February 2007

Reading Recommendations · African American Family and Community History Resources

The African American community has made significant contributions to the history and culture of the U.S. Here is a sampling of items in our Library spanning a wide variety of topics, such as civil rights, genealogy, business, music, literature, and the military.

Books (nonfiction)

Warriors Don’t Cry: A Searing Memoir of the Battle to Integrate Little Rock’s Central High

Melba Beal
The author was one of the "Little Rock Nine," who braved considerable trauma as the first African American students to integrate Little Rock, Arkansas’ Central High School in 1957.

Black Biographical Dictionaries, 1790-1950

Over 1,000 microfiche containing historical biographical entries for several African Americans taken from primary source material. To find a person, please refer to the 3-volume Cumulative Index.

Black Families, 4th Edition

Series of scholarly essays examining the current status of African American families.

Black Family Research: Records of Post-Civil War Federal Agencies at the National Archives

Concise list of materials found in the National Archives for post-Civil War African American genealogy records, in particular those from the Freedmen’s Bureau.

Barefootin’: Life Lessons from the Road to Freedom

Unita Blackwell
Inspiring autobiography detailing the rise of a Mississippi woman from the ranks of poverty to become a prominent civil rights activist, mayor of her hometown and eventually a presidential adviser.

The Slave Community: Plantation Life in the Antebellum South

John W. Blassingame
Classic study of culture and family life on pre-Civil War slave plantations.

Black Roots: A Beginner’s Guide to Tracing the African American Tree

Tony Burroughs
An excellent easy to follow starter guide to African American genealogy written by the leading expert in the field.

African American Women and Social Action: The Clubwomen and Volunteerism from Jim Crow to the New Deal, 1896-1936

Floris Loretta Barnett Cash
A needed retrospective analysis on how African American clubwomen positively impacted services in black communities during the Progressive Era.

The Black Brigade

Peter H. Clark
Peter Clark, an African American educator, wrote this brief, but informative, account shortly after the Black Brigade provided their service in helping construct the defense works that thwarted a Confederate attack on Cincinnati in 1862. Several members of this labor brigade served with distinction in the United States Colored Troops (USCT).

Cincinnati’s Colored Citizens: Historical, Sociological and Biographical

Wendell Phillips Dabney
Volume contains biographical entries for prominent Cincinnati African Americans from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, as well as short histories of local African American institutions, such as churches and schools.

In Motion: The African American Migration Experience

Howard Dodson
Based on the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture website of the same name, the author has compiled a thorough study of African American migration in the United States spanning five centuries.

Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History: The Black Experience in the Americas

Outstanding six volume reference encyclopedia set with entries on well-known African Americans, as well as historical and cultural topics, such as music, sports, the military, civil rights and science.

Homecoming: The Story of African American Farmers

Charlene Gilbert
A companion to the PBS documentary, this book documents the rich history of African American farmers from Reconstruction to the present.

Tuskegee Airmen: The Men Who Changed a Nation

Charles E. Francis
Newer edition of the definitive and now classic study of the famous Tuskegee air fighter group from World War II.

In Search of the Promised Land: a Slave Family in the Old South

John Hope Franklin
The famed African American historian, John Hope Franklin, provides a vivid and fascinating examination of an extended African American family and their trials and triumphs through three ante-bellum generations, 1809-1865.

Cincinnati’s Over the Rhine: A Positive Look

Leslie Isaiah Gaines
Retired Judge Leslie Isaiah Gaines provides a well illustrated contemporary historical overview of Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine, with emphasis on the positive aspects of the neighborhood, as well as a photographic essay of Judge Gaines’ social activism from the 1970’s through 2001.

The Games Black Girls Play: Learning the Ropes from Double-Dutch to Hip-hop

Kyra Danielle Gaunt
A unique study of how syncopated urban games played by African American girls, such as Double Dutch, are important contributions toward creating a stable, nurturing community.

Mercy, Mercy Me: African American Culture and the American Sixties

James C. Hall
An interdisciplinary study of overlooked advancements of African American culture in music, the arts, literature and philosophy during the 1960’s.

Handbook of African American Literature

Excellent A-Z reference source, the first of its kind devoted to the analysis, interpretation and history of African American literature.

Shades of Glory: the Negro Leagues and the Story of African-American Baseball

Lawrence D. Hogan
Excellent, comprehensive history of the Negro Leagues, some of whose players are considered the best that ever played the game.

History of Black Business: The Coming of America’s Largest Black-owned Businesses

Martin K. Hunt
Panoramic history of African American businesses from the colonial period onward.

Cincinnati’s Black Peoples: A Chronology and Bibliography, 1787-1982

Lyle Koehler
Thorough chronology covering the history of African Americans in Cincinnati relative to politics, social development, the arts, religion and dozens of other topics. Includes several helpful statistical tables.

African-American Soldier: From Crispus Attucks to Colin Powell

Michael Lanning
Thorough overall history of African American participation in the United States military from the Revolutionary War to the present conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Living Black History: How Reimagining the African-American Past can Remake America’s Racial Future

Manning Marable
The author, a professor with the Institute for Research in African American Studies at Columbia University, has compiled a frank, sobering analysis of how several pioneers for the advancement of African Americans in the 20th century, such as Medgar Evers, have been downplayed in favor of commercializing more radical figures, such as Malcolm X.

A Hairdresser’s Experience in High Life

Eliza Potter
Eliza Potter’s 1859 autobiography narrating her rise to become a successful African American hairdresser in Cincinnati. Provides a unique viewpoint of the local elite white society women who were her customers.

Race Music: Race Cultures from Bebop to Hip-Hop

Ramsey P. Guthrie
The author, a music professor at the University of Pennsylvania, utilizes his own family background in this thorough examination of how music has helped shape the African American community from the 1940’s onward.

Frontiers of Freedom: Cincinnati’s Black Community, 1802-1868

Nikki Taylor
The author documents the progress of Cincinnati’s African American population to establish a stable community during the early and mid-nineteenth century despite enduring economic repression and periods of mob violence.

Unchained Memories: Readings from the Slave Narratives

Companion volume to the HBO documentary, a compilation of more than 40 interviews with former slaves conducted in the 1930’s by the Works Project Administration.

The Thunder of Angels: The Montgomery Bus Boycott and the People Who Broke the Back of Jim Crow

Donnie Williams
Using extensive first hand accounts, the author provides a very readable and informative account of this famous 1955/1956 boycott, which began with one courageous act from Rosa Parks.

The History of the Negro Church--

Carter Godwin Woodson
Famed historian Woodson traces the growth of the church in slavery and dedicates a chapter to the influence of the Civil War and Emancipation on its development.

Soldiers of Freedom: An Illustrated History of African Americans in the Armed Forces

Kai Wright
Generously illustrated book covering African American participation in the United States military from the French and Indian War through today’s conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Books (fiction)


Calvin Baker
Author provides authentic historical detail in this novel of three generations of African American men spanning the colonial era through the Revolutionary War.

Fort Pillow

Harry Turtledove
The author, often known for his alternate history novels, offers a straight retelling of this Civil War battle, sometimes known as the Fort Pillow Massacre because of many African American troops slaughtered while attempting to surrender.

Juvenile/Teen Books

cover of Timeline History of Baseball by Don Jensen

Cause: Reconstruction America, 1863-1877

Tonya Bolden
Excellent, well-written history on this important era in African American history geared mainly toward the middle school level.

Times Memory

Julius Lester
A National Book Award finalist, this stirring novel merges the spirit world of traditional African religion with the life of a young man on a Virginia slave plantation.


cover of Timeline History of Baseball by Don Jensen

African American Lives

Compelling PBS documentary relating how several notable African Americans, using genealogy, oral histories and DNA testing, have traced their family lines back through American history to their origins in Africa.

Against the Odds: Artists of the Harlem Renaissance

PBS documentary includes photographs and newsreels of several African American artists from the 1920’s & 1930’ at work during this key cultural period in contemporary African American history.


First shown on television in 1977, this mini-series that follows an African American family from importation as slaves in the 1700’s through Reconstruction, still packs a dramatic punch. Based on Alex Haley’s famous book that inspired many to research their African roots.

Voices of Civil Rights

Award-winning History Channel documentary covering a number of important figures from the Civil Rights Era with special segments on Martin Luther King, Jr. and Thurgood Marshall.


Call and Post (Cincinnati Edition)

Ohio’s African American newspaper. Magazines & Newspapers has the Cincinnati edition on microfilm back to 1984.

Cincinnati Herald

Cincinnati’s African American newspaper. Our Magazines & Newspapers Department has the newspaper on microfilm back to March 1961. Newsdex has articles indexed back to 1997.

New Pittsburgh Courier

One of the oldest African American newspapers. It has a solid reputation for covering national and international issues. Magazines & Newspapers has copies of this newspaper and its predecessor, the Pittsburgh Courier, going back to 1911.

The Union

Early 20th century Cincinnati African American newspaper. Magazines & Newspapers has this newspaper on microfilm from October 1918 through September 1923.

Primary Sources

African American Baptist Annual Reports

Includes minutes and statistical information from over 1,000 African American Baptist associations and conventions spanning from 1865 into the 1990’s. Reels 68-71 comprise Ohio church records.

Compiled Military Service Records of Volunteer Union Soldiers who Served with United States Colored Troops, 2nd through 7th Colored Infantry

This microfilm set includes service records for the 5th United States Colored Infantry organized at Camp Delaware, Ohio near Columbus.

Records of the Antebellum Southern Plantations from the Revolution through the Civil War

This 995 reel microfilm set includes business records, account books, slave lists, slave owners’ letters, and occasional letters written by slaves. Currently, the set has no name index, but guidebooks are available to help with your search.

Registers of Signatures of Depositors in Branches of the Freedmen’s Savings and Trust Company, 1865-1874

Account information maintained specifically on former slaves who participated in this deposit program. Includes personal and family information. Indexed by surname within each participating state.

Records of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands

Multiple microfilm set can provide names, residences, occupations and physical descriptions of former slaves, as well as orphan and marriage records, names of relatives, labor contracts, lists of abandoned and confiscated land, school reports and names of former plantation owners. Currently, the microfilm set has no comprehensive index. Staff at the History & Genealogy desk can show you guide sheets, which can help in obtaining the microfilm, reel you need. Also consult the Freedmen’s Bureau Online website for possible assistance.

U.S. Census Records, 1790-1930

Of special interest to African American genealogical researchers are the 1850 and 1860 census sheets which contain slave schedules that list the names of slaveholders and the age, color and sex, but usually not the name, of slaves owned.


Veterans History Project

Interviews with local African Americans that served in World War II. Hear their wartime experiences and descriptions of life in Cincinnati before and after their military service.

Voices from Cincinnati’s Past: Eliza Potter

Experience Cincinnati in the 1840’s through the eyes of Eliza Potter, a successful African American businesswoman, who distinguished herself by "dressing hair." This multi-media digital exhibit, first presented during Tall Stacks, is based on Ms. Potter’s autobiography.

Heritage Quest

Explore nationwide census records and deposit records from the Freedman’s Bank through this reference database, provided by the Library, located under "Research Databases - Genealogy" from the Library’s web page.


Library’s index to Cincinnati newspapers produces thousands of citations related to local African Americans. Newsdex is located under the heading "Research and Homework" on the Library’s webpage.

Sites by Subject: African American Genealogy

Genealogy web sites selected by History & Genealogy Librarians. To access African American sites, click on "African American" in the left sidebar.

Sites by Subject: African American History

History web sites selected by History & Genealogy Librarians. To access African American sites, click on "African American History" in the left sidebar.
Need more suggestions? Contact your local library and a reference librarian will be happy to assist you.