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African American Biographies

Resource Guides

Mary Lou Williams 1910-1981
Jazz musician Mary Lou Williams grew up in Pittsburgh in the East Liberty neighborhood, attended Lincoln elementary school in the Larimer neighborhood, and is buried in Pittsburgh's Calvary Cemetery.

Selected Books

Alexander, Adele Logan
Parallel Worlds: The Remarkable Gibbs-Hunts and the Enduring (In)Significance of Melanin
E185.96.A474 2010
Alexander tells the story of diplomat William Henry Hunt and his wife, Ida Alexander Gibbs (1862-1957), who, though both had mixed-race backgrounds, were classified as Negroes and treated as inferior in America during the first half of the 20th century, yet thrived internationally in the foreign service.
Burrow Jr., Rufus
Martin Luther King Jr. for Armchair Theologians
E185.97.K5 B799 2009
In this important introduction to the life and thought of Martin Luther King, Jr., theologian Burrow explores King's life, his thinking, and his activism, showing how his theological studies influenced, shaped, and transformed the path he pursued.
Cohen, Harvey G.
Duke Ellington's America
ML410.E44 C56 2010
Harvey G. Cohen paints a vivid picture of Ellington’s life and times, taking him from his youth in the black middle class enclave of Washington, D.C., to the heights of worldwide acclaim.
Cross, Charles R.
Room Full of Mirrors: a Biography of Jimi Hendrix
ML410.H476 C76 2005
Drawing on documents, private letters, and more than three hundred interviews, Room Full of Mirrors unlocks the mystery of a man who, in twenty-seven short years, managed to rise from poverty, set the world aflame, and inadvertently extinguish his own burning talent.
Hilliard, David
Huey: Spirit of the Panther
E185.97.N48 H55 2006x
Huey Newton (1942–1989) founded the Black Panther Party in Oakland, California in 1966. In this first authorized biography, Newton's former chief of staff David Hilliard and authors Keith and Kent Zimmerman team up to tell the whole story of the man behind the organization that FBI director J. Edgar Hoover infamously dubbed "the greatest threat to the internal security of the country."
Lavergne, Gary M.
Before Brown: Heman Marion Sweatt, Thurgood Marshall, and the Long Road to Justice
LC212.722.T4 L38 2010
Heman Marion Sweatt, an African American from Houston applied for admission to the University of Texas School of Law on February 26, 1946 but was denied admission because he was black. He challenged the university's decision in court, and the resulting case, Sweatt v. Painter, went to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled in Sweatt's favor. The Sweatt case paved the way for the landmark Brown v. Board of Education.
Marable, Manning
Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention
BP223.Z8 L57636 2011
Read a review of this book from the New York Times: Malcolm X: Criminal, Minister, Humanist, Martyr.
Nelson, Scott Reynolds
Steel Drivin' Man: John Henry, the Untold Story of an American Legend
E185.97.H455 N45 2006
In Steel Drivin' Man, Scott Reynolds Nelson recounts the true story of the man behind the iconic American hero, telling the poignant tale of a young Virginia convict who died working on one of the most dangerous enterprises of the time, the first rail route through the Appalachian Mountains.
Nollen, Scott Allen
Paul Robeson: Film Pioneer
E185.97.R63 N65 2010
This is the first book-length study of the 12 films starring African American Renaissance man Paul Robeson (1898-1976). Singer, actor, author, lawyer, athlete, pacifist and civil rights activist, Robeson was also the first African American to receive top billing in motion pictures.
Obama, Barack
Dreams from my Father: a Story of Race and Inheritance
E185.97.O23 A3 2004
Then Illinois Senator Obama, the son of a white American mother and a black African father, writes an elegant and compelling biography that powerfully articulates America's racial battleground and tells of his search for his place in black America.
Schaap, Jeremy
Triumph: the Untold Story of Jesse Owens and Hitler's Olympics
GV697.O9 S33 2007
In 1936, against a backdrop of swastikas flying, and storm troopers goose-stepping, an African-American son of sharecroppers won a staggering four Olympic gold medals and single-handedly crushed Hitler's myth of Aryan supremacy.
Smock, Raymond W.
Booker T. Washington: Black Leadership in the Age of Jim Crow
E185.97.W4 S667 2009
By many historians, Booker T. Washington was considered a compromiser who was willing to trade civil rights for economic and educational advancement.
Want to Start a Revolution?: Radical Women in the Black Freedom Struggle
E185.615.W328 2009
The story of the black freedom struggle in America has been overwhelmingly male-centric with black women perceived as supporting actresses. This collection of stories about black women activists will shatter the pervasive and imbalanced image of women on the sidelines.
Wilkins, Carolyn Marie
Damn Near White: An African American Family's Rise from Slavery to Bittersweet Success
E185.86.W4675 2010x
Carolyn Wilkins comes from a light-complexioned, well-educated and successful African American family that adhered to the conventions of "proper" black society. Carolyn inherits ten scrapbooks from her unconventional Aunt Marjory that are filled with family history and memories and that inspire her to discover the truth about her ancestors.
Williams, Rita
If the Creek Don't Rise: My Life Out West with the Last Black Widow of the Civil War
E185.97.W73 A3 2006
Writer Rita Williams tells of her own life growing up with her cantankerours Aunt Daisy.

Browse the Catalog

For additional titles, browse the library catalog under the subjects:


Pittsburgh Region

  • The HistoryMakers
    The HistoryMakers Digital Archive of 310 African American video oral history interviews is available online for the first time on a test basis to registered users. This archive includes 14060 stories from nearly 700 hours of video. The HisoryMakers is a collaboration between The HistoryMakers and Carnegie Mellon University Informedia Project.
  • Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Kids' Corner
    Short biographies from Black History Month, February 1998. Some of the featured individuals are Black Pittsburghers.


United States - Collections