Madam C. J. Walker (1867-1919) was a leading African-American businesswoman in the 1910s, and a pioneer in the beauty industry. Her products not only promised “good hair” and a “smooth, clear complexion” but also success for black women, a narrative that reflected Walker’s own ambition and remarkable rise as the first free-born American citizen in a family of slaves. In addition to running a business so successful that she was America’s wealthiest African-American women at the time of her death, Walker founded and supported beauty colleges, which offered financial independence to African-American “hair culturists.” Her activities encompassed not only the production and marketing of beauty products, but also philanthropic support of African-American civil rights causes.
The James Weldon Johnson Collection at the Beinecke Library includes printed material, ephemera, photographs, and realia relating to Madam C.J. Walker and the African-American beauty industry of the early 20th century. (LC)
African-American Beauty Industry — Collection Highlights:
Madam C.J. Walker Manufacturing Company. 1924 year book and almanac.
Call Number: JWJ Zan W1505.923Y
Madam C. J. Walker beauty manual: a thorough treatise covering all branches of beauty culture, Indianapolis, [ca. 1925]
Call Number: JWJ Zan W1505 928M
Three printing blocks relating to the African American businesswoman, Madam C.J. Walker. [ca. 1920’s]
Call Number: JWJ Zan W1505 920M
By-laws of the local bodies national beauty culturists and Benevolent Association of Madam C. J. Walker Agents, Indianapolis, IN, 1927
Uncataloged Acquisition: 36213
National Beauty Culturists’ League (U.S.), Ritual for the local bodies of the National Beauty Culturists’ and Benevolent Association of Madam C. J. Walker Agents Incorporated, [Indianapolis], [ca. 1920]
Call number: JWJ Zan W1505 +N920R
A can of Madam C. J. Walker’s wonderful hair & scalp preparation [1920s]
Uncataloged Acquisition: 43101
Panoramic photograph of the 10th annual national convention, Madam C. J. Walker agents, Aug. 9 – 10 – 11 1926. Kansas City, MO.
Uncataloged Acquisition: 2010.jwj.36127
Photographs of Madam C. J. Walker and others, 1925-1930
Uncataloged Acquisitions: 2010.ycal.36537, 2010.ycal.36538
Abstract of title prepared by Lake County Abstract Co., Baldwin, Michigan, 
Uncataloged Acquisition: 35957
Madame C. J. Walker College of Beauty Culture, Kansas City, 1946 (Published by the students of the Walker College of Beauty Culture)
Call Number: Zc26 +946ma
The Black American achievement posters: One of 20 broadside posters portraying outstanding African American persons and events, including Madam C.J. Walker.
Call Number: BrSides 2008 18
Collection of original Valmor Products Co. labels, [1920’s-1930’s]
Uncataloged Acquisition: 36222
Display placards that promote fashions and hairstyles for African American women created for the grand opening of the Negro Industrial Fair at the headquarters of the Greater New York Coordinating Committee for Employment at 132 West 125th Street, Harlem, New York, June 24, 1939, which coincided with the New York World’s Fair. The placards include hand-painted lettering and halftone photographs of African American women, as well as human hair samples that demonstrate hair coloring tints produced by the Clairol Company.
Call Number: JWJ MSS 47
Image: “Beauty and success! Both may be yours, so easily, there’s no excuse for not having them …”
The Library of Congress has recently identified a list of important American books: 88 Books that Shaped America. The list (see below) includes the work of many writer whose literary manuscripts are represented in the Yale Collection of American Literature, including: Mark Twain, James Baldwin, Eugene O’Neill, Walt Whitman, Richard Wright, Thornton Wilder, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Rachel Carson, W. E. B. Du Bois, William Carlos Williams, Zora Neale Hurston, Henry David Thoreau, and Langston Hughes. The Yale Collection of American Literature also includes distinguished copies of many of the titles on the list, such as: Gertrude Stein’s copy of The Great Gatsby, Sinclair Lewis’s copy of For Whom the Bell Tolls, James Weldon Johnson’s copy of The Weary Blues among many others. To locate detailed descriptions of these and other books and archives, search Orbis, Yale Library’s Catalog for Book and Yale’s Finding Aid Database. For images from Beinecke Library collections, visit the Beinecke Digital Library.
The Library of Congress’ list of 88 books that shaped America
“Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain (1884)
“Alcoholics Anonymous” by anonymous (1939)
“American Cookery” by Amelia Simmons (1796)
“The American Woman’s Home” by Catharine E. Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe (1869)
“And the Band Played On” by Randy Shilts (1987)
“Atlas Shrugged” by Ayn Rand (1957)
“The Autobiography of Malcolm X” by Malcolm X and Alex Haley (1965)
“Beloved” by Toni Morrison (1987)
“Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee” by Dee Brown (1970)
“The Call of the Wild” by Jack London (1903)
“The Cat in the Hat” by Dr. Seuss (1957)
“Catch-22” by Joseph Heller (1961)
“The Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger (1951)
“Charlotte’s Web” by E.B. White (1952)
“Common Sense” by Thomas Paine (1776)
“The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care” by Benjamin Spock (1946)
“Cosmos” by Carl Sagan (1980)
“A Curious Hieroglyphick Bible” by anonymous (1788)
“The Double Helix” by James D. Watson (1968)
“The Education of Henry Adams” by Henry Adams (1907)
“Experiments and Observations on Electricity” by Benjamin Franklin (1751)
“Fahrenheit 451” by Ray Bradbury (1953)
“Family Limitation” by Margaret Sanger (1914)
“The Federalist” by anonymous/ thought to be Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay (1787)
“The Feminine Mystique” by Betty Friedan (1963)
“The Fire Next Time” by James Baldwin (1963)
“For Whom the Bell Tolls” by Ernest Hemingway (1940)
“Gone With the Wind” by Margaret Mitchell (1936)
“Goodnight Moon” by Margaret Wise Brown (1947)
“A Grammatical Institute of the English Language” by Noah Webster (1783)
“The Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck (1939)
“The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925)
“Harriet, the Moses of Her People” by Sarah H. Bradford (1901)
“The History of Standard Oil” by Ida Tarbell (1904)
“History of the Expedition Under the Command of the Captains Lewis and Clark” by Meriwether Lewis (1814)
“How the Other Half Lives” by Jacob Riis (1890)
“How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie (1936)
“Howl” by Allen Ginsberg (1956)
“The Iceman Cometh” by Eugene O’Neill (1946)
“Idaho: A Guide in Word and Pictures” by Federal Writers’ Project (1937)
“In Cold Blood” by Truman Capote (1966)
“Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison (1952)
“Joy of Cooking” by Irma Rombauer (1931)
“The Jungle” by Upton Sinclair (1906)
“Leaves of Grass” by Walt Whitman (1855)
“The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” by Washington Irving (1820)
“Little Women, or Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy” by Louisa May Alcott (1868)
“Mark, the Match Boy” by Horatio Alger Jr. (1869)
“McGuffey’s Newly Revised Eclectic Primer” by William Holmes McGuffey (1836)
“Moby-Dick; or The Whale” by Herman Melville (1851)
“The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass” by Frederick Douglass (1845)
“Native Son” by Richard Wright (1940)
“New England Primer” by anonymous (1803)
“New Hampshire” by Robert Frost (1923)
“On the Road” by Jack Kerouac (1957)
“Our Bodies, Ourselves” by Boston Women’s Health Book Collective (1971)
“Our Town: A Play” by Thornton Wilder (1938)
“Peter Parley’s Universal History” by Samuel Goodrich (1837)
“Poems” by Emily Dickinson (1890)
“Poor Richard Improved and The Way to Wealth” by Benjamin Franklin (1758)
“Pragmatism” by William James (1907)
“The Private Life of the Late Benjamin Franklin, LL.D.” by Benjamin Franklin (1793)
“The Red Badge of Courage” by Stephen Crane (1895)
“Red Harvest” by Dashiell Hammett (1929)
“Riders of the Purple Sage” by Zane Grey (1912)
“The Scarlet Letter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne (1850)
“Sexual Behavior in the Human Male” by Alfred C. Kinsey (1948)
“Silent Spring” by Rachel Carson (1962)
“The Snowy Day” by Ezra Jack Keats (1962)
“The Souls of Black Folk” by W.E.B. Du Bois (1903)
“The Sound and the Fury” by William Faulkner (1929)
“Spring and All” by William Carlos Williams (1923)
“Stranger in a Strange Land” by Robert E. Heinlein (1961)
“A Street in Bronzeville” by Gwendolyn Brooks (1945)
“A Streetcar Named Desire” by Tennessee Williams (1947)
“A Survey of the Roads of the United States of America” by Christopher Colles (1789)
“Tarzan of the Apes” by Edgar Rice Burroughs (1914)
“Their Eyes Were Watching God” by Zora Neale Hurston (1937)
“To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee (1960)
“A Treasury of American Folklore” by Benjamin A. Botkin (1944)
“A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” by Betty Smith (1943)
“Uncle Tom’s Cabin” by Harriet Beecher Stowe (1852)
“Unsafe at Any Speed” by Ralph Nader (1965)
“Walden; or Life in the Woods” by Henry David Thoreau (1854)
“The Weary Blues” by Langston Hughes (1925)
“Where the Wild Things Are” by Maurice Sendak (1963)
“The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” by L. Frank Baum (1900)
“The Words of Cesar Chavez” by Cesar Chavez (2002)
Article Abstract: Contemporary social history is premised on the idea of writing histories of ordinary people. This article reflects critically on the concept of “ordinariness“ as facilitated by the author’s brief moment of personal fame and her professional experiences of learning and writing about women’s and gender history in and of southern Africa. These perspectives then informed her attempts to write and publish a story of the brief encounter in the late 1930s between a member of her family and the brilliant African-American writer, Richard Wright. The article explores the parameters and definitions of “ordinariness“ in African and American history.
About the Barnes-Wright Correspondence: Richard Wright Letters to Margaret Ellen Barnes
About the Richard Wright Papers: Guide to the Richard Wright Papers (JWJ MSS 3)
Image: Photo of Margaret Ellen Barnes, courtesy of Teresa Barnes
Congratulations to 2009 James Weldon Johnson Memorial Fellow Natasha Trethewey, the next Poet Laureate of the United States.
Selected Poems by Natasha Trethewey(June 7, 2012)
Image Credit: John Amis for The New York Times
The Library of Congress is to announce Thursday that the next poet laureate is Natasha Trethewey, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of three collections and a professor of creative writing at Emory University in Atlanta. Ms. Trethewey, 46, was born in Gulfport, Miss., and is the first Southerner to hold the post since Robert Penn Warren, the original laureate, and the first African-American since Rita Dove in 1993.
“I’m still a little in disbelief,” Ms. Trethewey said on Monday.
Unlike the recent laureates W. S. Merwin and her immediate predecessor, Philip Levine, both in their 80s when appointed, Ms. Trethewey, who will officially take up her duties in September, is still in midcareer and not well-known outside poetry circles. Her work combines free verse with more traditional forms like the sonnet and the villanelle to explore memory and the racial legacy of America. Her fourth collection, “Thrall,” is scheduled to appear in the fall. She is also the author of a 2010 nonfiction book, “Beyond Katrina: A Meditation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.”
“The appointment of Natasha Trethewey is a very welcome event,” said Dana Gioia, a former chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts and an early admirer of her work. “She writes out of the complicated history of the region, and even from her own complicated history.” In a phone interview explaining his choice James Billington, the librarian of Congress, said: “We’re not necessarily on some kick to find a younger poet. The more I read of it, American poetry seems extremely rich in diversity, talent and freedom of expression, and she has a voice that is already original and accomplished. I have an affinity for American individuals who are absolutely unique, and I think that this is one.”
He first became aware of Ms. Trethewey (pronounced TRETH-eh-way) when she gave a reading at the National Book Festival in 2004: “I admired the way she had a certain classical sound but also moved easily from traditional forms to free verse. And then when I began reading her poems for myself, that impression was just confirmed. It seemed very natural, all of a piece.” He added: “I go to a fair number of poetry readings, and I’m not always motivated to go back and read the poems. But in her case I was.”
Ms. Trethewey’s great theme is memory, and in particular the way private recollection and public history sometimes intersect but more often diverge. “The ghost of history lies down beside me,” she writes in one of her poems, “rolls over, pins me beneath a heavy arm.”
She has devoted much of her career to resurrecting or recreating the histories of people who don’t often make it into poetry books. Her first volume, “Domestic Work” (2000), is about just what the title says: black maids, washerwomen, factory workers. One of the poems begins:
“The eyes of eight women
I don’t know
stare out of this photograph
“Bellocq’s Ophelia” (2002) is a sort of epistolary novella in verse, telling the imagined story of one of the mixed-race prostitutes photographed in the early 20th century by E. J. Bellocq in New Orleans. “Native Guard,” which won the Pulitzer in 2007, devotes its central sequence to the Louisiana Native Guards, a black regiment in the Union Army, composed mostly of former slaves who enlisted, that was assigned to guard Confederate prisoners of war. Ms. Trethewey used to visit a memorial to those prisoners as a child, but according to her poem “Elegy for the Native Guards,” their graves have gone unmarked and unrecorded.
In a phone interview from her home in Decatur, Ga., where she lives with her husband, Brett Gadsden, a history professor at Emory, Ms. Trethewey explained that the Civil War has fascinated her since childhood, and that she eventually came to feel that she embodied some of its contradictions. “My birthday is April 26th, Confederate Memorial Day,” she said. “I was born 100 years to the day after that holiday was invented. I don’t think I could have escaped learning about the Civil War and what it represented.”
Robert Penn Warren, who wrote so eloquently and at times conflictedly about the South and its history, is one of her models, and so is Gwendolyn Brooks, the first black laureate. But just as helpful in the writing of “Native Guard,” Ms. Trethewey said, was the example of Seamus Heaney and especially his 1975 book “North,” in which he responds to the violent political history of Ulster. “I read and reread the book to help understand my own relationship to history,” she said.
As one of her poems explains, Ms. Trethewey is the product of a union that was still a crime in Mississippi when her parents married: her mother was black and her father was white. Years later, after her mother’s death, she came across her own birth certificate and saw that the line for the race of her mother says, “colored,” the race of her father, “Canadian.”
“That’s how language works — how we change and rewrite ourselves,” she said.
When Ms. Trethewey was 19 and in college, her mother was murdered by her second husband, an abusive man she had divorced, and the effort of trying to recover her mother’s memory is one of Ms. Trethewey’s other major themes. “But in dreams you live,” she writes in “Native Guard,” “so I try taking, not to let go. You’ll be dead again tomorrow.”
Recalling her mother’s death, she said, “Strangely enough, that was the moment when I both felt that I would become a poet and then immediately afterward felt that I would not. I turned to poetry to make sense of what had happened and started writing what I knew even then were really bad poems. It took me nearly 20 years to find the right language, to write poems that were successful enough to explain my own feelings to me and that might also be meaningful to others.”
Speaking of the laureateship, she said, “One needs to admit it’s something that crosses the mind.” All the same, when the phone rang in early May and she saw the Library of Congress number on caller ID, she thought it might be a prank. “I thought to myself, ‘Really?’ ” she said.
The James Weldon Johnson Memorial Collection includes various materials documenting 20th century African American travel and tourism, including examples of the well-known Negro Motorist Green Book, and other travelers’ guides, vacation promotional materials, and buyers’ guides. Related materials include a growing collection documenting the Idlewild, Michigan, resort community–including maps, printed ephemera, postcards, photographs.
Travel and Tourism Guides — Collection Highlights
Travelers’ green book. , New York: Victor H. Green, 1957, 1961
Call Number: JWJ A T6972
A. B. Stewart’s national travelers guide … 5th ed, [Los Angeles], c1940
Call Number: ACC 33123
The Negro traveler., Chicago, Ill. : Travelers Research Pub. Co., 
Call Number: JWJ A +N343
Bronze American national travel guide 1961-62
Call Number: ACC 36131
Go, guide to pleasant motoring, Washington, D.C., 1954
Call Number: ACC 47792
Black buyer’s guide to stores and services in Philadelphia, 1968
Call Number: ACC 9809
A. G. Gaston Mogel. The nation’s newest & finest motel …Folding mailer addressed in ms. to Mr. & Mrs. Clarence Stevens. Caption title: A. G. Gaston. Achievement in one stop relaxed living. A motel designed with a traveler’s comfort in mind. Chicago, 1956
Call Number: ACC 42423
Official guide to Harlem. Gate-way to the World’s Fair. 1939
Call Number: ACC 35399
Idlewild Materials — Collection Highlights
Idlewilder’s magazine, Idlewild, MI, 18 Jul .
Call Number: ACC 13931
[Group of eleven real photo postcards, depicting views of the Idlewild, Michigan Resort] [1930s-1950s]
Call Number: JWJ.Zan.C684.930C
[Group of eleven (11) real photo postcards, depicting views of the Idlewild, Michigan resort community spanning the 1920-s-1950’s]
1) Hotel, Idlewild Club, Idlewild, Mich. Inscribed to Miss Ruth Johnson from Mr. & Mrs. C. Higgins.
2) Idlewild terrace home of I. Miller. Inscribed to Mr. and Mrs. Winter from Orial Taylor.
3) Idlewild Lake, Idlewild, Mich. M611. Inscribed to Miss Joyce and Ruth Johnson from Mrs. Venlet.
4) Baptist church, Idlewild, Mich. Inscribed to Velma Reese from Alta Stephenson.
5) Miller’s grocery, Idlewild, Mich. T-593.
6) Pendleton’s, Idlewild, Mich. T-594.
7) Lu-Milt cottage. Idlewild, Mich. S-928.
8) Dead End cottage. Mrs. Geo. Jones. Idlewild, Mich. E-1353.
9) Clubhouse from the water. Idlewild, Mich. 1-.
10) The club house. Idlewild, Mich.
11) “Anderwild”, Idlewild, Mich.
Call Number: ACC 33143
Genuine photographs. Idlewild, Michigan. ca. 1950 (Set includes: Lake of the woods, S-920, 2; Idlewild Lake, 2-A-304; Idlewild Lake, T-601; Idlewild Lake, T-587; Idlewild Lake, M629; The kids proudly display their catch, T-589; Vacation sesaon in Idlewild, Mich. 2-A-306; Fiesta room. Paradise Garden, T599; Vacation season in Idlewild, Mich. 2-A-305; Idlewild Lake, S-927.)
Call Number: ACC 33210
Paradise Garden Fiesta Room: the show place of the nation. Idlewild, Michigan. Phone 9021 [1940s] (Original drink menu from the Paradise Garden Fiesta Room, at the African-American resort community of Idlewild, Michigan).
Call Number: ACC 40701
1 photograph album containing 54 black and white silver print photographs of an unidentified family on vacation, including scenes of Idlewild, Michigan
Call Number: JWJ MSS 70
1 black and white photograph of an unidentified boy and an unidentified girl, [ca. 1950s]
Call Number: ACC 2009.jwj.27151
L. L. Cook photographic postcard of Idlewild
Call Number: ACC 2012.jwj.9
Photographic postcard of Idlewild, Mich., Sleeping cottages, Idlewild Club, Idlewild, Mich.: 1 black and white photographic postcard by unidentified photographer.
Call Number: ACC 2012.jwj.10
Idlewild: no. 3; part of section no. 7. Township no. 17. North range 12 west. Lake Co. Mich., [ca. 1919] (Caption title from property blueprint)
Call Number: ACC 35955
Map of Idlewild, Lake Co. Mich., [Idlewild Resort Co.], [ca. 1910’s?] (Caption title from map.)
Call Number: ACC 35956
Zoe Mercer-Golden, Yale Class of 2013
Making a Cosmiconcept:
The Negotiation of Authority in Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Visual Art and Writing
written for Professor Robert Stepto’s course “American Artists and the African-American Book”
This project considered connections between Jean-Michel Basquiat’s early work (as represented in the SAMO Graffiti Notebook housed in the Beinecke collection, JWJ MSS 63). I then turned to the other major Basquiat holdings at Yale in the Yale University Art Gallery–a major painting and an unsigned sketch–and began to think about the connections between them. My reading of critical sources led me to the conclusion that much of Basquiat’s art and writing dealt with his preoccupation with authority, artistic, literary and musical. Focusing on his art work and writing, I composed a paper that explored Basquiat’s relationship to authority, the critical response to Basquiat’s art, and my personal response to Basquiat as someone who loves his art and loves to teach his art to tour audiences.
I traced patterns and genealogies of thought that began early in his career and continued throughout his life. Instead of focusing on Basquiat the rebel or countercultural figure, I wanted to think and write about Basquiat the highly literate and thoughtful commentator on the history and art that came before him. More than anything I wanted to celebrate the freeing effect his work had on later artists and writers, as he gave other figures permission to problematize so much of what came before. The poignancy of reading Basquiat’s scribbles as a young man made me highly conscious of how much we lost when he died at 27. The SAMO notebook (and other works like it) is an essential aspect of his oeuvre, because we have such limited quantities of his work. He has been an influential figure in my thinking and writing about art; I feel privileged that I got to be so close to him–to touch the pages that he drew on–while still a student.
Image: Notebook related to SAMO© Graffiti, 1978 September-1979 January JWJ MSS 63 A notebook with writing and drawings by Jean-Michel Basquiat and Shannon Dawson, probably begun while students at City-As-School High School in New York City, and others associated with SAMO© Graffiti, probably including Al Diaz, September 1978-January 1979. Writings include political and poetic aphorisms, song lyrics, and stream of consciousness observations. Sketches include figures and psychedelic drawings.
Rachel Kempf, Yale College Class of 2013
“Lost in the Zoo: The Art of Charles Sebree”
written for Professor Robert Stepto’s English 306 course, “American Artists and the African-American Book”
Using correspondence from the Countee Cullen Collection, this essay examines the life and work of Harlem Renaissance artist Charles Sebree, focusing on his collaboration with Countee Cullen on the children’s book The Lost Zoo. This essay explores Sebree’s work through the lens of his life experience as evidenced by his communication with Alain Locke during his period of collaboration with Cullen. By comparing documents from the Beinecke’s James Weldon Johnson Collection (MSS 7 Box 2) and correspondence from the Alain Locke Collection at Howard University Moorland Springarn Research Center, this essay reexamines existing explanations of Sebree’s behavior during his collaboration with Countee Cullen and calls attention to the artist’s formative friendship with Alain Locke only briefly mentioned in other examinations of Sebree’s work.
Finally, the essay examines how these personal relationships and individual trials may have influenced Sebree’s work on The Lost Zoo and how his experience with the book may or may not have influenced his future career.
Read the article here: Rachel Kempf, “Lost in the Zoo: The Art of Charles Sebree”
The Beinecke Library has an outstanding collection of books illustrated by African American artist Lois Mailou Jones. The collection includes the many books for which Jones is well known as well as several works for which she is very likely the (uncredited) illustrator. Works about Jones, exhibition catalogs, and ephemeral publications are also present. Titles include: Great American Negroes in Verse, Word Pictures of Great Negroes, Their Eyes Were Watching God (with cover design by LMJ), Reflective Moments, Picture-Poetry Book, Negro Art, Music, and Rhyme, Poems of Leopold Sedar Senghor (with silkscreen prints by LMJ), and many others.
All titles and related materials can be located by searching Orbis, Yale Library’s Catalog for book.
Additional information about Lois Mailou Jones is available from the Loïs Mailou Jones Pierre-Noël Trust.
The Beinecke has recently acquired an archive of publications, ephemera, and other materials related to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The forty-two items total nearly 700 pages, spanning more than sixty years, beginning in 1915, with much documentation of the NAACP’s early efforts to end lynching in the United States, including “The Waco Horror” by Elizabeth Freeman, “Brief in Support of the Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill” by Moorefield Storey, a 1930’s “Stop Lynching NAACP Legal Defense Fund” pin-back button, etc. Also included are two ephemeral items, representing Anti-NAACP racist publications in the United States. The large majority of publications in the collection are unrecorded by OCLC (or otherwise known in only a few institutional holdings). A detailed list of the collection contents is available here (NOTE: this document includes images and language that some my find disturbing): NAACP Collection Description. Related collections include: Walter White and Poppy Cannon Papers (JWJ MSS 38); James Weldon Johnson and Grace Nail Johnson Papers (JWJ MSS 49); Joel Spingarn Collection (JWJ MSS 11); JWJ Clippings Collection (JWJ MSS 89); Leon F. Litwack Collection Protest Literature (WA MSS S-2616); additional materials may be found by searching the Finding Aid Database, Uncataloged Accession Database, Digital Library, and Orbis (links to these and other tools can be found on the Beinecke Library Home Page).
Image: [Pictorial Broadside, urging membership in the NAACP]: STRONG MAN! [Caption title]. Published by the Pittsburgh Courier, Pittsburg, Penn. Hollywood, California: Distributed by Hollywood Beauty Secrets Company, Owned by Mr. & Mrs. Homer Goodwin [No Date, but circa 1950’s?]. Original promotional broadside, issued by a cosmetics company.
Carl Van Vechten was a white man with a passion for blackness who played a crucial role in helping the Harlem Renaissance, a black movement, come to understand itself. Carl Van Vechten and the Harlem Renaissance is grounded in the dramas occasioned by the Harlem Renaissance, as it is called today, or New Negro Renaissance, as it was called in the 1920s, when it first came into being. Emily Bernard focuses on writing—the black and white of things—the articles, fiction, essays, and letters that Carl Van Vechten wrote to black people and about black culture, and the writing of the black people who wrote to and about him. Above all, she is interested in the interpersonal exchanges that inspired the writing, which are ultimately far more significant than the public records would suggest.
This book is a partial biography of a once controversial figure. It is not a comprehensive history of an entire life, but rather a chronicle of one of his lives, his black life, which began in his boyhood and thrived until his death. The narrative at the core of Carl Van Vechten and the Harlem Renaissance is not an attempt to answer the question of whether Van Vechten was good or bad for black people, or whether or not he hurt or helped black creative expression during the Harlem Renaissance. As Bernard writes, the book instead “enlarges that question into something much richer and more nuanced: a tale about the messy realities of race, and the complicated tangle of black and white.”
Emily Bernard is associate professor, English Department and ALANA U.S. Ethnic Studies Program, University of Vermont. Her books include Remember Me to Harlem: The Letters of Langston Hughes and Carl Van Vechten, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. She lives in Burlington, VT. Bernard was the inaugural James Weldon Johnson Memorial Fellow at the Beiencke Library in 2008.
Radio interview with author Emily Bernard: http://www.vpr.net/news_detail/93865/bernards-new-biography-captures-carl-van-vechten/