In this post, the Grolier Club Library highlights libraries with strong collections relating to Black American book collectors and collecting. At the same time, we acknowledge that our own efforts documenting this history have been inadequate. We encourage people interested in learning more about the rich history of Black collectors in the United States to explore these resources, as we address the absences in our own collection. If you are aware of additional sources not mentioned, we would love to learn about them. Please contact Librarian, Meghan Constantinou, firstname.lastname@example.org.
This guide begins with a section dedicated to two of the most influential Black bibliophiles of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, Charles Blockson and Dorothy Porter Wesley. It is organized thereafter by the name of collecting institution in alphabetical order.
The book, Black bibliophiles and collectors: preservers of Black history, ed. Elinor Des Verney Sinnette [et al.], (Washington, D.C.: Howard University Press, 1990), has many helpful articles and references to prominent Black book collectors and booksellers. If you are interested in a general reading list for African American special collections, Cheryl Beredo, curator at the Schomburg Center, and Kevin Young, director of the Schomburg Center (and, as of January 2021, Director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture), have posted the reading list for their Rare Book School course “Developing and Interpreting African American Special Collections” online. Another excellent starting point is the Schomburg Center’s Black Bookstore Research Guide (described below).
Resources by Collector
CHARLES L. BLOCKSON (1933 –)
Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection at Temple University grew from Charles L. Blockson’s collection, donated in 1984, and materials acquired since. A guide to the collection is online. Blockson is now the collection’s curator emeritus. Part of the collection is the online archive, William Still: An African American Abolitionist, which has biographies of several Philadelphia bibliophiles associated with the Banneker Institute and the American Negro Historical Society, like Robert Mara Adger. Blockson also donated to the Eberly Family Special Collections Library at Pennsylvania State University, now the Charles L. Blockson African-Americana and the African Diaspora collection.
DOROTHY PORTER WESLEY (1905-1995)
African American Research Library and Cultural Center, Broward County, Florida received the personal collection of librarian, bibliophile, and collector, Dorothy Porter Wesley (1905-1995) from her daughter in 2001. Wesley was curator and bibliographer at the Moorland Foundation (now Moorland-Spingarn Center) at Howard University from (1930-1973). The Beinecke Library at Yale University has Dorothy Porter Wesley’s papers.
Resources by Institution
John L. Burns Library at Boston College holds the only known extant, antebellum, African American-owned library, originally belonging to the lawyer and activist Robert Morris. Boston College held an exhibition of the collection, and they published a history of Robert Morris with an annotated catalogue. His wife Catharine H. Mason Morris preserved and donated his library.
Gerth Archives and Special Collections at California State University, Dominguez Hills, will house the Mayme A. Clayton Collection of African American History and Culture, formerly at the Mayme A. Clayton Library & Museum in Culver City, California. Dr. Mayme A. Clayton (1923-2006), a librarian and prolific collector of Black history and culture, established the Library & Museum in her garage in 1975, and the institution has preserved her collection from her death up to the present, when its board reached an agreement for CSUDH to house, catalogue, and make the collection accessible through its special collections.1
Historical Society of Pennsylvania received the records of the American Negro Historical Society (also known as the Afro-American Historical Society) along with some of the Society’s collections, from the member and collector Leon Gardiner (1892-1945). The collection may also contain portions of the collections that Robert Mara Adger (1837-1910; a founding member of the American Negro Historical Society; see Wellesley College below for more) and Jacob C. White, Jr. donated to the Society.
Leslie Pinckney Hill Library at Cheyney University of Pennsylvania has the collection of Philadelphia collector William Dorsey (1837-1920) as well as his photograph and scrapbook collection. Dorsey was a bibliophile and artist, and he created a museum from rooms in his home. He was a founding member of the American Negro Historical Society.
This collection comprises 388 scrapbooks that Dorsey made, preserving ephemeral material on African American, African, and Native American history. They have been held at Penn State’s Eberly Family Special Collections Library since 2013 for conservation assessment.3
Library of Congress began seriously collecting documents and materials on Black history for the Paris Exposition of 1900. Daniel Alexander Payne Murray acquired and curated the collection, and he built his own private library, which he donated to the Library of Congress, now the Daniel Murray Pamphlet Collection. A few relevant items and resources are highlighted below.
Murray, Daniel, compiler. “Preliminary List of Books and Pamphlets by Negro Authors for Paris Exposition and Library of Congress.” Washington, D.C.: [Library of Congress], 1900.
Daniel Murray acquired and curated this collection of Black authors on behalf of the Library of Congress. He was a member of the American Negro Academy and built a personal collection, which he donated to the Library of Congress.
Ruggles, David. The “extinguisher” extinguished! New York: David Ruggles, 1834.
David Ruggles is the earliest known African American bookseller; he authored, printed, and published this abolitionist pamphlet a year before a mob burned down his shop.
Arthur B. Spingarn (1878-1971)
A white American, vice president of the NAACP, New York collector, and friend of Arthur Schomburg who sold his collection to Howard University; his papers have materials relating to African American literature. More papers at the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center at Howard. Ephemera from the Arthur B. Spingarn Collection of Negro Literature, 1912-1964 is at University of California Los Angeles, along with at least one of Spingarn’s books not at the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center.2
Medgar Evers College’s Charles Evans Inniss Memorial Library Archives & Special Collections hold’s Esther Cooper Jackson’s personal collection of over 1,000 books, which Jackson donated in 2015. Jackson’s collection mirrors her life-work as a Black civil rights activist. She has books of theory, politics, and literature as well as a run of Freedomways: A Quarterly Review of the Freedom Movement, reflecting her work as the journal’s managing editor from its founding in 1961 to 1986. She has books by and about W.E.B. DuBois and Paul Robeson, attesting to her personal relationships with both men. Many books have dedications or ownership inscriptions for her and her husband, James E. Jackson (1914-2007). Their papers documenting their work in civil rights, labor movements, and the Communist Party of the United States of America are held by The Tamiment Library & Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives at New York University. Her books at Medgar Evers College are undergoing cataloging with the provenance note “ECJ Collection,” and the Archives & Special Collections librarian Yelena Novitskaya has created an online exhibition highlighting parts of the collection. 4
Moorland-Spingarn Research Center at Howard University was established with the help of Dr. Kelly Miller (papers in the Moorland-Spingarn Center and the Stuart A. Rose Library at Emory), who convinced Jesse E. Moorland (1863-1940) to donate his collection to the University, adding to the existing collection on Black history formed by donations from the university’s Founders, William Lavalette, and John Wesley Cromwell, among others. The Moorland collection was curated from 1930-1973 by Dorothy Porter Wesley (1905-1995) (papers at the Beinecke Library at Yale and collection at the African American Research Library and Cultural Center), who was instrumental in adding Arthur B. Spingarn’s library to the collection (his papers at the Library of Congress, and ephemera collection at UCLA). Howard also houses the papers of several bibliophiles.
C. Glenn Carrington (1904-1975)
A collector involved with the Schomburg Center and Moorland Foundation, who left his collection to the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center. He also has papers deposited at the Stuart A. Rose Library at Emory and the Schomburg Center.
John Wesley Cromwell, Sr. (1846-1927)
A lawyer, newspaper editor, and educator who also collected and was a member of the American Negro Academy with several bibliophiles.
Kelly Miller (1863-1939)
A pamphleteer, mathematician, and sociologist; his papers are also at the Stuart A. Rose Library at Emory, and the Library of Congress has a resource guide for him.
Jesse Edward Moorland (1863-1940)
A YMCA executive and member of Howard University’s board of trustees; he donated his collection to Howard at the urging of Kelly Miller in 1914, and he donated his papers in 1940.
Arthur B. Spingarn (1878-1971)
A white American, vice president of the NAACP, New York collector, and friend of Arthur Schomburg who sold his collection to Howard University; his papers have materials relating to African American literature. More papers at the Library of Congress.
Jacob C. White, Jr. (1837-1902)
A Philadelphia collector who donated materials to the American Negro Historical Society (also called the Afro-American Historical Society), whose records are in the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.
The Stuart A. Rose Library at Emory University has a guide to Black Print Culture, a preliminary research tool for archival collections, books, pamphlets, broadsides, periodicals, sheet music, and print ephemera created by and for the African American community. The papers of bibliophiles are highlighted below. The holdings of African American catalogues and bibliographies are also strong, and include catalogues of the Philadelphia bibliophiles Robert Mara Adger (1837-1910) (he also had a second catalogue in 1906) and William Carl Bolivar (1844 or 1849?-1914[M1] ). The library also has 30 items owned by the collector and preacher Rev. Alexander Crummell (see Schomburg Center above for his papers).
C. Glenn Carrington (1904-1975)
A collector involved with the Schomburg Center and Moorland Foundation, he has also papers deposited at the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center at Howard and the Schomburg Center.
Kelly Miller (1863-1939)
A mathematician, sociologist, and Dean at Howard University, Miller published dozens of his own pamphlet essays, and he is also credited with convincing Jesse E. Moorland to donate his collection to Howard University.
Carter G. Woodson (1875-1950)
Inspired by John Wesley Cromwell’s The Negro in American History (1914), Woodson championed research into Black history and founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History in 1915 and its periodical Journal of Negro History in 1916.
The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture provides an excellent “Black Bookstore Research Guide,” an introduction to the cultural, historical, and political significance of the independently owned Black bookstore in the United States,” by Makoroba Sow. The guide is a preliminary research tool, and it features archival and secondary resources housed at the Schomburg Center (though not an exhaustive list), covering not only Black-owned bookstores but also book collectors who supported them. We have highlighted a few archival collections relating specifically to Black American collectors below, but researchers will find many more resources in the Schomburg Research Guide.
John Edwards Bruce (1856-1924)
Started several newspapers in the late nineteenth century and co-founded the Negro Society for Historical Research with Arthur Schomburg in Yonkers, New York. Also a collector.
C. Glenn Carrington (1904-1975)
A collector involved with the Schomburg Center and Moorland Foundation, he also has papers deposited at the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center at Howard and the Stuart A. Rose Library at Emory.
Alexander Crummell (1819-1898)
A pastor, missionary in Liberia, and a founder of the American Negro Academy in Washington, D.C., Crummell also had a collection of pamphlets, several now in the Stuart A. Rose Library at Emory University (see below).
Clarence L. Holte (1909-1993)
Marketing executive and collector, whose collection went to Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria, Nigeria in 1977.
Richard B. Moore (1893-1978)
Proprietor of the Frederick Douglass Book Center in Harlem and a collector who donated his collection to the University of the West Indies in his native Barbados in 1965.
Arturo “Arthur” Schomburg (1874-1938)
Collector who formed the seed collection of the Schomburg Center, which the New York Public Library purchased in 1926. He curated the collection from its purchase to his death in 1938. See also the collection of Arthur Schomburg photographs and prints.
From 1925 to 1988, generations of librarians in the Schomburg’s Jean Blackwell Hutson Research and Reference Division have preserved ephemera on Black bookstores in their clipping files; the index is available online.
Tuskegee University Archives Repository has collections of materials relating to Arturo “Arthur” Schomburg (see Schomburg Center above) and Carter G. Woodson (see Stuart A. Rose Library above). It also holds a collection for Monroe Work, the sociologist and contemporary of W.E.B. Du Bois who founded Tuskegee’s Department of Records and Research, now the University’s Archives, at Booker T. Washington’s invitation in 1908. Among his many productions, he compiled and published A Bibliography of the Negro in Africa and America (1928). The Archives also hold material from Jessie Parkhurst Guzman, Monroe Work’s research assistant from 1923-1929, initially for his Bibliography but also for the Negro Yearbook and lynching records, both of which she continued in different forms as Director of the Department of Records and Research from 1944-1964. See the Archives Repository’s Collections Listings. 5
Wellesly College Archives and Special Collections holds the Elbert Collection, donated in 1938 and built by Ella Lavinia Smith Elbert, the second Black graduate of Wellesley College, and her husband Dr. Samuel Elbert. Their collection of over 800 volumes was substantially helped by the purchase en-block of Robert Mara Adger’s collection of 320 items, assembled in his Catalogue of rare books on slavery and negro authors on science, history, poetry, religion, biography, etc. (See the Historical Society of Philadelphia above for more information on Adger.) Wendy Ball published a reconstruction of the collection, Rare Afro-Americana: A Reconstruction of the Adger Library (Boston: G. K. Hall, 1981), which includes annotations and descriptions of the 247 items from Adger’s library remaining in Wellesly’s library by 1981. Anthony Martin contributed a biographical introduction on Adger, “Race Men, Bibliophiles and Historians: The World of Robert M. Adger and the Negro Historical Society of Philadelphia,” which includes information about his time as the Banneker Institute’s librarian and his involvement with the American Negro Historical Society.
Robert W. Woodruff Library at Atlanta University Center holds the collection of Henry P. Slaughter (1871-1958), a major collector in Washington, D.C., Slaughter was a member of the American Negro Academy and the “Labor Day Bunch,” a dinner club to which several important bibliophiles belonged, including Arthur Schomburg and Alain LeRoy Locke. He worked as a compositor for the United States Government Printing Office for thirty years. The library at Atlanta University Center also has a long history of collecting and publishing Black bibliography, discoverable with a subject search for African American Bibliography in their online catalogue.
Compiled by the Grolier Club Library Staff.
- We are indebted to Marcia Reed for notifying us that the Mayme A. Clayton Collection of African American History and Culture will move to California State University, Dominguez Hills (10/22/2020).
- We are indebted to Dan Slive for bringing Arthur B. Spingarn’s ephemera collection and books from his collection at UCLA to our attention (10/21/2020).
- The current location of the Dorsey scrapbooks and Wellesley College’s Elbert Collection added 2/26/2021.
- We are indebted to Yelena Novitskaya, Archives & Special Collections librarian at Medgar Evers College, for guidance on this collection (7/1/2021).
- We are indebted to Dana Chandler, University Archivist and Associate Professor at Tuskegee University, for guidance on the Archive’s collections (5/11/2021).