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Article

Kathleen E. Bethel

In the United States, black museums have chronicled the tragedies and triumphs of African Americans. As repositories of African American history, culture, and art, these museums offer a window on the African diaspora and the consequent struggles for freedom. Historically, in most cities blacks were prohibited from visiting museums. They formed their own cultural and educational societies and, in conjunction with educational institutions, their own museums, the oldest being the Hampton University Museum, established in 1868. Black women have been the founders, directors, board members, curators, staff, and volunteers of these institutions. They have created and maintained dynamic programming, collections, and exhibitions.

Article

Charles L. James

Born in Alexandria, Louisiana, the first child of a Roman Catholic bricklayer and a Methodist schoolteacher, Arna Wendell Bontemps grew up in California and graduated from Pacific Union College. After college he accepted a teaching position in Harlem at the height of the Harlem Renaissance, and in 1926 and 1927 won first prizes on three separate occasions in contests with other “New Negro” poets. The same years marked his marriage to Alberta Johnson and the start of a family of six children.

Bontemps's first effort at a novel (Chariot in the Cloud, 1929), a bildungsroman set in southern California, never found a publisher, but by mid-1931, as his teaching position in New York City ended, Harcourt accepted God Sends Sunday (1931 his novel about the rise and notoriety of Little Augie This tiny black jockey of the 1890s whose period of great luck ...

Article

Navneet Sethi

poet, anthologist, and librarian during the Harlem Renaissance. Born in Alexandria, Louisiana, from age three Arna Wendell Bontemps grew up in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles. After attending public schools there, he attended Pacific Union College in Angwin, California, graduating in 1923.

After college Bontemps, who had already begun writing, moved to New York City and became a teacher in Harlem. Like his contemporary Arthur A. Schomburg, Bontemps excavated the rich cultural heritage of the African American community and won recognition quite early. Opportunity magazine awarded Bontemps its Alexander Pushkin poetry prize twice: in 1926 for the poem “Golgotha Is a Mountain” and in 1927 for “The Return.” Also in 1927 his poem “Nocturne at Bethesda” won The Crisis magazine's first-ever poetry contest. In 1926 he married Alberta Johnson; they had six children.

Bontemps's first published novel for adults, God Sends Sunday (1931 ...

Article

Joan Marie Johnson

Cedar Hill was the home of Frederick Douglass and his family from 1878 until his death in 1895; it was later purchased, preserved, and opened to the public by two African American associations. Douglass wrote many of his post-Reconstruction speeches and articles in his study at Cedar Hill, most notably, his third autobiography, Life and Times of Frederick Douglass. He lived there with his first wife, Anna Murray Douglass; one of their children, Rosetta Douglass Sprague; various grandchildren; his second wife, Helen Pitts Douglass; and her mother.

The home is located in the Uniontown section of Washington, D.C., and was named Cedar Hill by Douglass after the large cedar trees on the property. Before Douglass, a land developer named John Van Hook had owned the home but lost it in 1867 to the Freedman's Savings and Trust Company when his business failed. In 1877 ...

Article

Violet J. Harris

At the beginning of the twenty-first century, the achievements of black women authors who create children books have been nothing short of remarkable. Virginia Hamilton and Angela Johnson received the MacArthur Foundation’s Genius Award, and Mildred Taylor continued to win Newbery Honor Medals for her historical fiction series, The Land. A dozen new writers were routinely published. Two authors, Connie Porter and Deborah Gregory, entered the lucrative world of television movies and sidelines—products based on a literary character, such as dolls, CD-ROMS, and clothing—with series fiction, Meet Addy, an American Girl product, and The Cheetah Girls, a Disney Corporation creation. Comparable achievements are apparent on the editorial and production side of publishing. Burnette Ford and Andrea Davis Pinkney assumed major editorial positions in mainstream companies, while Cheryl Willis-Hudson left a career in publishing to found Just Us Books with her husband Librarians critical advocates of ...

Article

Yollette Trigg

The term black collectibles refers to any artifact documenting or depicting the African American experience excluding high art Many different types of items fit into this category such as books photographs prints posters film folk art textiles paper ephemera and sports and music memorabilia Critics of high culture insist that there are two major subcategories of black collectibles the first group black Americana encompasses straightforward relics of African American culture and history emanating from actual events and the lives of real people These items are highly valued because they demonstrate exactly how black history looked and felt to previous generations of African Americans affording their collectors a rare look at the historical black experience The second subcategory black memorabilia includes objects that typically depict blacks in a derogatory fashion many of these were created during the age of segregation for consumption by whites and reflect the cultural biases and ...

Article

Elsie A. Okobi

Nigerian historian, educator, and archivist, was born on 17 December 1917 in Awka, eastern Nigeria. In 1933 he started his secondary education at Dennis Memorial Grammar School, Onitsha, before moving to the prestigious Achimota College, Accra, Ghana, in 1936. Two years later he entered Fourah Bay College in Sierra Leone, an affiliate of Durham University in England, which awarded Durham University degrees. Dike graduated in 1943 with bachelor of arts in English, geography, and literature and returned to Nigeria. In 1944 he went to the United Kingdom on a British Council Scholarship to the University of Aberdeen, Scotland, where he earned an MA in history. In 1947 he enrolled in Kings College, London, for doctoral studies in history. His 1950 dissertation “Trade and Politics in the Niger Delta 1830–1879” (published in 1956 has come to be appreciated as one of the greatest contributions to African historiography Among his ...

Article

Eva M. Thompson

In the last quarter of the nineteenth century, Frederick Douglass purchased his final home, which he named Cedar Hill and is now the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site in Washington, D.C. In addition to the more than one thousand periodicals and three thousand artifacts and archival materials housed in his library, there are also three thousand books. Two of these works are by Douglass himself: his first autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Written by Himself (1845), considered by scholars to be an exemplary tale of the male heroic figure in African American literature; and Life and Times of Frederick Douglass (1893), his third and final telling of his experiences as a slave, former slave, and public figure. His library represents the university that Douglass did not attend and his determination to overcome just such a disadvantage. In Life and Times ...

Article

Michael Flug

She was called “the Lieutenant” by some of her colleagues and a taskmaster by many of the young people who did their research at the Chicago Public Library branch she headed. Yet Vivian G. Harsh was revered by a generation of prominent black writers and scholars. She was eulogized as “the historian who never wrote,” yet she succeeded in building one of the most important research collections on black history and literature in the United States.

Vivian Gordon Harsh grew up in the world of Chicago’s Old Settlers, the tightly knit community of pioneer black families in the city. The year after she graduated from Wendell Phillips High School on Chicago’s South Side, Harsh began working for the only employer she would ever have, the Chicago Public Library. She started as a junior clerk in December 1909 rising slowly through the ranks during her first fifteen years of service ...

Article

Betty Kaplan Gubert

Hoyte, Lenon (04 July 1905–01 August 1999), doll collector and art teacher was born Lenon Holder in New York City the oldest child of Moses Holder a carpenter and Rose Holder who sewed hats for infants for a Manhattan department store The family owned a house on 128th Street in Harlem and Hoyte attended public schools there It was a comfortable childhood but ironically the doll collector to be and her sister were forbidden to play with dolls when the younger girl after chewing on the hands of their dolls contracted lead poisoning Hoyte studied both art and education at the City College of New York earning a B S degree in 1937 and at Teacher s College of Columbia University She had private art teachers as well and she painted in media such as oil casein and watercolor In 1930 Hoyte was hired to teach in ...

Article

Richard Newman

Born into a middle-class family in Summerfield, Florida, Jean Blackwell Hutson was the second African American (following Zora Neale Hurston) to graduate from Barnard College, and the first to receive a master's degree from Columbia University's School of Library Service. She was married to Andy Razaf, the song lyricist who collaborated with Thomas “Fats” Waller, and then to John Hutson, a library security guard. Their adopted daughter, Jean, died in 1992.

Hutson joined the staff of the New York Public Library in 1936 and twelve years later was appointed head of its black collection, originally the private library of Afro–Puerto Rican bibliophile Arthur A. Schomburg, on 135th Street and Lenox Avenue in Harlem Under her leadership the library s holdings grew from 15 000 books to its present collection of more than five million separately catalogued items including manuscripts music art photographs and ...

Article

Carolyn Wedin

librarian. Hutson was born three months prematurely in Summerfield, Florida, the only child of Paul O. Blackwell, a commission merchant, and Sarah Myers Blackwell, an elementary school teacher. Moving with her mother to Baltimore at age four, young Jean suffered from allergies, anemia, and rheumatism. Precocious, she loved reading and graduated from high school as valedictorian at age fifteen. She enrolled at the University of Michigan, planning to study psychiatry, but the Great Depression intervened, and she transferred to Barnard College in New York City, where she earned her bachelor's degree in 1935. In 1936 she was the first black person to earn a master of arts degree at the Columbia University School of Library Service, having decided on a more practical occupation with a shorter training period. In 1941 she also received teacher certification from Columbia.

Jean Blackwell worked briefly at a high school in ...

Article

A. B. Christa Schwarz

novelist of the Harlem Renaissance. Obscuring details of her private life, cutting off friends in her later life, and dying in obscurity, Larsen, acclaimed novelist of the African American cultural movement known as the Harlem Renaissance, was fittingly dubbed the Renaissance's “mystery woman” by Mary Helen Washington. It thus does not surprise that, while her literary reputation mainly rests on her two short novels Quicksand (1928) and Passing (1929), Larsen is the subject of three biographical studies. Charles R. Larson and Thadious M. Davis were the first who attempted to uncover Larsen's life, the many threads of which George Hutchinson has tried to pick up and untangle in a biography that corrects many misconceptions about Larsen's life and work.

Starting off life humbly, Larsen was born Nellie Walker to the Danish immigrant Mary Hansen Walker and the West Indian cook Peter Walker in Chicago ...

Article

Kathleen E. Bethel

African American women librarians and others on library staffs have strived to provide excellence in assistance and quality information resources to the communities they have served. Black women librarians have attempted to counter the negative attitudes found outside and within libraries by creating places to locate information on terms shaped by black library workers. In doing so, these women have made great contributions to the library and information literacy of the race.

Article

In 1940, when Jacob Lawrence decided to paint the sixty panels of his Migration Series, the New Yorker possessed several qualifications for the project—and one major disadvantage. He had never been farther south than upstate New Jersey. So he did what countless writers and scholars—such as W. E. B. Du Bois, Vernon Loggins, James Weldon Johnson, Alain Locke, and Nancy Cunard—had done before him. He visited what is now the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture and, through its rich collection of clippings and photographs, filled in his knowledge of the rural South.

By the end of the twentieth century Lawrence s good fortune could be equaled by scholars in most parts of the United States This article will survey briefly the extent of research collections outline their history and describe their major examples The West is represented by collections of African ...

Article

Richard Pankhurst

Treasures looted by British troops from Emperor Tewodros of Ethiopia's mountain capital of Magdala (now Amba Mariam) on 13 April 1868. Most came from Tewodros's palace and the nearby church of Medhane Alem. The loot was transported, on fifteen elephants and 200 mules, to a nearby site, where a two‐day auction raised ‘prize money’ for the troops. Most of the booty was purchased by the British Museum's representative Sir Richard Holmes, who also secretly acquired an icon for himself. Over 400 manuscripts went to the British Museum (later British Library), while the finest were given to the Royal Library in Windsor Castle. The Victoria and Albert Museum received two crowns, one of solid gold, and the Museum of Mankind, two embroidered tents.

Tewodros's successor Emperor Yohannes IV in 1872 requested the return of the icon and a manuscript on the Queen of Sheba The Museum which had ...

Article

Saundra Liggins

Sharon Bell Mathis's concern for the welfare of young people is evident in her career as a teacher and librarian, but closest to her heart is her role as author. Mathis explains that “I write to salute the strength in Black children and to say to them, ‘Stay strong, stay Black and stay alive’” (quoted in Something about the Author, vol. 3, 1987).

Born in Atlantic City, New Jersey, Mathis grew up in the Bedford-Stuyvesant area of Brooklyn, where she attended parochial schools. Her parents, John Willie and Alice Mary Frazier Bell exposed her to a vast array of literary works and encouraged her to write poems stories and plays Despite her affinity for this work however Mathis decided not to pursue a career as an author believing that she would neither be able to make a living at it nor be as great a contributor ...

Article

The Moorland-Spingarn Research Center (MSRC) is a research facility located in Founder Library at Howard University in Washington, D.C. It aims to collect, organize, preserve, and make available valuable resources on the history and culture of Africans and people of African descent. The MSRC's holdings chronicle the experiences of people of African descent in Africa, the Americas, and other parts of the world from the sixteenth century through the present.

The MSRC is composed of two divisions: Library and Manuscript. The Library Division houses more than 175,000 books, periodicals, and microforms in numerous languages. This body of literature includes rare works by early black writers such as David Walker, Phillis Wheatley, and Frederick Douglass and first edition works by twentieth-century black authors including W. E. B. Du Bois, Richard Wright, and Alice Walker The Library Division also features special resources such as theses on ...

Article

Hassoum Ceesay

director of The Gambia National Library and author of the first Gambian Who’s Who, was born in Bathurst and attended the Methodist Girls’ High School. She worked at the General Post Office and later at the British Council. She pioneered library services in The Gambia, and she was one of the earliest professional librarians in black Africa. In 1957, she had a yearlong internship at the Ghana National Library Board, and did further studies in the United Kingdom, where she qualified as a chartered librarian in 1959. At the time, very few Gambian women were in professions outside the traditionally female jobs of teaching, nursing, and secretarial work.

Bishop John Daley of the Anglican Mission opened the first public library in Banjul in 1945; a year later, the British Council opened its library and reading room. When the British Council closed operations in 1963 it handed ...

Article

Brian Purnell

librarian, community activist, and six-term member of the House of Representatives (1983–2007). Major Robert Odell Owens was born 28 June 1936 in Collierville, Tennessee, near Memphis. He was the second of eight children born to Edna Owens, a homemaker, and Ezekiel Owens a furniture factory worker During Major Owens s childhood Memphis was racially segregated and African Americans were forced to live in separate neighborhoods attend inferior schools and make do with other Jim Crow public facilities Despite these poor conditions the Owens parents nurtured in their children a belief that advancement would come through thrift diligence and academic success In the Owens household Ezekiel gave small monetary gifts when one of his children memorized a historic speech and Edna organized games that quizzed the children on their knowledge of state capitals and advanced spelling From an early age Major excelled in these academic ...