Charles Blockson, curator emeritus of the Temple Libraries’ Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection, held an event focused on his research on American abolitionist Harriet Tubman in Sullivan Hall on Monday afternoon.
The event featured a short film about Tubman and an interview between Blockson and Cody Anderson, a WURD radio host. This was followed by a question and answer session with the audience and a performance by Daisy Century, who played Harriet Tubman.
Blockson has published more than 10 books, including “The Haitian Revolution: Celebrating the First Black Republic” and “The Underground Railroad in Pennsylvania.” He has also led Underground Railroad tours from Bucktown, Maryland, which was Tubman’s hometown, through Philadelphia to St. Catherines, Canada.
Blockson’s collection, which he donated to Temple in 1984, has materials that date back to 1581. It features works authored by prominent African-American figures like Phyllis Wheatley and W.E.B. DuBois, according to the department of Africology and African American Studies’ website.
“We have over 700,000 items in this collection,” Blockson told the audience. “Harriet Tubman meant so much to me and to all of us.”
“Early one morning, she stole away … But she didn’t stop there,” Century said. “She went back, time and time again, well over ten trips, bringing over 100 with her to freedom. She was known to the slaves as Moses, to the abolitionists as the Prophet, to the Union soldiers as General Tubman.”
Switching into character, Century donned a burlap shirt and large felt hat to portray a young Tubman.
“In this life, I’m owed two things: death or freedom,” Century said, as Tubman. “If I can’t have one, I’ll have the other.”
The event had an overwhelming attendance, far more than what the organizers had anticipated, though no students attended.
Blockson turned his interview with Anderson into an open conversation with the audience to make the session more engaging.
“I caution those sitting up front,” said Anderson, jokingly to the audience. “Dr. Blockson always asks questions that make you feel kind of uninformed by saying, ‘Did you know that?’ or ‘Don’t you know that?’ or ‘Come on.’ So, don’t make eye contact with him.”
“It’s always a pleasure to listen to history coming from someone who lived it,” said 82-year-old Mable Ellis Welborn, board chair of Leon H. Sullivan Charitable Trust, said. “Dr. Blockson is a treasure. It’s important for people to share their history. The living historians sharing the history. You can read it, but to hear him talk about it is a different thing.”
“It’s funny the impact a man makes,” Matt Hopkins said. “He’s a man that everywhere he goes, he leaves an imprint. We need to value him more and more.”