Graphic novel highlights historical impact of Black Philadelphians

“BLAM!” illustrates 14 historic Black Philadelphians, including Cecil B. Moore and Marian Anderson.

The Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection has launched BLAM! (Black Lives Always Mattered: Hidden African American Philadelphians in the Twentieth Century), an exhibit showcasing graphic novels highlighting 14 historical figures in Philadelphia history. The exhibit can be visited inside the Charles Library. | FERNANDO GAXIOLA / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Amid millions protesting police brutality nationwide with the Black Lives Matter movement, Temple University’s Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection is taking those three words a step further. 

The prominent collection of African-American artifacts recently published “BLAM!,” or “Black Lives Always Mattered,” a graphic novel that illustrates how 14 Black Philadelphians have influenced American history.

“‘Black Lives Always Mattered’ is a statement that speaks to the breadth and depth of Black culture and African American history, and how we have always played a role in not only today’s times, but the early stages as well,” said Malik Boyd, the publicist and moderator for the project.  

Funded through the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage, the book highlights the lives of figures like Marian Anderson, the first Black woman to perform with the New York Metropolitan Opera, and Cecil B. Moore, a civil rights activist

The book deconstructs harmful stereotypes of African Americans in a way that engages with a younger audience, said Diane Turner, curator of the Blockson Collection. 

The Blockson Collection was donated by Charles L. Blockson in 1984, and contains more than 500,000 items related to the Black experience dating to the late 1500’s. 

“We felt that the project was urgent, not only because of the underutilized and enlightening resources available in the Blockson Collection, but also because history courses are disappearing from public school curricula and uncomfortable chapters of the nation’s history are being erased,” Turner said. “We live in a very dangerous period of historical amnesia.”

There have always been Black superheroes, Boyd said, and he sees the graphic novel as a way of reminding people of the superheroes that have come before them. 

“It helps future generations to understand that we always have had superheroes among us, and to remind some of us of the superheroes that have gone before us, illustrated in a way similar to what comic book powerhouses would do,” Boyd said. 

Sheena Howard, the lead writer, and other contributors began in Fall 2019. Parts of the graphic novel will be on display both virtually and in-person in Charles Library from Sept. 9 to Dec. 14, 2020, Turner said. The collection plans to eventually move the project to the Blockson exhibition space in Sullivan Hall in 2021, The Temple News reported.  

The collection is allowing a maximum of three visitors at a time and requires mask-wearing while inside Charles Library, said Timothy Welbeck, an Africology and African American studies instructor.

Welbeck sees the exhibit as essential to current conversation around race, since it is both timely and timeless, he said.  

 “Whether you are young or old, there is something there for you that adds value to your history, story and culture,” Boyd said. 

1 Comment

  1. What a great concept! I am wondering if this is (please share ordering information) or will be (please consider doing so) published in a genuine book format. Obviously, this would be a great resource for teachers. My daughter, a Philly native and Temple grad, teaches in Detroit. I am certain she would love sharing this creative tome with her students. She greatly enjoys sharing her Philly roots with the youth in her classroom. Great work!

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