CELEBRATING BLACK HISTORY MONTH AT THE WOLFSONIAN LIBRARY
As today marks the final day of Black History Month, I thought that I would share with my readers a few new acquisitions recently catalogued and digitized that deal with African-American history.
The library had purchased not long ago four unbound issues of the periodical The Negro History Bulletin, published during the Second World War by the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. The content of the periodicals reflect the concerns, both historic and contemporary, of African-Americans of that era. Some of the cover designs celebrate historic figures such as the “Great Emancipator” Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) and slave liberator Harriet Tubman (1820-19130).
Another cover illustration emphasizes the present contributions and sacrifices of Black G.I.s fighting in the war against fascism and Nazi racism. It links that struggle for human rights abroad to demands for recognition of their civil rights at home.
A final cover of the bulletin reflects the hopes of Black Americans and their post-war expectations, envisioning African-American men no longer relegated to menial and low-wage jobs, but employed in trades and professional careers in the sciences and new technologies.
One other recent acquisition worth mentioning in the context of Black History Month is a novel by Earl Schenck Miers (1910-1972) inspired by the life of Paul Robeson (1898-1976). Robeson was truly a twentieth-century renaissance man, becoming in 1915 the third African-American admitted to Rutgers University, where he overcame racial prejudice and excelled on the football field as a college athlete, off-campus as a singer, and at graduation as class valedictorian. After graduating from Columbia Law School in 1923, racism caused Robeson to renounce his original career choice and to instead pursue a profession in the theater as an actor and singer, all the while using his international renown to promote the causes of anti-imperialism, racial equality, social and economic justice, and human rights.
PORTRAIT OF PAUL ROBESON BY WINOLD REISS (1886-1953)
Published by the Westminster Press in Philadelphia in 1942, according to the author’s note, “In spirit, if not always in fact, Big Ben is Robeson’s story.” Our own copy of Robeson’s fictionalized biography includes the original dust jacket portrait of Robeson designed by Vance Locke and end papers and plates illustrated by the same artist.
The novel joins other works of literature in our collection dating from the period of the Great Depression, New Deal, and war years during the Roosevelt Administration.