African American National Biography (AANB)

General Editors: Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham
Executive Editor: Steven J. Niven

The African American National Biography (AANB) is a joint project of the Hutchins Center for African & African American Research at Harvard University and Oxford University Press. Edited by Professors Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, this landmark undertaking resulted in an eight-volume print edition containing over 4,000 individual biographies, indices, and supplementary matter. The AANB, published in February 2008, includes many entries by noted scholars, among them Sojourner Truth by Nell Irvin Painter; W. E. B. Du Bois by Thomas Holt; Rosa Parks by Darlene Clark Hine; Miles Davis by John Szwed; Muhammad Ali by Gerald Early; and President Barack Obama by Randall Kennedy. In 2008 the AANB was selected as a CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title, was named a Library Journal Best Reference work, and awarded Booklist Editors’ Choice — TOP OF THE LIST.

An expanded edition of the AANB continues online, with more than 1500 entries added since 2008. More than 750 of these can be found in a Revised Print Edition of the AANB, published by Oxford University Press in 2013. The Revised Edition includes significant updates and revisions of hundreds of entries, including that of Barack Obama, in recognition of his 2008 presidential campaign, election victory, and first term in office up to October, 2011. Additional entries range from First Lady Michelle Obama, written by award-winning historian Darlene Clark Hine, to several entries concerning the African American experience in Hartford, Connecticut. These were submitted by students of Theresa Vara-Dannen, a teacher at that city’s University High School of Science & Engineering. The enthusiasm of these students and the professionalism of their entries prompted the AANB, in conjunction with Oxford and the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, to launch a broader outreach program to solicit entries from more than 40 high schools in 2012 and 2013.

The expanded AANB has also allowed us to capture some of the less well known, but fascinating individuals in African American history. Also included in the revised edition are the classics scholars Wiley Lane and Daniel Barclay Williams; Alberta Virginia Scott, the first black graduate of Radcliffe College; and Virginia Randolph, a pioneer of industrial and vocational education in the Progressive Era South. Among the more unusual biographies included here is that of Barney Hill, a post office worker who gained notoriety by claiming to have been abducted by extraterrestrial aliens in the 1960s, while another postal worker, Homer Smith, is one of several entries on African Americans who migrated from the United States to seek a better life in the Soviet Union in the 1930s. (Smith would help modernize the Soviet postal system.) Finally, the Revised Edition includes entries on all 87 African American recipients of the nation’s highest award for military valor, the Medal of Honor.

New online entries for 2018 include John Caesar, who fled slavery with the British loyalists, but ended up as a convict and bushranger in the Australian penal colony; the opera singer, Caterina Jarboro, and the late actor James Avery, Uncle Phil in The Fresh Price of Bel-Air.

The AANB continues to solicit entries. All online AANB entries can be accessed at

Since February 2015, adapted biographies from the African American National Biography have been featured in the online African American magazine and website, In 2015 the series focused on the less heralded biographies of notable African Americans like William Shorey, a Pacific whaling captain; Gladys Bentley, a Harlem Renaissance stalwart and lesbian pioneer; and sisters Matilda and Roumania Peters, tennis champions of the Jim Crow era. Among those AANB subjects featured in during Black History and Women’s History Month in 2016, were Onnie Lee Logan, a granny midwife in Alabama for four decades; NASA mathematician and Presidential Medal of Freedom winner, Katherine Johnson; and Jan Rodrigues/Juan Rodriquez, a Dominican-born man of African descent, who in 1613 became the first non-indigenous settler of Manhattan Island.

Biographical Dictionary Projects