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Who Was…in Black History

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Black History month celebrates many inspiring people from many different time periods and backgrounds.  And what better way to commemorate it than to read books about these inspiring people!

Our family loves the Who Was ® series of books and I have posted before about some of the books we have enjoyed. (Click here for our other lists: Inventors, Women’s History, US Presidents.)  They are great biographies with lots of interesting facts presented in an engaging narrative.  Plus, they include lots of drawings.

Here, I organized a list of all of their books to date that would be appropriate for black history month or to read throughout the year.  There are also two books in their What Was… series that are perfect for this study.  In total, there are 25 books!  At the bottom, there are FREE printable notebooking pages and notetaking bookmarks you can download!  Use them to take notes while reading any of the Who Was… books on this list.

Check out this list of Who Was and What Was books that are perfect for commemorating Black History Month.

(Note: This post contains affiliate links for your convenience.  Click here to read our full disclosure.)

Who Was Sojourner Truth?, 1797 -1883

An escaped slave who advocated against slavery and for women’s rights.

Who Was Frederick Douglass?, ? – 1895

An escaped slave who became the father of the Civil Rights Movement.

Who Was Harriet Tubman?, ? -1913

Another escaped slave who helped many others escape.  She led a very interesting life, including spying for the Union Army! Check out our Harriet Tubman FREE Unit Study, which accompanies this book!

What Was the Underground Railroad?

This would be great to read along with Who Was…Harriet Tubman? and gives an in-depth look at how slaves escaped to the North in the 1800s.

Who Was Ida B. Wells?, 1852 – 1931

An investigative journalist and early leader in the civil rights movement.

Who Was Booker T. Washington?, 1856 – 1915

A former slave who founded the Tusksegee Institute to provide a formal education to black people.

Who Was George Washington Carver?, 1864 – 1943

A former slave who became a professor and botanist, developing new ways to grow crops.  This would make a great addition to a unit study on botany.

Who Was Duke Ellington? 1899 – 1974

A band leader and composer who was large part of the Harlem Renaissance.

Who Was Louis Armstrong?, 1901 – 1971

A great jazz musician who had a troubled childhood.  Check out our FREE unit study about Louis Armstrong, jazz music and New Orleans!

Who Was Jesse Owens?, 1913 – 1980

An Olympic medalist for track and field that pushed through racial barriers at a worldwide level.

Who Was Rosa Parks?, 1913 – 2005

The “Mother of the Civil Rights Movement” who did much more than refuse to give up her bus seat.  Check out our Rosa Parks FREE Unit Study here and learn all about her and the Civil Rights Movement!

Who Was Nelson Mandela?, 1918 – 2013

The first black president of South Africa who lived a long and interesting life.

Who Was Jackie Robinson?, 1919 – 1972

The first black major baseball league player.  Read about what he faced in this role and how he responded.

Who Was Coretta Scott King?, 1927 – 2006

Not only was she Martin Luther King, Jr.s’ wife, but she was a Civil Rights leader herself as well.

Who Was Maya Angelou?, 1928 – 2014

A wonderful poet and author.  After finishing this book, you could read some of her works!  Bonus: Listen to her read one of her works or give a speech or interview as she had an amazing voice.

Who Was Martin Luther King, Jr.?, 1929 – 1968

A Civil Rights leader who gave his life to the movement.  (For a list of other great books about him, click here.)

What Was the March on Washington?, 1963

A great book to read with Who Was Martin Luther King, Jr.?  It covers the reason for the march, how it unfolded and the influential people involved. Black and white photos are included.

Who Were the Tuckaseegee Airmen?, Active 1940 – 1948

A group of African-American military pilots that fought in World War II.  This book would be great as part of a study of World War II.


Who Is Pele?, 1940 – current

One of the greatest footballers (soccer players) of all time.  Check out our FREE Pele Unit Study here and learn all about his life.

Who Was Muhammad Ali?, 1942 – 2016

A world class boxer known as “The Greatest” and a political activist.

Who Was Aretha Franklin?, 1942 – 2018

A great musical artist and the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Who Was Bob Marley?, 1945 – 1981

A Jamaican reggae musician who influenced the world.

Who is Stevie Wonder?, 1950 – current

A singer-songwriter who started his professional career as a child.  Great alone or as part of a study of music.

Who is Oprah Winfrey?, 1954 – current

“Queen of All Media” best known for her daytime talk show that ran for 25 years.

Who Was Michael Jackson?, 1958 – 2009

Another amazing entertainer who started his career as a child!

Who is Barack Obama?, 1961 – current

Our 44th president.  This book was published during his first year in office and therefore focuses on his life leading up to that year.

Who is Michael Jordan?, 1963 – current

A basketball legend who changed the business side of being a professional athlete. (Just released!)

Who is Michelle Obama?, 1964 – current

Our former first lady.  This book covers her life from childhood through her first term in the White House.

Who is Shaquille O’Neal?, 1972 – current

A former NBA star turned sportscaster and businessman.

Who are Venus and Serena Williams?, 1980, 1981 – current

These sisters are world famous tennis stars.

What Was… Books About Black History

What Was the Underground Railroad?


What Was the Harlem Renaissance?

What Were the Negro Leagues?

What Is the Civil Rights Movement?

What is Juneteenth?

What Was the March on Washington?, 1963

Download the Bookmarks

These FREE printable bookmarks can be used to take notes while reading any of the Who Was…books in this list to learn about black history.

Three different notebooking printables.

Want to Listen Instead?

Audible has the Who Was…books! Start a FREE trial, listen to a couple and see if you like them!

Other History Resources

Cover of Using History Timelines in Your Homeschool Blog Post

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Tonya

    This is really a great resource and I am happy to see a nice *list* of notable Black Americans throughout history in the USA. I would, however, like to ask that if you are going to take the time to teach Black history that you include so many other notable Black Americans and not just the same cookie-cutter versions of who these people are.

    Black history is American history and it deserves more than a handful of people being recognized (even though they weren’t in their time).


    1. Randi Smith

      I totally agree with you Tonya! Thank you for pointing this out! Since this was a listing of books in a particular series I was limited to who they have written about. I have included many other notable people who are black in our Inventor Person of the Day Cards and Women’s History Person of the Day Cards. Creating a set of Black History Person of the Day cards is in the works as well.

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