Thursday, 24 February 2011

African American History Resources, Part Two: pre-20th century, slavery, emancipation etc

To follow up my previous post listing some of the resources we have available for African American history in the 20th century, here I'll set out some of the resources we have for earlier time periods, in particular related to slavery/anti-slavery, emancipation, and the Civil War (another core area of our collection). My period-division here has been very rough, just to avoid having an enormously long post, so some of the resources listed here will reach into the 20th century, and I will also not repeat resources here from my previous post that do cover earlier periods (especially our government publications and newspaper resources).

Microfilm and archival collections

The Freedmen's Aid Society Records cover 1866-1932, and extend to 120 reels of microfilm (guide available at Micr. BX 8235 .F74 2000).  The Freedman's Aid Society was originally founded as the Fugitives' Aid Society with the aim to assist fugitive slaves and to lobby and protest against slavery in the United States. With the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, the Fugitives' Aid Society became the Freedmen's Aid Society. The organisation sent money and volunteer aid to the South after the defeat of the Confederacy. They also had a strong education initiative and was responsible for the establishment of many historically Black colleges and universities.

One of the major archival collections held in Rhodes House Library (next door) are the Papers of the (British) Anti-Slavery Society. This society, founded in 1835, had as its aim the abolition of slavery throughout the world in general and in the United States in particular. It convened the first World Anti-Slavery Convention, held in London in June 1840, at which some fifty leading American abolitionists were present. After 1840 the society's transatlantic prestige declined and a second convention held in 1843 attracted only a few American delegates. The Society continued to concern itself with American problems and correspond with American abolitionists up to the Civil War but it was affected by the divisions in the American movement and there came a realisation that it could do little to affect the outcome of the Americn situation. If you're interested in consulting papers from this archive, contact staff in Rhodes House Library.  See for more information.

Another archival collection held at Rhodes House is that of the United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, which was founded in 1701 as a result of an enquiry into the state of the Church of England in the American colonies. Its remit was broadened to encompass evangelisation of slaves and Native Americans. More information can be found at, and again, if you want to consult this archive, contact staff in Rhodes House Library.

In addition to these papers of societies, we have several microfilm collections of the papers of individuals who were active in American politics in the mid-19th century, and which will include material on slavery and emancipation to a greater or lesser extent.  These are the papers of James Buchanan (Micr. USA 458), Salmon P. Chase (Micr. USA 331), William H. Seward (Micr. USA 346), and Thaddeus Stevens (Micr. USA 353).  Abraham Lincoln's papers can be found online via the Libary of Congress, who have digitised around 20,000 documents from the 1850s through to Lincoln's death in 1865.

The Records of the American Colonization Society, founded in 1817 to resettle African Americans in West Africa, cover 1792-1964, but the bulk of the material dates from 1823-1912. There is a guide available at Micr. E 448 .U54 1979, and selections of these records are also available online via

On a similar theme, we also have the Records of the Office of the Secretary of the Interior relating to the suppression of the African slave trade and Negro colonization, which is a comprehensive set of government papers on many aspects of executive federal involvement in colonisation between 1854 and 1872. These are on microfilm at Micr. USA 456, and can also be found online via

Online resources

And finally, here's a list of some of the useful free online resources I have come across relating to African American history pre-20th century, slavery, emancipation etc, all saved on our delicious page for future reference: 
These are just some of the more specific online resources available, but there is so much more to be found in various state digital libraries or wider Civil War web resources, just to point you to two subsets of our delicious list.  Happy hunting!

Credit: some of the text in this post was originally written by the History Librarian, Isabel Holowaty, as I have just borrowed her descriptions where they already existed.

Friday, 18 February 2011

African American History Resources, Part One: 20th Century

February is Black History Month, and so I thought I'd put together a couple of blog posts about some of the resources we have available in the library for African American history.  Resources for African American history are increasingly a particular strength of the VHL's collection, and with our recent acquisition of the electronic archives of two major black newspapers of the 20th century (The New York Amsterdam News, 1922-1993 and The Pittsburgh Courier, 1911-2002 - see this blog post for more information), we are now the only institution in Western Europe to have access to the archives of three black newspapers.  In this first blog post I will focus on 20th century African American history resources, in particular relating to civil rights, and will follow it up (by the end of the month, I promise!) with one on the 19th century and slavery & emancipation.


To start briefly with newspapers and periodicals (but not too extensively, as they were the subject of my last two blog posts), in addition to the three archives mentioned above, we also have a collection of 17 black journals from the first half of the twentieth century available on microfiche (to see which, take a look at our online newspapers-on-microfilm list), as well as an extensive run of the leading African American magazine, Ebony, from 1945-1954 (on microfilm) and then 1958-2008 in print.   If you're looking for really recent African American newspapers, then Ethnic NewsWatch (via OxLIP+) provides coverage of ethnic and minority newspapers from 1990 to the present.

For more information on finding newspapers in general, take a look at the previous two posts on this blog.

Microfilm collections

The Civil Rights Era is a particular strength of our collection, and we have several microfilm collections of papers and records relating to the Civil Rights struggle.   The Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) Papers cover 1959-1976, and include the records and papers of this organisation, which was founded in 1942 in Chicago and advocated non-violent direct action to address racial discrimination.  A guide to the microfilm collection can be found at Micr. E 185.61 .C75455 1984.

We only have selections of the Papers of the NAACP, but even so this is a massive collection of records, speeches, reports, correspondence, branch files and campaign information from the National Association of the Advancement of Colored People.  We hold parts 1, 2, 11A, 11B, 12B, 12C, 12D, 26B, 26C, 26D, 28A, 28B, 29A, 29B, 29C, and 29D of this collection (along with guides), which cover a range of topics, locations and dates from 1909-1970.

Another substantial microfilm collection we hold is Civil rights during the Nixon Administration, which record the Nixon administration's broadening of the concept of equal rights beyond desegregation to include affirmative action in hiring women, the elderly, the physically disabled, and an expanding and overlapping list of other groups. Even though the subject matter here is much broader, you will still find records covering the continuing controversy over school desegregation and other topics relating to African American history.

And finally for microfilms, jumping back a little in time, are the Records of the Chicago Commission on Race Relations, which was set up following the riot of July/August 1919 by Illinois governor Frank Lowden.

Government publications and official papers

You can, as expected, find a huge amount of material in our major government publications resources, particularly of course the US Congressional Serial Set (via OxLIP+) where you can browse for publications related to acts such as the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1968 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, as well as search and browse by subject.

One thing you may not realise that we have though is a lot of the printed civil rights hearings, in particular those before the United States Commission on Civil Rights in the early 1960s - search for civil rights hearings on SOLO.  Many of these are down in our stack, so you will need to place a stack request via OLIS to get them fetched up for you.

I will write further blog posts in the future about finding government publications, so keep an eye on the blog for that if you need more guidance.


Just a quick note that the shelfmark range for African Americans in the Library of Congress classification is E 184.5 - E185.98.  Obviously you can search SOLO to find out what books we have, but if you want to go and browse the shelves, that's where to head for!

Online resources

As ever, there is a huge and growing amount of fantastic primary source material being made available online.   A good starting point is the VHL's delicious page, and the sites we have saved there tagged as African American: particular highlights for the 20th century/civil rights are: