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Dorothy Porter Wesley Collection
Broward County > Library > AARLCC Special Collections > Dorothy Porter Wesley Collection

The African-American Research Library and Cultural Center Special Collections

Rarely does a library have the opportunity to build an exceptional special collections section from one source of materials and especially from one of our countries most preeminent bibliophiles of Black History, as did the African-American Research Library and Culture Center (AARLCC) in the year 2001.

The normal source of this eclectic assortment of material would be years in assembly. Perhaps using eBay® one could replicate this collection, if one had the time, money, energy and expertise of an archivist, scholar, and bibliographer. 

Fortunately, the library's stated vision and goals piqued the interest of a Broward County resident, Ms. Constance Porter Uzelac, the daughter of Dorothy Porter Wesley to share the material that her mother had personally acquired during the years that she was curator of the Moorland-Spingarn Collection at Howard University Library. The mission that so interested Ms. Uzelac was that the African-American Research Library and Culture Center,

…will serve as a bridge across cultures by establishing wide-reaching collaborations with governments and organizations throughout Florida, the Caribbean, South America and Africa. Securing archival documents, Artifacts and books that focus on people of African descent will balance and enhance our understanding for generations to come. 1

This was a personal vision also shared by Dorothy Porter Wesley as she built a formidable library at Howard University, book by book. "Her zeal for uncovering materials relating to Afro-American history earned her the name of 'Shopping Bag Lady'. She would personally search in attics, basements, closets and boxes for materials that to the untrained eye, were often thought of as trash." 2 Mrs. Wesley because of her love and expertise of the history and culture of people of African descent, "was almost single handedly responsible for building the library (Moorland-Spingarn Collection at Howard University) into a world-class research facility…". 3 Mrs. Wesley applied the same amount of energy and dedication in acquiring her vast personal collection, of which Constance Uzelac, Executive Director, Dorothy Porter Wesley Research Center, Inc., has judiciously apportioned by sale to the African-American Research Library and Culture Center.

The African-American Research Library and Culture Center has obtained approximately 5, 200 items, books, pamphlets, pictures, and photographs, from Ms. Uzelac, with a value in excess of $500,000 and an invaluable source of pride for the community. The collection is a foundation and strong representative of 19th and 20th century Black authors. Further, the collection is a repository for books, pamphlets, post cards, ephemera and memorabilia of the history and culture of people of African descent in the Americas. And, Mrs. Porter view of the visionary bridge included the broader picture of a 19th century white abolitionist, Harriet Beecher Stowe, as well as the life experiences of a runaway slave Frederick Douglass. 

The 1897 "Uncle Tom's Cabin: a tale of life among the lowly", authored by Ms. Stowe is a "rare Publisher's dummy that includes alternative bindings, …superbly printed on superior highly calendared paper,…; 4 pages of advertising material, title page, preface, and long extracts from the text and many plates."

Uncle Tom's Cabin: A tale of life among the lowly   Uncle Tom's Cabin: A tale of life among the lowly  4

While Mr. Douglass offers to the library's collection, "Escape from Slavery, The Boyhood of Fredrick Douglass In His Own Words", My Bondage and My Freedom…with and Introduction By Dr. James M'Cune Smith, and "Race Problem, Mame Church, Washington, October 21, 1890." Mrs. Porter as described in her biography was a patriot and innovator and a unique individual in a period of history where women were not educated beyond high school.

(Dorothy (Louise Burnett) Porter Wesley was)… born on May 25, 1905, in Warrenton Virginia, the first of four children of Dr. And Mrs. Hayes J. Burnett, Dorothy Burnett received her early education in Montclair, New Jersey. After she graduated from high school, she enrolled in Minor Normal School in Washington, D.C., in 1923. In 1926, she transferred to Howard University and began work as a student assistant in the Founders Library. She graduated from Howard in 1928 with an A.B. and a resolve to continue her education to become a librarian. After working at the Howard University Library as a cataloger, Burnett enrolled in the Columbia University School of Library Science and in 1931 received a B.L.S. She received a scholarship to attend graduate school at Columbia from the Julius Rosenwald Fund and was awarded an M.L.S. in 1932, becoming the first African-American woman to do so.

Dorothy Porter Wesley, librarian, bibliographer, scholar, historian and archivist, was for 43 years (1930-1973) the curator of the Moorland-Spingarn Collection at Howard University in Washington, D.C. Under her guidance a small special collection grew into a world-renowned research library. Today the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center is considered by many to be one of the world's most comprehensive repositories of information on the history and culture of people of African descent.

Mrs. Wesley's ambition during her life time was to collect, codify Afro-American material and avail the collection to the public. Her motivation was partially due to her statement, "I recall that not many years ago the African was said to lack all sense of history because African history was not available in the form of written language." 6 In America before the 18th century there was little written history of people of African descent. Mrs. Wesley points out that, "Probably the first of these men (African American) was Briton Hammon, whose narrative was published in 1760 in Boston…I believe it to be the first book written by a Negro and published in the United States. 7

A Narrative of the Uncommon Suffering and Suprizing Deliverance of Briton Hammon8 
Most of the traditions, culture and history were transferred through oral tradition. "Most slave owners forbade their slaves from speaking their own language, and forced them to speak English. They were also forbidden from learning to read or write. In this manner slaveholders believed that they were keeping their slaves in ignorance so that they could not rebel or escape." 9 The oppression and cruelty during this period of American History repressed the written word and history was proliferated through oral tradition. "In exploring the various modes of linguistic expression in songs, sermons, stories (folktales), and speeches we find the primacy of oral traditions as the foundation of African American cultural expression." 10 Authors note: Briton Hammon has been accepted as the first writer of "prose text" to be published, however the first literature as poetry was written by Jupiter Hammon (no relation to Briton), in 1760 and published as a broadside in 1761.

The revolution of African American authors had begun to main-stream their writing, to record oral tradition, and before the end of the 18th century, several African Americans were published including: "John Marrant, James Albert Ukasaw (Gronniosaw), Gustavus Vassa, Venture Smith, Paul Cuffee, Phillis Wheatly,…and Richard Allen." 11 It wasn't a systematic movement of obscurant white Americans suppressing these writers or their books, but more so a growing sense of "consciousness of self" sic, (African Americans) that believed in their place and contribution to American History that had begun writing and collecting material for future generations that started the revolution.

…Thrust into the center of a dynamic Western civilization and buffeted by powerful social economic and culture forces, the African American early on developed a consciousness of self that corresponds to that of a rationally controlled society. He mustered the language of the dominant group and produced in that language a literature marked by experience and hope…African American leaders, along with their white Abolitionists friends, very early recognized the importance of the African American position in America… in the face of slavery…reconstruction and disfranchisement, they persisted in gathering data and in the production and the preservation of records of their race. 12

The Dorothy Porter Wesley special collection at the African-American Research Library and Culture Center offers the public the opportunity to review over 5,200 titles from rare books to more recent authors, books that have been autographed by their authors or notable historical individuals, magazines, and newspapers like Harper's Weekly Journal of Civilization an example of which is shown here.

Rendering from Harper's Weekly Journal of Civilization 13      Rendering from Harper's Weekly Journal of Civilization 14

Both of these renderings from Harper's Weekly (#13 & #14) are in excellent condition. A sister journal, The Illustrated London News, (ILN) of the United Kingdom published in October 20, 1866."AN INCIDENT OF GENERAL SHERMAN'S MARCH THROUGH GEORGIA", as shown here (#15).

Rendering of "An incident of General Sherman's march through Georgia" 15

The interesting aspect of the referenced picture #15…"Sherman's March…" was the fact that this was contemporaneously published in Harper's Weekly Journal of Civilization.

The rendering in the magazine was originally from a painting by the celebrated cartoonist Thomas Nast and adapted to the magazine through a process of engraving.

The picture was an engraving from a painting. The Illustrated London News pioneered the use of engravings whereby an artist would send in a drawing of a scene or event (in this case an accurate impression of a painting) and a draughtsman would then mark the image out on wood blocks which would be screwed together (the wood blocks were made from boxwood).  Then, either one, or a team of engravers would work on the picture until complete.  In the case of this image, it's likely that a correspondent in New York sent in the drawing, but perhaps the gallery itself sent an impression - difficult to say. 16

The related text as published in 1866 describing the scene has important historical significance to AARLCC and Mrs. Porter since it is about the emancipation of the southern slave.

The engraving on p.381 represents one of the most remarkable historical paintings in a late exhibition of fine arts at New York. It is the work of Mr. T. Nast, and has obtained the approval of many of the American art-critics, for the merits of its design and execution. The interest, however, of the subject, as an imaginary scene of General Sherman's campaign in Georgia, could not fail to gain for this picture a degree of popularity in the United States, at least in the Northern States, independent of its artistic merits. Its conception is eminently dramatic, and the attitude of the figures tells its own tale. The Federal commanding officer, who has arrived, with his staff and the soldiers of his guard, at the house of an absent planter, is met on the door-steps by the ladies of the family, who reply with glances of proud disdain to the polite address of their country's enemy as they are resolved to consider him in that hostile light. A group of officers in the foreground, whilst eagerly watching for the rest of their troops to come up are beset with offers of game, fruit, and other provisions by some of the (N)negroes of the plantation, who are vociferously expressing their joy and gratitude for the prospect of instant emancipation. The little drummer-boy receiving from a black urchin the gift of a nosegay of flowers is a pretty repetition of the same idea. On the whole, we should say that the haughty ladies and the pert child at the top of the steps will do well to follow the example of their dusky servants, and give the new comers a more friendly reception, leaving it to the masculine chivalry of the South to try if it can deal with the invaders of Georgia by force of arms; and, if not, to acquiesce in the restored authority of the Union. 17

Painting of An Incident of General Sherman's March Through Georgia by Thomas Nast 1865 on the cover of Fine Americana18

Because of Dorothy Porter Wesley's ambition, philosophy, and historical insight and perspective, the Moorland-Spingarn Collection at Howard University Library is an outstanding resource for students, historians and bibliophiles of African American culture. And, when Ms. Constance Porter Uzelac, the daughter of Dorothy Porter Wesley related to the philosophy, and mission of the African-American Research Library and Culture Center, the local community has been profoundly rewarded with this special collection.

The collection will be presented for viewing in the general public areas of AARLCC in 2007, but access is available to all now, with some limitations as to the use of this material with a restriction of reviewing the collection only in special environmentally controlled rooms and without the normal checkout procedures of the general collection.


 1 African-American Research Library and Culture Center dedication and information pamphlet 10/23/1999 by Broward County Board of County Commissioners
 2 Dorothy Porter Wesley (1905-1995) Afro-American Librarian and Bibliophile Broward County Library, Bienes Center for the Literary Arts ISBN 0-9678858-2-5, First edition ©2001 Fort Lauderdale Florida
 3 ISBN 0-9678858-2-5, First edition, pg. 6
 4 Digital Photograph from Special Collections, African-American Research Library and Culture Center, Fort Lauderdale, Florida
 5 ISBN 0-9678858-2-5, First edition, pg. 7
 6 ISBN 0-9678858-2-5, First edition, pg. 13 (Note: taken from a speech Ms. Wesley gave at Morgan State College Feb, 13, 1957.).
 7 ISBN 0-9678858-2-5, First edition Speech Ms. Wesley gave at Morgan State College Feb, 13, 1957
 9 pg. 1
10 pg. 4
11 ISBN 0-9678858-2-5, First edition (Speech…) pg. 18
12 ISBN 0-9678858-2-5, First edition (Speech…) pg. 17
13 Digital Photograph from Special Collections, African-American Research Library and Culture Center, Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Harper's Weekly Journal of Civilization November 14, 1863 pg. 1
14 Digital Photograph from Special Collections, African-American Research Library and Culture Center, Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Harper's Weekly Journal of Civilization November 2, 1878 unk
15 Digital Photograph from Special Collections, African-American Research Library and Culture Center, Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Illustrated London News 10/20/1866 pg 381
16 Gosling, Luci [] Picture Library Manager, The Illustrated London News Group #20 Upper Ground London SE1 9PF United Kingdom, email correspondence 10/23/2006
17 An Incident of General Sherman's March Through Georgia, Illustrated London News,  No. 1395.---vol. XLIX, Saturday October 20, 1866 pg. 396. Illustrated London News V 48-49 Jan. 6 - Dec. 29 1866 Reel #23, University Microfilms International, Broward County Library, Ft. Lauderdale Fl. 33301, Microfilm
18 Detail from original Painting An Incident of General Sherman's March Through Georgia by Thomas Nast 1865 on the cover of Fine Americana #4268 Sotheby Parke Berner Inc. New York, Auction catalog June 20-June 23, 1979