Augusta Braxton Baker was a trailblazing Black librarian, author and storyteller. She made history in 1961 when she became the first African American woman to hold an administrative position with the New York Public Library where she oversaw all 82 branches. She was a pioneering advocate of the positive portrayal of Black people in children’s literature.
In 1937 Baker began working as a children’s librarian at the New York Public Library (NYPL). Early on she recognized the lack of positive role models in children’s literature for young Black readers. Rather than accepting the negative and limiting depictions of African Americans that predominated children’s literature, Augusta dedicated over 40 years of her life to changing the narrative.
Her accomplishments include diversifying the NYPL system’s children’s book collection. She wrote and published bibliographies to help guide colleagues across the country to do the same. Augusta Baker influence major authors and illustrators to do a better job creating unbiased, anti-raciest, and accurate stories of African Americans. She served as a consultant to the public television program Sesame Street and Augusta Baker lead the American Library Association’s Children’s Services Division.
We owe a great debt to Augusta Baker’s early anti-racist work to amplify authentic Black experiences. Her efforts reach beyond the books held on library shelves around this country. She has helped cultivate young minds for generations to come.
“I learned how to read from Mrs. Augusta Baker, the children’s librarian at the old 135th Street branch library… If that was the only good deed that lady ever did in her life, may she rest in peace. Because that deed saved my life, if not sooner, then later, when sometimes the only thing I had to hold on to was knowing I could read, and that that could get me through.”
— Audre Lorde Zami: A Biomythography (Freedom, CA: The Crossing Press, 1994), 22-23.
[ See Georgia’s Audre Lorde honorarium… Her Story: Audre Lorde]
Links and Sources:
Augusta Baker – Goodreads
Celebrating the Legacy of Augusta Baker – Indiana University