Great Negroes Past and Present

Great Negroes Past and PresentGreat Negroes, Past and Present
3rd Ed.

Submitter: I am a teen librarian in [New York]. I found this book in our Children’s Reference Collection. The title shocked me and I think the pictures are horrible. They couldn’t just get real photos of most of these people?

Holly: They probably could have gotten photos of many of them.  Maybe they were going for something artsy?  The “Present” part of the title is worrisome.  There are so many more people that a current book would cover. (Barack Obama, maybe?)  And the word “Negroes” is also problematic for sure.  Update if you can, weed either way.

Colonel Charles Young

Mordecai Johnson

Phyllis Wheatley

Malcolm X



  1. This needs to be weeded if for no other reason than “a dusky sappho.” ALthough the first long, convoluted sentence in the Malcolm X section is another really good reason to say “goodbye” to this marvel!

  2. “A Dusky Sappho”? Seriously?

    Also, when I was in elementary school, we had a similar “Great Negroes” titled book in our school library. This was around the mid ’90s, and the book was ’60s at least. But since it was in my school, I assumed that Negro was still a socially acceptable term to call African-American people. A lazy weeder might have caused a lot of trouble for me if I’d been unlucky enough to use this term in front of the wrong people.

  3. I was thinking the cover art was of a Golem. Interesting message for sure.

    And Phillis Wheatly deserves recognition, but not under that title. “Sappho”?!

  4. When my mother traveled to the southern US as a child in the
    50’s, she remembers seeing segregated signs everywhere.

  5. The more I look at the description of Phillis Wheatley, the angrier I get. I could understand “the first Negro poetess”, but “dusky sappho”?! Grrrr!!

  6. Glad to see that you all have called out what I was going to mention, the “dusky Sappho” thing. Even at the time, I think that would have made me cringe. I think it is worth mentioning that the writer did not apparently know of the other connotation for Sappho — was this the only female poet available? Hardly. An American one might have been a better choice anyway. Also the hideous cover — what were they trying to get at, with faceless and vaguely threatening figures? Perhaps their unconscious feelings about the book’s subject? The cover was probably so off-putting that it didn’t get much circulation, I bet. Though the text is much more straightforward than the “dusky Sappho” thing had me expecting — maybe it was a different person putting on the headlines.

  7. Phyllis Wheatley WASN’T a lesbian? I’m disappointed.

    I find it bizarre that they’ve drawn half of them to look white.

  8. I weeded this book from my elementary library this summer. The heading for Mary McLeod Bethune is equally distressing: “Cotton picker, educator, White House adviser.” Cotton picker? I mean, I know that is true. But most (if not all) of the others in the book are listed only by their ultimate role in society. I’ve worked in the last ten years as a school librarian, a substitute teacher, a public library employee, a nursing home cook, a cleaning lady, etc. Kids, don’t put “detassler” or “[substandard] waitress at Happy Chef” on my tombstone, okay?

  9. The terrible artwork reminds me of one of the all time fails in my book experience: I loved the song by Sweet Honey in the Rock called “No Mirrors in My Nanna’s House” and when I heard it came out in book form I purchased it sight unseen to read to my preschool class.

    The illustrations had no eyes. That in itself is creepy, if arty, but the whole point of the song was that the singer could see how beautiful she was, perhaps how beautiful the whole world was, by seeing the look in her Nanna’s eyes when she saw the singer.
    – Yeah. The eyes Nanna didn’t have.
    After I read it to them once I loaned it to another teacher for her preschool handicapped class which disturbed one of the children so much he yelled thru the entire reading “Their eyes! What happened to their eyes?”.

  10. I’m a high school librarian undertaking the task of weeding and replenishing a collection that was older than I am at the beginning of the school year. We have THREE COPIES of this book! In a very racially diverse high school, there is a need to represent the contributions of diverse Americans, but THREE COPIES OF THIS BOOK??? From 1969?? I wish this was the only atrocity I’ve encountered…

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