Printer Friendly

Saving ourselves: archival treasures: the closing of the Clark Atlanta library school renews interest in collections at many historically black colleges and universities.

A MIGHTY GIANT WENT DOWN IN THE SOUTH RECENTLY, CLOSING A rich history of black librarianship that very few people Clark Atlanta University's School of Library Informa(SLIS) permanently closed its doors in June 2005, ending the programs of the top library schools in the country. Since establishment in 1941, SLIS held the distinction of graduating more African American librarians than any other American Library Association (ALA)-accredited library school in history.

What's particularly unsettling is that it was Georgia's only accredited library school, and its closure leaves only one library school program at a historically black college and university (HBCU), the state-funded North Carolina Central University in Durham. Perhaps even more daunting is that SLIS's closure highlights a few very important issues. First, there is a shortage of African American librarians and archivists. Second, there is paucity of African Americans entering the field of library and information studies. Third, and perhaps most disturbing, is that there will be a generation of pioneering African American information specialists nearing retirement without a generation of trained librarians and archivists to replace them.

Clark Atlanta University SLIS produced a number of stellar graduates groomed by a top-notch faculty. Dr. Eliza Atkins Gleason, the first African American woman to earn a Ph.D. in library science, was the first dean of the school. Dr. Charles D. Churchwell, the first African American male to earn the Ph.D. in library and information science, later served as the school's dean. His book The Shaping of American Library Education (American Library Association, 1975) is considered one of the best in the field.

Past faculty members included historian W.E.B. Du Bois and artist Hale Woodruff. Among the school's graduates include Congressman Major Owens, the only librarian in Congress; Dr. Hardy Franklin, the third African American president of the American Library Association; Dr. Angela B. Ruffin, head of the National Network of Libraries at the National Library of Medicine; W. Paul Coates, founder and director of the Black Classic Press; and many others, including this writer.

In June, Dr. Anita O'Neal, the school's dean, along with support staff at SLIS, walked out of the library school's home; and unlike other graduate schools on Clark Atlanta's intimate campus, they will not return in the fall.

"We have been busy packing up boxes of administrative records and transferring them to the Atlanta University Center," said Dr. O'Neal, when I spoke to her in June. "The students have graduated and we are proud of the work we've done." She remarked that despite the school's closing, the administration's main goal was to provide the remaining students with a quality educational experience.

The historical records of SLIS will serve the community well, having now taken its place among hundreds, perhaps thousands of feet, of historical records of individuals, organizations and institutions that have played an integral part in the creation of a diverse and complicated history that is black history. It is fitting that this library school lived and prospered within the halls of a historically black college and university. Though the school may be closed, its history will live on forever.

Rich Histories at HBCU Libraries

Like the records of SLIS, there is much to be discovered from the marvelous treasures that live in the shelves of the libraries at many HBCUs. And we now add the records of Clark Atlanta University's library school to them.

Take, for example, the Atlanta University Center Consortium Robert W. Woodruff Library, the new home of CAU SLIS records. It is the official library for four HBCUs--Spelman College, More house College, Union Theological Center and Clark Atlanta University--and offers a wealth of rare and unique resources that sit quietly on its voluminous shelves. The papers of bibliophile Henry P. Slaughter are one such collection.

Slaughter collected an amazing array of items during his lifetime, including broadsides, photographs, scrapbooks, speeches and a significant amount of legal documents pertaining to slavery, abolition, the Civil War, and racial issues in the United States, Africa and the British colonies. Concerned for the safety and preservation of the 10,000 volumes of his collection, Slaughter sold his collection to Atlanta University in 1946. His book collection forms the foundation of the Woodruff Library.

"What makes archives important is the research that produces product" says Karen Jefferson, head of Archives and Special Collections at the Atlanta University Center. "Writers use this raw information in order for people to learn new aspects of history, which is exciting and oftentimes leads people back to the original sources"

Along with the Slaughter Collection, Ms. Jefferson highlights several collections of interest to researchers. Among them are the papers of Hoyt Fuller, editor of the Negro Digest and First World; the papers of C. Eric Lincoln, sociologist, educator and author; John Hope and Lugenia Hope, the first black president of Morehouse, whose wife was a community leader and social reformer; Walter Rodney, author and educator; and the Countee Cullen/Harold Jackman Memorial Collection (CCHJMC). This rich collection was created at Atlanta University by Harold Jackman, a New York City educator and friend of Cullen's who helped Carl Van Vechten establish the James Weldon Johnson Memorial Collection of Negro Arts and Letters at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library Yale University.

In 1946, Jackman initiated his own documentation project. The focus of the collection is the black experience in the 20th century, with specifically African American contributions to literature and the arts in a variety of formats, including broadsides, handbills, handwritten and typed manuscripts, letters, pamphlets, periodicals, photographs, programs and sheet music.

The archives of academic libraries are first and foremost charged with preserving and maintaining the college and university's administrative records. Some, however, do feature collections that may surprise researchers. Spelman College has among its collections the papers of the late Audre Lorde, black feminist lesbian poet and essayist whose books Sister Outsider (Crossing Press, 1984) and A Burst of Light (Firebrand Books, 1988) are taught worldwide.

Personal Papers

Some HBCU libraries offer a wealth of resources that are as abundant, vast and compendious as the black experience itself. Howard University's Moorland-Spingarn Research Center is such a place. The 90-year-old premiere institution is a leader in collecting, preserving and making available a stunning array of cultural materials that document the history and culture of people of African descent in Africa, the Americas and other parts of the world.

"Slavery records, manumission documents, church records, Mason records, World War I, Civil Rights, World War II ... Our collections form a literal composite of the evolution of black thought. Researchers can track this stuff," says Ida E. Jones, senior manuscript librarian. "What's great about our collections is that, as scholarships changes perspective, our collections are revisited and privilege many scholars who are able to get a panoramic view of an individual, an organization or a historical event, which of course, enhances the scholarship."

The Center was named for two distinguished bibliophiles who provided their collections to the university: Jesse Moorland, a 1914 graduate and trustee of Howard, and Arthur Spingarn, an attorney. Under the direction of Michael Winston in 1973, the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center was formalized as an entity.

Today, it is world renowned for its collections, a quarter of a million bound volumes, journals, periodicals, newspapers, manuscript and archival collections, audiotapes, artifacts, prints, photographs, maps, and other graphic items. Popular collections include the Alain Locke Papers, architect of the Harlem Renaissance; Mordeci Johnson Papers, the first black president of Howard University; the records of the Congressional Black Congress; and the Ophelia Setties Egypt Papers, a sociologist. Ms. Egypt conducted oral histories with 100 former slaves in the 1920s in western Tennessee. Fisk University published part of her research in Unwritten History of Slavery: Autobiographical Accounts of Negro Ex-Slaves in 1968. Ms Egypt's archives also contain an unpublished manuscript called Raggity Thorn, which documents many of those interviews about how black people interpreted their bondage.

Further south, another HBCU, Texas Southern University (TSU), maintains the archives of an African American woman trailblazer of many firsts. The Department of Special Collections at the Robert J. Terry Library maintains the Barbara Jordan Archives. Jordan was the first African American woman to serve in the Texas State Senate, the first African American U.S. representative from Texas and the first African American to deliver a keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention. The Houston native donated her papers to Texas Southern University in 1978.

One of the more popular collections at TSU is the Heartman Collection, named for Charles Frederick Heartman, a well-known antiquarian book dealer who collected Afro-Americana. His collection contains more than 11,000 books, pamphlets, slave narratives, journals, musical scores, and other documents relating to the black experience in the United States and the world. It is considered the largest African American collection in the Southwest, and interestingly enough it is only one of Heartman's collections.

Caught in Disaster

Another heavily used collection is at Xavier University in New Orleans, another HBCU with collections celebrated for their depth and diversity. Although Xavier's library, along with several other libraries in Louisiana, reported flood damage due to Hurricane Katrina, there had been no official statement about the extent of the damage.

Xavier's Special Collection includes unpublished and rare published items on four topics: the history of Xavier University of Louisiana; African American history and culture; Roman Catholicism in the United States; and the Southern U. S. and the Gulf-Caribbean region, with special emphasis on the history of Louisiana and New Orleans.

Lester Sullivan, university archivist and head of Special Collections, highlighted a number of remarkable treasures, including one of the surviving copies of Les Cenelles (The Mayhaws), the earliest anthology of poetry by people of African descent in the U.S. published in New Orleans in French in 1845. The archive also contains the papers of writer Chester Himes, and a small but valuable collection of papers of Native Son author and essayist Richard Wright.

"Being the only historically black, historically Roman Catholic school of higher learning in North America, Xavier also has collected extensive items on African Americans and the Roman Catholic Church, which along with other holdings makes it one the largest repositories containing information on black American Catholics" says Mr. Sullivan.

More Religious Collections

Jacqueline Y. Brown, associate librarian who directs the Archives division at Wilberforce University in Ohio, notes that Wilberforce has many unique items important to the study of black religion and HBCU education in America. "Researchers write requesting specific information about important people from Wilberforce University or in the African Methodist Episcopalian (AME) Church" says Ms Brown. "As we add archival items and collections to our Online Computer Library Catalog (OCLC), we are becoming more visible to researchers outside the AME church and our own alumni."

Its collections include microforms, photographs, printed materials and other items relating to the history of Wilberforce University, the history of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and 19th century publications by or about African Americans. Currently, the most heavily used collections include the journal the AME Church Review, and AME Church Conference Minutes. (The Wilberforce Archives is a closed research center maintained by the university's library, and researchers have access by appointment only.)

Open to the Public

Black history, like any other history, is a fluid, dynamic thing, ever-changing by new information that scholars are constantly unearthing in HBCU libraries and archives.

This article featured only a few HBCUs--a small percentage of the 107 that currently exist. There are many treasures to discover and research at these colleges and universities. And nearly all of the libraries profiled are open to the public. Indeed, we are what are seeking--evidence in records.

Steven G. Fullwood is a manuscripts librarian at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture at the New York City Public Library. He is the project archivist for the Black Gay and Lesbian Archive and the HipHop Archive Project
COPYRIGHT 2006 Cox, Matthews & Associates
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2006, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Fullwood, Steven G.
Publication:Black Issues Book Review
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2006
Previous Article:Dual heritage: new resources offer clues to the hidden legacy of Afro-Native American kinships.
Next Article:Common ground: librarians from five racial or cultural caucuses plan historic gathering.

Related Articles
1st in black degrees.
Desire + national service = education: a national service program will enable more black students to obtain advanced degrees.
50 years and going strong.
Tennis & golf programs at historically Black colleges & universities.
Celebrating African-American Librarians and Librarianship.
Women's health research at Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
B-school gets stamp of approval.
50 best colleges for African Americans: a solid education, matched with the right opportunities, creates successful collegians: here are some...
50 top colleges for African Americans: our exclusive ranking yielded some surprises and some staples. And this year, after we show you the best...

Terms of use | Copyright © 2018 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters