In the early 1970s, a group of Madison women took action to improve children’s access to good books about Black people.

The six women, three Black and three white, were all mothers of young children. They included Bettye Latimer, who would later become the first Black school board member in Wisconsin and later still, change her name to Milele Chikasa Anana. Another was Dorothy Holden, who would go on to be the first Black member of the Madison Public Library Board. 

Together, they wrote a guidebook to children’s literature involving Black people. 

“[W]e were unhappy,” they wrote, “with the meager supply of Black-inclusive books which our children were securing through public libraries, public schools, local bookstores and book clubs.”

It was hard to find books about Black characters, and even harder to find books that went beyond flat stereotypes and what they called “token integration.”

In their book, which required almost two years of research, includes a bibliography of over two hundred and twenty books. Some they highly recommended; others they advised their readers to avoid. In addition, the  book has several chapters explaining the authors’ philosophy and the necessity of books like theirs.

“Whether [Black characters] have been omitted, allowed to appear in inferior and inconsequential roles or even granted an occasional acknowledgement of excellence, the idea that Black people do not really matter is reinforced over and over in the minds of young children through the books they read. Such an idea, whether consciously or unconsciously held, serves to perpetuate the myth of white supremacy which has been the legacy of generations of Americans.” 

These sentiments and the positive actions taken about them presaged the scholarship of Dr. Rudine Sims-Bishop in the 1990s and movements like We Need Diverse Books today. Madison readers, parents, teachers, and library workers owe gratitude to these authors. 

Starting Out Right was written and edited by Bettye I. Latimer (Milele Chikasa Anana), Margaret Green, Dorothy Holden, Ann Cosby, Joy Newman, and Marian Tood. The work is available in its entirety on Google Books.

For more stories from Madison Public Library history, visit our website: madpl.org/history