Zenith Books

News of the Week in Education: For Minorities, A Place in History, NEW YORK TIMES (Oct. 25, 1964):

Last week, Doubleday, the book publisher, announced that it will launch a new series of books to give minorities a fair deal in the study of American and world history and literature. Zenith Books, as the new series is to be known . . . will be written in cooperation between noted scholars and professional writers. The intent is to offer books with a mature level of content, but written for sixth-grade comprehension.

Charles Harris, editor of the series . . . said that after several years of research and discussion with educators, historians and textbook experts, he surveyed the need and the potential response in leading school districts across the country.

Mr. Harris met with curriculum supervisors, department heads of English and social studies, teachers and principals in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, Richmond, Atlanta, St. Louis, Detroit, Chicago, San Francisco, Oakland, and Los Angeles. Out of these meetings came plans for special teachers' manuals to accompany the books. The books are to be linked as closely as possible with the junior and senior high school curriculum.

Charles A. Madison, BOOK PUBLISHING IN AMERICA 464-65 (1966):

In January 1965 Doubleday launched Zenith Books, a series dealing with American minority groups and aimed at the secondary-school level as well as the interested reader. The series is edited by Professor John Hope Franklin, an established historian, and Shelley Umans, a specialist in reading instruction. Each volume will be written by a historian and a professional writer. The books will be generously illustrated and will be issued in both cloth and paperback editions.

The debut of the series was heralded on the floor of Congress by Charles C. Diggs, Jr., of Michigan in the House of Representatives on April 13, 1965. His remarks were accompanied by the text of five newspaper articles, including the New York Times piece above, announcing and celebrating the series. See 111 Cong. Rec. A1817-A1819 (Apr. 13, 1965).

A feature on the Black artists who illustrated many of the early titles in the series appeared in 2 Negro American Literature Forum 76 (1968). The artists featured include Moneta Barnett (Z2, A Glorious Age in Africa & Z8, Time of Trial, Time of Hope), Ernest Crichlow (Z5, Lift Every Voice), Yvonne Johnson (Z7, Great Rulers of the African Past), and Charles White (Z10, Four Took Freedom).

The New York Times obituary for the series creator, Charles Harris, notes that "In 1965 . . . Mr. Harris started Zenith Books, a Doubleday imprint for young readers. It was intended to address the lack of information about a variety of minority groups in history textbooks, and by 1969, 'following the example of Doubleday’s Zenith Books,' The New York Times Book Review reported, 'every major publisher has a black history or culture series of one kind or another.'"

Zenith Books