Coretta Scott King Award Books: Using Great Literature with Children and Young Adults

By Claire Gatrell Stephens | Go to book overview

Chapter 1
The Coretta Scott King Awards

A Triumphant Vision

In the late 1960s recognition of African American authors and illustrators was scant. The marketing of their work was also sparse. This situation concerned many who recognized the need for literature reflecting the African American experience. They felt that young people in particular would benefit from seeing themselves in the books and stories they were reading. From this concern the Coretta Scott King Award was born.

The story of this prestigious award had an almost incidental beginning. The late Glyndon Flynt Greer, a school librarian in Englewood, New Jersey, is credited with having the idea for the award. One account tells of a chance encounter between Greer and Mabel McKissick at the 1969 American Library Association conference in Atlantic City. According to the story, the two were competing for a poster of the recently deceased Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at a booth sponsored by publisher John M. Carroll. During their discussion, the lack of minority recognition by existing awards was mentioned. It was then that Carroll reportedly suggested they start an award. Fortunately for us, Glyndon Flynt Greer took up the idea and made it her cause!

Working with McKissick and Carroll, Greer enlisted other librarians in the New York/New Jersey area, and a start-up committee was formed. The group decided to name the award in honor of Coretta Scott King, the widow of the slain civil rights leader. They agreed that their goal would be to honor both Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife, who continued to work for peace and brotherhood after his death.

A biography of King titled Martin Luther King, Jr., Man of Peace was the first winner of the Coretta Scott King award in 1970. At a special dinner the author, Lillie Patterson, received a plaque. From this humble beginning the award has grown. In 1974, an illustrator was honored for the first time. George Ford became the first artist to be recognized when he illustrated the biography Ray Charles by Sharon Bell Mathis. Mathis was also recognized as the winning author that year for the same book.

Another important event of 1974 involved Lev Mills, an internationally known artist who lives in Atlanta, Georgia. Mills donated his time to design the seal used to identify the award-winning books. He created a seal that represents Martin Luther King Jr.'s work and his ideals of peace and brotherhood. His inspiring design is now proudly displayed by the award-winning titles.

-3-

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