courtesy of beinecke library

To commemorate Black History Month, the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscripts Library is featuring a Black History Month pop-up exhibit during the month of February. The exhibit celebrates Carter G. Woodson, Dorothy Porter Wesley and Golden Legacy Magazine.

Each piece on view belongs to the James Weldon Johnson Memorial Collection, an archive of African American history and culture that Beinecke Communications Director Michael Morand called “one of the great collections of African Americana in the country.” The collection contains over 11,000 books, and “thousands upon thousands” of manuscript materials. Included in the collection are documents, correspondence, manuscripts and papers from Langston Hughes, Zora Neale, Claude McKay and W.E.B. DuBois.

Morand said the collection is one of the most utilized archives for teaching and research in the country. A number of Yale classes as well as a Yale-Rutgers Black bibliography project currently access the collection on a regular basis.

The first case in the exhibit contains two copies of “The Negro In Our History” by Carter Godwin Woodson, and two books from the Golden Legacy Black History comic book series. Woodson was born in 1875 in New Canton, Virginia to formerly-enslaved parents. He attended several universities including University of Chicago and Harvard, and was a dedicated scholar and teacher of African American History. In 1916, Woodson founded the Journal of Negro History, today called the “Journal of African American History,” and in 1926 founded “Negro History Week,” which would later evolve into the very Black History Month his work is displayed to celebrate.

One copy of “The Negro In Our History” is a first edition which once belonged to Dorothy Porter Wesley’s husband. The other copy, also a first edition, was given by Woodson to actor, writer and producer Alonzo Brown, and contains a note written by Woodson on the inside cover. Brown then gifted the same copy of the book to prominent NAACP member William Pickens, and scrawled his own note alongside Woodson’s. Morand said that this interpersonal and intertextual relationship is often exhibited by pieces in the Beinecke’s archives.

The Golden Legacy comics detail the lives of Fredrick Douglass and Harriet Tubman. The series, published between 1966 and 1976, also features Toussaint Louverture, Harriet Tubman, Crispus Attucks, Benjamin Banneker, Matthew Henson and Alexandre Dumas in other issues. Golden Legacy distributed nine million copies of comics in the series, disseminating them to schools, churches, libraries and civil rights organizations.

The exhibit’s other case contains pieces from the Dorothy Porter Wesley collection. This collection is composed of the personal papers and research materials that scholar, bibliographer, librarian and curator Wesley collected during her lifetime. Three photographs of Wesley and members of her family are on display. A copy of her book, “North American Negro Poets, A Bibliographical Checklist of Their Writings 1760 – 1944,” sits beside them. Lastly, there is a vinyl record called “Panorama of Negro History” — a collection of over 50 recordings of folk songs, autobiographies, musicals and documentaries narrated by Langston Hughes.

Moran noted that in the past Wesley’s contribution to scholarship was underappreciated and at times entirely ignored. In devoting a case to her collection, Morand said Beinecke staff members are attempting to honor her and join a burgeoning conversation about her immense contribution to academia and the study of African American history. Morand stressed her contribution to bibliography — the study of the history of literary works — saying the field is absolutely crucial to the success of scholarship.

Nancy Kuhl, Beinecke curator and co-curator of the pop-up exhibit, also said Wesley’s work deserves wider recognition. She hopes this case will expose Yalies to the Wesley collection.

Kuhl said that the “archive has immense research potential,” and that “[the pop-up exhibit] serves as an invitation to Yale scholars to visit [the Beinecke] reading room to explore the collection.”

The temporary display cases housing the pop-up exhibit are located in the library’s mezzanine.

 

Annie Radillo | annie.radillo@yale.edu