Margot Shetterly, author of the best-selling book “Hidden Figures,” about Black women who were integral to the success of NASA’s space program in the 1950s and 1960s, began work on her next project at the Baltimore headquarters of the AFRO American Newspapers on Sept. 14.
Shetterly said the idea for her upcoming book about Baltimore came during her research for “Hidden Figures,” which was turned into an Academy Award-nominated movie starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae.
“Black newspapers were a huge part of my research,” she said. “I kept seeing information about the people who owned Black newspapers, such as Carl Murphy [the publisher of the AFRO for 45 years, starting in 1922]. I put all that information in my tickler file, things that tickle my memory.”
Murphy was a larger-than-life figure who played a role in desegregating the University of Maryland and helped organize Martin Luther King Jr.’s March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, among other efforts.
“My research lead me to focus on Baltimore. A lot of the associations are negative, such as Freddie Gray, the 1968 riots and HBO’s ‘The Wire.’ In the popular imagination it is a failed city,” Shetterly said. “The story I read was the opposite, and that story was important because it both celebrated the search for the African American dream but also looked at the hard parts.”
Shetterly’s new book, which remains untitled, will focus on Baltimore and some of the figures that made the city what it is today.
“One of the nexuses is the Murphy family and their media business. Another is William Lloyd “Little Willie” Adams [co-founder of Parks Sausage] and Victorine Q. Adams [wife of Little Willie and the first Black woman on Baltimore’s City Council].
While “Hidden Figures” took approximately four and a half years to research and write, Shetterly said that she expects this next project to take less time.
“This is a city that is new to me,” she said. “It’s a great American city that falls in the shadows of other cities.”