Named for Mrs. Coretta Scott King, these awards recognize the works of outstanding African American authors and illustrators, and uphold the vital importance of children’s literature that celebrates African American life and culture. Awarded annually by the American Library Association (ALA) for books about the African American experience, Coretta Scott King Book Awards are among the brightest acknowledgements of children’s literature on America’s cultural landscape. The awards commemorate the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and honor his wife, Mrs. Coretta Scott King, for her courage and determination to continue the work for peace and world brotherhood.
The Coretta Scott King Book Award and its association with American Library Association (ALA) originated in 1969. It came as the result of a discussion between two librarians, Glyndon Flynt Greer and Mabel McKissick, and the publisher John Carroll. The impetus flowed from the observation that no African American author or illustrator had ever been honored by the prestigious Newberry and Caldecott awards, established in 1922 and 1938, respectively, and sponsored by what was then the ALA Children’s Service Division. The first Coretta Scott King Book Award was presented to Lillie Patterson during the New Jersey Association meeting in May 1970, for her biography, Martin Luther King, Jr.: Man of Peace. Over the next twelve years, without official recognition from the executive board of ALA, the presentations continued, and in 1974, and illustrator award category was added. George Ford became the first illustrator to receive the award for Ray Charles.
In 1979, the Coretta Scott King Task Force was formed and became part of ALA’s Social Responsibilities Round Table (SRRT) the next year. In 1982, the Coretta Scott King Book Awards became an officially recognized ALA award. The Coretta Scott King Task Force joined ALA’s Ethnic and Multicultural Information Exchange Round Table (EMIERT) in 2003, and became the Coretta Scott King Book Awards Committee.
It was the year Sharon Bell Mathis won the 1974 Coretta Scott King Author Award for the same book. In George Ford’s words, he recounted how he received the award. “When Sharon Bell Mathis received the call from the Committee, she promptly said, George should be the one receiving the award! It is his pictures that make the text come alive.” In his humility, Ford was unaware he had created history! So began the story of Coretta Scott King Illustrator Awards.
Participating artists include: George Ford, Ashley Bryan, Leo & Diane Dillon, Tom Feelings, John Steptoe, Jerry Pinkney, Peter Magubane, Brian Pinkney, Bryan Collier, R. Gregory Christie, Pat Cummings, Jan Spivey Gilchrist, Javaka Steptoe, E. B. Lewis, Colin Bootman, Christopher Myers, Floyd Cooper, Shane Evans, Baba Diakité, Kadir Nelson, James Ransome, Joe Sam, Synthia St. James, Michele Wood, Kathleen Atkins Wilson, Charles R. Smith, Daniel Minter, Frank Morrison, Nancy Devard, Sean Qualls, Faith Ringgold, Christian Robinson, Benny Andrews, and Reynolds Ruffins.