Read it First: African American Heritage and History

Elizabeth Graney, Librarian, Literature & Fiction Department,
Collage of books adapted to films
African American History Month looks to honor African American heritage, history, culture and identity

Celebrated nationwide every February, African American History Month looks to honor African American heritage, history, culture and identity. As we recognize the achievements and contributions of prominent African Americans, it is critical that we not ignore the continued struggle and trauma experienced by many to this day. By highlighting books and their film adaptations that portray the African American experience from the early 1900’s to the present day, we hope to not only shine a light on incredible literary works but to also celebrate honest representations of the fight for recognition and dignity through the years. As our physical collection is still closed to browsing, this year we are honoring African American authors, playwrights and poets by bringing these works to you through our e-media vendors and Library to Go service.

Watch and Read at Home

The Autobiography of Malcolm X
Malcolm X

Based on interviews with Malcolm X between 1963 and his assassination in 1965, Alex Haley’s The Autobiography of Malcolm X is an account of the life of this powerful and inspiring leader. Covering his upbringing, his religious conversion, and his thoughts on the Black Pride movement and Black nationalism, this influential book remains a relevant and eye-opening read. The 1992 film adaptation titled Malcom X by Spike Lee earned actor Denzel Washington an Oscar nomination for Best Actor. You can reserve a copy of the DVD using our Library to Go service.

Black Klansman: Race, Hate, and the Undercover Investigation of a Lifetime
Stallworth, Ron

Ron Stallworth, the first African-American officer on the Colorado Springs Police Force, answered an ad for the Ku Klux Klan in his local paper. He hoped to be added to a mailing list and have a chance to keep an eye on the local chapter of this terrorist group. Instead, he received a phone call and an invitation to be more personally involved. He recruited his white partner to pose as him for meetings and struck up phone contact with none other than David Duke himself. Stallworth’s several months-long undercover investigations exposed Klan members in the military, prevented cross burnings, and gave the police an in-depth understanding of the workings of this secretive organization. The 2018 film adaptation starring John David Washington and Adam Driver won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay. 

The Color Purple
Walker, Alice

One of the 100 most banned books from 2000-2009, Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Color Purple deals with the fate of African American women in the South in the 1930’s. Told through the letters of a young African American woman named Celie, the novel follows her and the women in her life over the course of 20 years. Walker’s critically acclaimed novel looks at the hardships and abuses these women had to endure and the beauty and redemptive power of their friendships. Starring Whoopi Goldberg, Danny Glover and Oprah Winfrey, the 1985 film adaptation was nominated for 11 Academy Awards. You can check out the DVD using our Library to Go service. 

Devil in a Blue Dress
Mosley, Walter

Devil in a Blue Dress is Walter Mosely’s first published book and the introduction of his most popular character, the African American private detective Easy Rawlins. Set in 1940’s Watts, Devil in a Blue Dress looks at crime and racial politics of Los Angeles of the time. After being fired from his factory job, Rawlins is hired to find a young white woman named Daphne Monet. But he soon finds himself embroiled in something much deeper than a missing persons case. Starring Denzel Washington, Don Cheadle, Tom Sizemore and Jennifer Beals, the 1995 film adaptation can be checked out on DVD with your library card today. 

Wilson, August

Set in 1950s Pittsburgh, August Wilson’s Pulitzer and Tony Award-winning play Fences follows Troy Maxson, a former baseball player whose career was cut short due to the segregation of the sport. Embittered by a society that punished him for his talent and ambition, Troy fails to see the massive changes taking place around him and the new and better opportunities the Civil Rights Movement offers his family. As he attempts to protect those he loves from a world he no longer understands, Troy’s choices threaten to destroy everything he holds most dear. Wilson’s powerful play looks at the detrimental effects of generational racism and the evolving African American experience in American society. The 2016 film adaptation starring Denzel Washington and Viola Davis was nominated for 4 Academy Awards.

The Hate U Give
Thomas, Angie

16-year-old Starr Carter lives a double life—as one of the only African American students at her elite prep school and as a resident of Garden Heights, a poor African American neighborhood. But after she sees her friend murdered during what should have been a routine traffic stop, Starr’s two worlds collide. As she deals with the trauma of losing her friend, she must also come to terms with the political realities of his death at the hands of a white police officer. Angie Thomas’ award-winning novel was adapted to film in 2017 and featured Amanda Stenberg, KJ Apa, Common and Anthony Mackie. The DVD is available through our Library to Go service.

Hidden Figures
Shetterly, Margot Lee

Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly is the true story of the little known heroes that made the space race possible. Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, Christine Darden and Mary Jackson were mathematicians who used nothing but pencils, slide rules and their own minds to perform the calculations that would allow the United States to send men into space. Though their work was instrumental to NASA’s success, as African American women they had to fight to have their achievements recognized. Shetterly’s bestselling book details the groundbreaking work of these incredible women. The 2016 film adaptation starring Taraji P Henson, Janelle Monáe and Octavia Spencer, garnered three Academy Award nominations. You can check out the DVD using our Library to Go service today. 

If Beale Street Could Talk
Baldwin, James

Tish and Fonny are young and in love. Newly engaged and pregnant with their first child, they have a bright future ahead of them. But this happy future is disrupted when Fonny is falsely accused of a heinous crime and put in jail. As Tish’s pregnancy progresses, Tish and Fonny’s families work to prove him innocent and set him free. The 2018 film adaptation was nominated for three Academy Awards, earning Regina King an award for Best Supporting Actress. You can check out the DVD using our Library To Go service today! 


Claireece Precious Jones has been battered, berated and abused her whole life. Pregnant with her second child by her own father, sixteen year old Precious is kicked out of school and enrolled in an alternative high school. There she meets a teacher who sees her true potential and encourages her to seek more out of life for herself and her child. Push by Sapphire is the heartbreaking story of forging your way while everything tries to hold you down. Starring Gabourney Sidibe, Mo’nique and Mariah Carey, the 2009 film adaptation titled Precious was nominated for six Academy Awards and earned the first Oscar for screenwriting awarded to an African American writer.

A Raisin in the Sun
Hansberry, Lorraine

A Raisin in the Sun is Lorraine Hansberry’s critically acclaimed play about the conflicting dreams and aspirations of the Youngs, an African American family living on the South Side of Chicago in the 1950s. When the patriarch of the family passes away, the Young family disagrees as to how the life insurance money should best be spent. As they each attempt to improve their lives, the Youngs must contend with the racism of their neighbors and their own internalized prejudices. Hansberry’s influential work was the first play by an African American woman to be produced on Broadway. The library has three different film adaptations of this groundbreaking play available to check out. You can check out the original 1961 film starring Sidney Poitier, the 1989 made-for-tv film starring Danny Glover, or the 2008 television adaptation starring Sean Combs, Phylicia Rashad and Audra McDonald.