Charles Blockson: educator and preservationist

One of the nation’s largest private collections of black history is housed at Temple University’s Main Campus. The Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection consists of over 150,000 African, African-American, and African-Caribbean items that date back as far as 1557.

Charles Blockson, the collection’s curator donated his collection to Temple in 1984. He felt that Philadelphia was enriched with black culture and it should be preserved.

“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,” said Blockson.

With this gift Blockson wanted to “help eliminate ignorance, because in many ways it is the worst form of slavery.”

Blockson began his collection at the age of 10. Today, it is extensively used by many; from high school students to such prestigious individuals as Bill Cosby, Alice Walker and Rosa Parks.

The collection is held in five separate rooms located on the first floor of Sullivan Hall. It includes rare books, manuscripts, sheet music, pamphlets, journals, newspapers, posters, slave narratives, foreign language publications and photographs. Also, the collection houses selected artifacts, including statues and busts.

As well as hosting this collection, Blockson also lectures at schools and organizes exhibitions and black studies programs throughout the United States. Blockson is also the chairperson of the National Park Services’ Underground Railroad Advisory Committee, where his main obligation is to preserve sites throughout Philadelphia.

“It has long been my conviction that no race of people should be deprived of the knowledge of itself,” said Blockson.

Blockson authored many books, including “The Underground Railroad: Dramatic Firsthand Accounts of Daring Escapes to Freedom,” “The Hippocrene Guide to the Underground Railroad” and “The Underground Railroad: First Person Narratives.” His most current work is titled “African American in Pennsylvania, Above Ground and Underground.”

The collection is open for view and study between the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. Also, the collection can be accessed through a card catalog located in Temple’s library online computer system. Outside the collection’s main reading room, there is a permanent rotating exhibit that changes themes periodically.

On Thursday, Feb. 21, the Blockson Collection, Temple University Press, the African American Studies Department, and the University Libraries will be celebrating the book, “The Black Female Body: A photographic History,” by Deborah Willis and Carla Williams. This event will take place at the Charles Blockson Afro-American Collection in Sullivan Hall from 3 to 5 p.m.

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