Next year, Philadelphia will be host to two of the most anticipated events in the black community. Haiti will celebrate the 200th anniversary of the founding of Haiti as the first black republic next January. In July, the NAACP will have its national convention in Philadelphia, where 14,000 members from across the country are expected to attend.
Tours will be given showing African-American history throughout Philadelphia starting with Temple University’s own Blockston Collection.
The Blockston Collection is housed on Sullivan Hall’s first floor, located on Liacouras Walk. The library is a vast collection of books, artifacts, newspapers, magazines, writings and photos on the African American community dating back to the 15th century.
“I consider this Temple’s ‘acre of diamonds,'” said Charles Blockston, quoting former Temple president Russell H. Conwell. “I collect anything relating to the African Diaspora. My legacy is to collect, preserve and disseminate our [African descendents] history for people of all races creeds and color. This collection knows no prejudice as far as knowledge.”
The library is open to visitors Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The pieces of the collection are not available to check out of the library, but visitors are encouraged to stay and read or make copies of selected materials to keep.
Despite Temple housing the extensive Blockston collection, more space, longer visitation hours and information for incoming students about the collection remains sparse.
“It needs space, it needs to be catalogued, people come from all over the country who know about the collection, and I’m hampered. It has been lying here in the condition that it is for the last 15 years, and it’s a major African-American collection that can benefit many people. But it cannot, because I do not have the space or staff to process the collection,” Blockston said.
Along with the main room, as many as four other rooms exist to house more of the valuable historical collection. In the past Blockston has asked for more space for the collection. Although promised, the expansion is still pending.
“I don’t like to have these books in my office; these are books I can’t put on shelves. This is our history; it shouldn’t be in my office,” Blockston said.
Incoming freshman and transfer students often do not receive information regarding the collection.
“I get e-mails and calls about the collection from all over the world, people congratulate me for being here but then say ‘I never knew, why haven’t we heard more about the collection.’ This includes students at the university,” Blockston said. “I think the library should be open more, at least one night per week or a half a day during the weekend, for students who can’t come during the day.”
Blockston believes during student orientation the collection should be introduced the same as Paley Library.
The collection is a major part of Temple University’s legacy and contribution to the Philadelphia community. Many articles have been written on the life of Mr. Blockston, but he feels the focus should not be towards him but towards his legacy.
He encourages students and their families to visit the collection to read and see the historical material. Philadelphia is the leading city for African American tourism, according to Blockston. Temple should be more informative to its students and its community about the collection.
“It’s ironic this library has more recognition nationally than locally,” Blockston said. “We are sitting on a acre of diamonds and everybody should know.”
David Cargin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.