OF MEN AND RECORDS IN
HISTORY OF THE NEGRO
by Dorothy Porter Wesley
presented at Morgan State College, Social Science Club,
February 13, 1957, in celebration of the
Negro History Week Program. Edited
and referenced by Constance Porter Uzelac,
Executive Director, Dorothy
Porter Wesley Research Center, Inc., January 16, 2001)
It is a real pleasure and
privilege for me to be here and to participate in your Negro History Week
Program. Over the years, Negro History Week has become for me a living event. I
have learned to look forward to it with a sense of obligation, or duty, and to
feel that somehow I have become a devotee of its cult. Each year, for many
years, I have assembled special exhibitions and helped groups throughout the
country to mark and color the event. I have subscribed to the belief that Negro
History Week must be just as seriously regarded in a national way as it well
may be in a regional or local way.
Certainly it was the hope of
Carter G. Woodson,1 the founder of this annual celebration, that all African
Americans would be aroused through the annual recurrence of this event to a
keener appreciation of the contributions our people have made to their own as
well as to world history. Indeed, Carter G. Woodson was dedicated not only to
the passion of scholarship but his public life was an unending search for the
greater- as well as the lesser-known truths of the Negro past. And it was from
him, this leader who began life as a coal miner and ended it as an educator,
humanist, historian and publisher, that we have learned the hard but all
important fact that the African American can claim no achievement as a group
unless he has records to document them. It was under the compulsion of this
belief that Woodson begged for and assiduously collected old family records in
the form of letters, diaries, bills, certificates and other miscellany of our
racial past. Moreover, along with many like-minded men, he helped to raise up a
small army of younger scholars with the double purpose of preserving and
interpreting the records of his people.
I have often wondered how
C[arter] G[odwin] W[oodson], who worked nearly always alone, found time to
write and edit seventeen books on Negro life and history, to establish the
A[ssociation for the] S[tudy of] N[egro] L[ife and] H[istory], 2 the Associated
Publishers, the Journal of Negro History and the Bulletin of Negro History.
Additionally, he completed three volumes of a projected Encyclopedia Africana.
He inspired many historians, white and black; and some of the fine scholars he
championed are on your faculty now, carrying the burden of teaching while
trying to reevaluate the African American and to fit him into his proper place
I know some of you who are here
today may be wondering why a librarian is addressing you instead of an
historian. If you are making an effort to recall the title of some monograph or
book of fullsome bulk I may have written, or if you are trying to recall which
aspect of a burning social or political question I may have defended, set your
minds at rest for I make no claim to memorable literary or polemical
effectiveness in the area of history. As a librarian, I do claim to have had
access to a few unusual collections of books and periodicals.
It is fitting, therefore, that I
share with you some of the experiences and insights that I have derived from an
actively acquisitive and professional concern with the materials of African
American history. While I will not attempt a definition of such materials at
this time, you will be able to imagine its scope when I say that within it are
embraced books and pamphlets, manuscript letters, diaries, journals, documents
of all kinds, broadsides, maps, engravings, pictures, microfilms, microprints,
phonograph records, curios, museum and ephemeral pieces of various types.
To work with such a varied
accumulation of materials is a never-ending temptation to browse or to do
research. Occasionally, and to a degree automatically, I find myself doing both
at the same time. However, a librarian's task is somewhat like that of an
historian: to pursue the facts and, quite naturally, more facts are often
turned up in places where interest has already made the ground familiar.
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. But now I know that the
objective studies of anthropologists, linguists and historians have gone far to
correct this ignorant opinion. They have proved that many African people of
high culture have possessed an historical sense, and further, that their
trained memories and prodigious fund of legend have served as the actual
conservators of their history.
Delafosse3 in his Negroes in
Africa stated that over many areas of Africa one finds "living books" rather
than libraries, laws and codes, supernatural tales, comic stories, proverbs,
riddles, epic poems, funeral dirges and dramas. These living books are of all
types: some are musicians, poets, storytellers, and others are dancers. They
memorize genealogies of noble families, many important facts relating to great
men, religious beliefs, and tribal life that is then handed down from
generation to generation, each one adding to the heritage it has received from
the preceding generation.
Emil Torday, the Hungarian
ethnologist who lived among and studied very seriously the Bushongo people of
the Central Congo region, is one of several scientists who has helped Western
minds to learn the real truth about African culture. He tells us that for many
centuries, among the Bushongo people, a high-placed dignitary known as the
M'aridi was the Court Historian. In his own person and in the quality of his
office he represented the highest expression of oral tradition to be observed
any place in Africa. The M'aridi was a walking encyclopedia of the history as
well as of the mythology of his people. Through him and his associates, Torday
was able to learn much of the history of the past Bakuba chiefs: he was able to
retrospectively document 120 Nyimis or sovereigns (kings), thus placing the
known beginnings of Boshongo culture back to the sixteenth century.
The effect of this and many
similar researches by persistent investigators, among them Delaforre, Frobenius
and Griaule, to name only the most persistent, has been utilized by both
African and European students of culture, and particularly by African writers
who are earnestly probing the root traditions, folklore, and other hallowed
customs of their own people. These writers have collected and preserved in
written form many of the old Court praises, folk tales, tribal histories, laws
and stories derived from the more sophisticated accounts of tribal life and
This lifting of the ancient
curtain of mystery and half-truths has revealed the African people in a new
light, and it is with a sense of appreciation that I note the recent
organization of libraries with progressive, systematic collections and a
concentration of records in many different formats at various urban university
centers in West Africa, East Africa and, more recently, in the Belgian Congo.
This, of course, does not mean that the oral tradition, the verbal and mimic
modes of African communication or expression, is at an end.
Jomo Kenyatta, the Kikuyu
anthropologist, writes in his book My People of Kikuyu: "The Kikuyu people have
no written records and all they know of their early history is told in legends
and traditions. There is no sharp line where legend ends and history begins...
but there is no reason to doubt that these traditions, in their main outline,
present a true picture, for the Kikuyu have always remembered their ancestors.
Kikuyu history is preserved in legends and tribal songs. It is in these that
the memories of great men are kept green and their personalities and deeds are
Silas M. Molema,5 a black South
African, in his book entitled: The Bantu urged Africans to collect and record
the history of their people. Not only is this being done in South Africa, but
everywhere Africans are feeding presses with their manuscripts written in
French, English, or their vernacular languages.
Recently, Miss Joan Parkes, a
Nigerian traveling librarian, ransacked Nigerian reading rooms for local
materials that where no longer of use to their owners. Her purpose was to
deposit these gleanings where they would be preserved. The University College
at Ibadan, Nigeria, is now a depository for all government publications. It is
there that the private library of the late Herbert Macaulay, founder of the
Nigerian Democratic Party, is deposited. It contains thousands of items,
including pamphlets, newspapers, government documents, minute books, papers of
societies, maps, manuscripts letters, diaries and business documents of great
value to historical research. Other collections of Africana are finding their
way into libraries especially concerned with black Africa.
The priority that collections of
Afro-Americana have in our minds over collections of Africana is explained by
historical conditions. Thrust into the center of a dynamic Western civilization
and buffeted by powerful social, economic and cultural forces, the African
American early on developed a consciousness of self that corresponds to that of
a rationally controlled society. He mastered 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 response to individual and family
needs and national interests and in the face of slavery and the later
disappointments of reconstruction and disfranchisement, they persisted in
gathering data and in the production and the preservation of records of their
African American slaves,
freedmen, politicians, preachers and scientific-minded men from the middle of
the eighteenth century in this country recorded their activities, personal
histories and numerous facts that enable us today to re-evaluate past history.
Their lives and their times contain much of curious history. Probably the first
of these men was Briton Hammon, whose narrative was published in 1760 in
Boston. I would like very much to read the title page of this book to you since
it not only gives us an idea of the experiences of Hammon but also because I
believe it to be the first book written by a Negro and published in the United
A narrative of the uncommon
sufferings, and surprizing deliverance of Briton Hammon, A Negro man . . .
servant to General Winslow, of Marshfield, In New-England who returned to
Boston after having been absent almost thirteen years. Containing an account of
the many hardships he underwent from the time he left his master's house, in
the year 1747, to the time of his return to Boston. "How he was cast away in
the capes of Florida; . . . the horrid cruelty and inhuman barbarity of the
Indians in murdering the whole ship's crew; . . . the manner of his being
carried by them into captivity. Also, an account of his being confined four
years and seven months in a close dungeon and the remarkable manner in which he
met with his good old master in London, who returned to New-England, a
passenger in the same ship.
Before 1800, a number of
interesting and often exciting volumes written by African Americans were
published in this country. Among these were books by John Marrant,6 James Alber
Ukawsaw, Gustavus Vassa,7 Venture Smith,8 Paul Cuffee, 9 Phillis Wheatley,10
Jupiter Hammon,11 Benjamin Banneker,12 and Richard Allen.13
In 1810, Daniel Coker14 published
in Baltimore a book on anti-slavery entitled: A Dialogue between a Virginian
and an African Minister. In 1816, he became a minister of the African Bethel
Church in that same city. For ten years I searched a number of libraries for
this book and finally found it on making a second trip to the American
Antiquarian Society in Worcester, Mass. The dialogue between the Virginian and
the African minister was of course an argument on slavery versus liberty. The
Virginian attempts to convince the minister that the enactment of a law in the
V[irginia] Legislature for the emancipation of slaves would be wrong since he
had legally purchased them as property. The African minister contends that
freeing men will not deprive anyone of his property but merely restore property
to its rightful owner. At the end of the argument the Virginian is convinced by
the persuasive African minister that he is wrong. He agreed to return home,
free his 55 slaves, and treat well those who did
not wish to leave. However, of
greater significance today is that in this little volume Coker included facts
that are still of historical interest: such as the names of the Negro ministers
whom he knew with the locations of their churches; a list of the African
churches in Philadelphia, New York, Long Island, Boston, New Jersey, Baltimore,
Wilmington, Annapolis and Charleston. He also gave statistics on the number of
African Methodists in the United States, which he placed at 31,885 in 1809. Of
particular interest to me is his list of sermons and orations written by
Negroes and published prior to 1810. Coker himself published sermons and an
interesting Journal in 1820, telling of his voyage on the ship Elizabeth from
New York to Sierra Leone where he took three agents and ninety persons of color
to settle a colony.
Anti-slavery societies, African
American literary organizations, church associations, and historical societies
did much to stimulate the collecting of books and pamphlets by African American
authors; they also encouraged the publication of titles about the African
American in order to show that our people were worthy of a fate better than
slavery and that they were not the inferior beings so many believed them to be.
Before emancipation many abolitionists of both races assembled representative
collections of anti-slavery publications and books of African American
authorship. A Catalogue of Anti-Slavery Publications in America, compiled by
Samuel J. May, was printed in the 1869 Report of the American Anti-Slavery
Society. It was a chronological list of publications printed from 1750 to 1863.
Perhaps the earliest effort by an
African American to collect and make books available to an African American
readership was that made by David Ruggles,15 an abolitionist. In 1834, Ruggles
opened a book shop in New York City where he circulated anti-slavery
publications. He also provided a reading room for colored persons since they
were excluded because of their color from literary institutions and reading
rooms provided primarily for white persons. Unfortunately, Ruggles' bookstore
was destroyed by fire in 1835.
Of the several African American
historical associations that had as one of their objectives book collecting,
the most interesting was the Negro Society for Historical Research16 founded at
Sunny Slope Farm, Yonkers, N.Y., on April 18, 1911, at the residence of John E.
Bruce.17 It numbered among its corresponding members residents of Panama, Cuba,
several West Indian Islands, Brazil, Sierra Leone, the Gold Coast, Liberia and
South Africa. This society published a few historical papers and occasionally
circulated some of the books from its collection of African American authors.
An article published on the society in the 1912 annual issue of the African
Times and Orient Review lists a few of the 300 rare works in the collection.
Several of the members of this society assembled collections of Negroana that
have found their way into public and university libraries. These men were John
E. Bruce, John W. Cromwell,18 W[illia]m A. Lavellet, William Bolivar,19 Daniel
Murray,20 Arthur A. Schomburg21 and Alain LeRoy Locke.22
It is not unlikely that early
African American historians prior to Carter Woodson's time had good private
collections during their day. William C. Nell,23 William Wells Brown,24 George
W. Williams,25 William H. Ferris26 and others must have had near their writing
tables numerous books, pamphlets and periodicals that they consulted while
writing their histories.
At the turn-of-the-century there
appeared many individual collectors of Afro-Americana. One of these was William
C. Bolivar, a colored businessman of Philadelphia who for many years had some
connection with almost every uplift movement of his race. For twenty years he
wrote a weekly column for the Philadelphia Tribune. Many of his articles
appeared under the nom de plume "Pencil Pusher." In 1914, a 32-page list of his
library of books, pamphlets, magazines, reports and manuscript letters was
printed. His collection was sold at auction to various collectors.
In 1899, at the suggestion of
President McKinley, the American Commissioner of the Paris Exposition decided
to have as a feature of the American exhibit a collection of books and
pamphlets by Afro-American authors. Daniel Murray, then assistant librarian of
the Library of Congress, was asked to assemble the collection. When the
exhibition opened in May 1900, he had succeeded in identifying 1,100 titles
from which he was able to send 500 to Paris. Murray continued to identify and
list African American authors and by 1904 his list had increased to 2,200.
There was much public reaction to Daniel Murray's printed Preliminary List of
Books and Pamphlets by Negro Authors, published in 1900. One such reaction was
a statement printed in the Boston Transcript of November 14, 1902, which
declared: "this work cannot be strictly a bibliography of Negro authors, since
it contains publications by mulattos, quadroons and octoroons." Senator
Benjamin R. Tillman, in his speech in the Senate on February 23, 1903, said:
"In South Carolina, we recognize octoroons as white people." This becomes
important since Henry Timrod, a great Southern poet to whom a monument was
erected in Charleston, S.C., and in whose honor numerous Timrod Societies have
been formed, was an astern.
During one of the sessions of the
American Negro Academy,27 a literary and historical association, held in
Washington early in the 1900s, a group of delegates, while eating dinner at the
home of John Cromwell,28 author of The Negro In American History, engaged in
much bookish conversation. As a result, The American Negro Book Exchange was
organized for the purpose of centralizing literature written by colored people.
The newly-formed organization planned to contact book collectors in Africa, the
West Indies, South America and Europe and to exchange duplicates written by
Africana authors. A list of such authors and their works was to be compiled.
Henry P. Slaughter,29 the well-known book collector, was elected president. He
had come to Washington in 1896 and was at the time of the meeting a government
printer. When Henry P. Slaughter was a boy he began to buy books on slavery and
read them because his parents and the older folk would not talk to him about
this subject that they wished to forget. From then on he avidly acquired books
not only on slavery but on [the] African American in general. These were
supplemented by titles on the Civil War and on A[braham] Lincoln. An eccentric
bookworm, Henry P. Slaughter preferred his books to intimate companionship or
to a new hat or a new suit of clothes any day. In 1946, his collection was
purchased by Atlanta University. It contained more than 7,000 books and
pamphlets, over 800 manuscript pieces, a large number of musical compositions
by African Americans, slave papers, photographs, engravings, framed pictures
and documents, as well as curios and museum pieces. It well supplemented the
Countee Cullen30 Memorial Collection and other collections of Africana interest
already at the University.
Among our people, no other man
was more intrigued by the history and culture of his race than Arthur Alphonso
Schomburg31 of Puerto Rico. He was perhaps the most noted of our bibliophiles.
He came to New York City in 1891 to study medicine but only studied for one
year. For thirty years Schomburg gathered data on the contribution of the
African and his descendants to art, literature, history and science. The
achievements of Africans in the Western world was a subject of special interest
to him. He journeyed to Spain to study Moorish history and to establish the
thesis that the Africans who accompanied the early explorers were Christians
brought over to help Christianize the natives. There, he also did research on
the colony of Africana founded by Balboa on the mainland of Panama. In Spain he
learned of the consecration in 1751 of Doctor Don Francisco Giver Lana Victoria
y Castro, an African and the first native bishop of Panama. International in
scope, the Schomburg collection covered nearly every phase of Africana activity
in Africa and in Europe, in South America, in the West Indies and in the United
States. The Schomburg collection has many rare volumes in addition to
quantities of books, pamphlets and periodicals of lesser value. It also
contains prints by and about Africana, newspaper clippings, playbills,
programs, broadsides, sheet music and recordings of music composed or performed
by peoples of African descent. In the same room with this collection, an
interesting group of African ivory, metal and wood-carved objects is always on
display. In 1926, The Arthur Schomburg collection was purchased by the Carnegie
Cooperation and placed under his care in the 135th Street Branch of The New
York Public Library. Schomburg served for several years as its curator.
When I was the age of many of
you, I knew nothing about Africa or of her descendants in this country. Of
course, I was aware that the third collection of pennies taken up in the church
of which I was a member went for the work of the missionaries in Africa. But no
one seemed to care about Africa but the missionaries. My school textbooks did
inform me that Africa was a land of naked savages, thatched huts, pygmies,
witch doctors, intense heat and torrential rains. There were no special issues
Look, Life or even Colliers at
that time devoted to the Negro. Ed Morrow's "See It Now" and Alan Patton's Cry,
the Beloved Country32 were not televised into my home. Perhaps my first real
introduction to African history was through a course I had on the early
civilization of Africa taught by William Leo Hansberry33 at Howard University.
Later, I was overjoyed when I learned shortly after finishing my academic work
that I was to have charge of building and developing an Africana library
collection at Howard University.
The excellent anti-slavery
collection of L[ewis] Tappan was received as a gift by the University in 1873.
Thereafter, smaller important gift items were frequently deposited by friends
of the University, one of whom was Charles Sumner.
In 1914, Dr. Jesse Edward
Moorland,34 a trustee of the University donated his collection of more than
3,000 books on the Negro and such diversified materials as engravings,
portraits, manuscripts, curios, pictures and clippings. The acceptance of this
gift by the trustees of Howard University created the Moorland Foundation, a
Library of Negro Life and History. In 1932, the collection was organized as a
reference collection and with the purchase in 1946 of the Arthur B. Spingarn35
Collection of Negro Authors, from all parts of the world the Moorland
Foundation became probably the most comprehensive collection in existence for
the study of Africana. Just this month we have unpacked the Alain L. Locke
collection of books and manuscripts bequeathed to the University by the late
Dr. Locke. Since time does not permit me to tell you about the wealth of
materials in the Moorland-Spingarn Collection, I invite each of you to visit
our library and see these treasures that are being added regularly to the
Perhaps the rapid growth of the
collection is one of my greatest problems. It reminds me of the elderly
Vermonter who, when asked if it were not awful to be growing older and older,
replied, "No, tain't awful to be growing older and older. If I wasn't getting
older, I'd be dead." Collections of course will never die when they stop
growing, and I would be very unhappy if my collection did not continue to grow.
I would like to say a word about
the competitive book dealers who not only often supply collectors with valuable
items that later get into public collections but who also search for and call
to the attention of librarians, books and manuscripts of special interest. Many
book dealers mimeograph or print lists and well-annotated bibliographies of the
titles that they have for sale. Frequently the finer catalogs issued by these
dealers become rare bibliographical items as they soon go out-of-print or are
lost. What is even more important is that they sometimes contain, in the
annotation above the item for sale, interesting facts often previously unknown
to the reader. Let me cite two or three examples: one dealer listed a
manuscript that he offered for sale for $95.00. It was a petition written by
Francisco, a slave, about 1630 that sheds light on the slave trade; however,
Francisco claimed to be a free man. He said he had obtained his liberty from a
Portuguese man who owned him in Brazil. Captured by the Dutch and taken to the
Netherlands, he was sold to the Calvinist Jacob in Dublin, who later gave him
to a Captain Tomas Gins. Finally, he was sold again to John Des, British Consul
at Cadiz, where this document was written.
A few days ago a catalog reached
my desk that listed many rare books and manuscripts relative to the discovery
and history of America for the period 1492-1814. One item for sale was a
manuscript diary of the 1779 Siege of Savannah, a contemporary account written
by the Comte D'Estaing. The diary includes statements concerning the
comparative strengths of the American and British forces at Savannah, checked
and dated October 8, 1779. The annotation includes the statement that the
American troops numbered 2,000 and together with the French, who had over
3,000, made a force of 5,883 men; the British troops numbered 3,000 and they
had as auxiliaries 4,000 Negroes and 80 "Chiroquis savages, which brought the
British forces up to 7,080.
Elsewhere we learn that of the
many Negro units in the Union Army during the Civil War, the 14th Rhode Island
Heavy Artillery was the only one found to have issued a newspaper. It was
called the Black Warrior. One hundred and eight different military units of the
Civil War published newspapers. Perhaps the young women here today will be
interested in this abstract describing the contents in part of a letter written
by Adah Isaacs Menken,36 a beautiful actress who for 15 years was the talk of
two continents. She was born in New Orleans in 1835 and was supposed to have
had a little African blood. Perhaps her life was made more exciting by the fact
that she had four husbands and equally as many lovers. A manuscript letter
written by her appeared in a recent catalog. In a letter to Robert Reece, the
librettist, she invited him to visit her and her "Ghosts." "They will be
harmless to you these Ghosts of mine," she wrote:
"They are soft-footed things that
wear my brain, and live on my heart, that is the fragment, I have left to be
called a heart. I hear you are married. I am glad of that. I believe all men
should be married. Yet, I do not believe women should marry. Somehow, they all
sink into nonentities after this epoch in their existence. This is the fault of
female education. They are taught from their cradles to look upon marriage as
the one event of their lives. That accomplished, nothing remains. However,
Byron might have been right after all "Man's love of his life a thing apart, it
is a woman's whole existence. If this is true, we do not wonder to find so many
stupid wives. Good women are rarely clever, and clever women are rarely good.
Now a royal tigress waits in her lonely jungle the coming of the king of the
forest, brown gaiters not excluded."
An exceedingly rare Haitian
imprint entitled: Glorious Events Which Have Brought Their Royal Majesties to
the Throne of Haiti37 was last week listed in a dealer catalog. It belongs to
the early period of King Henry Christoph's reign and was printed by Roux for
the Royal Government before the Imprimerie Royale was established at Sans
Souci. This publication describes the events that led to Christoph's elevation
to the throne, the fabulous coronation that took place in June 1811, the Royal
decrees establishing the hereditary nobility of Haiti and much other
information. This costly dealer's item was written by Julien Prevost, Comte de
Limonade, a very talented Mulatto, well educated in France, who held the
portfolio of Minister of Foreign Affairs, and thus had more frequent
intercourse with Europeans than did the other members of King Henry's Court. I
had never heard of Julien Prevost before I noted this annotation. These
examples illustrated the kind of information to be gleaned from dealer's
catalogs that list items on Africana and related subjects. These dealers in all
part of the United States and abroad are ready to supply prospective buyers
with their catalogs.
Many Africana victims of
Bibliomania have significantly enriched public and university library
collections. It is, or course, more than likely that in most instances they
were impelled by their affection for the recipient library who in many
instances have perpetuated their names, but occasionally gifts are made to
public institutions because they are deductible when the old man with the beard
comes around in March. The impulses, however, that move them to assemble rare
and useful books have varied as have their own differences in personality and
background. All, however, have been equally zealous in the pursuit of their
pleasures. For every true book collector book hunting is the best game in the
world. Books, he believes, are even more decorative in the home than paintings.
They are more varied in color and appearance than any wallpaper could possible
be. Best of all, to this breed of men each book has or contains a separate
personality. They are never alone when they sit surrounded by these intimate
friends. They may be forgiven this odd passion when it is realized that the
records they have collected and preserved would have been lost had they not
been touched early in life by that gentlest of infirmities:
Book collectors and book dealers,
and these latter are often true book collectors, very often perform a great
service to the historian or scholar, although they usually increase the labors
or test the conservation skills of the librarian. They supply us with enormous
accumulations of books, journals and other types of documents. Our scholars
must have not only the best materials but the mediocre bits also, for they are
often as valuable as the phenomenal in providing understanding of the climate
of opinion out of which emerged, or against which rebelled, a Frederick
Douglass or a W[illiam] E[dward] B[urghardt] D[uBois].
From year to year, as I have
witnessed the depositing of collections of materials in libraries through gifts
or through purchase, I have become very concerned over the lack of time and
opportunity to prepare bibliographies or catalogs, for they are our principle
instruments of research.
The compilation of giant
bibliographies such as Monroe Work's Bibliography of the Negro in Africa and
America,38 a tool of some 17,000 titles published in 1928, and Max Bissainthe's
Dictionnaire de bibliographie haitienne,39 which includes some 10,000 entries
relating to the rich culture of Haiti, require not only great moral stamina on
the part of the compiler but also physical vigor and abundant time. The useful
and significant contributions of the Works Progress Administration Federal
Writers' Project and the Historical Records Survey are easily noted in the many
guide books and calendars of manuscripts that were prepared a few years ago by
many contributors. The Calendar of the Frederick Douglass Papers is an example
of the kind of initial documentation that should be done for many family and
personal papers of Negro men and women.
The recent discovery of the diary
and personal papers of William Johnson,40 a free African American of Natchez,
Miss., and the finding of the correspondence between George A. Myers of
Cleveland and James Ford Rhodes,41 the historian, and the subsequent
publications resulting from the discovery of these papers, indicates the unique
contributions unpublished manuscripts can make to American history.
Finally, I hope many of you here
will have a serious interest in the records of men and women. No doubt some of
you have already been bitten by the book collecting bug. Others of you lacking
time to search for particular volumes may be compiling fine scrapbooks on local
history, on well- or not so well-known individuals, which will be of great
value a few years from today.
Not that the collector is by his
collecting proved an historian or that collecting presupposes devotion to a
single idea, I say avoid the tragic example of Lord Kingsborough, who in the
nineteenth century beggared himself in gathering a mammoth collection of books
and manuscripts in order to publish a thesis that would prove the American
Indians were descended from one of the Lost Tribes of Israel, which it is more
recently believed, never left Africa.
Now may I close with this thought
from William Wordsworth:
Dream books, are each a world;
and books, we know
Are a substantial world, both pure and good.
these, with tendrils strong as flesh and blood,
Our pastime and pure
happiness will grow.
Dorothy Porter Wesley, Librarian
Moorland-Spingarn Research Center
N O T E
- Carter Godwin Woodson (1875-1950),
educator, historian and editor of the Journal of Negro History from 1916 to
- Founded by Carter G. Woodson in 1915,
it is now known as the Association for the Study of African-American Life and
- Delafosse, Maurice (1870-1926). Negroes
in Africa: history and culture. Washington: Associated Publishers, 1931.
- Jomo Kenyatta. My People of Kikuyu and
the Life of Chief Wangome. London: United Society for Christian Literature,
- Silas M. Molema. The Bantu, past and
present: an ethnographical and historical study of the nature races of South
Africa. Edinburgh: Green, 1929.
- John Marrant (1755-1791), authored
Narrative of the Lord's Wonderful Dealings with John Marrant, 1785; preacher,
missionary, and Masonic Lodge chaplain.
- Vassa, Gustavus. Interesting narrative
of the life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African written by
- Smith, Venture. A Narrative of the
Life and Adventures of Venture, a Native of Africa, But Resident Above Sixty
Years in the United States of America. New London: Holt at the Bee- Office,
- Paul Cuffee (1759-1817), wealthy
merchant-mariner and humanitarian; leader in the early movement for the
settlement of Negroes from the United States In Sierra Leona.
- Phillis Wheatley (ca. 1753-1784), poet;
slave in the John Wheatley household, treated as if a member of the family,
trained in social graces, learned to read and write; authored Poems on Various
Subjects, Religious and Moral, 1773.
- Jupiter Hammon (1711-1806?). first
American Negro poet; a favored slave to three generations of the Lloyd family
of Lloyd's Neck, Long Island, NY.
- Benjamin Banneker (1731-1806),
self-taught amateur mathematician and astronomer; authored Benjamin Banneker's
Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia Almanack and Ephemeris, for the
Year of Our Lord, 1792: Being Bissextile, or Leap-Year, and the Sixteenth Year
of American Independence, which commenced July 4, 1776.
- Richard Allen (1760-1831), abolitionist
and founder of the Free African Society and the African Methodist Episcopal
- Daniel Coker (1780-1846), minister,
teacher, writer, activist and colonizationist.
- David Ruggles (1810-1849), businessman,
abolitionist, journalist and hydropathist.
- Negro Society for Historical Research
organizers included Arthur A. Schomburg and William C. Bolivar.
- John Edward Bruce (1856-1924),
journalist and historian; founded the Argus (1879, Washington, DC); Sunday Item
(1880, Washington, DC); Editor of the Republican (1884, Norfolk, VA); associate
editor of Howard's American Magazine (1896-1901), and several newspapers.
- John Wesley Cromwell (1846-1927),
editor of People's Advocate (Washington, DC) and historian; president of the
Bethel Literary and Historical Association (1881); secretary of the American
Negro Academy; authored The Negro in American History (1914), and other works.
- William Carl Bolivar (1849-1914),
bibliophile, journalist, and historical researcher; organized the
- Daniel Alexander Payne Murray
(1852-1925), librarian, bibliographer, and biographical researcher; assistant
librarian, Library of Congress from 1881 to 1923.
- Arthur Alphonso Schomburg (1874-1938),
bibliophile, curator, writer, and Mason; president of American Negro Academy in
1922; authored several publications.
- Alain LeRoy Locke (1885-1954),
philosopher, educator, and critic; graduated from Harvard College in 1907;
elected to Phi Beta Kappa; first African American selected for Rhodes
Scholarship in 1907.
- William Cooper Nell (1816-1874),
abolitionist, lecturer, journalist, and historian; authored several
publications including Colored Patriots of the American Revolution... 1855; his
book collection appeared in the: Catalogue of interesting books including
portions of the libraries of Dr. John W. Francis of New York City and Mr.
William C. Nell the famous abolitionist. Monday afternoon and evening, October
19, 1908. New York: Anderson Auction Company, 1908. 60 p.
- William Wells Brown (ca.1814-1884),
abolitionist, author and reformer.
- George Washington Williams (1849-1891),
soldier, clergyman, lawyer, legislator, and historian.
- William Henry Ferris (1874-1914),
author, lecturer and editor.
- American Negro Academy founded in
- John Wesley Cromwell (1846-1927),
editor and historian; authored The Negro in American History: Men and Women
Eminent in the Evolution of the American of African Descent. Washington, DC:
American Negro Academy, 1914.
- Henry Proctor Slaughter(1871-1958),
typographer, journalist, leader of fraternal organizations and book collector.
- Countee P. Cullen (1903-1946), poet,
novelist and anthropologist
- Arthur Alphonso Schomburg (1874-1938),
bibliophile, curator, writer and Mason.
- Edward Morrow. "See It Now"; TV show;
Alan Patton, Cry, the Beloved Country: NY: Charles Scribner, 1948.
- William Leon Hansberry (1894-1965),
historian and pioneer Africanist.
- Jesse Edward Moorland (1863-1940),
clergyman and YMCA executive.
- Arthur B. Spingarn (1878-1971).
- Adah Isaacs Menken (1835-1868).
Infelicia. London: Chatto & Windus, 1888.
- Julien Prevost. Glorious Events Which
Have Brought Their Royal Majesties to the Throne of Haiti.
- Monroe Nathan Work (1866-1945),
bibliographer, sociologist, teacher and writer; authored A Bibliography of the
Negro in Africa and America. New York: Wilson, 1928.
- Max Bissainthe. Dictionnaire de
bibliographie haitienne. Washington: Scarecrow Press, 1951.
- William Johnson (1809-1851),
businessman and diarist; authored thirteen volume journal of antebellum
- George A. Myers (1859-1930),
politician, barber and civil leader; Rhodes, James Ford
to Table of Contents
Back to Exhibitions