Off the Shelf: Celebrate African American History Month with your library

“Things. Can. Happen.” So spoke Rep. John Lewis to a Tallahassee audience on the 50th anniversary of that city’s bus segregation boycotts.

Referencing President Johnson’s introduction of the Voting Rights Act within days of Lewis (and other marchers) being severely beaten during their march in Selma, Lewis continued: “So don’t tell me — because I’m a living witness — that when people start marching, when they start speaking out, things don’t change.”

February is African American History Month, when institutions from the National Park Service to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum “join in paying tribute to the generations of African Americans who struggled with adversity to achieve full citizenship in American society.”

This month, visit the North Olympic Library System to explore the many materials that examine the African American experience; here are some suggestions to help get you started.

John Lewis’s speech is woven into Ana Maria Spagna’s award-winning memoir, “Test Ride on the Sunnyland Bus: A Daughter’s Civil Rights Journey.” The Stehekin, Wash., author traces the boundary-breaking journey of her father, Joe Spagna, who was arrested for riding with African Americans in 1957. Rep. Lewis’s life — from sharecroppers’ son to the U.S. Congress — also is featured in the graphic novel “March,” a three-volume nonfiction saga that in 2016 won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature.

Colson Whitehead’s latest novel “The Underground Railroad,” another 2016 National Book Award-winner, describes an attempt to escape enslavement on a literal system of rails and ties beneath Southern soil, and Ibram X. Kendi’s “Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America” was written, in the author’s words, “for the lives they said don’t matter. From Trayvon Martin to Sandra Bland, all those names, all those lost lives were on my mind as I wrote every word.” It won last year’s National Book Award for nonfiction.

Highly recommended by comedian and writer Trevor Noah is “They Can’t Kill Us All: Ferguson, Baltimore, and a New Era in America’s Racial Justice Movement” by Wesley Lowery. Noah says, “I’d recommend everyone to read this book because it’s not just statistics, it’s not just the information, but it’s the connective tissue that shows the human story behind it.”

Another approach to experiencing African American History Month begins in the kitchen! Try some of the recipes in “Brown Sugar Kitchen: New-Style, Down-Home Recipes from Sweet West Oakland” by Tanya Holland. Chef Holland serves up sweet potato pie, collards and gumbo, as well as more updated dishes like B-Side Braised Smoked Tofu with Roasted Eggplant.

Or how about spring vegetables and cucumber-buttermilk dressing with summer squash succotash?

It’s all on the menu at NOLS during African American History Month; come celebrate!

Get more

For more information about upcoming programs, services and events at your library, visit, call 683-1161 — or better yet, stop by and say, “Hello!” The Sequim Library is at 630 N. Sequim Ave.

Mary Coté is a customer service specialist at the Sequim and Port Angeles branch libraries.

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