Charlemae Hill Rollins
“[The genre] includes the greatest number of Negro authors. It is here that all children can build a firm foundation of knowledge of and respect for Negroes. They will be prepared for the first introduction to the concept of different skin color… They now can feel that America is indeed their country.”
Photo Credit: Harsh Research Collection at Carter G. Woodson Regional Library
Charlemae Hill Rollins was an African American librarian who fought for literature reform by fighting stereotypical and offensive portrayals of African Americans in children’s literature. She argued that stories should not encourage readers to feel inferior or superior to other racial groups. Rollins, instead, sought more racially responsible literature for children, and contended that African Americans should take pride in their heritage rather than being hindered by harmful interpretations in offensive and inaccurate publications. In the earliest days of her 30-year career as a Chicago public librarian, Rollins fought racism by pushing for the removal of racist children’s books such as Little Black Sambo and The Pickaninny Twins by Lucy Perkins. In replacement of those detrimental books, she published an annotated bibliography of children’s books about African Americans in 1941 called We Build Together: A Reader’s Guide to Negro Life and Literature for Elementary and High School Use. With it, she endeavored to eliminate negative Black stereotypes from bookshelves and instead fill them with materials portraying Blacks in a positive light. Rollins continued to fight racism throughout her career as a librarian and later broke the color barrier by becoming the first African American to be elected president of the Children’s Services Division of the American Library Association.