African American Studies at Beinecke Library

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Posted in African American Studies at Yale, announcements, Beinecke Collections by beineckepoetry on December 9, 2009

The Beinecke Library is  now on Facebook and Twitter.  Become our Facebook fan and subscribe to our Twitter feed for news and announcements from the James Weldon Johnson Memorial Collection of African American Arts and Letters.

Image: Photograph of Georgia Douglas Johnson on the cover of The Crisis, 1920.

James Weldon and Grace Nail Johnson Papers

Posted in African American Studies at Yale, announcements, Beinecke Collections, Research Resources by beineckepoetry on November 19, 2009

The James Weldon Johnson and Grace Nail Johnson Papers, recently re-processed, are now available for research.  The new finding aid to the papers is available online:  The James Weldon Johnson and Grace Nail Johnson Papers (JWJ MSS 49).  The Papers provide evidence of the personal and professional life of James Weldon Johnson spanning the years 1850 to 2005, with the bulk of material dating between 1900 and 1976. The papers chronicle Johnson’s writing career and involvement in education, politics, and cultural affairs and consist of a variety of documents, including correspondence, writings, personal papers, scrapbooks, photographs, artwork, objects, and audiovisual materials. Johnson was involved in a number of significant movements and organizations during his lifetime, and, as a result, the papers also provide insight into broader topics in American and African-American history during the twentieth century.

James Weldon Johnson (1871-1938) is best known for his work as an author and civil rights leader.  His publications include the fictional account The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man (1912) and poetry collections Fifty Years and Other Poems (1917), God’s Trombones (1927), and Saint Peter Relates an Incident (1936). Johnson also worked as a lyricist in collaboration with his brother, the composer Rosamond Johnson (1873–1954), with whom he wrote “Lift Every Voice and Sing” (1900).  This piece became the official song of the N.A.A.C.P. and was widely lauded as the “Negro National Anthem.”

Johnson served as Field Secretary and then as Executive Secretary for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (N.A.A.C.P.).  During his tenure Johnson investigated the American occupation of Haiti and lobbied for an anti-lynching bill (among many other endeavours).  Following his resignation as Secretary, Johnson continued his involvement with the N.A.A.C.P. on the Board of Directors.

In addition to these accomplishments Johnson worked for the United States Consular Service (in Puerto Cabello, Venezuela and Corinto, Nicaragua) and as an educator.  He began his career as principal at Stanton School (Florida) and later in his career he was a professor at Fisk University and New York University.  Johnson also studied law and became the first African-American licensed by an open examination in Florida.

These various facets of Johnson’s professional life are represented in the papers, with particular emphasis on his career as an author. His writings include notes, background materials, drafts, published versions, and reviews, which combined, provide insight into various phases of the writing craft and the publishing process. Johnson often retained various drafts of his writings, many of which contain handwritten corrections and notes, providing rich evidence of his creative process. The only known extent copies of The Daily American, which Johnson established and which is believed to be the first daily African-American newspaper in the country, can be found in Johnson’s scrapbooks. Johnson’s correspondence with Grace Nail also reveals his ideas and ambitions as an author. His correspondence records more broadly his literary and social circles, with correspondents such as writers Benjamin Brawley, William Stanley Braithwaite, Sterling Brown, Claude McKay, and Anne Spencer as well as publishers such as Alfred Harcourt and Alfred and Blanche Knopf. Throughout his career, and particularly during the Harlem Renaissance and his professorships at Fisk University and New York University, Johnson mentored many aspiring authors, a role that is documented in his correspondence. The Johnsons were an influential couple during the Harlem Renaissance, mentoring and hosting artists, and the papers provide a window into this significant period in African-American cultural history.

Johnson’s work as an educator, lyricist, and member of the United States Consular Service, are also represented in the papers. For example, his early career as a teacher and ongoing interest in education are illustrated in photographs of Johnson as Principal of Stanton School (Jacksonville, Florida), his correspondence with Atlanta University, and his writings about African-American education.  Johnson’s tenure at Fisk University and New York University during the later period of his life is recorded in pedagogical documents ranging from lecture notes and syllabi to student papers. Combined, this material provides insight into Johnson’s role as an educator and his methods for teaching creative writing and literature.

Johnson’s work for the United States Consular Service is represented in his correspondence, reports, photographs, and printed ephemera, such as clippings and invitations. Johnson’s correspondence with Grace Nail during this period also provides insight into his experience

with the Consular Service. In addition this material documents American interests in South America during this period, such as the American intervention in Nicaragua, and consular life.

Johnson’s work as a lyricist and collaboration with his brother Rosamond Johnson and Bob Cole are chronicled in Johnson’s writings, which include drafts for various short song lyrics and “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing.” The Cole and Johnson Brothers song-writing team is also captured in photographs such as a portrait autographed by all three members. Johnson also maintained scrapbooks on musical comedy and theatre documenting various productions and performers during the early twentieth century. The Papers are thus a resource for understanding theatre and performance, particularly in New York, during the first half of the twentieth century. In addition to Johnson’s own materials relating to his work as a lyricist are those of his brother as well as research material gathered by Johnson while writing Black Manhattan.

There is a small amount of material relating to Johnson’s role in the N.A.A.C.P., however, the majority of this documentation is in the N.A.A.C.P. records at the Library of Congress. The Beinecke Library holds some of Johnson’s N.A.A.C.P. writings, such as his series of essays “Self Determining Haiti” based on his investigation on behalf of the Association on the American occupation of Haiti. In addition, Johnson’s personal relationships with prominent N.A.A.C.P. Board members, such as Arthur B. Spingarn, Joel E. Spingarn, and Mary White Ovington, are documented in his correspondence. A number of snapshots also record the Johnsons’ visits with Ovington at her home “Riverbank,” which influenced the Johnsons to likewise choose Great Barrington, Massachusetts, as the site for their summer home “Five Acres.”

The Johnsons’ personal lives are also richly documented in the Papers, which include correspondence from early in their marriage, snapshots of the couple with friends and family, legal and financial records, and a number of other personal effects, ranging from stationery and Johnson’s last pen to monogrammed towels.

The Johnsons’ family and close friends (chiefly their protégée Ollie Jewell Sims Okala) are also documented in the Papers. Correspondence between family members as well as formal and candid photographs provide insight into the Johnson and Nail families, members of which are prominent in their own right. For example, Johnson’s correspondence with his brother, Rosamond, reveals information about the latter’s career as a successful musician and performer. The correspondence also records the lives of John B. Nail and John E. Nail, who were influential African-American businessmen largely involved in real estate. Other documents, ranging from legal and financial papers to personal papers, similarly document the Johnson and Nail families. For example, Mrs. Johnson avidly collected newspaper clippings and created scrapbooks, and in addition to documenting the Johnsons, this material chronicles the lives of John B. Nail, John E. Nail, Rosamond Johnson, and Mildred Johnson. (HD)

To locate related manuscript collections at Yale, search the Yale Library’s Finding Aid Database; to locate images form this collection, search the Beinekce’s Digital Library; search Orbis, the Yale Library catalog, to find related books, journals, and other printed materials.

Images: James Weldon and Grace Nail Johnson photographed by Carl Van Vechten, 1932; James Weldon Johnson photographed by Carl Van Vechten; The Negro’s Part in Music (JWJ Scrapbook page); [Photographs of the Johnsons with Rosamond and Nora Johnson, Great Barrington, Massachusetts]

Poetry Reading: Natasha Trethewey

Posted in African American Studies at Yale, announcements, Events by beineckepoetry on November 8, 2009

Natasha Trethewey, Poetry Reading
Wednesday, November 18, 4:00 p.m.
Beinecke Library, 121 Wall Street
Yale Collection of American Literature Reading Series
Contact:nancy.kuhl@yale.edu

Please join us for a reading by poet Natasha Trethewey on Wednesday, November 18, 4:00 p.m., at the Beinecke Library, 121 Wall Street.

Natasha Trethewey is the 2009 James Weldon Johnson Fellow in African American Studies at the Beinecke Library; she is the author of Domestic Work (selected by Rita Dove as the winner of the inaugural Cave Canem Poetry Prize for the best first book by an African American poet), Bellocq’s Ophelia, and Native Guard, which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. She has received awards and fellowships from the Radcliffe Institute at Harvard, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the Rockefeller Foundation. She is Professor of English at Emory University where she holds the Phillis Wheatley Distinguished Chair in Poetry.

The James Weldon Johnson Fellowship in African American Studies was established at the Beinecke Library in 2008. This fellowship is designed to permit outstanding scholars to devote a full academic term in residence at Yale University to conduct research and writing in connection with the James Weldon Johnson Collection in the Beinecke Library.

Founded in 1941 by Carl Van Vechten, the James Weldon Johnson Memorial collection stands as a memorial to Dr. James Weldon Johnson and celebrates the accomplishments of African American writers and artists, beginning with those of the Harlem Renaissance. Grace Nail Johnson contributed her husband’s papers, leading the way for gifts of papers from Dr. W. E. B. DuBois, Walter White and Poppy Cannon White, Dorothy Peterson, Chester Himes, and Langston Hughes. The collection also contains the papers of Richard Wright and Jean Toomer, as well as smaller groups of manuscripts and correspondence of such writers as Arna Bontemps, Countee Cullen, Zora Neale Hurston, Claude McKay, and Wallace Thurman.

Welcome JWJ Fellow Natasha Trethewey

Posted in African American Studies at Yale, announcements, Beinecke Collections, Events by beineckepoetry on September 10, 2009

The Beinecke Library is pleased to welcome 2009 James Weldon Johnson Fellow in African American Studies Natasha Trethewey. Poet Natasha Trethewey is the author of Domestic Work (selected by Rita Dove as the winner of the inaugural Cave Canem Poetry Prize for the best first book by an African American poet), Bellocq’s Ophelia, and Native Guard, which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. Trethewey has received awards and fellowships from the Radcliffe Institute at Harvard, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the Rockefeller Foundation. She is Professor of English at Emory University where she holds the Phillis Wheatley Distinguished Chair in Poetry.

Trethewey will read from her work in the Yale Collection of American Literature Reading Series on Wednesday, November 18 at 4:00 p.m. at the
Beinecke Library, 121 Wall Street.

The James Weldon Johnson Fellowship in African American Studies was established at the Beinecke Library in 2008. This fellowship is designed to permit outstanding scholars to devote a full academic term in residence at Yale University to conduct research and writing in connection with the James Weldon Johnson Collection in the Beinecke Library.

Founded in 1941 by Carl Van Vechten, the James Weldon Johnson Memorial collection stands as a memorial to Dr. James Weldon Johnson and celebrates the accomplishments of African American writers and artists, beginning with those of the Harlem Renaissance. Grace Nail Johnson contributed her husband’s papers, leading the way for gifts of papers from Dr. W. E. B. DuBois, Walter White and Poppy Cannon White, Dorothy Peterson, Chester Himes, and Langston Hughes. The collection also contains the papers of Richard Wright and Jean Toomer, as well as smaller groups of manuscripts and correspondence of such writers as Arna Bontemps, Countee Cullen, Zora Neale Hurston, Claude McKay, and Wallace Thurman.

Walter Francis White and Poppy Cannon Papers

The finding aid for the Walter Francis White and Poppy Cannon Papers has recently been revised and updated; the new finding aid to the collection is available online: Walter Francis White and Poppy Cannon Papers. Related materials in the James Weldon Johnson Memorial Collection can be found by searching Yale’s Finding Aid Database and Orbis, Yale’s catalog for printed materials.

Walter White was born in Atlanta, Georgia, on July 1, 1893. He completed high school in 1912 and entered Atlanta University, from which he graduated in 1916. While an undergraduate he had a variety of part-time jobs and was at one time a hotel porter. He later became an insurance salesman for the black-owned, Atlanta-based Standard Life Insurance Company. White was an active and energetic member of the Atlanta branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (N.A.A.C.P.), which he served as secretary.

Through his work for that organization he became acquainted with James Weldon Johnson, then Field Secretary and National Organizer for the Association. It was on Johnson’s recommendation and at his urging that White consented to become one of the Associate Secretaries of the N.A.A.C.P. He served in this capacity from 1918 to 1929. White married one of the Association’s office secretaries, Leah Gladys Powell, in 1922. During the twenties White became famous for his first-hand investigations of lynching, which he conducted by posing as a white man. He also published two novels, Fire in the Flint (1924) and Flight (1926), and an exposé of lynching, Rope and Faggot, A Biography of Judge Lynch (1928).

When James Weldon Johnson left the N.A.A.C.P., Walter White was made acting Secretary. With Johnson’s final resignation, White succeeded to the permanent position in 1931. During his tenure as Secretary, from 1929 to 1955, White led the campaign against the confirmation of John J. Parker to the Supreme Court, directed the Association’s activities in the Scottsboro case, and directed activities designed to thwart communist influence in the organization. He also consolidated the powers of the Secretary by exercising strong personal control over the national staff. From 1943 to 1945 White served as a war correspondent for the New York Post. He visited most of the major war areas and as a result of his experiences wrote A Rising Wind (1945). Later he expanded his public writings by producing an editorial column for several newspapers, including the Chicago Defender. In 1948 he published his autobiography, A Man Called White.

During the years 1949 and 1950, White divorced Gladys Powell and married Poppy Cannon, a white woman. While on leave of absence from the N.A.A.C.P., White participated in the ‘Round the World Town Hall Meeting, and entered on an extensive lecture tour. During the last five years of his life White increased those of his activities not related to the N.A.A.C.P. and the field of race relations. He became particularly interested in Haiti and the Caribbean, and sometimes acted as an unofficial spokesman for the interests of that area. During the 1950’s White was in declining health as the result of a heart ailment. He died of a heart attack on March 21, 1955.

Poppy Cannon was born Lillian Gruskin in Cape Town, South Africa, on August 2, 1905, the eldest of four children of Robert and Henrietta Gruskin. She came with her parents to the United States in 1908 and settled in Kittening, Pennsylvania, where her father ran a store. She won a scholarship to Vassar College and eventually became a journalist, food editor of Ladies’ Home Journal, House Beautiful, Town and Country, and Mademoiselle, and the author of several cookbooks, including The Can Opener Cookbook, The Bride’s Cookbook, The Presidents’ Cookbook, Aromas and Flavors of the Past and Present (with Alice B. Toklas), and a memoir of her fourth husband, A Gentle Knight: My Husband Walter White. She first married Carl L. Cannon, who became Acquisitions Librarian at Yale in 1931, and bore a daughter Cynthia. Her second husband, the Norway-born Alf E. Askland, an investment counselor and the father of her only son, Jon Alf., died in 1939. In 1941 she married Charles Claudius Philippe, an executive at the Waldorf Hotel, whom she divorced in 1949 and with whom she had a daughter, Claudia.  She died in New York in April, 1975.

The Walter White and Poppy Cannon Papers document the careers and lives of Walter White and Poppy Cannon and span the dates 1910 to 1956. The Papers contain correspondence, writings, other papers, and photographs relating to Walter White’s career as the Secretary for the N.A.A.C.P. and as a writer and to Poppy Cannon’s career as an editor, writer, and publicity consultant. Walter White’s work for the N.A.A.C.P. and, more broadly, the development of the N.A.A.C.P. during his tenure, are recorded in the Papers. Walter White’s and Poppy Cannon’s professional and personal relationships with writers, publishers, friends and family are recorded in their correspondence. Correspondents include Josephine Baker, Mary McLeod Bethune, Dumarsais Estime, Oscar and Dorothy Hammerstein, William H. Hastie, John Haynes Holmes, James Weldon Johnson, Bill (“Bojangles”) Robinson, Franklin D. and Eleanor Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, Algernon Black, Norman Cousins, Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit, J. Waties Waring, and Roy Wilkins. In addition the Papers provide insight into White’s and Cannon’s personal relationship, including courtship and marriage, and their experience as an interracial couple.

H. Dean, Archivist, Beinecke Library

WhiteWallet

Images: Walter White, photographed by Carl Van Vechten, 1938; Walter White’s wallet.

The Van Vechten Paradox

Posted in African American Studies at Yale, Beinecke Collections, Events, Uncategorized by beineckepoetry on May 26, 2009

The Van Vechten Paradox:
The Harlem Renaissance, A White Man, and His Black Story

a lecture by James Weldon Johnson Fellow Emily Bernard
Monday, June 1, 4:00PM
on the Beinecke mezzanine, 121 Wall Street, New Haven

Please join us for a final parting lecture given by Emily Bernard, the James Weldon Johnson Senior Research Fellow at the Beinecke Library.

Carl Van Vechten was a best-selling novelist, consummate host, exhaustive archivist, prescient photographer, and negrophile bar none.  The chronicle of his catholic accomplishments is housed within the walls of the Beinecke library.  At the heart of this chronicle is a tale about blackness. Van Vechten was a promoter of black culture during the era known as the Harlem Renaissance, and beyond.  The Harlem Renaissance was a black movement, but it needed whiteness in order to thrive.  Carl Van Vechten embodied that necessary whiteness in ways that were multiple, fascinating, and contradictory.

Emily Bernard, Associate Professor of English and ALANA U. S. Ethnic Studies at the University of Vermont, is the 2008-2009 James Weldon Johnson Fellow at the Beinecke Library. Professor Bernard has edited two books; Remember Me to Harlem: The Letters of Langston Hughes and Carl Van Vechten (2001) was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. Some of My Best Friends: Writers on Interracial Friendship (2004) was chosen by the New York Public Library for its Book for the Teen Age 2006 list. Her essays have appeared in Best American Essays, Best African American Essays, and Best of Creative Non-Fiction. During the 2008-09 academic year, Professor Bernard has been conducting research at the Beinecke Library for an upcoming book tentatively entitled, The Van Vechten Paradox:  Blackness, Whiteness, and the Harlem Renaissance. The book will cast new light on the dynamic between Van Vechten, a controversial white patron of African American arts communities, and his black friends and protégés during the 1920s and beyond, including Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, and Nella Larsen. The Van Vechten Paradox is scheduled to be published by Yale University Press in 2009.

The annual James Weldon Johnson Fellowship in African American Studies was established in 2008. This fellowship is designed to permit outstanding scholars to devote a full academic year in residence at Yale University to research and writing in connection with the James Weldon Johnson Collection in the Beinecke Library.  For more information about this fellowship and the James Weldon Johnson collection, please check out these links:

James Weldon Johnson Memorial Collection at Beinecke Library;
African American Studies at Yale;
Emily Bernard, UVM Faculty Page;
http://www.library.yale.edu/beinecke/brbleduc/brblfellow_bernard08.html

Image: Carl Van Vechten with magnifying glass

New Beinecke Library Shelving Facility

Posted in announcements, Beinecke Collections by beineckepoetry on May 19, 2009

As part of its ongoing commitment to improve research capabilities by increasing and preserving its collections, the Beinecke Library has created a state-of-the-art off-site shelving facility to house our growing manuscript and book collections. As a result, some collections now housed off-site must be paged at least 24 hours in advance for use in the Library’s reading room. Collections housed in the new shelving facility will be identified in Orbis, the Library’s catalog, with the following information “LSF-Request for Use at Beinecke Rare Book Library.” Requests must be made with the Beinecke Library Access Services Department by email to beinecke.library@yale.edu .  Please be sure to include the call number, author and title of the item(s) you wish to view and include in the subject line of your email, “LSF request.”  Contact the Access Services Desk for more information: 203-432-2972 or beinecke.library@yale.edu.

Image:  Photograph of Beinecke Library under construction. Additional photos of the Library’s construction can be viewed here: Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library Construction Photographs, 1961-1963.

New Hours at Beinekce Library

Posted in announcements, Beinecke Collections by beineckepoetry on May 6, 2009

New Reading Room Hours, Effective June 1, 2009
Mondays – Thursdays 9:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.
Fridays 9:00 a.m.– 5:00 p.m.

New Exhibition Gallery Hours, Effective June 1, 2009
Mondays – Thursdays 9:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.
Fridays 9:00 a.m.– 5:00 p.m.
Saturdays 12:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.

Image: David Plowden, Sidewalk Clock, 1963; from the David Plowden Papers (call number: WA Plowden)

New Exhibition: Living Portraits

Posted in Uncategorized by beineckepoetry on April 17, 2009

Living Portraits: Carl Van Vechten’s Color Photographs of African Americans, 1939-1964 features some 140 never-before-exhibited color photographs by Carl Van Vechten. Van Vechten (1880-1964) had an artistic vision rooted in the centrality of the talented person. He cherished accomplishment, whether in music, dance, theater, fine art, literature, sport, or advocacy.

He began to make photographic portraits in 1932; in 1939 he discovered newly available color film. For a quarter century, he invited friends and acquaintances, well-known artists and fledgling entertainers to sit for him, often against backdrops reminiscent of the vivid colors and patterns of a Matisse painting. Among his subjects were a very young Diahann Carroll, Billie Holiday in tears, Paul Robeson as Othello, and a procession of opera stars, composers, authors, musicians, and others who made notable contributions to the cultural life of the country. The exhibition includes 140 full-sized portraits, digitally reformatted from Van Vechten’s original slides. [ca. 140 items]
Selected images from the Carl Van Vechten Photograph Collection

Living Portraits: Carl Van Vechten’s Color Photographs of African Americans, 1939-1964 is on view from April 30 through June 30, 2009. For more information: 203-432-2969

Images above: Diahann CarrollPaul Robeson , Billie Holiday, and Pearl Bailey photographed by Carl Van Vechten. Photographs by Carl Van Vechten are used with permission of the Van Vechten Trust; the permission of the Trust is required to reprint or use Van Vechten photographs in any way. To contact the Trust email: Van Vechten Trust.

Cabinet of (Poetry) Curiosities

Posted in Uncategorized by beineckepoetry on April 4, 2009

In honor of National Poetry Month, throughout April the Beinecke Library’s Room 26 Cabinet of Curiosities will feature poetry-related collection materials from the James Weldon Johnson Memorial Collection of African American Arts and Letters and the Yale Collection of American Literature. Stop by often–new posts will be added twice a week.

Image: Langston Hughes: The Weary Blues, JWJ Zan H874 926w