“I learned how to read from Mrs. Augusta Baker, the children’s librarian at the old 135th Street branch library… If that was the only good deed that lady ever did in her life, may she rest in peace. Because that deed saved my life, if not sooner, then later, when sometimes the only thing I had to hold on to was knowing I could read, and that that could get me through.”
-- Audre Lorde
Zami: A Biomythography (Freedom, CA: The Crossing Press, 1994), 22-23.
This month we celebrate the life and work of pioneering librarian, Augusta Baker. At the height of the Harlem Renaissance, Baker was put in charge of the children’s room at the 135th Street Branch (now Countee Cullen Regional Branch), where she cultivated the young minds of such luminaries as Audre Lorde and James Baldwin. Her anti-racist work began just as she surveyed the material in her collection and its poor and shameful depiction of people of African descent, most notorious among them Helen Bannerman’s, Little Black Sambo. Baker worked to collect titles with a positive depiction of Black children and families, writing and publishing bibliographies to help guide colleagues across the country to do the same. The collection of children’s titles later became a part of the Schomburg collection, which is at the center of New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. The Black authors and illustrators we celebrate this month owe a great debt to Baker’s early anti-racist work to amplify authentic Black experiences and joy in materials for children.
- The Black Experience in Children's Books
- Books About Negro Life for Children
- The Black Experience in Children’s Audiovisual Materials
- We Build Together: A Reader’s Guide to Negro Life and Literature for Elementary and High School Use
- Storytelling: Art and Technique
- The Golden Lynx, and Other Tales
- The Talking Tree: Fairy Tales from 15 Lands
- Baker’s original bibliography on positive black representation for NYPL
- Teenage activist Marley Dias on the trailblazer who inspired her
- Interview honoring Augusta Baker, including lecture and interview with her son, Buddy and storytellers telling stories in her honor