Seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.

– President Gerald R. Ford, officially recognizing Black History Month, 1976

There was a time in our nation’s history when learning about the achievements and good deeds of Americans included pertinent facts about almost every group of people living in the United States. The notable exception was people of color, and more specifically, African Americans. Present-day, during the month of February, we celebrate Black history and African American accomplishments, including contributions by our teachers, historians, lawyers, doctors, political activists, writers, engineers, dancers, athletes, musicians, artists, and so much more.

Black History Month

Portrait Carter G. Woodson
Carter G. Woodson

Did you know that observance of Black History Month began in 1976 back when President Gerald Ford was at the helm? Prior to this, African American history was actually observed during the second week in February as “Negro History Week,” which began in 1926. Negro History Week was the brainchild of Carter G. Woodson-PhD and the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), founded in 1915 as the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. Woodson reportedly settled on the second week in February because it coincided with the birthday of Abraham Lincoln (U.S. National Archives: Emancipation Proclamation) and Frederick Douglass (African American Civil Rights Activist). Learn more about Carter G. Woodson as well as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. Several books on Woodson’s life and legacy for adults and kids can be found in IndyPL’s catalog.

It’s about the lived, shared experience of all African Americans, high and low, famous and obscure, and how those experiences have shaped and challenged and ultimately strengthened America. It’s about taking an unvarnished look at the past so we can create a better future. It’s a reminder of where we as a country have been so that we know where we need to go.

President Barack Obama, 2016

The Library has books, music, movies, and digital collections related to African American history. If you are in need of suggestions for what to check out next, here are some great ways to get started – re-read a classic or favorite, find out about an author you have never read, reflect on what you remember, or discover a piece of history you didn’t know.

Attend a Black history program at The Library.

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Visit the Center for Black Literature & Culture at Central Library to explore our collection.

The Center for Black Literature & Culture (CBLC) is home to our largest collection of materials by Black authors. Take as long as you’d like to browse this collection that features authors whose work impacts local, national and global culture in literature, sports, business, politics, science and music. Also don’t miss the CBLC’s website, The Power of Black Voices. This online collection includes artifacts, photographs, and articles across many categories.

Our knowledgeable staff and the resources available to you at The Library and online can help you get started from primary sources and portals to biographies, artifacts, photographs, and more.

Center for Black Literature & Culture

Share Black history with kids.

If you are looking for Black history resources for kids, read through history by browsing our Racial Justice Timeline, 1954-1968. Listed here are important events of the Civil Rights Movement and the fight for racial justice. For each event a few books are listed, both fiction and non-fiction, that bring the events and people to life.

Books written for children are also great introductions to history for adults. These selections designed for kids often include excerpts of primary sources, charts, graphs, and high quality photographs from digital archives. These selections make thoughtful reads for adults as well.

Read Black authors.

Here are six tips to help you find books written by Black authors, including a convenient clickable list of authors linked directly to our catalog for placing requests or checking out e-books or audiobooks. Find compelling history and historical fiction, biographies, and memoirs by both contemporary and classic authors.

You can also get reading recommendations from our staff. Browse these featured recommendations.

Listed below is a Black history timeline of important events of the civil rights movement. These events led to the passing of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and the Voting Rights Act in 1965. The fiction and non-fiction books listed bring the events and people to life. Take a book walk through history to learn about these determined, brave people who stood together so no one stood alone.

Ruby Bridges

At the age of six Ruby Bridges became the first Black child to integrate an all-white elementary school in New Orleans. This Is Your Time is a new book for kids written by Ruby herself and is a great introduction to one of the key moments in the Black history timeline. It is a letter she has written to children today, more than 60 years after her historic first, to share her story and share her thoughts on what children can do to effect change. As Ruby says, “what can inspire tomorrow often lies in our past.”

This Is Your Time includes many historical photos, some from Ruby’s private collection. I especially enjoyed learning about Ruby’s first grade teacher that year and the photo of Ruby and her teacher at school, as well as the recent picture of the two of them together.

The image on the book’s cover is “The Problem We All Live With,” a 1964 painting by Norman Rockwell that shows Ruby being escorted to school by four US Marshals. In 2011 President Barack Obama arranged to borrow the painting from the Norman Rockwell museum. He had it hung outside the Oval Office and invited Ruby to come see it. Watch this video carefully to hear President Obama say something important:

“I think it’s fair to say that if it hadn’t been for you guys, I might not be here and we wouldn’t be looking at this together.”

Ruby Bridges visits with the President and her portrait

He said something very similar during his campaign for the presidency in 2007.

“I’m here because somebody marched. I’m here because you all sacrificed for me. I stand on the shoulders of giants.” ~Speech, Selma Voting Rights March Commemoration in Selma, Alabama, March 4, 2007

Black History Timeline

The books suggested in the Black history timeline below make great selections every day, but are especially meaningful on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day in January, and on January 18th, the National Day of Racial Healing. On these days we turn our attention to specifically remember history and re-commit to the goal of racial justice.


Brown v. Board of Education was a very important United States Supreme Court case. The Court decided state laws that separated Black students from white students in public schools were unconstitutional. In other words, the Court said this separation of students was not legal. The decision by the Court was unanimous (9–0). Unanimous means all of the supreme court justices agreed.

title - When the Schools Shut Downtitle - Remembertitle - Brown V. Board of Education : A Day That Changed Americatitle - Brown V. Board of Education


The Murder of Emmett Till – Accused of offending a white woman at a grocery store, Emmett was a 14-year-old Black boy lynched in Mississippi in 1955. The brutality of his murder and the fact that his killers were acquitted highlighted the long history of violent persecution of African Americans. Like Ruby Bridges, Emmett became an icon of the civil rights movement.

title - Choosing Bravetitle - Ghost Boystitle - In the Name of Emmett Tilltitle - A Wreath for Emmett Till


The Montgomery Bus Boycott was a protest against segregated seats on the public buses in Montgomery, Alabama. Back then Black people had to ride in the seats at the back of the bus, and if the seats were all full and a white person got on the bus, a Black rider would have to give their seat to the white person. A boycott a tactic people use to point out something they think is not right. They stop buying something or stop using something to draw attention to the problem. In this case, people boycotted the buses; they stopped paying to ride them.

title - Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycotttitle - Rosa Parks & Claudette Colvintitle - Sweet Justicetitle - Rosa


The Little Rock Nine was a group of Black students who signed up to go to Little Rock Central High School. Even though the U.S. Supreme Court had already said it was not legal to separate Black students from white students in public schools, officials blocked these Black students from entering the school. President Eisenhower sent the 101st Airborne and the Arkansas National Guard to escort the students to school.

title - The Little Rock Nine Challenge Segregationtitle - March Forward, Girltitle - Daisy Bates and the Little Rock Ninetitle - The Lions of Little Rock


The Greensboro Sit-ins were nonviolent protests against segregated seating in restaurants. The sit-ins began in Greensboro, North Carolina when four Black men sat down in the white section of a restaurant. No one would take their order because they were not sitting in the “right” seats. They sat quietly until the restaurant closed. Because they were sitting in the seats, white people could not sit in the seats and make an order. The next day more people came and did the same thing, filling up the seats. More people joined each day at more restaurants and in more cities. The restaurants did not make any money. Eventually, the restaurants changed their segregation rules so that they could do business again.

title - Lunch Counter Sit-institle - The Greensboro Lunch Countertitle - Freedom on the Menutitle - Sit-in


Ruby Bridges was the first Black student to attend an all-white elementary school in New Orleans, Louisiana. Four federal marshals escorted Ruby and her mother for the entire school year.

title - Ruby Bridges Takes Her Seattitle - I Am Ruby Bridgestitle - Ruby Bridgestitle - This Is your Time


Freedom Riders were people who rode on buses to protest segregated seating. The United States Supreme Court had already ruled that it was illegal to separate Black people from white people on public buses. The authorities did not enforce the law. To protest this, groups of people, both Black and white, rode the buses together to challenge the rules. The riders drew attention to the states that were not following federal law.

title - The Story of the Civil Rights Freedom Rides in Photographstitle - Night on Firetitle - Twelve Days in May


The Birmingham Children’s March was a march by hundreds of school children in Birmingham, Alabama. The children left school and walked downtown to talk to the mayor about segregation. Authorities used fire hoses and police dogs to try to stop the march. Many children were arrested. This event inspired President Kennedy to publicly support federal civil rights legislation and the Civil Rights Act in 1964.

title - We've Got A Jobtitle - The Youngest Marchertitle - Let the Children March


The March on Washington took place in Washington D.C. on August 28, 1963. At the march, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his historic “I Have a Dream” speech. The march helped pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

title - More Than A Dreamtitle - Unstoppabletitle - A Song for the Unsungtitle - March On!title - A Place to Landtitle - I Have A Dream


The 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing in Birmingham, Alabama, on Sunday, September 15, 1963 killed four little girls and injured 22 other people. Three Klansmen were thought by the FBI to be responsible and were eventually prosecuted for the crime, but not until 1977, 2001 and 2002. A fourth man died before he could be prosecuted. The bombing contributed to support for the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

title - Birmingham, 1963title - Birmingham Sunday


The Civil Rights Act enacted on July 2, 1964. It is a landmark law in the United States that outlaws discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.

title - The Civil Rights Act of 1964title - Glory Betitle - All the Days Past, All the Days to Cometitle - Freedom Summer


The Selma to Montgomery Voting Marches were three protest marches along a 54-mile highway from Selma, Alabama, to the Alabama state capital of Montgomery. Black citizens who were being prevented from exercising their constitutional right to vote organized the marches. The marches contributed to the passing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

title - Because They Marchedtitle - Lillian's Right to Votetitle - Turning 15 on the Road to Freedomtitle - The Teachers March!


Dr. Martin Luther King assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee on April 4, 1968. While his death silenced his own voice, it did not end the civil rights movement. The movement continues to this day as people work to ensure and preserve opportunities for racial equity, inclusion, justice, and peace.

title - Martin Risingtitle - The Cart That Carried Martintitle - Chasing King's Killer

To learn even more about fascinating and inspiring black history makers, visit the Center for Black Literature & Culture at Central Library. The Center is dedicated to celebrating the vibrant and resilient heritage and triumphs of those born of African roots.

Explore Indianapolis’s local Black history by browsing through these online portals, digitized newspapers and documents, photo galleries, artifact collections, images, documents, and more.

Digital Indy Archive

  • Crispus Attucks High School Year Books
    In 1927, Crispus Attucks High School opened its doors as Indianapolis’ first and only all-Black high school.
  • Black History, Indianapolis History
    Black history has a long presence in Indianapolis and makes up the very fabric of the city. Six years after the founding of Indianapolis, out of the 1,066 total residents 55 were African American (source). There is no history of Indianapolis without Indianapolis’ vibrant and diverse Black population.
  • Indianapolis Public Library African American History Committee
    Find information here about past AAHC events, lectures, and exhibits. View posters, programs, news items, and compilations of African American authors and illustrators.

Encyclopedia of Indianapolis

To learn even more about fascinating and inspiring black history makers, visit the Center for Black Literature & Culture at Central Library. The Center is dedicated to celebrating the vibrant and resilient heritage and triumphs of those born of African roots.

Local Black History – Indiana

Indiana Historical Bureau
Being Black in Indiana
Highlights the Ordinance of 1787, Article XIII of the Indiana Constitution of 1851, and 1816 Constitution and the impact on fleeing enslaved people and black settlers in the state of Indiana.

Indiana Historical Society
Early Black Settlements by County
Explore Early Black Settlements by County including the town of Bridgeport (Sunnyside or Westview), located in Wayne Township in Marion County.

Indiana Historical Society
Mark A. Lee LGBT Photo Collection
Explore the Indiana LGBTQ Collecting Initiative and Digital Image Collection containing various oral history interview excerpts and photographs featuring some of our local Indy African American residents.

Indiana Landmarks
Black Heritage Preservation Program: Combating Erasure of Black History with Eunice Trotter (Slide Presentation)

Indiana Memory Hosted Digital Collections
Urban Displacement and the Making of a University IUPUI (1964-1990)
“You will find correspondence related to property purchases, campus planning documents, assessments of home and business values, abstracts of title, oral histories, and a few items collected by administrators that show community discontent.”

Indiana University’s Portal to Professional Education
Indianapolis African American Heritage
This is a self-paced FREE online course. Credit: None. If you don’t have an IU account, create a free IU Guest account to enroll in the course. The course content is offered under a Public Domain.

Indiana Humanities
Drag Resistance and Worker Solidarity on Indiana Avenue
During the jazz era, Indiana Avenue became the epicenter of Black life for Indianapolis. Emerging research into this local history reveals a queer nightlife and culture moving through and amongst Indiana Avenue and Indianapolis’ Black community with visibility in the jazz clubs and city sidewalks just outside the clubs.

IUPUI ScholarWorks
The Female Impersonators of Indiana Avenue: Race, Sexuality, Gender Expression, and the Black Entertainment Industry (1911-1980s)

National Trust for Historic Preservation and Indiana Landmarks
Preserving Black Heritage in Indiana and Beyond with Tiffany Tolbert (Slide Presentation)

Black History in Indiana

Stories of Black Hoosiers living and working in Central Indiana: Clip highlights Lockfield Gardens.

Local Black History – Indianapolis

African-American Hospitals and Health Care in Early Twentieth Century
Indianapolis, Indiana, 1894-1917 by Norma B. Erickson (2016): Study – Master Thesis: African American nurses, doctors, and images of African American hospitals (Ward’s, Lincoln, and Sisters of Charity) in Indianapolis.

Hoosier State Chronicles
Digitized African American Newspapers

Indianapolis at the Time of the Great Migration, 1900-1920
Originally published in August 1996 (No. 65) Black History News & Notes, a newsletter of the Indiana Historical Society. Highlights the movement of African Americans from the South to Indianapolis and the different infrastructure, job opportunities, residential segregation, and other inequalities they encountered once they arrived in the city.

Indy Parks
Pride of the Parks Honoring Black Culture Through Indy Parks
List of parks honoring Black Indianapolis residents, contributions, and culture through Indy Parks. View the Pride of the Parks brochure.

Indy Pride
2023 Black History Month LGBTQ+ Community Spotlight
Reflect on the contributions, challenges, and history of our Black and African American community members and celebrate the achievements of activists today who continue to lead, create, and envision a better future amidst the ongoing racism in our country.

Invisible Indianapolis
Race, Heritage and Community Memory in the Circle City
Explore a brief history of African American doctors and public health in Indianapolis during the 20th century.

A Neighborhood of Saturdays
Highlights African American and Jewish community history on the Indianapolis Southside, redlining and I-70.

The National Day of Racial Healing is on the Tuesday after Martin Luther King Jr. Day. It is hosted by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation collaboration with the Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation community partners. It is an opportunity to recognize and acknowledge racialized wrongs that have detrimental consequences. Racial healing is about repairing that damage and creating a more just and equitable world. Learn more about the Foundation and its work.

“The National Day of Racial Healing is a time to contemplate our shared values and create the blueprint together for #HowWeHeal from the effects of racism. Launched on Jan. 17, 2017, it is an opportunity to bring ALL people together in their common humanity and inspire collective action to create a more just and equitable world.”

Conversations about race and racism can be difficult and uncomfortable. Do you know someone you would like to talk to about racism but haven’t known how? Books have always been great conversation starters. You can help start a conversation on racial healing in your own family, neighborhood, workplace, church, or community by using these resources developed by the Foundation and their community partners.

Conversation Guide

Reading Lists & Book Discussion Guides

Three themes are available from the American Library Association (ALA) for book clubs or group readings in a church, school, neighborhood, or family. Each theme includes reading lists and discussion questions. Here are the recommended titles linked directly to our catalog as well as a link to each theme to locate the corresponding discussion questions.

Deeper Than Our Skins: The Present is a Conversation with the Past

Finding Your Voice: Speaking Truth to Power

Growing Up Brave on the Margins: Courage and Coming of Age

Recommendations from IndyPL Staff

Just a few books for all members of your family with themes that can spark conversation with your community about racial healing. Together, we can bridge divides to transform our communities for our children and future generations.

Title - Rising Out of HatredTitle - BiasedTitle - The Racial Healing HandbookTitle - Healing Racial TraumaTitle - AmericaTitle - StampedTitle - The Rose That Grew From ConcreteTitle - Born A Crime

More Resources for Talking About Race:

Talking About Race is an online portal from the National Museum of African American History & Culture designed to help individuals, families, and communities talk about racism, racial identity and the way these forces shape every aspect of society, from the economy and politics to the broader American culture. The online portal provides digital tools, online exercises, video instructions, scholarly articles and more than 100 multi-media resources tailored for educators, parents and caregivers—and individuals committed to racial equality.

Social Justice Books: A Teaching for Change Project offers more than 100 lists of multicultural and social justice books for children, young adults, and educators.

EmbraceRace supports parents to raise children who are brave, informed and thoughtful about race. Their site has a variety of articles for parents and caregivers.

WeNeedDiverseBooks has compiled resources from members of their community on race, equity, anti-racism, and inclusion. They offer an extensive list of resources for children, teens and adults including book recommendations, links to online articles, and a list of black owned book stores by state.

Reading the words Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. left behind, thinking about them and talking to others about them, is one way to honor him on January 15, 2024, the day commemorating his birth and legacy.

Dr. King’s writings include not only books, but masterful speeches and many letters. Below is a selection of his books, his speeches and one letter, which is regarded as one of the most important documents of the Civil Rights Movement. These featured writing selections are available to you for reading or listening online, or for check out with your IndyPL library card. You can take just ten minutes to read a letter, 20 minutes to listen to one of his speeches, or several days to do a deep dive into one of his books to learn about, re-connect with, remember, or re-commit to his messages about community, equality, and social justice.

“Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop…and I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.”

~ Martin Luther King Jr., Memphis, Tennessee, April 3, 1968, delivered less than 24 hours before he was assassinated on April 4, 1968.

Five Speeches

I Have a Dream
Delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., August 28, 1963. Read and listen to audio of his “I Have a Dream” speech.

Our God is Marching On
Delivered in Selma, Alabama after the march to Montgomery, March 25, 1965. Read or listen to audio of his “Our God is Marching On” speech.

Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break the Silence
Delivered at Riverside Church, New York City, April 4, 1967. Read or listen to audio of his “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break the Silence” speech.

The Other America
Delivered at Grosse Pointe High School, March 14, 1968. Read his “The Other America” speech.

I’ve Been to the Mountaintop
Delivered in Memphis, Tennessee, April 3, 1968, one day before he was assassinated on April 4, 1968. Read his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech.

(More Fascinating featured documents can be found at the Stanford Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Education Institute.)

One Letter

Letter From a Birmingham Jail
Written April 16, 1963 from the Birmingham jail where Dr. King was held for participating in a nonviolent demonstration against segregation. The letter was written in response to a letter called “A Call for Unity” published on April 12, 1963 by eight white religious leaders of the South who took issue with the demonstration.

Six Books

Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story (1958) Dr. King’s first book, it tells the story of the Montgomery Bus Boycott from the early strategic planning to pushback from the white community to the eventual success of establishing a desegregated city bus service. print | print | e-bookaudiobook

The Measure of a Man (1959)
A collection of meditations and prayers written 10 years before the civil rights leader was assassinated. print

Strength to Love (1963)
This is a collection of Dr. King’s iconic sermons. print | print | print | e-book

Why We Can’t Wait (1963)
His argument for equality and an end to racial discrimination that explains why the civil rights struggle is vital to the United States. print | print | e-bookdownloadable audiobook | audiobook CD

Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? (1967)
The book in which he outlines the trends in the African American struggle during the sixties, and calls for peaceful coexistence between the African American and white communities. print | e-bookaudiobook | audiobook CD

The Trumpet of Conscience (1968)
A collection of five lectures from 1967 that address racial equality, conscience and war, the mobilization of young people, and nonviolence. print | e-book

Visit the Center for Black Literature & Culture at Central Library

You can check out Dr. King’s books and many more at the Center for Black Literature & Culture (CBLC), a space at Central Library dedicated to celebrating the vibrant and resilient heritage and triumphs of those born of African roots. The CBLC’s collection includes specially selected literature, music, movies, and artwork highlighting the contributions of black icons, specifically those with Indiana roots.

Black Biopics

Biopics are films about historical figures and events. While directors and producers often take dramatic license in these films, at their core these films help audiences learn, become inspired, and share in the emotional journey of the characters. Below are biopics depicting Black stories and people.

Title - RayTitle - HarrietTitle - 42Title - RespectTitle - King RichardTitle - Hidden FiguresTitle - SelmaTitle - The Woman King

Books for Kids to Celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, here are 25 books for children that highlight Dr. King’s life and legacy fighting for justice.

Title - The Words of Martin Luther King JrTitle - Only Light Can Do ThatTitle - AinTitle - Martin Luther King Jr. DayTitle - Martin & AnneTitle - MartinTitle - Threads of PeaceTitle - Good Night Martin Luther King Jr

The Racial Equity Collection

The Racial Equity Collection makes it easier than ever for Library patrons to access antiracism and social justice resources. The Library purchased thousands of new materials including books, e-books, audiobooks, DVDs, and Blu-rays. The materials span a wide range of genres, with titles suited for children, teens, and adults. See the collection online.

Kwanzaa is a celebration that honors African heritage. Observed from December 26th to January 1st, it includes a feast on December 31st called Karamu. Kwanzaa celebrations include singing, dancing, storytelling and African drums. To learn more about the holiday’s roots in ancient African customs and how it is celebrated, watch the PBS Learning Media video All About the Holidays: Kwanzaa and this Sesame Street video during which a family shares how they celebrate together.

Listen together as author Ibi Zoboi reads aloud, The People Remember, with illustrations by Loveis Wise. It uses the seven principles of Kwanzaa called Nguzo Saba, to share the history of African descendants in America from the time their ancestors arrived in America to the present day. The seven principles are:

1. Umoja (Unity)
2. Kujichagulia (Self-Determination)
3. Ujima (Responsibility)
4. Ujamaa (Cooperative economics)
5. Nia (Purpose)
6. Kuumba (Creativity)
7. Imani (Faith)

You can also listen to author Donna L Washington read Li’l Rabbit’s Kwanzaa, a story that introduces the holiday and celebrates its true meaning – coming together to help others.

Did you like these? You can find more stories at Free Video Read Alouds and enjoy even more themed reading and activity fun at IndyPL’s DIY Online Storytimes at Home.

Books for Kids About Kwanzaa and Nguzo Saba to Check Out with your IndyPL Library Card

Use your IndyPL library card to check out e-books, audiobooks, and other streaming content about Kwanzaa from home, right to your device. See our digital Kwanzaa collection from OverDrive Kids, or come visit us! Below is a selection of books for kids to help you get started!

Title - The Night Before KwanzaaTitle - KwanzaaTitle - Celebrating KwanzaaTitle - The People RememberTitle - KwanzaaTitle - Seven Spools of ThreadTitle - My First KwanzaaTitle - Habari Gani? WhatTitle - KwanzaaTitle - LiTitle - Kwanzaa KaramuTitle - The Sound of Kwanzaa

Need Help?

Ask a Library staff member at any of our locations or call, text, or email Ask-a-Librarian. The Tinker Station helpline at (317) 275-4500 is also available. It is staffed by device experts who can answer questions about how to read, watch and listen on a PC, tablet or phone.

Photograph of Frederick Douglass.

Hoosiers Reading Frederick Douglass Together

The Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities started the program, Reading Frederick Douglass Together, to encourage families, friends, neighbors, and co-workers to gather to read and discuss “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” by Frederick Douglas to help shape our understanding of freedom in American.

Douglass first gave the speech on July 5, 1852 at an event commemorating the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Abraham Lincoln would not issue the Emancipation Proclamation until 1863 and the 13th amendment that freed enslaved people did not pass until 1865, so he delivered this speech well before either of those milestones. His words in The Meaning of July 4th for the Negro, continue to resonate with Black citizens after more than 150 years for pointing out at the time that not all were free. The speech says in part,

“This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn.” And he asked them, “Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak to-day?”


If you are unable to attend a reading, you can find the text here. There is a printable tip sheetdiscussion guide, and page of helpful resources. In addition, we invite you to explore Indiana University School of Liberal Arts’ Frederick Douglas Papers or watch this short video of five descendants of Frederick Douglass read excerpts from his famous speech which asks all people to consider America’s long history of denying equal rights to Black Americans.

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass was born into slavery in 1818 but then grew up to became a human rights activist, gifted public speaker and author. He also started a newspaper, was a U.S. Marshal, and at the 1888 Republican National Convention became the first African American to receive a vote for President of the United States at a major party’s convention. (Benjamin Harrison, from Indianapolis, went on to win the presidency in 1889.) He lectured on civil rights and abolition and also supported Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Sojourner Truth, and Susan B. Anthony in their fight for women’s suffrage. He published his first autobiography (he wrote three altogether) called Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave in 1845. It it the first hand account of his childhood as a slave. You can read it here.

More Reading:

Visit the Center for Black Literature & Culture at Central Library to find and check out books that affirm and celebrate the Black experience.

The CBLC includes a section just for kids. Every book taken off the shelf, both fiction and non-fiction, features Black characters or historical and contemporary people that highlight the Black experience, history, or biography.

The Center for Black Literature & Culture at Central Library

The Central Authors Engraving Project – Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass (1817-1895) was an extraordinary leader and abolitionist who escaped slavery to become one of the greatest orators in modern history and was instrumental in the emancipation of slaves in the United States. Check out the items on the following list by or about Dougalss to learn more about this great man.

Title - Narrative of the Life of Frederick DouglassTitle - My Bondage and My FreedomTitle - Life and Times of Frederick DouglassTitle - The Heroic SlaveTitle - Frederick DouglassTitle - Frederick DouglassTitle - Frederick DouglassTitle - Frederick Douglass

June 19th is Juneteenth, a day set aside to commemorate the day Texas slaves first learned about emancipation. More than two years after President Lincoln signed the emancipation proclamation! Union army general Gordon Granger made the announcement in Galveston on June 19, 1865. His announcement made Texas the last state to hear the news. Juneteenth is a crucial piece of the complex series of announcements, documents, and events that lead to the passage of the 13th amendment.

Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

Juneteenth National Independence Day is a United States federal holiday. It was signed into law by President Joe Biden on Thursday June 17, 2021. Listen to Opal Lee, the activist known as the “Grandmother of Juneteenth,” reflect on her efforts that are credited with the day being officially recognized. In 2017 at the age of 89 Lee walked from Fort Worth to Washington D.C. to call attention to her quest. To learn more about Opal check out Opal Lee and What It Means To Be Free.

Annual Indy Book Fest & Juneteenth Celebration

The Center for Black Literature & Culture (CBLC) hosts an annual Juneteenth celebration at Central Library. This year’s featured speaker was Galveston native Fay Williams, Esq. in a moderated conversation about the history of Juneteenth. We look forward to seeing you next year!

Remembering the History of Emancipation

In the NPR interview What the Emancipation Proclamation Didn’t Do, Lonnie Bunch III, founding director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African-American History, said the following about remembering the history of emancipation:

“Well, I think that on a very specific notion, I would love people to realize that African-Americans were agents in their own liberty. I think that that’s an important piece, rather than simply the notion, if you look at the movie “Lincoln,” it seems as if Lincoln freed the slaves, rather than it’s part of a complicated nuanced puzzle that led to emancipation.

But, I think the other part that’s so important to me about this moment is this is a moment for Americans to remember that you can believe in a change that you can’t see. That the Emancipation Proclamation, slavery was something that everybody knew was going to exist forever except for a few fanaticals. But suddenly the Emancipation Proclamation began America on a trajectory that ultimately led to a fundamental change in citizenship and equality. And so what I hope is that people would realize that they have a right to demand and effect change because change is possible in this country.”

Learn more about Juneteenth


  • Our streaming service called Kanopy has a curated collection of films that commemorate Juneteenth. If you have never borrowed from Kanopy before directions and a video tutorial are available.
  • Watch the online exhibition Slavery & Freedom from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African-American History. It highlights stories behind some of the museum’s most compelling objects.
  • Blacks and the Vote This online discussion from the CBLC includes the importance of voting, inspired poetry from local performers, and a moderated panel discussion about what voting means in today’s America.



Take a Deeper Dive:

IndyPL Recommends: Juneteenth Reads

Here are some selected reads on the history of Juneteenth, emancipation and freedom, reconstruction, and celebration.

Here are six tips for finding books by Black authors, including a convenient list of authors linked directly to our catalog for placing requests or checking out e-books or audiobooks. Find compelling fiction and nonfiction by both contemporary and classic Black authors, including books in every genre from literary fiction to romance, to science fiction to personal memoirs, whether you are looking for a thrilling page turner are recognized prize-winner!

1. Visit the Center for Black Literature & Culture at Central Library.

The Center for Black Literature & Culture (CBLC) is home to our largest collection of materials by Black authors. Take as long as you’d like to browse this collection that features authors whose work impacts local, national, and global culture in literature, sports, business, politics, science, and music. Also don’t miss the CBLC’s website, The Power of Black Voices. This online collection includes artifacts, photographs, and articles across many categories including Black Literature and The African Diaspora. The CBLC can provide both in-person and online help finding books by Black authors.

2. Read an award winner.

Make a selection from some of the most distinguished honors in literature. The Black Caucus of the American Library Association (BCALA) Literary Award, the NAACP Image Awards for Literature, and the Earnest J. Gaines Literary Award all recognize excellence in writing by Black authors. To place convenient requests browse the winners in our catalog:

3. Borrow e-books or downloadable audiobooks

Browse OverDrive’s African American Fiction and African American Nonfiction collections of e-books and downloadable audiobooks. If you have never borrowed from OverDrive or used the OverDrive Libby app before, both OverDrive browser directions and Libby app directions are available as well as an OverDrive video tutorial and Overdrive/Libby Support.

Need more help? Ask a Library staff member at any of our locations or call, text or email Ask-a-Librarian. The Tinker Station helpline at (317) 275-4500 is also available. It is staffed by device experts who can answer questions about how to read, watch and listen on a PC, tablet or phone.

4. Get reading recommendations from IndyPL staff

Click on a featured booklist to get reading recommendations or see all our staff book lists featuring Black authors.

5. Use your IndyPL Library card to login to Novelist Plus

Find recommendations, read-alikes, series lists, reviews, and lists of award-winning books by Black authors on Novelist Plus. Finding books by Black authors is as easy as selecting a category and then browsing through the choices.

Here is a sample listing from the Novelist category Black Creators in Comics to show a star rating and the option to “Check Availability” to see if it is available to borrow from IndyPL.

Sample listing from Black Creators in Comics from Novelist Plus.

6. Subscribe to the Black Literature Newsletter from NextReads

Receive reading recommendation in your inbox monthly for recent novels featuring stories by Black authors. Book suggestions are linked to our catalog for easy requesting. It’s FREE! See a sample issue and Subscribe to Next Reads today!

Black Authors