Nine New Memoirs & Biographies of Notable Black Americans

By NYPL Staff
February 1, 2022

Biographies and memoirs are much more than an accounting of the events of someone's life. They provide an often intimate glimpse into a person's motivations, fears, triumphs, and tribulations. These memoirs and biographies of notable Black figures, are newly published with the past year and offer an accessible window into the time and place that shaped these fascinating people.

Radical Vision: A Biography of Lorraine Hansberry by Soyica Diggs Colbert

Drawing from Hansberry's papers, speeches, and interviews, this book presents a captivating portrait of Lorraine Hansberry's life as an artist and political activist. It also reveals a new perspective on the roles of Black women in mid-twentieth-century political movements.

It's In the Action: Memories of a Nonviolent Warrior by C.T. Vivian with Steve Fiffer

The wisdom acquired during C. T. Vivian's lifetime is generously shared in the civil rights legend's memoir of his early life and time in the civil rights movement. Vivian worked hand-in-hand with the movement's most famous figures, including Martin Luther King Jr. and John Lewis, and his contributions were no less vital to the successes of nonviolent resistance.

Just As I Am: A Memoir by Cicely Tyson

The Academy, Tony, and three-time Emmy Award-winning actor and trailblazer tells her stunning story, looking back at her six-decade career and life.

Chasing Me to My Grave: An Artist's Memoir of the Jim Crow South by Winfred Rembert, as told to Erin I. Kelly

The late celebrated artist tells his life story of growing up in the segregated South, joining the civil rights movement and surviving a near-lynching through a series of drawings and paintings.

My Remarkable Journey: A Memoir by Katherine G. Johnson

The woman at the heart of the New York Times bestseller and Oscar-winning film Hidden Figures shares her personal journey from child prodigy in the Allegheny Mountains of West Virginia to NASA human computer and her integral role in the early years of the U.S. space program

Walk With Me: A Biography of Fannie Lou Hamer by Kate Clifford Larson

The most complete biography of Fannie Lou Hamer draws on recently declassified sources on both Hamer and the Civil Rights Movement, including unredacted FBI and DOJ files, interviews with civil rights activists conducted by the Smithsonian and Library of Congress, and extensive conversations with Hamer's family and close associates.

Philip Payton: The Father of Black Harlem by Kevin McGruder

The Black real estate entrepreneur Philip Payton played a central role in Harlem’s transformation into a Black community in the early twentieth century. In this biography, Kevin McGruder explores Payton’s career and its implications for the history of residential segregation.

Jesse Owens: A Life in American History by F. Erik Brooks and Kevin M. Jones

A compelling resource for sports enthusiasts, Jesse Owens: A Life in American History places the life and athletic accomplishments of Jesse Owens within the context of race and American history in the early 20th century.

Vibrate Higher: A Rap Story by Kweli Talib

Before Talib Kweli became a world-renowned hip-hop artist, he was a Brooklyn kid who wandered the streets of Greenwich Village with a motley crew of artists, rappers, and DJs who found hip-hop more inspiring than their textbooks. Kweli's was the first generation to grow up with hip-hop as established culture. As childhood friendships turned into collaborations, Kweli gained notoriety as a rapper in his own right, ultimately leaving his record label, and taking control of his own recording career. Here Kweli tells the winding, always compelling story of the people and events that shaped his own life as well as the culture of hip-hop that informs American culture at large.

Have trouble reading standard print? Many of these titles are available in formats for patrons with print disabilities.

Summaries provided via NYPL’s catalog, which draws from multiple sources. Click through to each book’s title for more.