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A Juneteenth Reading List for Kids: 9 True Stories of Black Americans Who Changed History

Now an official federal holiday, Juneteenth observes the effective end of slavery in America. Commemorate the occasion by celebrating these nine Black Americans, who, from the first Black entomologist to the first Black Olympic gold medal, will hopefully go from little-known groundbreakers to well-known household names.

Calkins Creek Children’s Books tell the stories of little-known American heroes.

Elizabeth “Lizzie” Jennings, Equal Rights Activist

Elizabeth “Lizzie” Jennings was an African American school teacher, who, in 1854, fought back when she was unjustly denied entry to a New York City streetcar, sparking the beginnings of the long struggle to gain equal rights on public transportation. Lizzie Demands a Seat! tells her story.

Charles Henry Turner, Entomologist

An entomologist is a scientist who studies bugs—and Charles Henry Turner was the first Black American entomologist. Turner’s story is told in Buzzing with Questions, a fascinating picture book for young readers that highlights his unstoppable quest for knowledge and his passion for science.

Molly Williams, America’s First Female Firefighter

Molly, By Golly! is the story of Molly Williams, an African American cook for New York City’s Fire Company 11 who is considered to be the first known female firefighter in U.S. history. Young readers will enjoy plucky Molly Williams’s legendary adventure as they learn how fires were fought in the early 1800s.

Boston King, Agrippa Hull, and Other Black Soldiers Who Fought in the American Revolution

Uncover the lives of thirteen African-Americans who fought during the Revolutionary War: Boston King, Agrippa Hull, James Armistead Lafayette, Phillis Wheatley, Elizabeth “Mumbet” Freeman, Prince Hall, Mary Perth, Ona Judge, Sally Hemings, Paul Cuffe, John Kizell, Richard Allen, and Jarena Lee. Answering the Cry for Freedom is a nonfiction book for kids 9-12 years spotlights charismatic individuals who answered the cry for freedom, focusing on the choices they made and how they changed America both then and now.

Lil Hardin Armstrong, Musician

Born to Swing is the story of “Hot Miss Lil” Hardin Armstrong, legendary jazz pianist, composer, and bandleader — and a female pioneer on the music stage. Born in Memphis, just a little way from the famous music hotspot Beale Street, Lil grew up inspired by famous jazz musicians including Mister W. C. Handy and Jelly Roll Morton.

Paul Robeson, Activist, Singer, and Actor

When faced with the decision to remain silent or be ostracized, Paul Robeson chose to sing, shout, and speak out. Sing and Shout explores how Robeson’s love of African American spirituals and deep empathy towards the suffering of others drove his long, fervent mission as a civil rights activist and his career as an artist.

George Scott, Escaped Slave

During the Civil War, George Scott, along with a group of other escaped slaves, pled for sanctuary at Fortress Monroe in Virginia. The fort’s commander, Benjamin Butler, protected the slaves, calling them “contraband.” The information and heroism of George Scott saved the fort from enemy hands and ultimately the plight of the contrabands that convinced President Lincoln that slavery MUST be abolished. Seeking Freedom tells this dramatic Civil War story.

Alice Coachman, Olympic Gold Medal Winner

With a record-breaking leap, Alice Coachman became the first African-American woman to win an Olympic gold medal in 1948. Growing up in Albany, Georgia, Alice loved to play sports with the boys and was never considered “ladylike.” In the seventh grade, a high school track coach noticed her talent, as did the Tuskegee Institute. She earned nicknames such as “Atomic Alice,” “Track Ace,” the “Tuskegee Flash,” and “Queen of the Track,” which became the name of her inspiring biography, Queen of the Track.

George E. Stephens and James Henry Gooding

George E. Stephens and James Henry Gooding not only served in the Massachusetts 54th Infantry, the well-known black regiment, but were also war correspondents who published eyewitness reports of the battlefields. Now or Never! is the riveting dual biography of two little-known but extraordinary African-American Union soldiers.