Anti-Slavery History

A new project from the Boston Public Library invites you to help transcribe their collection of Anti-Slavery Manuscripts, and engage with history.

If you’re interested in more firsthand resources, you might like these accounts collected from formerly enslaved people in Virginia.



Weevils in the Wheat

Virginia Slave Narratives

These narratives were collected by the Federal Writers’ Project as a part of the New Deal during the Great Depression. You can view the full collection of accounts by visiting the Library of Congress collection Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers’ Project.

For more opportunities to help transcribe history, check out Making History: Transcribe from the Library of Virginia.

“I think the hope has always been that you see what you see, and you take us anyway, for who we are.”

blackwaterrisingBooks on Tap read Black Water Rising by Attica Locke at  Champion Brewery on February 1st. Set in Houston, Texas in 1981, the novel follows African American lawyer Jay Porter as his wife is due to deliver their first child and his practice teeters on bankruptcy. A chance encounter with a drowning white woman upends his hard-earned stability and forces him to confront his activist past and the corroding influence of the oil industry. The book at times feels overwritten, with too many plots and some silent characters like his wife Bernie. As with many first novels, it could have benefited from editing. Locke was partially inspired by her own life – her father was a student protester in the 1960s and ran for mayor in Houston, which has a recent history of electing diverse people. The incident on the barge was similar to one she witnessed as a child. The book is  not quite a thriller or mystery or suspense novel, but most definitely a David vs. Goliath story with a sympathetic main character. Despite the confusion over the many threads (60s radicalism, unions, environmental racism) it does land on a satisfying ending, setting up the sequel.

Jay is the heart and soul of the novel. He worked hard to put himself through college and law school, only to be jailed for his activism. He can’t shake the thought that he was set-up by the white women he was dating, who is now running for mayor. This uneasy relationship colors his interaction with the white woman he saves from drowning; she doesn’t trust him and he doesn’t trust her because of the color divide. Jay also faces pressure from within the local African American community. His friend Kwame doesn’t think Jay is black enough and his father-in-law pressures him to help the dockworkers. Jay lives under constant mental stress, sleeping with a gun under his pillow. While we weren’t all cheering for Jay at all times (like the titular character of Better Call Saul, he takes chances in order to make money to keep his practice a float), we did get caught up in the tension and rooted for  his survival.

We mulled over the differences between the book’s 1981 setting  vs 2018. The rampant indoor smoking is a thing of the past, but aspects of distrust between races and classes still ring true.

More Information:
Attica Locke will be at the Festival of the Book on March 23 and 24
Interview with the author
About the book
Other works  

Books on Tap Information:
In March we will read What We Talk about when We Talk about Anne Frank by Nathan Englander as part of JMRL’s Same Page. For a free copy of the book, please email Sarah at

Future titles:

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Snuggle With a Book: Winter Reading Program

snuggleMost people underestimate how early a child’s language development begins. Interactions with a child begin to impact language skills beginning not at six months, not at three months, but from the day the baby is born. That doesn’t mean you need to try to recreate preschool in your home. Helping your child be ready to learn to read is as simple as talking, singing, reading, writing, and playing!

JMRL’s Winter Reading Program, which runs from February 1 to March 2, is designed to help you do just that. Pick up an activity sheet at any JMRL location, or download it here to get started. This program is for children from birth up to 5 years old.

As you complete the fun activities, let your child color in the mittens on the sheet. When all 11 are complete, bring the sheet back to the library and your child can choose a free book. So brush off your memories of nursery rhymes and head to the library for some fun books to share! For more early literacy activity ideas, check out the family literacy calendar at DayByDayVA.

Don’t forget that your library card gives you free access to great children’s books and activities online as well. If you haven’t already, visit and click “Kids and Teens” on the left-hand side. There you’ll find encyclopedias and other materials made specifically for children.


If you’re looking for a way to keep the momentum going once the Winter Reading Program ends, check out JMRL’s 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten program. Books read during the Winter Reading Program may also be counted toward the 1,000 books challenge. Stop by any JMRL branch or visit to learn more.