Black History Month and African American history collections

We’re taking a look at our deep collection of topics related to African American history. We’ve been helping high school students in the Yonkers High School IB Program investigate the history of slavery in the Americas for more than 20 years, and we’re awfully proud of the expansive print collection we’ve developed. Through us, students have access to professional historians’ research tools for their historical investigations, helping them prepare for college-level work. (As a former academic librarian, it’s a great joy to help the next generation of college students succeed at the university level.)

How did Black History Month start? After the 13th Amendment was passed, the lives and experiences of Black people still went largely undocumented through the 19th century. To right that wrong, historian Dr. Carter G. Woodson and Congregational minister Jesse E. Moorland founded the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, Inc., or ASALH in 1915 “to promote, research, preserve, interpret and disseminate information about Black life, history and culture to the global community.”

Black History Month had its start as Negro History Week, established by the ASALH in 1926. Both President Abraham Lincoln and famed abolitionist Frederick Douglass were born in February, and so the ASALH judged it the most appropriate month for celebrating the achievements of African Americans. 

Before the Civil Rights era, black teachers used Black History Week to teach their students about their history, with speeches, theater and all kinds of celebrations of Black life. In the 1960s, college students – raised with those lessons – demanded more focus on Black history in their coursework. From there, Black History Week became Black History Month.

Every American president since 1976 has named a theme for Black History Month every year – this year’s is Black Health and Wellness, and here’s President Biden’s 2022 Proclamation.

How can I find the collection? You don’t need a research assignment to investigate what we’ve got on this topic! YPL is proud of our expansive, significant collection of printed work on the History of Slavery in the Americas. Topics range from the history of enslaved peoples in North, Central, and South America to the history of forced migrations to the effects of that history on the descendants of enslaved peoples. You’ll find materials at a range of academic levels, from middle grade to scholarly academic titles. At the Riverfront Library, you can find this collection on the third floor, and we hope to see you there!

Here’s how to find these titles easily. Go to www.ypl.org and press Search (below “About,” on the left) to go to the library’s online catalog, then choose Advanced Search. Choose Yonkers Riverfront Library to search, then click “Numeric Search.” Use the Numeric Search (Shelf browse) from the box on the far left, then search for  “HS.” From there, you should be able to find what you’re looking for! (It’s possible that a few non-related items might show up, but it’s easy to tell the difference.)

Want to learn more about research at YPL? We’d love to meet with you and show you our resources – just contact us at rivreference@ypl.org or call 914-375-7966. We’ll be glad to talk about your research and how we might help!

Mary Robison
Head of Reference and Adult Services
Riverfront Library