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What and Who Was…in Black History

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It is impossible to understand how we came to be the nation and society we are today without learning the major events and important people of Black history.

While Black History Month is a great time to focus on some of these stories, it is also a great month to inspire us to continue to weave these stories into our history lessons all year long.

While there are several biography and history series out there, the Who Was ®  and What Was ® series of books offer a broad range of topics.  With their pictures, interesting facts, and sidebars of related information, they engage children to learn about history in a fun way.

Below are several What Was… books about important movements and events as well as more than 30 Who Was… books about important people in black history.  Some even have links to unit studies to accompany them!

The books are organized for you in chronological order so you can travel through history in a sequence.  Or choose books that appeal to your children’s interests and skip around!  I suggest that no matter what order you decide to read them in, that you add them to a timeline.  Read here about how to set up a timeline in your learning space that your children can add to as they develop their historical knowledge.

And at the bottom of this page, make sure to grab the FREE printable notebooking pages and notetaking bookmarks that you can use with any of the Who Was… books below.!

(Click here for our other  Who Was lists: Inventors, Women’s History, US Presidents, Entertainers, and Musicians.)

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.)

What Was… Books About Events and Movements in Black History

What Was the Underground Railroad?

Learn about the important and dangerous work many did to help enslaved people escape to freedom!

What is Juneteenth?

Learn the history behind this holiday and how it has changed over the years.  We have a fun unit study to accompany the book that will enhance your children’s learning!

What Was Reconstruction?

Reconstruction was a pivotal and interesting moment in US history.  Learn along with your children about what worked and what didn’t work.

What Was the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921?

This is a difficult event to teach our children about, but it is important for them to know what has happened in the past so they can better understand the present.

What Was the Harlem Renaissance?

Learn about the art, music, and writings that were created during this exciting time in history.

What Were the Negro Leagues?

Help children understand the concept of segregation by learning about this league that gave many great players the opportunity to play the game they loved.

What Is the Civil Rights Movement?

Learn about the important work that was done in the 1950s and 60s that led to the world we live in today and how that work continues on.

What Was the March on Washington?, 1963

Deepen your knowledge of this pivotal event in the Civil Rights Movement.

Who Was… Books About Important People in Black History

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!


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.)


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 Was Pele?, 1940 – 2023

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 Is Neil deGrasse Tyson?, 1958 – current

A scientist that has broken barriers for black scientists over the years.

Who Was Michael Jackson?, 1958 – 2009

Another amazing entertainer who started his career as a child!

Who is RuPaul?, 1960 – current

Creator and host of the reality, RuPaul’s Drag Race.


Who is Barack Obama?, 1961 – current

The 44th president of the United States.  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.

Who is Michelle Obama?, 1964 – current

The 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.

Who is LeBron James?, 1984 – current

One of the newest books from the Who Was… collection is about basketball super star, LeBron James.





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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