Black Icons: Harris, Owens, Price, Carver

Black History Month 2021

Kamala Devi Harris was born in 1964 in Oakland, California, the first child of Shyamala Gopalan, an immigrant from India who worked as a breast cancer researcher, and Donald Harris, a Jamaican immigrant who was an economics professor at Stanford. “Kamala” means “lotus flower” in Sanskrit. She earned her bachelor’s degree in political science at Howard University and got her law degree at University of California’s Hastings College of Law in 1989. She worked for the district attorney’s office in Alameda County in California before being elected as the head district attorney in San Francisco twice (2003 and 2007).

Her meteoric rise in public service continued when she ran for and was elected to be California’s Attorney General in 2010, becoming the first woman and African-American to do so. She helped create the California Department of Justice Division of Recidivism Reduction and Re-entry to help convicted criminals become more productive members of society. Not resting on her laurels, she went on to run for a US Senate seat in 2016 as the first African-American to represent California in the Senate. She was the driving force behind a bill that would make lynching a federal crime and, with her guidance, it became law.

She decided to run for the American presidency in early 2019 but later decided to withdraw from the race. However, She got the attention of Joe Biden, the ultimate Democratic nominee, and he chose her to be his running mate in August 2020, fulfilling a number of firsts – first woman, first African-American, and first Asian-American – to be a vice-presidential candidate. With Biden’s election to the presidency in November, she is now the Vice President. After being sworn in on January 20, 2021, she remarked that “while I may be the first woman in this office, I will not be the last, because every little girl watching tonight sees this is a country of possibilities.”

Click on the book images below for a selection of our library’s collection of works that were written by her or are about her:

Truths We Hold Superheroes are Everywhere Rooted in Justice Kamala's Way She Represents Vanguard


Jesse Owens was a track and field athlete, known primarily for his stellar performance in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, earning a total of 4 gold medals for the United States. This was no small feat at an Olympics where Adolf Hitler proclaimed that Aryan racial superiority would win out over any other race. Even more remarkable is that he achieved this despite having grown up extremely poor in a part of the segregated South, Alabama. His athletic prowess earned him an athletic scholarship to The Ohio State University in 1933, where he excelled.

He continued honing his athletic skills and his superb performance in the 220-yard and 200-meter dash and hurdles, as well as the long jump at the Big Ten Track and Field Championship in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in May 1935, caught the eye of Olympic scouts, who recruited him for the 1936 US Olympic Team. He set a world record in  the 100-meter dash (10.3 seconds) and Olympic  records in the long jump (36 feet), 200-meter dash (20.7 seconds), and in the 400-meter relay (39.8 seconds). He came home to a hero’s welcome in the US.

After the Olympics, he became a small businessman and was active in Republican party politics in Chicago. He was inducted into the USA Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1974 and he was honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Jimmy Carter in 1976. He passed away on March 31, 1980 from lung cancer. Posthumously, he was inducted into the US Olympic Committee Hall of Fame in 1983.

Listed below are some of our library’s collection of works about Jesse Owens:

Triumph RaceJesse OwensOlympic GoldJesse Owens Champion AthleteTaking A Knee


Leontyne Price was a famed opera singer in her day, becoming the first African-American prima donna. Her interest in becoming a singer was sparked when, at age 9, she heard Marian Anderson perform at a concert in Jackson, Mississippi, near her hometown of Laurel. Her mother gave her piano lessons and she was encouraged by her parents to sing at church and at school.

She received a Bachelor of Arts in music education at the College of Education and Industrial Arts (now Central State College) in Wilberforce, Ohio. She kept up her singing for church and civic functions, and through that was offered a full scholarship to the Juilliard School of Music in New York City. Through her connections at Juilliard, she made the rounds of the opera world, performing in Turandot, Salome, Falstaff, Tosca, and Porgy and Bess, among others. She sang at opera houses all over the world and in live and recorded performances.

See below for some of her musical recordings and published works about her life that are available for our library:

Leontyne Price Voice of a Century And Not Afraid to DareLeontyne Price RediscoveredRequiem La Forza Del DestinoIl Trovatore


George Washington Carver was an acclaimed agricultural chemist and botanist who spent most of his career at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. While he is best known for his work with the peanut, he did much research in the chemical composition of soils and fertilizers, trying to find optimal conditions for agriculture to flourish. This was all the more remarkable since he was born into slavery and had very limited access to education of any sort.

He developed an interest in plants and their development, working odd jobs until he could get some rudimentary schooling, eventually entering Simpson College, a small Methodist college open to people of all races in Indianola, Iowa, in 1890. He then went to Iowa State College of Agriculture in Ames, Iowa, and was the first African-American student to attend. He was appointed to the Iowa State faculty after graduation as an assistant botanist in charge of the college greenhouse; his work in raising, cross=fertilizing, and grafting plants greatly impressed his professors.

He then was in great demand at different educational institutions across the country, but on the advice of Booker T. Washington, he decided to establish an agricultural school and experiment station at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, in the fall of 1896. While there, he encouraged local African-American and White farmers to come to the school, where he showed them better ways to cultivate their soil and crops. His agricultural renown spread throughout the country through his agricultural bulletins that were widely propagated, covering such topics as soil preparation, crop rotation, and food preservation.

He became a well-known national figure; Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Calvin Coolidge, and Franklin Roosevelt were his compatriots and friends. He was seen as a positive role model and an African-American success story. He stayed at Tuskegee throughout his career, encouraging his African-American students in their endeavors. He passed away in 1943.

To learn more about Carver, check out our library’s collection of works by and about him. Here are a few of them:

In His Own Words The Secret Garden of George Washington CarverBotanist and InventorGeorge Washington Carver for KidsAn Innovative LifeGeorge Washington Carver A Life

Posted by SylviaA on January 22, 2021