Blockson retires as curator
of African-American collection
President Hart Announces Appointment of Committee to Search Nationwide for Successor to Curator Charles L. Blockson and Establishment of Committee to Raise Funds for the Blockson Collection
Temple University President Ann Weaver Hart today announced the appointment of a blue-ribbon committee to search for a successor to Charles L. Blockson, who had previously announced his retirement at the end of this year as curator of the highly regarded African-American collection that bears his name.
As Blockson stated in his June 1, 2006, retirement letter to former president David Adamany, “The Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection was established at Temple University in 1984 as a unit of the University Libraries’ Special Collections. It is one of the largest Afro-American collections of its kind at a major university and has grown throughout the years nationally and internationally.”
Hart also announced the formation of the Blockson Collection Endowment Committee, to be co-chaired by Temple University Trustee James S. White and Interim Provost Richard M. Englert, to honor the legacy and accomplishments of Blockson by raising funds for the preservation and dissemination of his acclaimed collection. The President’s Office will make a gift of $100,000 to begin the process of building resources for these purposes.
Materials in the Blockson collection date from 1581 and include prints, photographs, slave narratives, manuscripts, letters and other materials. Within the collection are first-edition works by Phyllis Wheatly and W.E.B. DuBois; African Bibles; correspondence of Haitian revolutionaries; Paul Robeson’s sheet music; narratives by Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass; thousands of taped interviews and radio programs on African and African-American history and culture; and more than 500,000 photographs.
“Mr. Blockson’s contributions to the field of African-American scholarship and his important collection will forever inform studies on the black experience,” Hart said. “His work has strengthened Temple as a center for the scholarly exploration of African-American life, and we are committed to ensuring that his collection is preserved and made even more accessible to the future scholars of tomorrow.
“I am delighted that Mr. Blockson has agreed to serve on the committee that will conduct a nationwide search for his successor,” Hart added. That 12-member panel includes academics, librarians and archivists. It will be led by Theresa Powell, Temple’s vice president for Student Affairs; Margaret Jerrido, archivist and administrator of the Urban Archives at Temple, will serve as vice-chair.
“I am also indebted to Trustee James S. White for agreeing to co-chair the effort to generate additional funds for this extraordinary collection,” Hart said. “We welcome his leadership in ensuring that the Blockson collection is forever preserved and made more visible and accessible.”
In a 2002 interview, Blockson said of his collection: “This is a gift to Temple University and to the world at large; it is my hope that the students and other interested persons would take advantage of the knowledge that is contained in the books and other documents.” He has also said: “My main goal in life is to build a good library of black history – knowledge is a form of black power and this is my part in it…. It has long been my conviction that no race of people should be deprived of the knowledge of itself and that libraries are the soul of a nation.”
Blockson began his collection during his youth. He later became one of the nation’s leading experts on the Underground Railroad and is the author of several books, including “The Underground Railroad: First Person Narratives.”
The Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection is now housed in five separate rooms on the first floor of Sullivan Hall on Temple’s Main Campus. Sullivan Hall is closed on weekends and after 5 p.m. on weekdays, making access to the collection difficult. As part of comprehensive capital review of the University Libraries currently under way, the University is evaluating opportunities to provide the Blockson collection with a permanent and expanded location that will ensure that it is more visible within the University and more accessible to scholars and others.
A Norristown, Pa., native, Blockson graduated from Penn State University in 1956, where he played football with Lenny Moore and Roosevelt Grier; he later turned down an offer to play for the New York Giants. He spent many years teaching local and multicultural history and leading teacher and staff workshops in the Norristown Area School District.
Blockson has lectured internationally and has organized exhibitions and black studies programs throughout the country. He has been an active leader in many civic organizations and is the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Before Columbus Foundation. He holds multiple honorary doctorates.
Joining Powell, Jerrido and Blockson on the panel charged with seeking Blockson’s successor are Temple professors Molefi Asante, William Cutler, Wilbert Jenkins, Nathaniel Norment and Rickie Sanders; Temple librarians Aslaku Berhanu and Mark Darby; David Moltke-Hansen, president and CEO of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania; and V. Chapman-Smith, director of the Mid-Atlantic Region of the National Archives and Records Administration. A search firm will be retained to assist with the search.
The Blockson Collection is open for view and study between the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. Also, the collection catalog can be accessed through Temple Libraries’ Web site.
Blockson will retire effective Dec. 31, 2006.
For more information, contact Mark Eyerly,