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Category: African American History

A colorful mural of Los Angeles history, with the face of a brown-skinned woman at left and pictures from various time periods portrayed in her flowing tresses.

L.A. As You’ve (Probably) Never Seen It

Posted by: Neely Tucker

To tell the history of Los Angeles, artist Barbara Carrasco wove vignette scenes through the flowing tresses of “la Reina de los Ángeles,” based on a portrait of her sister. The 80-foot mural stretches from prehistory (the La Brea Tar Pits) to the imagined future (Los Angeles International Airport’s Space Age Theme Building) with subjects ranging from the inspiring to grievous. Carrasco's original graphite design, depicting L.A. history flowing through long tresses of hair, now has a home in the Library.

A man in a cap and glasses stands behind of a large desk with several items set in front of him.

Alan Haley, Preservation Specialist

Posted by: Wendi Maloney

Alan Haley, a preservation specialist in the Conservation Division, has worked on everything from an ancient Chinese scroll to the transcript of the Amistad trial in the Library's collections, but has also traveled the globe assisting other libraries with important items or artifacts that are threatened.

Black History Month: Spike Lee and “Bamboozled”

Posted by: Neely Tucker

Spike Lee's 2000 film "Bamboozled," a hard-edged satire of blackface in cinema and television, was part of the 2023 class of National Film Registry and his fifth film to join the list. In an interview with the Library, he explains how the film is an answer to D.W. Griffith's notorious "The Birth of a Nation" in 1915, which set into play more than a century of racist tropes in films.

John and Jacqueline Kennedy pose on a grassy lawn on their wedding day, her white gown flowing behind her

Black Dressmakers for First Ladies

Posted by: Neely Tucker

Two Black seamstresses have left their mark on White House fashion history, as Elizabeth Keckley and Ann Lowe designed dresses for two of the nation’s most famous first ladies, Mary Todd Lincoln and Jacqueline Kennedy, respectively. Both designers developed their craft despite the brutal influences of slavery and Jim Crow segregation. This piece tells their stories.

A colorful image of names written in on a winding family tree

An African American Family History Like No Other

Posted by: Neely Tucker

When the Library opens its new Treasures Gallery next year, displaying some of the most striking papers and artifacts that span some 4,000 years, one of them will certainly stand out: The Blackwell's Kinfolk Family Tree. It's a dizzying, almost overwhelming piece of folk art that depicts the genealogical history of an African American family from Virginia. It's 8 feet tall and 6 feet wide, contains more than 1,500 names spread out on curving trunks, branches and leaves and details family connections from 1789 to the 1970s. Its most famous member? Arthur Ashe Jr., the tennis great.

Douglas Brinkely and Carla Hayden, both seated, speak on stage, with an American flag in the background

“Books That Shaped America” Series Starts

Posted by: Neely Tucker

Some of the most important works by Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, Frederick Douglass, Willa Cather, Zora Neale Hurston and Cesar Chavez will be the focus of a new television series being produced by C-SPAN and the Library. The 10-part series — “Books That Shaped America” — starts on Sept. 18 and will examine 10 books …

Image of an ornate clock showing 2:05 with sculpted male figures sitting on each side of the clock face

The Library Reimagined, with You in Mind

Posted by: Mark Hartsell

"A Library for You" is the Library's multi-year initiative to connect readers and patrons to our collections in new ways. These new galleries, exhibits and showcases will present some of the Library's most stunning items, whether they are recent or thousands of years old. These include Lincoln's handwritten first draft of the Gettysburg Address, fragments of the ancient Greek epic the "Iliad," cuneiform tablets that are among the oldest examples of writing, pre-Columbian artifacts, Rosa Parks' papers and watercolors by Diego Rivera. They'll begin to open in 2024.

An engraved portrait of Hannah Carson. She is seated, hands in lap around a small framed portrait (perhaps of her late husband or father). She is weaing a dark dress, buttoned to the collar, with her hair wrapped in a white scarf.

Hannah Carson: “Like a Fire in All My Bones”

Posted by: Neely Tucker

Nestled in the archives of the Daniel A.P. Murray Collection is a short, 1864 account of the remarkable life of Hannah Carson. “Glorying in Tribulation: A Brief Memoir of Hannah Carson, For Thirteen Years Deprived of the Use of All Her Limbs,” is testament to how a severely disabled Black woman became an inspiration to the Christian community, both white and black, in Philadelphia before and during the Civil War.