Rare Books, Manuscripts and Archives

Rare Book Collection
The Blockson Collection's rare book section is extensive in first edition Afro-American and Caribbean holdings dating back to as early as the sixteenth century. At present an estimated 3,500 volumes comprise the nucleus of the rare book holdings.

The Rare Book Collection is represented by such works as Alexandri Sardi (l557); Corippus' Africani Grammatici (1581); The Life and Times of Ioannis Leonis Africanus (1632); A. Eekhof's Jacobus Elisa Joannes Capitein (1917); William Wells Brown's Clotel (1853); the drama, The Escape A Leap for Freedom (1858), one of only five survivlng known copies in America; Frank Webb's The Garies and Their Friends (1857); Emma Kelly's Meagla (1891) and Four Girls at Cottage City (1898), the second African-American woman writer before the turn of the century. Paul Laurence Dunbar's Oak and Ivy Poems (1892), David Walker's Appeal (1829); Thomas Gray's The Confessions Nat Turner (1831); Charles S. Johnson's Ebony and Topaz (1927); and Nancy Cunard's Nergo: An Anthology (1934).

Among the highly prized works in the Rare Book Collection are the complete and authoritative first editions of the writings of Phillis Wheatley, George Washington Williams, Booker T. Washington, Charles Chesllutt, Francis Harper, Joseph Wilson, William Wells Brown, W.E.B. DuBois, Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, Chester Himes and numerous others which contribute to the outstanding holdings of the collection. The collection also contains one of the more comprehensive repository holdings of the Harlem Renaissance and the Black Power 1960's period.

Another notable feature of the Blockson Collection is the assortment of rare African and Caribbean bibles. The African Bible Collection contains bibles written in a variety of African languages, including Ibo, Hausa, Twi, Yoruba, Mpongwe, Dikele, Ga, Sechuane (Setlapi dialect), Amharic, and Bulu. The African Bible collection is regarded as one of the finest in the nation. The collection also includes several bibles in West Indian Creole. The Creole Testament is one of four known copies in the United States.

Manuscripts and Archives Collection
The general primary source materials of the Manuscripts and Archives section of the Collection include the papers of Dr. R.R. Wright, Samuel Holmes and William Still. The Caribbean Collection contains many primary source documents, including the Haitian Presidential Papers, the Jamaica Alamanack and Register of 1794 and the Christophe manuscripts.

The Paul Robeson Collection contains significant memorabilia, including sheet music, photographs, memoirs, posters, first edition publications and ephemera. The Rhythm Brown Collection, documenting an extensive historv of Black tap dancers and the TOBA circuit includes scrapbooks, personal papers and general information on the Black entertainment world. The Alpha Boule Society Papers of the Sigma Pi Phi Fraternity of Philadelphia consist of programs, social registers, oral historical materials and private papers of this important Afro-American social fraternity. The John Brown Collection provides a variety of memorabilia on John Brown's life and the Abolition Society of Pennsylvania. The Caroline Still-Anderson Papers contain manv important items on the life and times of William Still.

The Samuel Holmes Collection consists hundreds of items which document Black Philadelphia social life from slavery to the present. Many private papers and selective materials comprise separate specialized units of the Blockson Collection.

Special Collections

Slave Narrative Collection
The African and Afro-American Slave Narrative Collection contains a wide and varied compository of documented slave experiences, more than a hundred narratives make up the collection. Among the representative works are the narrative of Olaudah Equiano, Ignatius Sancho, Prince Lee Boo, Robert the Hermit, Bethany Veney, Ellenor Eldridge, Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, Thomas Cooper, Venture Smith, Benjamin Banneker, Robert Adams, Nancey Prince and Silvia Dubois.

Underground Railroad Collection
The Underground Railroad Collection is from the private collection of Charles L. Blockson and of the largest in the country. The bulk of the collection contains over a thousand items on the members of the underground railroad as well ad historical pamphlets, broadsides and memoirs the leading figures of this organization. Among these highly valued materials are the letter of William Still.

Prints and Photographs
The visual arts collection is the repository of hundreds of prints and Black film posters which are annually loaned for exhibit to major museum historical institutions throughout the country. This collection also contains hundreds of rare slavery broadsides and pamphlets.

This section also houses an assortment of rare African and Caribbean maps. Two of the more valuable maps are the Mercator Africana map of 1597 and the S. Boulton African map of 1800, titled Africa, with All its States, Kingdoms, Republics, Region, Islands, &c. Improved and Inlarged from D'Naville's Map: To which have been added the Discoveries of Parke Vaillant, Brown &c. Also A Particular Chart of the Gold Coast, wherein are Distinguished all the European Forts and Factories by S. Boulton: and also a Summary Description Relative to the Trade and Natural Produce, Manners and Customs of the African Continent and Islands.

The 1985 addition of the John Mosley Photograph Collection of over 500,000 photograph prints and negatives provides a rich visual history of notable Black entertainers, social and political personalities, and general social life of Pennsylvania's African-Americans. This collection is already becoming a valuable resource to researchers and cultural historians of African-American life and culture.

Oral History Collection
The Raymond Trent Oral History Collection contains thousands of taped proceedings and radio programs on Afro-American history and culture. The collection is also augmented by add recordings from the private collection Blockson and the Alpha Boule Society.

General Research and Reference Collections

The general Afro-American Collection over 25,000 volumes of Africana and Afro-Americana. Approximately 6,000 individuals visit and use the Blockson Collection annually. Bibliographic access to most of the Blockson Collection holdings is by card catalog and through the University Libraries' online computer system. The extensive vertical file is a reference tool that has recently been added to the Collection and provides researchers with invaluable information on all aspects of Black life and culture. The Blockson Collection contains standard bibliographic reference works that focus on Caribbean, African and Afro-American life and history.


Located in Sullivan Hall 011 the main campus of Temple University, the Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection is a unit of the University Libraries' Special Collections. It is one of the larger Afro-America1l collections of its kind at a major university. Comprised of more than 40,000 items, the Blockson Collection continues to grow through the acquisition of both current and retrospective materials. An estimated 25,000 volumes grace the stacks of Sullivan Hall. An additional 3,500 volumes constitute the rare book holdings. Another 15,000 items of rare Afro-Americana include pamphlets, slave narratives, anti-slavery broadsides, signed letters, posters, photographs, sheet music, original phonograph recordings and statues. The Blockson Collection also houses a number of archival collections which contain primary source material from the private papers and manuscripts of prominent African-Americans.

While the Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection is recognized as an important repository of early and rare Africana and Afro-Americana, it continues to gain a national and international reputation as a leading research facility for the study of African-American life and culture.

Charles L. Blockson, Afro-American Collection Curator.


The uniqueness of the Afro-American Collection derives from its curator, noted historian Charles L. Blockson, who is an integral and knowledgeable part of the collection. The bulk of the collection, formed privately by Mr. Blockson, bears his unmistakable stamp and definitiveness in a varietv of historical materials related to the African Diasporic experience. After more than forty years of collecting and assembling his Afro-American collection, Charles Blockson's long-standing conviction that libraries are the soul of a nation has been confirmed by Temple's vision and generosity in providing a home for this collection. According to Mr. Blockson, "no race of people should be deprived of the knowledge of itself." He insists that "historical knowledge must be given unto the world to whomever will accept it." As primary custodian of the Afro-American Collection, Blockson continues the long tradition of Afro-American bibliophiles in preserving the past for the future.

Last Update: September 9, 1995 These Web Sites are Sponored and Supported by African-American Studies Department and Dr. Molefi Asante. They Were Created by Darrell Scales.