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Research Guide to
African American Sources
in Special Collections

Selected Primary Resources

for reference assistance email Special Collections

or contact:
Special Collections, University of Delaware Library
Newark, Delaware 19717-5267
(302) 831-2229


The Research Guide to African American resources in Special Collections provides information on primary sources relating to Americans of African descent. The guide is divided into five sections: Printed Collections, Visual Materials, Oral Histories, Postcards, and Manuscript and Archival Collections. Published historical and literary works are found in the department's Printed Collections, and local history sources are especially strong in the Delaware Collection. The Delaware Federal Writers’ Project provides extensive information relating to African Americans in the First State. Among the topics included in this collection are slavery, the Underground Railroad, education, housing and healthcare. An index to the Papers of the Delaware Federal Writers Project is located in Special Collections.

Among the print sources are representative literary works of significant African American authors, including Phillis Wheatley’s Poems on Various Subjects, Frances E. W. Harper’s Iola Leroy, Paul Laurence Dunbar’s Lyrics of a Lowly Life, W. E. B. DuBois’s The Souls of Black Folk, Alice Dunbar Nelson’s Violets and Other Tales, Langston Hughes’s The Weary Blues, Nella Larsen’s Quicksand, Sterling Brown’s Southern Roads, Gwendolyn Brooks’s Annie Allen, Ishmael Reed’s The Freelance Pallbearers, and Toni Morrison’s Beloved.

The Visual Material Collection provides a small sample of African Americana in the form of ephemera pasted in scrapbooks. Greeting cards, trade cards, and other images found in these volumes depict stereotypical racial caricatures made popular during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Among other visual ephemera is a playbill from an 1865 minstrel show. The Postcard Collection includes an image of Delaware's notorious Red Hannah, the whipping post, at which an African American is being punished.

The Delaware Oral History Collection, which was created from interviews conducted between 1966 and 1978, was a project of the History Department at the University of Delaware . The collection features a number of interviews with African Americans from Delaware. Interviews with ordinary citizens such as Mary A. Watson Elliott, a former University of Delaware custodian, to prominent Delawarean Pauline Young, the niece of famed writer Alice-Dunbar Nelson (former wife of poet Paul Laurence Dunbar) are among these holdings.

The Manuscript and Archival Collection contains rare historical documents pertaining to African Americans, including slave bills of sale, plantation inventory lists, manumission papers, and wills which contain information concerning slaves. Copies of the Emancipation Proclamation and The Thirteenth Amendment can be located in the Lincoln Collection. In addition, researchers interested in contemporary issues of civil rights, black nationalism, integration, and racial justice, will find an abundance of material in The American Propaganda Collection, The Chris Oakley Collection of Alterative Press, The Delaware Desegregation Archives, and The Sir Joseph Gold Political and Miscellaneous Ephemera Collection. Moreover, the manuscript and archival collection contains the literary papers of writers Charles Johnson, Alice Dunbar-Nelson, and Ishmael Reed.

This research guide is not intended to be a complete finding aid to the collections. It serves as an introduction and preliminary research tool, providing a brief description of holdings with basic information on size, inclusive dates, types of records, and a brief description of the materials. Complete finding aids are available in print and electronic format. Web links to available electronic finding aids are provided with this guide. This research guide will be updated periodically.

Arica Coleman
Special Collections Intern,
Summer 2003

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Printed Collections

Unique primary sources related to the history of African Americans in Delaware include printed texts related to the founding of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in America; fact and fiction about the infamous Patty Cannon, who was convicted and hung in 1829 for kidnapping and murdering slaves; and C.A. Weslager's writings about the Moors, a mixed race people of Delaware. Print sources also include books on the Underground Railroad in Delaware, many of which were listed in a 1997 bibliography on the Underground Railroad that accompanied a Library exhibition curated by Ruth Hicks. The Papers of the Delaware Federal Writers Project, housed in the Delaware Collection, provides extensive information on African Americans in the First State. African American newspapers and periodicals such as the Delaware Valley Star and Delaware Spectator are also housed in the Delaware Collection, with additional contemporary reports and studies relating to issues such as African American education, housing, healthcare, and military services.

Broader historical sources related to African Americans in the United States include slave narratives and numerous nineteenth-century texts related to slavery and antislavery movements.

Special Collections holdings include works by African American literary authors from the colonial period to contemporary times, with a concentration on the period of the Harlem Renaissance. Special Collections holds substantial works by authors Amiri Baraka, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Clarence Majors, Alice Dunbar-Nelson, and Ishmael Reed. Among the print sources are numerous folios including a collection of poetry broadsides published by Broadside Press, which was founded by Dudley Randall in Detroit in the 1960s. The broadsides feature the works of renowned poets Langston Hughes, Gwendolyn Brooks, Margaret Walker, Robert Hayden, and Dudley Randall.

The Library's online catalog, DELCAT, is best used with Microsoft Internet Explorer. For topical searches of print sources related to African Americans in DELCAT, use Basic Search or Browse Search. Though the subject heading established by the Library of Congress is "African Americans," it is important to experiment with keyword searches for historical terms or phrases such as "Negroes," "Blacks," or "colored," or other associated phrases such as "race relations," "civil rights," or "Methodist Episcopal." For additional assistance consult a Special Collections librarian or consult the Library's Research Guide to African American History.

To restrict searches to primary sources found in Special Collections,

To use basic search:

Sample Basic Search/Keyword Anywhere:

To browse subject searches:

Sample Browse/Subject searches:

Other relevant subject searches using Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH):

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Visual Material

The Scrapbook Collection in Special Collections yields a small but rich sample of African Americana. Greeting cards, trade cards, and other images pasted in the volumes represent racial caricatures of African Americans made popular during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Scrapbook No. 2, (1 item)
Depiction of smiling southern African Americans in work clothes.

Scrapbook No. 4, (12 items)
Depiction of an African American’s woman’s life Monday - Sunday; advertisements for domestic products; head of African American protruding from fruit.

Scrapbook No. 8, (1 item)
Half of a Valentine’s Day card depicting an African American in the process of cooking with the caption "Dis is fo’ muh Valentine."

Scrapbook No. 10, (2 items)
Christmas card with African American caricature on front; New Years card depicting an African American dressed as a jockey riding a bike.

Scrapbook No. 11, (1 item)
Depiction of Ira Aldridge as Aaron in the Shakespearean play Titus Andronicus.

Scrapbook No. 17, (2 items)
Depiction of African American female holding a fan; Minstrel show playbill dated February 21, 1865.

Scrapbook No. 19, (17 items)
Depictions of African Americans in various settings including domestic and recreational.

Scrapbook No. 29, (3 items)
Depiction of an African boy riding a camel; Africans on a boat; Africans on the shore.

Scrapbook No. 30, (2 items)
Depiction of two female Africans; female Africans as ladies in waiting.

Scrapbook No. 31, (3 items)
Depiction of African American man placing an item in his bag; Africans harvesting tobacco; advertisement for Liberia Coffee.

Scrapbook No. 33, (1 item)
Depiction of three African Americans sitting on a bench.

Scrapbook No. 34, (2 items)
Depiction of African Americans playing the banjo; African American boy at a circus surrounded by whites.

Scrapbook No. 37, (2 items)
Depiction of an African American man carry a white man’s bags; African American workers in the process of loading a large bundle.

Scrapbook No. 39, (1 item)
Depiction of two children, one African American, the other white, sharing a newspaper.

Scrapbook No. 46, (2 items)
Depiction of African American men shucking corn; African American boy under whom is written a derogatory caption. Images appear near the back of the book.

Scrapbook No. 54, (3 items)
Depictions of African Americans as entertainers.

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Oral Histories

MSS 179 Delaware Oral History Collection , 294 tapes, 188 transcripts

The Delaware Oral History Collection was created from interviews conducted between 1966 and 1978 and was a project of the History Department of the University of Delaware. The collection includes eight interviews by Americans Africans, from ordinary citizens such as Mary A. Watson Elliott, a former University custodian, to prominent Delawareans Louis Redding, who was a civil rights lawyer on Brown v. Board of Education, and Pauline Young, a librarian and activist who was the niece of famed writer and educator Alice Dunbar Nelson. The finding aid includes an alphabetical index of interviewees which provides a brief occupational or subject note, date of interview, interviewer's name, and whether or not a transcript exists.

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The Delaware Postcard Collection comprises over 2,000 historic images depicting places and life in Delaware. Digital images are available through an online database, a project that was funded by the Unidel Foundation. Images can be searched by geographic location or subject terms, yielding visual sources related to African Americans such as the Colored School in Marshallton or numerous Methodist Episcopal churches throughout the state.

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Manuscripts and Archival Resources

Historical manuscripts and archives include the papers, letters, diaries, photographs, account books, ledgers, and records of individuals, families, and organizations. Unpublished finding aids to manuscript and archival collections are available in Special Collections, and a growing number of these have been posted on the Library's server for access via the Internet.

In general, University of Delaware manuscript finding aids include biographical notes, scope and content notes, series outlines, series descriptions, and container lists. All complete finding aids, including container lists, are available in the repository. In addition to the unpublished finding aids and inventories, Special Collections maintains a database of literary and historical correspondence and manuscripts.

A selected listing of these sources is included below, along with their manuscript collection numbers. For assistance of any kind, please contact a Librarian in Special Collections.

MSS 097 Diaries, Journals, Ships Logs Collection

Item 53 James M. Morton Diary, 1859-1861, 1 volume

In his diary Morton mentions the sale of slaves, others leaving for military service, the capture of Fort Sumter, and traveling in the South in 1859-1861.

MSS 98 Miscellaneous Delaware Literary and Historical Manuscripts

F17 Caleb Cox, 1832, 1 item

Bill of Sale for a Negro slave boy named Caleb Cox.

F95 William R. Jones Papers, 1858 – 1863, 3 items

Includes a copy of William R. Jones’s will, which emancipated his slaves upon his death. The will states that the slaves are to seek relocation to Liberia.

MSS 99 Miscellaneous Literary and Historical Manuscripts

F580 Nancy Cunard and Hugh Ford Letters to David Garnett, 1928 – 1970, 8 items

The eight letters in this small collection are together as a result of Hugh Ford’s 1968 volume Nancy Cunard: Brave Poet, Indomitable Rebel. Cunard’s letters span from the early days of her friendship with David Garnett in 1928 until just before her death in 1965. Cunard befriended many of the Harlem Renaissance writers and unashamedly expressed her affinity for African Americans and African American culture. As demonstrated by these letters, Cunard maintain close ties with the African American community throughout her life.

MSS 100 > Manuscript and Archival Collections

MSS 104 Desegregation of Delaware Archives, 1960 – 1982 (bulk dates 1974-1976), 6 linear ft.

The collection consists of reports, articles, and other papers related to desegregation which were collected as resource files by Abigail Covelli. The collection contains information on desegregation in Delaware as well as in other states.

MSS 113 Alice Nelson Dunbar Papers, 7.8 linear ft and 120 volumes

The Alice Dunbar-Nelson Papers consist of the literary, professional, and personal papers of Alice Dunbar-Nelson, renowned poet and former wife of poet Paul Laurence Dunbar. The papers include an extensive collection of her incoming correspondence. Of particular note is her correspondence (1895-1904) from Paul Laurence Dunbar, which also includes her letters to Dunbar. The Alice Dunbar-Nelson Papers also include a comprehensive collection of manuscripts of her writing, including novels, stories, poetry, drama, and essays. Dunbar-Nelson maintained a daily diary for most of her adult life and the extent portions of her diaries are present in her papers. The Alice Dunbar-Nelson papers also include significant collections of family papers, scrapbooks, newspaper clippings, ephemera, and memorabilia.

MSS 130 Lewis Family Papers, 1700- 1931, 3 linear ft.

The Lewis family were residents of Delaware. Most of the family made their home in Newark. This collection includes business and personal papers such as daybooks, farming records, legal documents, and literary works. Documents pertaining to African Americans can be found among the Albert G. Lewis papers. Box 1, F5 contains slave indentures and bills of sale; Box 2 F 22 contains a runaway slave notice; Box 7 contains family Bible of C.A. Lewis. A list of "colored" births and deaths can be found in the back pages of the Bible.

MSS 143 Charles Johnson Papers, 1974 – 1976, .33 linear ft.

The Charles Johnson Papers consist of letters and manuscripts sent to Johnson's former professor, John Gardner, in the late 1970s. The letters, some decorated with sketches and caricatures, detail Johnson's nascent ideas for several unwritten novels and stories. Other letters share personal anecdotes and describe Johnson's university classes, experiences with publishers, and employment opportunities. The letters also contain dense philosophical meditations on literature, the nature of the artist and writer, and on Black experience. With many of his letters, Johnson included manuscripts of articles and novels for Gardner to peruse and critique. The collection thus provides an intimate and revealing glance into Johnson's publications, his methodology, and beliefs.

MSS 171 Peter Strickland Papers, 1857-1912, 1 linear ft.

This collection contains the dairies and letter books of Peter Strickland, a shipmaster, merchant, and U.S. consul in the French colony of Senegal. The collection includes thirteen bound volumes and several newspapers from the period 1857 – 1912. The Strickland papers will be of particular interest to researchers interested in West African trading by Europeans and Americans.

MSS 218 Edward A. Fulton Papers, 1860 – 1877, 43 items

This collection contains the letters of Edward Fulton, a Union solider from Wilmington, Delaware. Fulton makes several references to African Americans in his letters. F4 – Letter dated March 9, 1862 references the abandonment of slaves by southern slave owners upon the arrival of federal troops; letter dated March 15, 1862 provides details concerning slaves seeking refuge in Union camps and of a slave owners attempt to retrieve his slave. F7 – Letter dated March 15, 1862 makes short reference to Black soldiers.

MSS 240 Samuel Meredith Papers, 1730 – 1823 (bulk 1764-1823), 2 linear ft.

Samuel Meredith was a prominent Philadelphia, appointed by George Washington as the first United States Treasurer. The Samuel Meredith Papers consist of correspondence, receipts, bills, cancelled checks, a deed, and account books. Meredith makes numerous references relating to services he had performed on behalf of his "Negro servants," such as having shoes or coats repaired. See F1, F2, F3, F5, F8, F12, and F27.

MSS 250 Dodd, Mead & Company Archives, 1896 – 1974, 2 linear ft.

The Dodd, Mead and Company Archive consists of two linear feet of material, spanning the dates 1896-1974. The archive is comprised of correspondence, contracts, photographs, wills, probate documents, biographies, drafts, notes, copyright documents, poems, printed programs, ephemera, and clippings. This selection of the company files details the business arrangements between the publisher and various African American authors including Paul Laurence Dunbar, Benjamin Brawley, Langston Hughes, Arna Bontemps and others.

MSS 254 American Propaganda Collection, 1924 – 1961, 1 linear ft.

This collection contains various publications from 1924 - 1961 which advocate extremist political opinions. The bulk of the publications spans the years 1950 – 1959 and express anti-integration sentiments underscored by the slogan "Integration is Tyranny." The publications feature opinions from religious and civil organizations, ordinary citizens, and members of Congress. These publications highlight the predominate fear of integration which was miscegenation.

MSS 256 Pauline Young Collection, 1924 – 1988, 1 linear ft.

The Pauline A. Young Collection includes material either gathered or written by the Delaware educator and activist Pauline A. Young (1900-1991), much of which relates to prominent poets Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906) and Alice Dunbar-Nelson (1875-1935). The collection itself consists of one linear foot of material comprising correspondence, periodical clippings and photocopies, photographs, brochures, programs, and ephemera.

MSS 265 Kim Rogers Burdrick Papers related to Delaware Folklife, 1982 – 1991, 13 items

The papers include Burdick’s 1985 lecture, " Delaware Blue and Gray Ghosts," which focuses on Civil War ghost stories told in Delaware, especially stories sympathetic to African Americans and Confederate soldiers. Historical information about slavery in Delaware is also provided.

MSS 331 Willard Saulsbury, Jr. Papers, 1716 – 1943, 70 linear ft.

Willard Saulsbury, Sr., was a U. S. Senator from Delaware during the Civil War, who protested limitations on states' rights, but remained loyal to the Union. Series V includes material from the period 1859 to 1865 regarding slavery and military affairs. Willard Saulsbury, Jr., was a prominent leader of the Democratic Party and his management of Woodrow Wilson's first presidential campaign led to his own election to the U.S. Senate. This collection contains campaign materials and voter analysis which reflects the racial politics of the day.

MSS 342 Papers of Dr. Allston Morris related to Southbridge Medical Advisory Council and Activities Center , 1968 - 1980 (bulk dates 1968 - 1974), 1.2 linear ft.

Dr. Morris's papers document the creation and early existence of the Southbridge Medical Activities Center in the Wilmington, Delaware. His papers begin with "A Proposal for the Delivery of Health Service in South Wilmington, 1968" and continue through a program celebrating the tenth anniversary of the Southbridge Center in 1980. With its fifteen volunteer doctors and seventeen pharmacists, Southbridge Medical Activities Center was the first privately-funded community health center in Delaware.

MSS 354 Beadle and Adams Archives, 1848 – 1920, .3 linear ft.

The collection includes letters written in 1864 by Benjamin Beadle regarding his Vicksburg, Mississippi, cotton plantation, the conscription of horses by the "Rebs," the use of Negroes, and thoughts on Lincoln and the War.

MSS 336 Margaret Rose Henry Speeches, 1994 – 1995, .2 linear ft.

This collection of speeches by the Honorable Margaret Rose Henry, elected in 1994 as the Delaware State Senator for the 2nd Senatorial District, comprise eighteen short political addresses delivered between 1994 and 1995 by the Delaware Senator to various constituent groups, primarily in Wilmington. These speeches clearly reflect Senator Henry's attention to issues of equity, civil rights, crime prevention, social services, and education for minority populations. Henry's speeches also reveal her strong understanding of and commitment to Black history and heritage. In addition to these typescript manuscripts the collection includes a folder of memoranda, articles, clippings, and programs; all of which are related to Margaret Rose Henry or her speeches. F10 mentions speeches concerning the National Council of Negro Women. The articles and clippings found in F19 chronicle aspects of Senator Henry's work in the Delaware State Senate, as well as providing material for speeches, such as poems by Paul Laurence Dunbar and Langston Hughes or information on the inner city.

MSS 377 Wilbur T. Wilson Map Collection, 1886 – 1941, 4 linear ft and ca 500 maps

The Wilbur T. Wilson Map Collection concerns the work of the prominent Newark, Delaware, engineer and surveyor Wilbur T. Wilson (1856-1942). The collection comprises four linear feet of notebooks and files, and approximately 500 maps. There are maps, plans, and cross-sections; blue prints and Van Dykes; graphite and ink on linen, paper, and tracing paper. Racial segregation is reflected in Map 58, the Newark Board of Education's "Plan of Colored School Site" (1920) and Survey Notebook volume 67 (Folder 109) in a "Description of Colored School property conveyed from Delaware School Auxiliary."

MSS 398 Ishmael Reed Papers, 1964 – 1995, 65 linear ft.

The Ishmael Reed Papers is a substantial collection of the manuscripts, correspondence, business and publishing records, printed and multimedia productions, and other materials which document the multi-faceted career of Ishmael Reed. Using the materials in this collection, it will be possible for scholars to discover Reed's prolific and productive life of involvement in arts, letters, and politics. All of Reed's many activities are represented in this collection, which takes its basic organizational form and order from his works, activities, and achievements. In addition, the collection provides detailed documentation of Reed's creative and professional work on individual projects with extensive holdings in manuscripts, project records, paste-ups and galley proofs, audio and videotapes, calendars, travel records, and planning notes. Literary and professional correspondence, legal and publishing correspondence, and additional personal correspondence provide a framework for tracing the influence of personal and professional relationships throughout his career, as well as the ways in which Reed's multiple roles and projects are related.

MSS 402 Waples Family Papers, 1753 – 1864, .6 linear ft.

The Waples Family Papers, spanning the dates 1753-1864, contains correspondence, wills, deeds and surveys, financial and legal documents, speeches, wills, manumissions, a broadside, a newspaper clipping, an announcement, and invitations. F1 contains a list of bill of goods taken by Sarah Waples, a resident of Sussex County, Delaware. The list includes "a black girl; a black boy." F4 contains a 1834 manumission document; F28 contains an anti-abolition broadside; F32, F36, F40 contains family wills which mention slaves; F37 contains two 1832 manumission documents and a slave bill of sale.

MSS 465 The Lincoln Collection

The Lincoln Collection contains over two thousand books and pamphlets, photographs, artwork, sculpture, artifacts, historic documents, and miscellaneous material pertaining to the life and career of Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865), the sixteenth President of the United States. Among the most significant items in the collection are copies of the Emancipation Proclamation and the Thirteenth Amendment signed by Lincoln.

MSS 471 Chris Oakley Collection of Alternative Press, 1968 – 1992, 1.5 linear ft.

The Chris Oakley Collection of Alternative Press includes a fragmented collection of a variety of alternative newspapers and community newsletters, mostly from New Castle County, Delaware. The papers focus on issues of social justice, racism, and civil rights. Newspapers such as The Black Panther Community News and The National Black Monitor feature articles pertaining to African Americans on a local, national, and international scale. Also included in the collection is an original charcoal portrait of Pauline Young, niece of Alice Dunbar- Nelson.

MSS 472 Sir Joseph Gold Political and Miscellaneous Ephemera Collection, 1960s – 1990s, 1 linear ft.

The Sir Joseph Gold Political and Miscellaneous Ephemera Collection comprises flyer banknotes, correspondences, letterhead, newsletters, pamphlets, posters, postcards, and reviews. Series 1 contains political ephemera on topics such as Black Power, and issues of racism, civil and human rights, community building efforts, and issues pertaining to economic justice and equality.

MSS 489 Virden Family Papers, 1783 - 1901 (bulk dates 1820s - 1960s), 36 items

The Virden family papers, spanning the years 1783-1901, consist of thirty-six letters, receipts, deeds, accounts, and other documents, mostly relating to the family of Samuel Virden of Kent County, Delaware. F1 contains an account book by an unidentified author, 1783-1787, which records many transactions with "negroes." F4 contains a letter from Edwin Virden to "Father," a Methodist priest in Frederica, Delaware, 24 Sep 1865. Edwin is living on a plantation in Jackson, Mississippi, with this brother, Samuel Virden, Jr., and his sisters Anna and Ruth. He offers commentary on the post-Civil War South and broad condemnation of the "indolent," "stealing" former slaves.

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