African American

New Trail to Freedom Project Marks Local Black History Sites

Between April and September 1862, an estimated 10,000 slaves fled the South through our region. As part of the local Civil War Sesquicentennial commemorations, the Trail to Freedom project was designed to give the public a better understanding of the experiences of those whom the war impacted greatly but are often only a footnote in history books.

Kadir Nelson, Passionate Illustrator

Listen and watch a video of Kadir Nelson and you will get to know one of the most wonderful children’s book illustrators of our time. The soft-spoken Nelson has accomplished, before the age of 30, many things. He has worked on a Stephen Spielberg film, Amistad, and won the Caldecott Honor Award for Illustration for Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led her People to Freedom, in 2007 and in 2008, won it again for Henry’s Freedom Box: a True Story from the Underground Railroad.

Born in Washington, D.C, Kadir began drawing at the age of 3 and at the age of 12 was apprenticed to his uncle, an artist and art instructor himself. Nelson won many contests and ultimately won a scholarship to and attended the Pratt Institute of Art in Brooklyn, New York. He currently lives and works in San Diego, California.

Nelson has a passion for African Americans and their plight and has illustrated beautifully many books and has created many works of art for celebrities that have sought him out.

Freeing Charles: The Struggle to Free a Slave on the Eve of the Civil War by Scott Christianson

Down the old plank road from Fredericksburg towards Culpeper--today's Route 3 West, you'll find the still-standing and ruined remains of many a grand Virginia plantation. One of these was home to Charles Nalle, who escaped from slavery in hopes of reuniting with his already-freed wife and children. In 1860, the streets of Troy, New York, became the scene of a struggle between the  Harriet Tubman's Underground Railroad supporters and the slave hunters who had been sent to retrieve him.

Walter Dean Myers

Walter Dean Myers started school, looking to conquer the world. He could read well; he had discovered the powers of the written word. Words failed him, though, when it came time to speak. He had a speech impediment, one that caused him immense frustration: some words he couldn't pronounce. His frustration soon turned to anger. Luckily, a teacher recognized his problem. She told him to write words he could pronounce, and he began to write. He created poems at first, then short stories, full of words that he did not fear reading aloud. He was soon being praised for his writing: it was just a preview of the praise he would receive when he embarked on his life of writing.

Great Lives Series: Marian Anderson

In 1939, talented singer Marian Anderson was denied the spotlight at the D.A.R.'s Constitution Hall on account of her race. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt quickly saw to it that she had another venue--the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. On Easter Sunday, a crowd of 75,000 listened to her in person, and her music was carried on the radio and heard by many more. After the concert, Marian Anderson went on to break more racial barriers in the entertainment industry and became a voice of the Civil Rights Movement.

Chester Himes: Writing from the fire

Chester Himes had a hard life, even for someone growing up in the 'thirties. He took some knocks early on, knocks many people get in life; it was the racism he encountered in LA that made him bitter, a bitterness which put a fire in his belly and informed so much of his best work. Himes probably would have drawn little consolation over the fact he was breaking new trails for  authors such as  Walter Mosley. But he did.

Great Lives Series: Booker T. Washington

Born a slave in Franklin County, Virginia, Booker T. (Taliaferro) Washington went on to become a nationally-known leader and educator. He shared his educational philosophy with U.S. presidents and served as the first president of Tuskegee Institute, now Tuskegee University.

We have a winner!

    Last Tuesday, our librarians discussed ten books we found worthy of the Coretta Scott King author and illustrator awards.  The actual winners will be announced next Monday, January 18, at the American Library Association conference in Boston.  Click here on Monday morning at 7:45 for a live webcast of the announcements.


    The Coretta Scott King Awards are given to African American authors and illustrators for outstanding inspirational and educational contributions.  Among our nominations for the Illustrator Award is “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” a poem by Langston Hughes illustrated by E. B. Lewis. 

Shiloh Cemetery Graves

Robert Hodge reported in 1981 that this is from a report prepared by a students of Germanna Community College in circa 1979. Report is not verified and was unsigned. Indeed, there is a variation in the name Bumbrey - represented as Bumbray here, but there are stones with Bumbrey in the cemetery. The original list was accompanied by the following statements:

"The following list of names is a list of people buried in an all black cemetery in the City of Fredericksburg at the corner of Monument Avenue and Littlepage Street.

Feisty Females for Middle Schoolers

    Nine months before Rosa Parks made history, a fifteen-year-old girl was arrested for refusing to move to the back of a bus in Montgomery, Alabama.  Claudette Colvin was well aware of the convoluted rules about where blacks could sit on the city buses, but on this day she decided not to obey the bus driver’s command to give up her seat.  She was arrested and eventually convicted of assault and violating the segregation law. 


    Deemed too emotional to become the public face of the civil rights cause, Colvin has been a footnote to history for the last fifty years. But that has changed with the publication of Philip Hoose’s “Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice,” winner of this year’s National Book Award for Young People’s Literature.