Black History Month

Black History Month

Celebrate Black History Month with the Des Moines Public Library! Check out the books and events below, with recommendations and activities for all ages.


See a full list of Black History Month book recommendations at

Adult Books

The Prophets

The Prophets, by Robert Jones, Jr.

A singular and stunning debut novel about the forbidden union between two enslaved young men on a Deep South plantation, the refuge they find in each other, and a betrayal that threatens their existence.

Rib King

The Rib King, by Ladee Hubbard

The acclaimed author of The Talented Ribkins deconstructs painful African American stereotypes and offers a fresh and searing critique on race, class, privilege, ambition, exploitation, and the seeds of rage in America in this intricately woven and masterfully executed historical novel, set in early the twentieth century that centers around the black servants of a down-on-its heels upper-class white family.

The Fire Next Time

The Fire Next Time, by James Baldwin

A national bestseller when it first appeared in 1963, The Fire Next Time galvanized the nation, gave passionate voice to the emerging civil rights movement--and still lights the way to understanding race in America today.

The New Jim Crow

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, by Michelle Alexander

Seldom does a book have the impact of Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow. Since it was first published in 2010, it has spawned a whole generation of criminal justice reform activists motivated by Michelle Alexander's unforgettable argument that "we have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it."

Black Futures

Black Futures, edited by Kimberly Drew and Jenna Wortham

Kimberly Drew and Jenna Wortham have brought together this collection of work to tell the story of the radical, imaginative, provocative, and gorgeous world that Black creators are bringing forth today. Readers will go from conversations with activists and academics to memes and Instagram posts, from powerful essays to dazzling paintings and insightful infographics.

Teen and Kids Books

All the Things We never Knew

All the Things We Never Knew, by Liara Tarmani

Liara Tamani, the author of the acclaimed Calling My Name, follows two teenagers as they discover how first love, heartbreak, betrayal, and family can shape you--for better or for worse. A novel full of pain, joy, healing, and hope for fans of Elizabeth Acevedo, Jacqueline Woodson, and Jenny Han.

When You Look Like Us

When You Look Like Us, by Pamela Harris

A timely, gripping teen novel about a boy who must take up the search for his sister when she goes missing from a neighborhood where black girls' disappearances are too often overlooked, from debut author Pamela Harris. Perfect for fans of Jason Reynolds and Tiffany D. Jackson.

Dragons in a Bag

Dragons in a Bag, by Zetta Elliott

Jaxon is spending the day with a mean old lady that needs his help delivering baby dragons to a magical world where they'll be safe. There are two rules: don't let them out of the bag, and don't feed them anything sweet. Before he knows it, Jax and his friends Vikram and Kavita have broken both rules! Will Jax get the baby dragons delivered safe and sound? Or will they be lost in Brooklyn forever?

A Day at the Museum

A Day at the Museum, by Christine Platt

Ana and Andrew are excited when Grandma comes to stay. During her visit, the family tours the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture and learns about important African American achievements.

Time for Bed, Old House Janet

Time for Bed, Old House Janet, by Costa Bates

At Isaac's first sleepover, he gets to help Grandpop with a very special routine--putting the house to bed--in a story that's just right for children visiting a new place, or for adopting a new ritual at home.


Explore Visual Black History

January 31-February 25 | Forest Avenue Library

Drop by the Forest Avenue Library to look at photo books, graphic novels, and other visual records of Black history. These books are available to check out year-round! For now, we're pulling them out with tables, chairs, and supplies to reflect on.

Black History Month Scavenger Hunt

Celebrate Black History Month with a scavenger hunt through the library. Find all the items and win a prize.

2022 Reading Challenge Movie Club: Hidden Figures

Thursday, February 10, 5:00 PM | Central Library

Welcome to the 2022 Reading Challenge Movie Club! Each month we'll watch a movie based on a book that fulfills at least one of the 12 categories of our Reading Challenge. If you read the book that goes with the movie, you'll be all set for the challenge.

A History of Buxton, Iowa

Morning Session - Saturday, February 12, 11:00 AM | North Side Library

Afternoon Session - Saturday, February 12, 2:00 PM | Franklin Avenue Library

Buxton, Iowa is an inspiring example of equity, inclusion, and diversity. Established in 1900, Buxton was a thriving coal mining town of 5,000 residents, where Blacks and whites were treated equally and both thrived. Rachelle Chase, author of Creating the Black Utopia of Buxton, Iowa and Lost Buxton, has given more than 80 presentations about the amazing town of Buxton. She has now turned her attention to the lessons we can learn and apply from Buxton today. Registration required.

George Washington Carver Archives with Simpson College

Wednesday, February 16, 6:30 PM | Zoom

Find out about George Washington Carver's time at Iowa's own Simpson College with archivist Cyd Dyer. Learn about the unique connections between George W. Carver and Simpson College through stories and artifacts housed in The Carver Collection in the college archives. Registration required.

Franklin Cinema Club: The Watermelon Woman

Monday, February 21, 6:30 PM | Franklin Avenue Library

February's selection is Cheryl Dunye's The Watermelon Woman.

Discuss noteworthy films at the Franklin Cinema Club, a discussion series held the third Monday each month. Participants view the selected film prior to attending  the discussion. Titles are available through Kanopy (the library's free streaming service) and our DVD collection.

DocuTalk: Finding Kendrick Johnson

Tuesday, February 22, 6:00 PM | Zoom

Watch at home on Kanopy, then join us for a virtual discussion! We'll be talking about: Finding Kendrick Johnson (2021)

On January 11th, 2013, Kendrick Johnson was found dead in his high school gymnasium rolled up in a gym mat. Finding Kendrick Johnson is the feature documentary product of a 4 year undercover investigation into the facts of this case. Registration required.

Art in the Library: Artist Spotlight Faith Ringgold

Wednesday, February 23, 4:00 PM | Franklin Avenue Library

This month we are shining a spotlight on artist and children's illustrator Faith Ringgold and making a project inspired by her work. Art in the Library is for children ages 6-12 and requires preregistration.  

Black History Month Inventors

Thursday, February 24, 4:30 PM | Forest Avenue Library

Join us at Forest Avenue Library for a celebration of famous black inventors from history.  Enjoy a variety of hands on STEM activities and make and takes themed to some of our greatest scientific minds. Registration required.

Josiah Bushnell Grinnell and the Iowa Underground Railroad

Monday, February 28, 6:30 PM | Franklin Avenue Library

J.B. Grinnell and other Grinnell residents helped at least 37 fugitive slaves who passed through their town before the Civil War. But some residents opposed this work. David Connon will tell a story of racism, noble actions and conflict. He will highlight abolitionist John Brown’s visit to Grinnell, and Grinnell’s first riot over the presence of fugitive slaves in the public school.