Black History Month Spotlight: Jessie Carney Smith

Nominations are now open for the 2017 WNBA Award and so, in honor of the award and of Black History Month, we’re running a spotlight series on some of the groundbreaking women who impacted books and readership today, continuing with Dr. Jessie Carney Smith.

Jessie Carney Smith

Courtesy of Milwaukee Community Journal

Dr. Smith was born in the segregated South, but her passion for education propelled her to seek out a Bachelor’s degree in Home Economics, a Master’s degree in Child Development, a Master’s degree in Library Science, and a Doctorate in Library Science. During the course of her education, she married and had a son.

After she received her Doctorate, which was the first in the field awarded to a black student from the University of Illinois, she began working at the library for Fisk University and as a teacher in Nashville, TN. In 1965, she became Fisk’s head librarian.

She began writing and publishing in the 1990s. Her first book, Notable African American Women (now Notable Black American Women), received acclaim as a reference work focusing on influential black women. She followed up the book with several others, including Notable Black American Men and Black Firsts.

Jessie Carney Smith

Courtesy of National Visionary Leadership Project

Her outreach has included time spent consulting with the Office of Civil Rights, the U.S. Office of Education, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. In 1992, Dr. Jessie Carney Smith was awarded the WNBA Award. She is currently the Dean of the Fisk University Library and has served as a visiting lecturer for schools around the world.

Stay tuned for the next Black History Month Spotlight on past WNBA Award winner Patricia McKissack. Or look back at earlier winners of the award, Charlemae Hill Rollins, Augusta Braxton Baker, or Effie Lee Morris.


Fisk University

Mega Diversities

National Visionary Leadership Project

The History Makers

About Katherine Akey

Katherine is a copywriter and an all-around bookworm who enjoys reading classics, literary fiction, and just about anything that crosses her desk.

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