransome
Did you know this black violinist influenced Mozart? Sadly, these virtuous musicians never collaborated. Joseph Boulogne Chevalier de Saint-George was born to a slave mother and a slave master father. His father introduced him to music and took him to France to sharpen his skills as a violinist. Boulogne became so famous that he performed for Marie Antoinette and King Louis XVI. Antoinette kept him by her side as her music instructor.
9. Phillis’s Big Test by Catherine Clinton
At one point in time, people had the ridiculous mindset that slaves couldn’t write especially poetry. Phillis Wheatley had to take a test in front of group of educated white men to prove she was the author of a collection of poems she created. Phillis wrote another poetry collection after she passed her examination but it was never published.
10. Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer by Carole Boston Weatherford
I picked up this book because she was one of the lesser-known African-American figures of the Civil Rights movement I’ve known. Like all of the other people who fought for racial equality, Fannie Lou Hamer was tired of the racial bs. This children’s book depicts Fannie’s life striving for justice after being threatened with her life trying to vote and beaten in jail for being in a” white” cafe. She led sit-ins, marched with Martin Luther King Jr., and helped form the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party.
Have you read any interesting books for Black History Month?
Whom have you read about that mainstream African-American history tends to miss?