6 Books for Martin Luther King Jr. Day

January 16th is Martin Luther King Jr. Day and to celebrate, we’ve gathered six books that highlight the works and accomplishments of civil rights activists and African American pioneers.

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John Lewis in the Lead: A Story of the Civil Rights Movement, by Jim Haskins & Kathleen Benson, illus. by Benny Andrews

How does an Alabama sharecropper’s son grow up to help change his world? For John Lewis the journey began as a boy experiencing the injustice of segregation and the inspiring words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

John Lewis in the Lead celebrates the life of a living legend of American history. Lewis’s passionate belief in justice is a beacon for all who wish to make the country a better place to live.

Purchase this title here.

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Dear Mrs. Parks: A Dialogue with Today’s Youth, by Rosa Parks

On a December day in 1955, Rosa Parks changed the course of history when she was arrested for refusing to give up her seat to a white passenger on a Montgomery, Alabama bus. This simple yet courageous act set into motion a chain of events that reverberated throughout the world.

Affectionately referred to as the “Mother of the Modern Day Civil Rights Movement,” Mrs. Parks received 500 to 1,000 letters a month from children throughout the United States and the world. Dear Mrs. Parks grew out of Rosa Parks’ desire to share her legacy with all “her children,” and perpetuate a dialogue that will be recorded for generations to come.

Purchase this title here.

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Tiny Stitches: The Life of Medical Pioneer Vivien Thomas, by Gwendolyn Hooks, illus. by Colin Bootman

Vivien Thomas’s greatest dream was to attend college to study medicine. But after the stock market crashed in 1929, Vivien lost all his savings. Then he heard about a job opening at the Vanderbilt University medical school under the supervision of Dr. Alfred Blalock. Vivien knew that the all-white school would never admit him as a student, but he hoped working there meant he was getting closer to his dream.

Overcoming racism and resistance from his colleagues, Vivien ushered in a new era of medicine—children’s heart surgery.

Purchase this title here.

Ira's Shakespeare Dream cover image

Ira’s Shakespeare Dream, by Glenda Armand, illus. by Floyd Cooper

Ira Aldridge dreamed of being on stage one day performing the great works of William Shakespeare. He spent every chance he got at the local theaters, memorizing each actor’s lines for all of Shakespeare’s plays. But in the early 1800s, only white actors were allowed to perform Shakespeare. Ira’s only option was to perform musical numbers at the all-black theater in New York city.

Despite being discouraged by his teacher and father, Ira determinedly pursued his dream and set off to England, the land of Shakespeare. There, Ira honed his acting skills and eventually performed at the acclaimed Theatre Royal Haymarket. Through perseverance and determination, Ira became one of the most celebrated Shakespearean actors throughout Europe.

Purchase this title here.

Paul Robeson cover image

Paul Robeson, by Eloise Greenfield, illus. by George Ford

Paul Robeson, born in 1898 and the son of a pastor, learned from his father to love written and spoken words, to be proud of being black, and to stand up for what he believed was right. These were the things that guided Paul throughout his life.

After achieving academic and athletic success in school, Paul gained fame as a singer and an actor. But as he traveled the globe for performances, Robeson became disturbed by the poverty and injustices he saw. In the 1940s and 1950s he began speaking out and fighting for freedom.

With dignity and a dynamic spirit, Paul Robeson—athlete, actor, singer, and civil rights activist—stayed true to himself and took a stand for his beliefs.

Purchase this title here.

Richard Wright cover image

Richard Wright and the Library Card, by William Miller, illus. by R. Gregory Christie

As a young black man in the segregated South of the 1920s, Wright was hungry to explore new worlds through books, but was forbidden from borrowing them from the library.

An inspirational story for children of all backgrounds, Richard Wright and the Library Card shares a poignant turning point in the life of a young man who became one of this country’s most brilliant writers, the author of Native Son and Black Boy.

Purchase this title here.

For more books on the civil rights movement, check out our Martin Luther King Jr./ Civil Rights Collection

Further reading:
Books for Holidays: MLK Day, Chinese New Year and More
How was Martin Luther King Jr. Day Established?
Why You Should See Selma
Who is Ira Aldridge?

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