The Beinecke Library has acquired a manuscript journal kept by Charles Benson, an African American sailor who served as steward on board the Salem, MA, based merchant vessel Glide, during a voyage to and from Madagascar in 1879 and including details of a second voyage in 1880 from Boston to Zanzibar. Benson, a member of a prominent black family in Salem, began his career as a sailor in the 1850s when he was a young man. The journal entries demonstrate Benson’s years of experience at sea (in his 50s, he was the oldest man on board the Glide), his knowledge of medicine, nutrition, sailing, weather, and other practical matters important to any sea-faring man. The journal also records Benson’s inner life, his family conflicts and difficulties, and his criticism of other sailors and, indirectly, of Captain Beadle and his leadership. In addition to his writings, Benson has added drawings, images clipped from periodicals, and other ephemeral documents to the journal.
The Beinecke’s Benson journal complements a group of Benson’s journals in the collection of the Peabody-Essex Museum; a book based on those journals (but not referring to the Beinecke’s Benson journal), Charles Benson: Mariner of Color in the Age of Sail by Michael Sokolow, was published in 2003.
Images: Pages and inserts from the Charles Benson journal at the Beinecke Library.
The James Weldon Johnson Collection includes small archival collections documenting the lives and work of numerous African American writers and artists; a list of many of these collections can be found on line at: Small Collections in the James Weldon Johnson Collection.
The Georgia Douglas Johnson Collection, which appears in Small Collections in the James Weldon Johnson Collection, includes correspondence and writings documenting the work of writer and salon hostess Georgia Douglas Johnson.
During the early decades of the twentieth century, Johnson studied music and wrote several collections of poetry, but today she may be best remembered as the hostess of the influential Washington, D.C., literary salon known as the Halfway House. She called her salon the Halfway House because she prided herself on bringing together people with different views of politics and art who might find in her salon a “halfway” point where their ideas could be discussed, debated, and challenged. Johnson’s salon was, for years, the center of conversation and exchange among African American artists and thinkers in Washington.
The Georgia Douglas Johnson collection at the Beinecke Library includes correspondence between Johnson and Harold Jackman and James Weldon Johnson, as well as manuscripts of several works by Johnson, including poems, songs, and dramatic work.