Growing up, I learned about a few African-American women in school: Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Rosa Parks. These three women have made important contributions to our society, but there are many more black women in our country who have helped shape our history. Sadly, due to bias and bigotry, their stories haven’t always been told, and their contributions haven’t always been recognized.
One of my favorite things about books is that they can open our eyes to a wide variety of history and experiences we might never otherwise encounter. The books on this list will teach you more about women whose names you know, and may also introduce you to some women you’ve never heard of before. They will all inspire you with their stories of bravery and perseverance.
My boys and I enjoyed diving into these rich histories; I think your family will, too.
27 Books About Amazing African-American Women
Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History by Vashti Harrison — (Released December 2017; Available for pre-order) — This book profile 40 amazing women who have made a difference in the world. You’ll see well-known women like Sojourner Truth and Maya Angelou, but also lesser know heroes like Alice Ball and Bessie Coleman. If you only check out one book on this list, this is the one to get!
Let it Shine: Stories of Black Women Freedom Fighters by Andrea Davis Pinkney — This collection assembles the stories of ten amazing women into one powerful volume. Learn more about Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, and Shirley Chisholm.
Activists and Political Leaders
Who is Michelle Obama? by Megan Stine — This book from the awesome Who Was? series takes a look at the life of former first lady Michelle Obama, who is so much more than just the wife of a President. Middle grade readers will love learning about her life as a lawyer, mother, and humanitarian.
Only Passing Through: The Story of Sojourner Truth by Anne Rockwell — Sojourner Truth was born a slave, and for many people that meant that she had no worth outside of the work she could do. However, she didn’t let this stop her from becoming one of the most prominent voices in the abolitionist movement. This books weaves the facts of Sojourner’s life into a compelling story that young children will understand and embrace.
A Picture Book of Harriet Tubman by David A. Adler — Adler is one of my favorite authors, and he has created another fantastic picture book about the life of an American hero. This book is a simple and straightforward telling of Tubman’s story, as she goes from a slave to one of the most well-known conductors on the Underground Railroad.
Women Who Broke the Rules: Coretta Scott King by Kathleen Krull — The devoted wife of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was an important activist in her own right. This short chapter book tells about her early life, her participation in the Montgomery Bus Boycott, her work to help pass the Civil Rights Act, and the founding of the Center for Non-Violent Social Change in Atlanta. A great read for school-aged kids.
Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer by Carol Boston Weatherford — Hatred, prejudice, and even physical violence could not keep Fannie Lou Hamer from speaking out about equal voting rights. This must-read picture book tells her story, and shows her importance in shaping and empowering the Civil Rights Movement, particularly during the Freedom Summer of 1964.
Rosa by Nikki Giovanni — The story of an amazing woman, told by another amazing woman! This gorgeous book paints the true picture of Rosa Parks, an activist who was willing to be arrested for her beliefs. This inspiring story is one every family should read.
Ruby Bridges Goes to School: My True Story by Ruby Bridges — This early reader is perfect for introducing young elementary students to the story of Ruby Bridges. Ruby was the first African-American child to integrate a New Orleans school, and the image of her bravely walking by a crowd of angry protesters has become iconic. This book tells her story in her own words. We purchased this book after learning more about Ruby at The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, and it’s become one of my second-grader’s favorites.
The Youngest Marcher: The Story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, A Young Civil Rights Activist by Cynthia Levinson — Audrey Faye Hendricks was arrested for protesting in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963. Though she was very young, she was not afraid to stand up to injustice and raise her voice for equality. This brand-new picture book is a great tool for teaching kids that they can make a difference at any age.
Art, Music, and Literature
Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker by Patricia Hruby Powell — I always knew that Josephine Baker was well-known as a performer, but until I read this book, I didn’t know that she was also a civil rights activist. This compelling story of Baker’s life drew us all in, and the boys enjoyed it as much as I did.
You Should Meet: Misty Copeland by Laurie Calkhoven — This level 3 early reader book explores the life of Misty Copeland, the American Ballet Theatre’s first black female principal dancer. You’ll learn the struggles Misty faced as she worked to reach her goal, and why she never gave up. Her story is an inspiration to young performers in all areas!
Little Melba and Her Big Trombone by Katheryn Russell-Brown — Melba Dixon loved jazz music, and as a child taught herself to play the trombone. This eventually led to a prolific career in music, but she faced many obstacles along the way due to both her race and gender. We loved learning more about this great musician, and finding some of her music after we read the book!
Harlem’s Little Blackbird: The Story of Florence Mills by Renee Watson — Florence Mills had a gift for song from a young age, and that gift took her far — all the way to Broadway. However, she still dealt with injustice and prejudice, and that led to a devotion to civil rights and helping other black artists. I didn’t know Florence’s story before I read this book, and I’m so glad I found it!
Maya Angelou by Lisbeth Kaiser — This sweet book explores the life of a woman who was so many things: author, poet, singer, actress, and activist. Young children will enjoy this colorful volume from the Little People, Big Dreams series that profiles famous women through history.
Ella Fitzgerald: The Tale of a Vocal Virtuosa by Andrea Davis Pinkney — A jazzy cat narrates the story about this legendary singer and her rise to fame. I love this book because of the great writing, gorgeous illustrations, and the overall “jazz” feel that it has. It’s a great introduction both to Fitzgerald and jazz music.
Martin & Mahalia: His Words, Her Song by Andrea Davis Pinkney — Jackson was an acclaimed gospel singer who became one of the musical voices of the Civil Rights Movement. Follow her story and see how her life intertwined with that of Dr. King and created one of the most powerful moments in history.
Fancy Party Gowns: The Story of Fashion Designer Ann Cole Lowe by Deborah Blumenthal — I had no idea that the creator of Jacqueline Kennedy’s wedding dress was a black woman who was forced to learn separated from the rest of her class in design school, due to her race. Ann Cole Lowe learned dressmaking alongside her mother, and continued making dresses even after her mother passed when she was 16. This book is a fascinating look at a little known designer.
Science and Medicine
The Doctor With an Eye for Eyes: The Story of Dr. Patricia Bath by Julia Finley Mosca — Dr. Patricia Bath grew up in the age of the Civil Rights Movement,and fought racism, sexism, and economic hardship to become a renowned doctor. This book even includes a note from Dr. Bath!
Hidden Figures (Young Readers’ Edition) by Margot Lee Shetterly — The true story that inspired an award-winning movie is also available in a version that is perfect for readers at a 3rd grade level and higher! Learn about the amazing, and until recently, overlooked African-American women who worked behind the scenes to put the first man on the moon. I highly recommend reading the book before you see the movie, but it’s a great choice no matter what. A picture book version of this story is coming in 2018!
You Should Meet: Katherine Johnson by Thea Feldman — Another great read for Hidden Figures fans! American astronauts would’ve never made it to the moon without the work of Katherine Johnson. Johnson was a mathematician whose calculations were used in planning some of NASA’s most important missions, and she worked for NASA until her retirement in 1986. This level 3 early reader is a great introduction to her fascinating life.
You Should Meet: Mae Jemison by Laurie Calkhoven — Mae Jemison broke barriers as the first African-American woman in space. However, she also went to medical school and was a part of the Peace Corps before fulfilling her dream of becoming an astronaut. This level 3 early reader teaches all about the life of this inspiring woman.
Wilma Unlimited: How Wilma Randolph Became the World’s Fastest Woman by Kathleen Krull — Talk about inspiring! This book taught me many things I didn’t know about Wilma Rudolph, including how she overcame polio to become the first woman to win three gold medals in a single Olympic Games.
Who Are Venus and Serena Williams? by James Buckley Jr. — The Williams sisters are the most dominant athletes of this generation, are fiercely competitive, and are also close friends. This book from the Who Was? series explores their lives and how they have changed the game of tennis forever.
A Strong Right Arm: The Story of Mamie “Peanut” Johnson by Michelle Y. Green — Until I read this book, I had no idea that women had played baseball in the Negro Leagues. Mamie Johnson was one of those woman, with a fierce arm and a fighting spirit. Middle grade readers will enjoy this information-packed chapter book, which includes many photos from the 1950s, when Mamie played for the Indianapolis Clowns.
Molly By Golly! The Legend of Molly Williams, America’s First Female Firefighter by Dianne Ochiltree — I hadn’t heard of Molly Williams before I read this book, but now I want to know more about this amazing woman! Molly was a cook in a firehouse, but when the firefighters are down with influenza, it’s up to her to save the day and put out a fire. She is considered by many to be America’s first female firefighter.
Fly High: The Story of Bessie Coleman by Louise Borden — As a young girl, Bessie Coleman couldn’t go to school, but she sought out learning wherever she could. She faced obstacle after obstacle, but never gave up, and eventually she became the first African-American to obtain a pilot’s license. This story is guaranteed to inspire!
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