"Belle Da Costa Greene was J. P. Morgan's brilliant and flamboyant librarian, trusted agent, and general 'Girl Friday'. Working in a virtual partnership, she and the great Morgan created the Morgan Library and made it the treasured New York institution it remains today. She famously quipped 'Just because I am a librarian doesn't mean I have to dress like one.' All the while she successfully concealed a potentially explosive secret; she was in fact a member of a distinguished African-American family and successfully 'passed' as white throughout her brilliant career. This sensitive novel, told in her own voice, imagines the hidden sacrifices as well as the great satisfactions this lifelong role brought her, and is all the more amazing for being closely based on known facts. One reviewer has noted, 'Contemporary portraits show an attractive woman who many Black people would immediately recognize as kindred; apparently Gilded Age white folks were easier to fool.'"
The remarkable story of J. P. Morgan’s personal librarian, Belle da Costa Greene, the Black American woman who was forced to hide her true identity and pass as white to leave a lasting legacy that enriched our nation, from New York Times bestselling author Marie Benedict, and acclaimed author Victoria Christopher Murray.
In her twenties, Belle da Costa Greene is hired by J. P. Morgan to curate a collection of rare manuscripts, books, and artwork for his newly built Pierpont Morgan Library. Belle becomes a fixture in New York City society and one of the most powerful people in the art and book world, known for her impeccable taste and shrewd negotiating for critical works as she helps create a world-class collection.
But Belle has a secret, one she must protect at all costs. She was born not Belle da Costa Greene but Belle Marion Greener. She is the daughter of Richard Greener, the first Black graduate of Harvard and a well-known advocate for equality. Belle’s complexion isn’t dark because of her alleged Portuguese heritage that lets her pass as white—her complexion is dark because she is African American.
The Personal Librarian tells the story of an extraordinary woman, famous for her intellect, style, and wit, and shares the lengths she must go to—for the protection of her family and her legacy—to preserve her carefully crafted white identity in the racist world in which she lives.