Celebrating (and Researching) African American History

AARI 8X11Miami University Libraries will be celebrating Black History Month with its 24th Annual African American Read-In on Wednesday, February 20th between 11 and 2 in the Howe Writing Center, located on the first floor of King Library.  Participants in the Read-In often read poetry and fictional prose, but many choose to read from non-fiction sources, such as memoirs, historical documents, and speeches.  It’s a great opportunity to highlight the struggles and triumphs that define the African American experience.  Miami’s Special Collections department houses many items, both print and manuscript, that help to illuminate African American history for us today.  Among the materials related to African American history in our collections are print and manuscript sources on slavery and the abolition movement, the Civil War, and the civil rights movement.


In addition to print slave narratives and anti-slavery pamphlets and periodicals, one of the highlights of our Miscellanea Collection is a letter, dated December 19, 1831, from Catharine Sedgwick to Lydia Maria Child in reply to Child’s query of why Sedwick was not an abolitionist.  Both women were established novelists and Child would later publish An Appeal in Favor of Those Americans Called Africans (1833) and edit Harriet Ann Jacobs’ Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861), two landmark abolitionist works.  Catharine Sedgwick had been raised by Elizabeth Freeman, a former slave who in a famous legal case was able to gain her freedom through the Massachusetts courts in 1781.

Though our history collections are generally stronger for the nineteenth century and earlier, some of our most interesting twentieth century materials are related to African Americans’ struggle for civil rights.  JimCrow018Among these resources are several pamphlets published by the Communist Party promoting racial equality, promotional literature for the Urban League of New York, and publications of other important civil rights organizations like the Southern Regional Council and the NAACP.  One of my favorites is the NAACP’s 1963 publication of the speeches of the leaders of that year’s March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, including Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech.


This semester students in Dr. Nishani Frazier’s History 206, the research and methods class, are studying African American history and the class visited Special Collections to view many of the materials described above.  It’s always a pleasure to talk to students about the resources available to them in Special Collections and even more rewarding when the students return to use the collection for their research.

Kimberly Tully
Special Collections Librarian