Joel Spingarn was an educator and writer who published works of literary criticism and collections of his own poetry. He is most well-known for his involvement in social reform, primarily his work with the NAACP, which he served as Chairman of the Board of Directors and President. Spingarn’s wife Amy was a writer and artist; his brother, Arthur B. Spingarn, was an important civil rights lawyer who served as president of the NAACP for nearly 20 years.
Joel E. Spingarn established the Spingarn Medal, given to recognize the contributions of African-Americans; he dedicated the medal “to the lifelong interest of my brother, Arthur B. Spingarn, of my wife, Amy E. Spingarn, and of myself in the achievements of the American Negro.” A complete list of Spingarn Medal recipients is available on Wikipedia: Spingarn Medal.
The Spingarn collection consists mainly of correspondence from writers, civil rights advocates, and Harlem Renaissance figures such as James Weldon Johnson, Aaron Douglas, W. E. B. DuBois, and Carl Van Vechten. A complete listing of the collection can be found online: Joel E. Spingarn Collection. Books by Joel, Amy, and Arthur Spingarn can be located in Orbis, the Yale Library catalog. Some artwork by Amy Spingarn can be found in the Beinecke Library’s Digital Images Collection.
Related collections at the Beinecke Library can be located by searching the Finding Aid Database; such collections include: James Weldon Johnson Papers (correspondence), Langston Hughes Papers, and Walter Francis White and Poppy Cannon White Correspondence.
The Randolph Linsly Simpson Collection presents a vivid picture of black life and American racial attitudes from the 1850s to the 1940s. It includes about 2,500 items, chiefly historical photographs, along with slave ship manifests, military medals, and civic trophies, postcards, stereo views of daily life in the old South, and more.
Highlights of the collection include vintage albumen photographs of Marcus Garvey, W. E. B. DuBois, and Paul Lawrence Dunbar, along with nineteenth century daguerreotypes of politicians and bankers, photos of cowboys and entertainers, emancipated slave children and carnival freaks. Formal studio portraits and family snapshots, post-mortem images, scenes on the factory floor and images of African-American men in military service.
For more than 25 years, Randolph Linsly Simpson collected objects relating to the African-American experience. A white man, he developed a deep appreciation for the African-American culture that dates to his childhood, growing up near the cemetery where Frederick Douglass is buried in Rochester, New York. His passion for collecting grew over the years, fueled by a desire to preserve the material record of black history in America which was rapidly disappearing.
Mr. Simpson’s extensive collection of African-American folk art was acquired by the Wadsworth Athenaeum in Hartford, Connecticut in 1989.
A detailed description of the collection can be found on line: Randolph Linsly Simpson Collection.
Selected images from the collection are available in the Beinecke Library’s Digital Library Online: Simpson Collection Images.