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ULC Member Libraries Celebrate and Honor Black History Month

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Written by Elise Calanni, Communications Manager, Urban Libraries Council

Throughout the month of February, libraries across North America will celebrate Black History Month with creative programming designed to uplift, educate and honor. Black History Month is an important observance dedicated to learning the history of Black leaders, thinkers, authors, artists, inventors and more. It has also become a time to celebrate places’ own Black communities and the contribution they have made to local culture — past, present and future.

ULC is excited to highlight how member libraries are celebrating Black History Month throughout February by regularly posting updates to this blog. You can also follow along by following the hashtag #ULCBlackHistoryMonth on Twitter and in our Instagram stories.

Nashville Civil Rights Room

Pictured: Dr. Etta Marie Simpson Ray, Freedom Rider and Nashville Student Movement leader, at the Nashville Public Library's Civil Rights Room. / Image credit: Nashville Public Library

Highlighting Black Voices Through Curated Recommendations

A simple yet impactful way to celebrate Black History Month on one’s own is to read the works of Black authors. Libraries encourage this during February through curated reading lists, book clubs, reading challenges and more. Every year, Boston Public Library releases a “Black is…” booklist which features titles from the previous year that “commemorate the achievements, complexities, struggles, and culture of the Black experience.” For Black History Month 2023, BPL hand-selected 75 works of fiction, nonfiction and poetry for adults, teenagers and children.

Hamilton Public Library in Ontario created a curated list of titles that specifically honor the legacies of Black Canadians. The list features fiction and nonfiction works that center around the history, art and cultures of Black Canadians. Celebrating Black voices is not just for February, however. Pima County Public Library’s #ReadBlack book club convenes every month of the year to discuss “entertaining and thought-provoking” books by Black authors. Diversifying the authors one chooses to read is an important part of diversifying reading habits.

Black Is Booklist

Boston Public Library's "Black is..." 2023 and 2022 booklists. / Image credit: Boston Public Library

Memorializing the Civil Rights Movement

Each year, Black History Month is designated a theme by the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH); the theme for 2023 is “Black Resistance.” In the fight for equality, Black Americans have had to organize, protest and advocate. Two ULC libraries — DC Public Library and Nashville Public Library — are memorializing the fight for civil rights through special collections and exhibits.

In the nation’s capital, DC Public Library recently unveiled the “Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley: Let the World See” traveling exhibit, on loan from the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis. The exhibit is specifically tailored to children, teaching the importance of Mamie’s advocacy for her son. The library has also put together a companion exhibit called “Mothers of the Movement,” showcasing women advocates from the DC area.

At Nashville Public Library, patrons have the unique opportunity to visit the Civil Rights Room which holds NPL’s vast Civil Rights Collection. The collection houses materials that record Nashville’s own involvement in the fight for civil rights. Patrons can view photographs from the era while sitting at a lunch counter, symbolic of the historic sit-ins and peaceful protests of Nashville residents.

Till Exhibit

"Emmett Till and Mamie Till-Mobley: Let the World See" at DC Public Library / Image credit: Chelsea Cirruzzo/Axios

Celebrating Local History

As large collections of historical and archival information, many public libraries also have the privilege of sharing local history with their patrons. At the Central Arkansas Library System, patrons are encouraged to attend the library’s Black Family Expo to learn about local families with strong ties to local history. Patrons can also take this time to explore and preserve their own family’s history using the Mobile Memory Lab to scan documents or photos!

In Massachusetts, the Cambridge Public Library is highlighting local Black trailblazers in history. The library is displaying and sharing bookmarks that honor “hidden figures” in their community, like cyclist Kittie Knox Charles Gittens, the first Black secret service agent. For a more direct link to local history, the Louisville Free Public Library will host members of the Kentucky Buffalo Soldiers Chapter at various branches to teach the history of the all Black unit of the 9th & 10th cavalry.

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History of the Buffalo Soldiers, 9th/10th Cavalry / Image Credit: Louisville Free Public Library

Stay tuned on ULC’s blog and social media to see more highlights of Black History Month programming throughout the month of February.

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