Book Pairings to Delve Deeper Into Images in the Digital Collections: Black History Month Edition

By Carrie McBride, Communications
January 31, 2024

NYPL's Digital Collections—a free database of nearly one million items including photographs, prints, maps, manuscripts, video, and more—is a captivating rabbit hole to fall down! Inevitably, you'll see something and want to learn more. A quick look in our catalog and you can usually find a book (or several) to help you do just that. To illustrate the point, here are some images of people, places, and events related to Black History Month that we found alongside books in our collection that provide context and backstory. 

Have fun exploring both the Digital Collections and our vast catalog of books to borrow—what will you find?

black and white archival photo of Black sailors during WWII alongside cover of book Half American

Digital Collections image: African American recruits in sailor uniforms walking in rows and passing in review before Lieutenant Commander Daniel W. Armstrong, 1942. Photo by United States Navy

Half American: The Heroic Story of African Americans Fighting World War II at Home and Abroad by Matthew F. Delmont

Over one million Black men and women served in World War II. This is the definitive history of the war rom the African American perspective, written by a civil rights expert and Dartmouth history professor.

two images: a photo of a Black woman stands looking at two figural sculptures on a pedestal and the cover of the book Augusta Savage

Digital Collections image: Augusta Savage with two of her statuettes, entitled "Susie Q" and "Truckin," 1939. 

Augusta Savage: Renaissance Woman by Jeffreen M. Hayes

This is a timely, visual, exploration of the fascinating life and lasting legacy of sculptor Augusta Savage (1892-1962), who overcame poverty, racism, and sexual discrimination to become one of America's most influential twentieth-century artists. Her story is one of community-building, activism, and art education.

a line of Black moviegoers outside a cinema alongside book cover of Colorization

Digital Collections image: Crowd outside the Banco Theatre in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, for screening of Oscar Micheaux's film The Betrayal, 1948

Colorization: One Hundred Years of Black Films in a White World by Wil Haygood

Explores the history of Black cinema and how it has served as a reflection of social realities and events, from the early racist films of D.W. Griffith to today’s groundbreaking work of Black moviemakers and stars. Illustrations.

 vintage black and white photo in a photo studio of a Black man on a bicycle alongside cover of The World's Fastest Man

Digital Collections image: Major Taylor, 1898. Photo by George H. Van Norman

The World's Fastest Man: The Extraordinary Life of Cyclist Major Taylor, America's First Black Sports Hero by Michael Kranish

Presents a portrait of groundbreaking athlete Major Taylor, who broke racial barriers at the height of the Jim Crow era by becoming the world's fastest and most famous cyclist.

aerial view photo of a hospital campus alongside cover of The Black Angels

Digital Collections image: Sectional Bird's-Eye View looking East, Sea View Hospital Staten Island, New York City

The Black Angels: The Untold Story of the Nurses Who Helped Cure Tuberculosis by Maria Smilios

Spanning the Great Depression and moving through World War II and beyond, this remarkable true story of the Black nurses who, for 20 years, risked their lives while caring for NYC’s poorest at Sea View, the city's largest municipal hospital recovers the voices of these extraordinary woman, putting them at the center of this riveting story celebrating their legacy and spirit of survival.

photo of a group of young Black girls gathered around a table looking at a model ship alongside book cover of Ella Baker & the Black Freedom Movement

Digital Collections image: Civil rights activist Ella Baker with a group of young and teenage girls at a fair sponsored by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, circa 1950s. Photo by Austin Hansen.

Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement: A Radical Democratic Vision by Barbara Ransby

One of the most important African American leaders of the twentieth century and perhaps the most influential woman in the civil rights movement, Ella Baker was an activist whose remarkable career spanned fifty years and touched thousands of lives. In this deeply researched biography, Barbara Ransby chronicles Baker's long and rich political career as an organizer, an intellectual, and a teacher. Beyond documenting an extraordinary life, the book paints a vivid picture of the African American fight for justice and its intersections with other progressive struggles worldwide across the 20th century.

Zora Neale Hurston at Federal Writer's Project booth at New York Times Book Fair

Digital Collections image: Author Zora Neale Hurston at the Federal Writers Project booth at the New York Times Book Fair, 1937.

Long Past Slavery: Representing Race in the Federal Writers' Project by Catherine A. Stewart

From 1936 to 1939, the New Deal's Federal Writers' Project collected life stories from more than 2,300 former African American slaves. These narratives are now widely used as a source to understand the lived experience of those who made the transition from slavery to freedom. But in this examination of the project and its legacy, Catherine A. Stewart shows it was the product of competing visions of the past, as ex-slaves' memories of bondage, emancipation, and life as freedpeople were used to craft arguments for and against full inclusion of African Americans in society. Stewart demonstrates how project administrators, such as the folklorist John Lomax; white and black interviewers, including Zora Neale Hurston; and the ex-slaves themselves fought to shape understandings of black identity. 

a Black woman in a white dresses in a dance pose with arms outstretched alongside cover of The Dance Claimed Me

Digital Collections image: Pearl Primus dancing, likely at Cafe Society Downtown, 1945. Photo by Myron Ehrenberg

The Dance Claimed Me: A Biography of Pearl Primus by Peggy Schwartz and Murray Schwartz

Pearl Primus blazed onto the dance scene in 1943 with stunning works that incorporated social and racial protest into their dance aesthetic. In The Dance Claimed Me, Peggy and Murray Schwartz, friends and colleagues of Primus, offer an intimate perspective on her life and explore her influences on American culture, dance, and education.

drawing of Booker T. Washington and Teddy Roosevelt sitting at a table. "Equality" is written in large letters on the tablecloth.

Digital Collections image: Equality, 1903

Teddy and Booker T.: How Two American Icons Blazed a Path for Racial Equality by Brian Kilmeade

When President Theodore Roosevelt welcomed the country's most visible Black man, Booker T. Washington, into his circle of counselors in 1901, the two confronted a shocking and violent wave of racist outrage. In the previous decade, Jim Crow laws had legalized discrimination in the South, eroding social and economic gains for former slaves. Here, Brian Kilmeade tells the story of how two wildly different Americans faced the challenge of keeping America moving toward the promise of the Emancipation Proclamation.

photo of a Black barber working on a Black customer's hair, both are in a conked style

Digital Collections image: "Barber and customer, both with conked hair," 1950s

Textures: The History and Art of Black Hair edited by Joseph L. Underwood and Tameka N. Ellington

Textures synthesizes research in history, fashion, art, and visual culture to reassess the “hair story” of peoples of African descent. Long a fraught topic for African Americans and others in the diaspora, Black hair is here addressed by artists, barbers, and activists in both its historical perceptions and its ramifications for self and society today. Exploring topics such as the preferential treatment of straight hair, the social hierarchies of skin, and the power and politics of display, Textures is a landmark exploration of Black hair and its important, complicated place in the history of African American life and culture.

A Black man and woman in fancy dress pose in front of a wood bar

Digital Collections image: "Ada "Bricktop" Smith with Louis Cole"

Bricktop's Paris: African American Women in Paris Between the Two World Wars by T. Denean Sharpley-Whiting

During the Jazz Age, France became a place where an African American woman could realize personal freedom and creativity, in narrative or in performance, in clay or on canvas, in life and in love. These women were participants in the life of the American expatriate colony, which included F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, and Cole Porter, and they commingled with bohemian avant-garde writers and artists like Picasso, Breton, Colette, and Matisse. Bricktop's Paris introduces the reader to twenty-five of these women and the city they encountered. Following this nonfiction account, T. Denean Sharpley-Whiting provides a fictionalized autobiography of Ada "Bricktop" Smith, which brings the players from the world of nonfiction into a Paris whose elegance masks a thriving underworld.

photo of large number of Black protestors walking down a city street, some holding signs; along side cover of Never Been a Time

Digital Collections image: "Silent Protest parade on Fifth Avenue, New York City, July 28, 1917, in response to the East St. Louis race riot."

Never Been a Time: The 1917 Race Riot That Sparked the Civil Rights Movement by Harper Barnes

Documents the deadly racial confrontation in 1917 East St. Louis between white and black citizens, describing the Jim Crow limits that prompted the move of half a million job-seeking African-Americans to northern industrial cities and the resulting backlash that took the form of deadly race riots, union disputes, and political corruption. 

vintage photo of a group of Black men and women on a rooftop smiling at the camera

Digital Collections image: "Guests at breakfast party for Langston Hughes hosted by Regina Anderson and Ethel Ray at 580 St. Nicholas Avenue, Harlem, May 1925". 

Regina Anderson Andrews: Harlem Renaissance Librarian by Ethelene Whitmire

The first African American to head a branch of the New York Public Library (NYPL), Regina Andrews led an extraordinary life. Allied with W.E.B. Du Bois, she fought for promotion and equal pay against entrenched sexism and racism. Andrews also played a key role in the Harlem Renaissance, supporting writers and intellectuals with dedicated workspace at her 135th Street Branch Library. After hours she cohosted a legendary salon that drew the likes of Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston. Her work as an actress and playwright helped established the Harlem Experimental Theater. Ethelene Whitmire's new biography offers the first full-length portrait of Andrews' activism, engagement with the arts of the Harlem Renaissance, and work with the NYPL.