African American Studies at Beinecke Library

Conference: Legacies of Slavery and Emancipation

Posted in African American Studies at Yale, announcements, Events, Exhibitions by beineckepoetry on October 28, 2007

In conjunction with the exhibition Art and Emancipation in Jamaica: Isaac Mendes Belisario and his Worlds, at the Yale Center for British Art (YCBA), the YCBA and the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition are co-sponsoring a major international conference on The Legacies of Slavery and Emancipation: Jamaica in the Atlantic World on November 1-3, 2007.

This is the Gilder Lehrman Center’s ninth annual international fall conference. The focus of this conference is one of the central themes of the exhibition: the YCBA unfinished legacy of Jamaican slavery, both for present-day Jamaica and the wider Atlantic world. Scholars from the UK, the US, and the West Indies, as well as visual artists, musicians, and film-makers will investigate a range of topics including labor, music, and the legacies of slavery in Jamaica and Britain. Complementing these panels will be a series of break out sessions in the exhibition and the collections of the YCBA and other institutions at Yale, including the Beinecke Library, in which the broader conceptual and historical issues debated during the conference can be brought to bear on the analysis of specific objects and images. This conference is free and open to the public. Registration is required, and may be made online. For registration and more information about the conference visit

A related exhibition, Documenting Slavery, is on view at the Beinecke Library until November 5th. In honor of the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the British slave trade, the exhibition “Documenting Slavery” gathers materials from across the Beinecke’s collections to document aspects of slavery in the United States and abroad: the slave trade, abolition, emancipation, and individual experiences of slavery from various points of view, including those of slave owners, politicians, and former slaves. For more information about the exhibition visit: Documenting Slavery. Exhibition highlights are discussed in the exhibition netcast: Documenting Slavery, Exhibition Highlights by the Curator (MP3).

Documenting Slavery

Posted in announcements, Beinecke Collections, Exhibitions by beineckepoetry on September 20, 2007

NEW Exhibition Netcast: Exhibition highlights by the curator (MP3)

In honor of the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the British slave trade, the exhibition “Documenting Slavery” gathers materials from across the Beinecke’s collections to document aspects of slavery in the United States and abroad: the slave trade, abolition, emancipation, and individual experiences of slavery from various points of view, including those of slave owners, politicians, and former slaves. The exhibition includes unique manuscripts and rare printed materials from the 18th and 19th centuries such as a slave ship log, trade and legal documents, photographs, and personal correspondence. Literary materials will also be on exhibition, including early editions of the works of Phillis Wheatley and Frederick Douglass and the manuscript of The Bondwoman’s Narrative, thought to be the first novel written by an African American woman and the only novel written by a fugitive slave.

The exhibition was organized with the assistance of Jon Sudholt (Y’08). Documenting Slavery will be on exhibition from August 30-October 31, 2007.

Images: Drawing of Elmina Castle, an important European slave trading fort on the African Gold Coast; by Robert Durand, from his Journal de bord dun Negrier, the journal he kept during his travels as First Lieutenant on the three-masted French slave ship Le Diligent, 1731-1732.

Phillis Wheatley, Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral. By Phillis Wheatley, Negro servant to Mr. John Wheatley, of Boston, in New England. London: Printed for A. Bell, bookseller, Aldgate; and sold by Messrs. Cox and Berry, King-street, Boston. 1773.

William H. Townsend, drawing of Amistad prisoner “Saby,” New Haven, [1839-1840].

Let It Resound! Sheet Music in the James Weldon Johnson Memorial Collection

Posted in Beinecke Collections, Exhibitions by beineckepoetry on March 5, 2007

Web Exhibition

A new web exhibition showcases the sheet music holdings in the James Weldon Johnson Memorial collection. The exhibition traces the historical development of a broad range of African American musical genres during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, including ragtime, black musical theater, concert spirituals, the blues, and early jazz music. Blackface minstrelsy scores by black and white composers contextualize the legacy of racism in which black music developed. An article on the history of black music and a series of brief biographies of famous and now-forgotten composers gives depth to this visually rich exhibit.


James Weldon Johnson’s individual and collaborative musical contributions profoundly influenced the course of black musical theater in the first decade of the twentieth century. He collaborated with Bob Cole and J. Rosamund Johnson on the wildly popular Under the Bamboo Tree (1902) and many other works; the Beinecke collection contains over one hundred pieces of their published sheet music. In addition to his talents as a lyricist, a poet, and anthologist, Johnson made important contributions as a scholar of black music. His cultural and political history of African Americans in New York City, Black Mantattan, and autobiography, Along This Way, offer remarkable insight into black musical trends, while his Book of American Negro Sprituals asserts the centrality of these works to America’s cultural heritage.


Other exhibition highlights include sheet music by W.C. Handy, popularly known as the “father of the blues,” Langston Hughes, Ella Fitzgerald, “Fats” Waller, Count Basie and other notable blues and jazz innovators. More recent works include rhythm and blues performed by Nina Simone, Michael Jackson, and Stevie Wonder.


Let It Resound! Sheet Music in the

James Weldon Johnson Memorial Collection:






Exhibition: Black Panther Trial Sketches

Posted in Beinecke Collections, Exhibitions by beineckepoetry on February 5, 2007

The Black Panthers Trial: Courtroom Sketches by Robert Templeton on view at the Beinecke Library from January 10 to March 2

An exhibition of drawings documenting the Black Panthers trial in New Haven in 1971; the sketches were created by Connecticut artist, Robert Templeton. Because the courtroom was closed to artists and photographers, Templeton’s sketches were made surreptitiously, without the permission of the court; his drawings are, perhaps, the only visual record of the courtroom during this critical case. The collection includes small preliminary notebook sketches made in the courtroom as well as larger, finished drawings later displayed on television news broadcasts. Defendants Bobby Seale and Erica Huggins, Prosecutor Arnold Markle, and Judge Harold Mulvey are among the subjects represented.

Image: Bobby Seale with Prosecutor Arnold Markle, pastel sketch by Robert Templeton. Copyright, The Estate of Robert Templeton.

African Americans Write for Young Readers

Posted in Beinecke Collections, Exhibitions by beineckepoetry on February 1, 2006


“Of course, we are and must be interested in our children above all else, if we love our race and humanity.”
–W.E.B Du Bois, 1919

“Most young people who write tell me that my books teach them things—ways to live, how to survive. Having set out to be nothing more than a teller of tales, I have come to feel responsible—that what I have to say is more worthwhile than I had first thought.”
–Virginia Hamilton, 1975

Children’s literature is a powerful transmitter of history, codes of behavior, and systems of belief. Through seemingly simple stories and pictures, children begin to place themselves in a larger social context: they may encounter representations of children, families, and communities that mirror their own or seem radically different; they may find that what they know to be true of life is affirmed, or denigrated. They may not find portrayals of life with which they can identify at all.

This exhibition traces the evolution of African American children’s literature from its origins in the early 1920’s to the beginning of what is considered to be its contemporary form in the 1970’s. Nearly all the authors represented here are not only children’s writers but novelists, essayists, poets, or political activists, and their work for children is deeply connected with their other projects. In addition to being politically resonant, these books are often beautifully written and illustrated—many of the authors in this exhibition are famous first and foremost for their poetry. They work to balance aesthetics and pedagogy, and ultimately show that artistic and political agendas can be mutually enriching rather than mutually exclusive.

Well-known writers such as Langston Hughes, Arna Bontemps and Countee Cullen turn their talents to works for children and young adults. Drawn from the James Weldon Johnson Memorial Collection of African American Arts and Letters and the Betsy Beinecke Shirley Collection of American Children’s Literature. This exhibition was curated by Caitlin Mitchell, Y’06.

On exhibition at the Beinecke Library through March, 2006.

Image: Langston Hughes at the Children’s Garden in Harlem, from the Langston Hughes Papers

Sheet Music From the James Weldon Johnson Memorial Collection

Posted in Beinecke Collections, Exhibitions by beineckepoetry on February 1, 2005


An exhibition of sheet music representing all the major African American musical genres of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, including ragtime, black musical theater, folk songs, spirituals, the blues, and jazz. Major black composers and lyricist represented include Eubie Blake, Cab Calloway, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Duke Ellington, James Weldon and John Rosamond Johnson, Noble Sissle, and Samuel Coleridge-Taylor.

On exhitibtion at the Beinecke Library in February, 2005.


Image: James Weldon Johnson and J. Rosamund Johnson, Lift Every Voice and Sing, New York: Edward B. Marks Music Corporation, c1940.

Literature and Resistance

Posted in Beinecke Collections, Exhibitions by beineckepoetry on February 1, 2003

Literature and Resistance:
African-American Voices
from the 1960s and1970s

African Americans’ responses to the complicated social and political upheaval in United States during the 1960s and 1970s were as varied as they were significant. Acts of resistance, protest, or activism were eloquent, provocative, subtle, violent, outrageous, unforgettable, moving, and highly individual. Reaction to and representation of the turmoil African Americans witnessed in their neighborhoods and cities, the United States and the international community led to a highly charged and multifaceted literature.

The autobiographical writings of African American political activists demonstrate the ways in which individuals sought to negotiate their own position within such fraught times. Finding precedence in the narratives of Harriet Jacobs, Mary Prince, and perhaps most famously Frederick Douglass, some African Americans saw writing one’s own story as a political action in and of itself. Frustrated by having their history misrepresented, minimized, or co-opted by those in power, many black authors told their stories not merely to educate the white middle-class but to lay claim for themselves to a vital and vivid narrative. The autobiography was a way of resisting imposed cultural identities by creating one’s own. Rather than having their lives represented by others, these authors created the means by which the world, if attentive, would know them within their historical and cultural moment.

Many poets of the period used their work as a way to voice political and cultural criticism while simultaneously celebrating their communities, histories, families and heritages. New York writers and artists built communities around arts organizations such as The Black Arts Reparatory Theater / School, founded by poet Amiri Baraka (nee LeRoi Jones), the Umbra Workshop with which Ishmael Reed was associated, and the Harlem Writers Guild which helped to launch Maya Angelou’s career. In Detroit, poet Dudley Randall founded Broadside Press, perhaps the most important publisher of African American poetry during this period, providing a forum for the work of both established and emerging African American poets, including Gwendolyn Brooks, Margaret Walker, Don L. Lee, Sonia Sanchez, and Nikki Giovanni. The poetry of this period, with its urgency and poignancy, asserts the value of poetry as a mode of social critique.

On exhibition at the Beiencke Library, February-April, 2003.


Image: Leroi Jones, Slave Ship: A One Act Play, Newark, N.J., Jihad Productions, c1969.