James Haskins, 63, who wrote more than 100 books for young people and adults about key moments in African American history, died of complications from emphysema July 6 at his home in New York.
He began his career as a teacher in the New York City public school system and wrote some of his early books to help fill a gap he discovered years earlier.
"I remember being a child and not having many books about black people to read," Mr. Haskins recalled in an autobiographical essay. He made it his mission to reconstruct black history book by book.
"Jim Haskins created a canon of literature, particularly for children, that is a resource for anyone studying black history," said Irma McClaurin, associate professor of anthropology at the University of Florida at Gainesville, where Mr. Haskins was on the faculty for nearly 30 years. "He wanted to document the triumphs and tribulations of African Americans in books that are readable and accessible for the young but not only for them."
An amateur trumpet player, Mr. Haskins wrote a number of books about black music and musicians. His "Black Music in America" (1987) begins with slave songs and spirituals and moves through the years to blues and jazz. He also wrote a book on rap music and another on break dancing. His picture book "The Cotton Club" (1977) inspired the 1984 movie by director Francis Ford Coppola.
He covered the events that led black Americans from slavery to desegregation by presenting each phase on its own. "Get on Board: The Story of the Underground Railroad" (1993) explains how slaves escaped the South to seek freedom in the North.
"The March on Washington" (1993) details the massive public demonstration in 1963 that propelled the civil rights movement. "I Am Rosa Parks," (1997) co-written with Parks, explored the desegregation of public transportation. He also wrote biographies of Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall and U.N. Ambassador and former Atlanta mayor Andrew Young.
At first, Mr. Haskins resisted biographies about black athletes, wanting to introduce young readers to other role models. But when Hank Aaron topped Babe Ruth's record for career home runs, Mr. Haskins changed his mind. His "Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron: The Home Run Kings" (1974) was his first of nearly a dozen sports biographies.
The book that launched his writing career was unlike the others. "Diary of a Harlem Schoolteacher" (1969) was based on a journal that Mr. Haskins kept when he taught special education at Public School 92 in New York City during the mid-1960s.
When Mr. Haskins was born in Demopolis, Ala., in 1941, blacks were not allowed to use the public library. His mother bought him an encyclopedia set, a volume at a time.
His parents separated when he was 12, and he moved with his mother to Boston, where he attended Boston Latin School, an academically rigorous public school.
He attended Alabama State University. When protests over segregation began in Alabama, Mr. Haskins joined a march in downtown Montgomery and was expelled from the university for it.
He enrolled at Georgetown University, where he majored in psychology. After graduating, he received another bachelor's degree in history at Alabama State University. He received a master's degree in social psychology at the University of New Mexico in 1963.
After two years of teaching in the New York school system, Mr. Haskins became a lecturer at the New School, which was then called the New School for Social Research. He joined the University of Florida as a professor of English in 1977.
Survivors include his wife, Kathy of New York; two daughters, Margaret Haskins of New York and Elisa Haskins of Dormington, Ind.; and a son, Michael Haskins of Washington.