Friday, January 25, 2013

Archive Adventures: The Dream Continues

In honor of Black History Month, as well as the anniversary of two incredibly important events--Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s speech during the March on Washington (50th) and Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation (150th)--I thought it would be relevant to look at our outstanding collection of Black History materials. It's an amazingly diverse and eye-opening collection, so while I won't be able to cover everything, I hope to cover just a few of the many items that caught my fancy and inspired me.

The Blockson Collection (looking right upon entry)

Just next to the Fred Waring's America archives on the third floor of Pattee is the Charles L. Blockson Collection, devoted to African-American history and the diaspora* of the African people. Blockson is an alumnus of PSU and collected African and African-American historical memorabilia, literature, and everything from sculptures to postage stamps.

We are currently working on digitizing Paul Robeson's music from the records we have in our collection. For now, here's a poster from one of his shows in Germany in 1968. Visit us here in Special Collections if you just can't wait to hear his music!

This famous autobiography broke ground during its day and today provides profound insight into the life of a man (born in 1745) who was sold into slavery, bought his freedom, and then worked as an explorer, merchant, and author. He details the horrors of slavery and his eventual rise to freedom and the success of his business.

This is just a fraction of the postage stamps in Blockson. If I could include all of them, I would!

While discussing this post with my supervisor, Tim Babcock, one thing I mentioned being afraid of was "offensive" material. While some of the books I picked up were intriguing for their outrageous racism and stereotypical images and language, I couldn't help but pause to wonder if I should just skip over that whole genre. Tim pointed out that Blockson, an African-American himself, collected not only the inspiring, but the offensive and depressing, too, because...well, it is still a part of African-Americana. These things are just as important as the uplifting, encouraging, and accurate. If we excluded everything we felt was offensive, there'd be nothing left in the libraries and we'd lose out on the opportunity to learn from the past and better ourselves today! I owe Tim a huge thank you for giving me the courage to post the following pictures.

The racist images and the use of the word "nigger" (while quite common and acceptable for its time) might shock today's readers, but its record of Ethiopian songs is an important piece of history that we can appreciate today.

This little book of songs includes lyrics, all of which are written in what we might find a stereotypical dialect today. However, it is a wonderful record of what they call "late and popular songs of the day" from 1854.

History isn't always puppies and sunshine, as we all know, and sometimes coming face-to-face with the harsh truth of it all is entirely depressing. Here in Blockson, we have two cases of slave shackles, a display that initially took my breath away and gave me a more focused awareness of the pain and reality of slavery.

Slave shackles from Rhode Island

Besides those materials, Blockson contains everything from modern literature and books on African-American culture, history, and great historical figures...

There are a ton more!! older books discussing early explorations of Africa, accounts of its native people and cultures, and early studies of slavery, the diaspora, and political histories.

 One of my favorite covers from the older books I found was an oversized book that looked like a giant travel guide with pictures to oogle. I also found a modern coloring book for young children that talks about embracing African heritage that I thought was very informative and had unique illustrations!

Look at all that shiny embossing!

I'm both sorry and happy to say, if you come to look at the coloring books we have...don't bring your crayons!

If military history is up your avenue, you won't be disappointed in what we have! One of my favorite parts of Civil War history was learning about the black soldiers in the 54th who fought for their freedom. So it was awesome to see artwork on the wall of their famous charge and find a book on African American soldiers in the War of Independence, the War of 1812, and the Civil War.

While the shiny embossing on the front is pleasing, much more pleasing are the historical contents! (Can you tell I'm probably descended from a magpie yet?)
 While that's the end of my narrative on my time spent exploring Blockson, there are some links I would like to share with you before you go! Did you know that Martin Luther King visited PSU? It's true! If you pass by Rec Hall, you will see the historical marker erected in 2006 in honor of his speech during the Civil Rights movement. We also have plenty of photos on our Flickr photostream from the Blockson Collection. Want to learn more about black history and the United Mine Workers/Steelworkers? We've got it! If you like memorabilia, one of the largest Flickr sets we have for Blockson is dedicated to his collection of postcards. However, I'm not going to give it all away! You're going to have to do some exploring as well (and we'd love to hear back from you about what you found interesting and why in the comments section!), because half the joy and fun of all this is the thrill of adventure!

Til next time!

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