Bibliophile’s Book Find: African American National Biography

Hello FSU Community! I am very happy to continue to introduce our new additions to the Reference Collection at the Library. The first resource of the Fall ’10 semester that I would like to introduce to you is the “African American National Biography”, edited by Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham. This eight volume series was published by Oxford University Press in 2008.

This series offers biographies of over 4,000 historically significant African Americans. The series includes entries on both living and deceased men and women, from Esteban who was the first African to set foot in North America in 1528 to Serena Williams, famous tennis player born in 1982. The introduction to the series states (vol. 1, pg. xxxv) that the inclusion of living figures is an attempt to “capture the unprecedented contributions of African Americans since World War II, and especially since the civil rights era. Thus the AANB includes not only deceased twentieth-century figures like Mary McLeod Bethune, Louis Armstrong, Paul Robeson, and Florence Griffith Joyner, but also Colin Powell, Toni Morrison, Hank Aaron, Quincy Jones, Oprah Winfrey and Harry Belafonte.” However, this encyclopedia does not cover only the very famous. The introduction continues : “The sheer scope of AANB, […] enabled us to unearth stories of unheralded African Americans, many of whom had never before appeared in a biographical dictionary.” Some of these Americans include Lucy Terry, the first African American woman poet, and Margaret Charles Smith, who was a midwife that delivered over 3,500 babies between 1948 and 1976.

The entries in this series are listed alphabetically. Each entry includes the birth and (when applicable) death date of the person, as well as a brief overview of his or her life and contribution to society. Each entry concludes with a bibliography of outsides sources to find further information on the person. There are images of the person associated with some entries.

During my perusal of this exciting series, I discovered that Cool Papa Bell (vol. 1, pg. 344) was a baseball player from Mississippi who was “once clocked at twelve seconds circling the bases” and that he is “recognized as the fastest player to ever play the game.” Page 173 of volume 3 has a wonderful candid photo of Duke Ellington playing at the Hurricane Club in New York City in 1943. A description of the factors that influenced Martin Luther King Jr. to enter the Baptist ministry are described on page 103 of volume 5. Stop by the Library and browse through this series to find these and many other fascinating facts and photos.

This book can be found in the Reference Room, Room 118 of the Library. The call number for this book is Ref E 185.96 A4466 2008. It is shelved in the “New Reference Books” section. If you have any questions about this or any other resource, contact a Reference Librarian in person, by phone at 508-626-4654, by email at reference@framingham.edu or IM at fscrefdesk. If you would like to suggest a treasure in the library’s Reference Room, please email me at lwilson2@framingham.edu

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