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Complete History

Reprinted from Library Quarterly, vol. 58, no. 2, pp. 143-163. Copyright 1988 by The University of Chicago. All rights reserved.

This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair use provisions of U.S. copyright law, and it may be archived and redistributed in electronic form, provided that this entire notice, including copyright information, is carried and provided that the University of Chicago Press is notified and no fee is charged. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires both the consent of the author and the University of Chicago Press. The term of this permission is limited to a period of 12 months only. This permission does not apply to any part of the selection which is independently copyrighted or bears a separate source notation. The responsibility for determining the source of the material rests with you.

Moorland-Spingarn Research Center

by Thomas C. Battle [1]

Since early in its formative years, Howard University has collected materials documenting the historical experiences of people of African descent. General Oliver Otis Howard, the founder, for whom the institution was named and who was its third president, was an early supporter of the library's development. In April 1867, shortly after the university was chartered, a committee was established to select books for a library. Some of the first books were titles on Africa, and Howard donated several books and photographs related to Blacks. Many other individuals interested in supporting the new institution contributed books dealing with the abolitionist movement and the Civil War. Chief among these donations, and the university's most significant acquisition prior to the formal establishment of a special Black history collection, was the 1873 bequest of Lewis Tappan, a noted abolitionist who had organized the American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society and served as treasurer of the American Missionary Association. Tappan's Antislavery Collection consisted of more than 1,600 books, pamphlets, newspapers, letters, pictures, clippings, and periodicals. Later, this collection was augmented by sixty volumes donated by William Lavalette and some seventy bound newspapers and several scrapbooks donated by John Wesley Cromwell.

Despite these positive beginnings, the Black history collection grew slowly during the nineteenth century. However, the founding of organizations like the Bethel Literary and Historical Association (1881), the American Negro Historical Society (1897), the Negro Society for Historical Research (1912), and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (1915) was reflective of and stimulated a growing interest in studying and collecting sources for Black history. During this period, Howard University was a natural seedbed for the further development of the intellectual discipline of Black history and an obvious home for library materials to foster its study. The university's leading proponent of a separate research collection on Black history was Kelly Miller, a professor of mathematics and sociology (1890-1934) and dean of the College of Arts and Sciences (1907-19). Envisioning a national "Negro Americana Museum and Library," Miller persuaded his good friend, the Reverend Jesse E. Moorland, to donate his wide-ranging private library on Black history to the university for this purpose [2].

Dr. Jesse E. Moorland
 

Moorland, an alumnus and trustee of Howard who served as general secretary of the YMCA, announced his gift of some 3,000 books, pamphlets, and other historical items in a letter to university president Stephen M. Newman. In his letter of December 18, 1914, Moorland noted that his collection was "regarded by many experts as probably the largest and most complete yet gathered by a single individual" and that he was "giving this collection to the University because it is the one place in America where the largest and best library on this subject [of the Negro and slavery] should be constructively established. It is also the place where our young people who have the scholarly instinct should have the privilege of a complete reference library on the subject" [3]. Moorland also acknowledged that Newman's influence inspired his desire for historic research and that Miller's profound interest in seeing such a collection established motivated him to make the gift. In accepting the donation, the university's board of trustees created "The Moorland Foundation, a Library of Negro Life" and housed it as a special collection in the new library building recently donated by Andrew Carnegie.

Responses to the establishment of the Moorland Foundation, which signified a conscious decision to promote the documentation and study of the Black experience, were positive and wide-ranging. They came from Herbert Putnam, Librarian of Congress; Walter H. Page, U.S. ambassador to England; Albert Bushnell Hart, professor at Harvard; Arthur Hadley, president of Yale; and Ray Stannard Baker, editor of the American Magazine. Indeed, in commenting on the holdings of the Library of Congress, Putnam opined that they were but a fraction of what Howard University was planning to develop. W. E. B. Du Bois, then editor of The Crisis, said: "I think you have a fine beginning in Negro Americana. I trust that the University will take immediate and thoughtful steps to make Howard University Library a great center in this line" [4]. The Christian Science Monitor of January 9, 1915, noted that, "added to the Tappan, Cromwell and Lavalette collections of the same sort of material, already in the possession of the University, this new supply will make the library exceedingly rich" [5]. With this auspicious beginning, Howard University moved to the forefront of institutions documenting Black history and culture, although the formative years were to witness a period of relatively slow development. When the Moorland Foundation was established, no American library had a suitable classification scheme for Black materials, particularly for the large number of pamphlets. It fell to the small staff of Howard University Library to create satisfactory methods of access. Lula V. Allan and Edith Brown, assisted by Lula E. Connor and Rosa C. Hershaw, were responsible for the initial development of a satisfactory classification and cataloging scheme.

Dorothy Porter Wesley
 

A new era began for Moorland in 1930 with the appointment of Dorothy Burnett Porter and continued in 1932, when the Moorland Foundation was established as a research library. A 1928 graduate of Howard University, Porter was the first Black American woman to be awarded a master's degree in library science from Columbia University (1932). Over the next forty-three years, she devoted herself to developing a modern research library to serve the needs of the university community, as well as an international community of scholars. She improved the classification scheme, making it more suitable for a special research collection, and developed a wide variety of research tools and authoritative bibliographies based on her vast knowledge in the field that would become known as Black studies [6]. She greatly augmented the collection's holdings, and the opening of the Founder's Library in 1939 made substantial expansion possible.

During the 1930s, the Moorland Foundation served as a clearinghouse for materials documenting the Black experience which were generated by a project of the Works Progress Administration. This project resulted in the compilation of "A Catalogue of Books in the Moorland Foundation" and the preparation of a card file "on all publications by or about the Negro made known to the project workers by cooperating librarians in public, university and private libraries scattered throughout the country" [7]. Cooperating institutions included the Library of Congress, the Houston Public Library, and the libraries at Prairie View I & N College, Hampton Institute, St. Augustine College, and Drew University.

Arthur B. Spingarn
 

A landmark in the Moorland Foundation's history was the purchase in 1946 of the private library of learned bibliophile Arthur Barnette Spingarn [8]. Spingarn was an attorney who, while in the army during World War I, spoke out against discriminatory treatment of Blacks in the military. He chaired the NAACP's legal committee for many years and served as the association's president, 1940-65. He was a widely read scholar of Black history and literature who consulted with numerous editors, writers, scholars, diplomats, and booksellers throughout the world during his decades of collecting and assembled a collection of works by Negro authors that was unique in its depth, breadth, and quality. Spingarn had made this private collection available to scholars as a library of last resort. The acquisition of the Arthur B. Spingarn Collection of Negro Authors combined with Howard's earlier holdings to make the Moorland Foundation "the largest and the most valuable research library in America for the study of Negro life and history" [9]. In acknowledging its acquisition, President Mordecai Wyatt Johnson described the Spingarn Collection as "the most comprehensive and interesting group of books by Negroes ever collected in the world" [10]. In his thirty-five year global search, Spingarn had identified and included in his collection those writers who would be considered Negro in the United States. The collection is particularly strong in its coverage of Afro-Cuban, Afro- Brazilian, and Haitian writers and contains many rare editions. Probably the most famous of these is Juan Latino's Ad Catholicum Pariter et Invictissimum Phillippum dei Gratia Hispaniarum Regum, published in 1573 at Grenada, Spain. It is a volume of epigrams depicting King Phillip's victory over the Turks and was written by a Black slave who was one of the outstanding Latinists and humanists of Renaissance Spain and a noted professor at the University of Grenada. In addition, the Spingarn Collection contains the works of J. E. J. Capitein, including an oration published in 1742 in Leiden and which, paradoxically, advocates slavery. Also important is the Almanack Royal d'Hauty of the court of King Henri Christophe, 1816-20, and works on slavery by the African Ottobah Cugoana, written in French and published 1788-89. Indeed, a major feature of the Spingarn Collection is the large number of African writers whose works are represented and who remain largely unknown to American scholars, as well as the works of people of African descent in the Caribbean and Central and South America. The collection also includes Armand Lanusse's Les cenelles (1845), the first anthology of Negro poetry in the United States. Perhaps the rarest pieces of early Americana are Phillis Wheatley's broadside, "An Elegiac Poem on the Death of that Celebrated Divine . . . George Whitfield" (1770), and Poems (1773). The collection is particularly important for its works by early Black American writers and leaders, including Jupiter Hammon, Benjamin Banneker, Richard Allen, Daniel Coker, Paul Cuffee, David Ruggles, Peter Williams, John Marrant, Absalom Jones, Lemuel Haynes, and David Walker. An inscribed volume of Gustavus Vasa (Olaudah Equiano) is also among the treasures. In the years after its initial purchase, Spingarn added hundreds of volumes in an effort to complete this collecting effort, and the collection grew to contain items in many African languages, such as Swahili, Kikuyu, Zulu, Yoruba, Vai, Ewe, Luganda, Ga, Sotho, Amharic, Hausa, and Xhosa.

Probably the most famous of these is Juan Latino's Ad Catholicum Pariter et Invictissimum Phillippum dei Gratia Hispaniarum Regum, published in 1573 at Grenada, Spain. It is a volume of epigrams depicting King Phillip's victory over the Turks and was written by a Black slave who was one of the outstanding Latinists and humanists of Renaissance Spain and a noted professor at the University of Grenada. In addition, the Spingarn Collection contains the works of J. E. J. Capitein, including an oration published in 1742 in Leiden and which, paradoxically, advocates slavery. Also important is the Almanack Royal d'Hauty of the court of King Henri Christophe, 1816-20, and works on slavery by the African Ottobah Cugoana, written in French and published 1788-89. Indeed, a major feature of the Spingarn Collection is the large number of African writers whose works are represented and who remain largely unknown to American scholars, as well as the works of people of African descent in the Caribbean and Central and South America. The collection also includes Armand Lanusse's Les cenelles (1845), the first anthology of Negro poetry in the United States. Perhaps the rarest pieces of early Americana are Phillis Wheatley's broadside, "An Elegiac Poem on the Death of that Celebrated Divine . . . George Whitfield" (1770), and Poems (1773). The collection is particularly important for its works by early Black American writers and leaders, including Jupiter Hammon, Benjamin Banneker, Richard Allen, Daniel Coker, Paul Cuffee, David Ruggles, Peter Williams, John Marrant, Absalom Jones, Lemuel Haynes, and David Walker. An inscribed volume of Gustavus Vasa (Olaudah Equiano) is also among the treasures. In the years after its initial purchase, Spingarn added hundreds of volumes in an effort to complete this collecting effort, and the collection grew to contain items in many African languages, such as Swahili, Kikuyu, Zulu, Yoruba, Vai, Ewe, Luganda, Ga, Sotho, Amharic, Hausa, and Xhosa.

Since its acquisition, the Spingarn Collection has been maintained separately from the Moorland Foundation's other collections, and the original Moorland gift has become the general collection to which new additions are made. Although the Spingarn Collection contains the best-known rarities, there is some duplication of holdings, and the Moorland general collection has the distinction of housing the earliest imprint, Nicolas Durand de Villegagnon's Caroli. V. Imperatioris Expeditio in African and Argieram (1542). Together, the two collections present evidence that should have made notions of Black intellectual inferiority and of pseudoscientific racism clearly unfounded. The hundreds of slave narratives and autobiographies offer invaluable first-hand documentation of that peculiar institution. The many reports, proceedings, and publications of Black organizations and the volumes of Black periodicals also provide important documentation of Black American social, political, religious, and cultural life. By 1957, the Moorland Foundation's collections had grown from 3,000 to some 40,000 volumes. It had acquired the books and papers of Alain Locke, the Louis T. Wright Collection of Papers by Negro Physicians, the Leigh Whipper Theatre Collection, the 0. 0. Howard Papers, the Joel Spingarn Papers, the Oswald Garrison Villard Collection of Anti-Slavery Papers, the Mary 0. Williamson Collection on celebrities, the Rose McClendon Memorial Collection of photographs by Carl Van Vechten, the Mary E. Moore Collection of Negro Authors, the James T. Rapier Papers, and a collection of patents by Negroes assembled by Henry E. Baker. In July 1957, a Catalogue of the African Collection in the Moorland Foundation was published. The following year, Moorland acquired Spingarn's collection of Negro music, at the time one of the largest such collections in the world. It included works by Will Marion Cook, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, Henry T. Burleigh, Clarence Cameron White, W. C. Handy, William Grant Still, Howard Swanson, Cole and Johnson, Williams and Walker, Layton and Creamer, Miller and Lyles, and Sissle and Blake. Foreign composers represented are Brazil's Antonio Carlos Gomes; Jose Mauricio Nunes Garcia, regarded as the father of Brazilian music, Justin Elie, Haitian composer of salon music; Amadeo Roldan of Cuba; and world-renowned French violinist Joseph Boulogne, Le Chevalier de Saint-Georges. It was also about this time that the Moorland Foundation became known as the Moorland-Spingarn Collection, or simply the Negro Collection, to avoid its being confused with a charitable organization. The 1960's, with its heightened racial consciousness, was an important period for the collection, since it held the evidence to counter charges that Blacks had no meaningful history. It also continued to be a major source of information and materials for government agencies and for use in plays, motion pictures, museum exhibitions, and the print and electronic media.

The year 1973 marked the end of an era for Moorland-Spingarn and the beginning of a new phase of development. Porter retired in June, although she stayed until September, when the new head of the collection assumed leadership. In anticipation of her retirement, President James E. Cheek and the university's board of trustees reviewed Moorland's situation and determined that it could achieve its fullest potential as a separate administrative unit. Thus the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center (MSRC) was created; it comprised the existing Jesse E. Moorland and Arthur B. Spingarn Collections, as well as the Howard University Museum, the Howard University Archives, the Black Press Archives, and the Ralph J. Bunche Oral History Collection (formerly the Civil Rights Documentation Project). Michael Winston, historian alumnus (1962), and former director of research in the history department, was appointed director of the new research center. The early period of his tenure saw a thorough reorganization of the MSRC's administrative structure, expansion of its staff, renovation of its facilities, and new directions in program development. While administrative and physical changes were significant, it was the new documentation and research program articulated by Winston that was to have the greatest impact on the center over the next decade. In 1933, Dorothy B. Porter had described the purposes of the Moorland Foundation as: (1) To accumulate, record and preserve material by and about the Negro; (2) to assist interested students of Negro life to pursue the scholarly exploitation of the material in the collection, (3) to instill race pride and race consciousness in Negro youth, and (4) to provide a great reference library on every phase of Negro life. [11]

While these basic objectives continued to be the foundation of the center's program, the reorganization of 1973 and the creation of the MSRC resulted in a redefinition of approaches to documentation and research. This is best reflected in the creation of a separate Manuscript Division, described by Winston as designed to permit MSRC's development into a thoroughly modern, professional research organization that would produce research in addition to carrying out traditional curatorial and library functions. The division would pursue the programmatic, analytical collecting of documentary sources that would enable scholars to probe more deeply beneath the deceptively simple surfaces of Black history and culture. To achieve this, the MSRC would become a center of primary documentation on a broad search for manuscript resources in such critical areas as journalism, law, medicine, the arts, education, and social activism. A number of manuscript collections had already been acquired before establishment of the Manuscript Division. However, there was no staff to process them and a huge backlog developed. A turning point in the processing and management of manuscripts in the Moorland-Spingarn Collection was the award in May 1970 of a Ford Foundation grant for the hiring of trained personnel in manuscripts and archival management; between 1970 and 1973, substantial progress was made in processing manuscript collections. During the reorganization, plans were made to divide the Manuscript Division into four constituent departments: Manuscript, Music, Oral History, and Prints and Photographs. Because manuscripts and archives were increasingly demanded by scholars and graduate students, immediate attention was given to the development of a sound program of manuscript acquisition, processing, preservation, and management. Since 1974, a major acquisitions program has been aggressively pursued, resulting in a tremendous increase in the division's holdings and a growth more rapid than that of any other unit of the MSRC. These acquisitions have included the papers of distinguished Blacks in a broad spectrum of fields-among them, architecture, journalism, medicine, social science, education, religion, fine arts, social work, politics, natural science, and law-as well as massive collections of organizational and institutional records. The division now houses, for example, the papers of Paul Robeson, Vernon Jordan, Charles C. Diggs, Jr., Max Yergan, William Patterson, the Congressional Black Caucus, Mordecai Wyatt Johnson, Benjamin E. Mays, George B. Murphy, Jr., Charles H. Houston, John Warren Davis, the Afro-American series of newspapers, Charles Drew, Ernest E. Just, Mary Frances Berry, Frankie Freeman, Rayford Logan, the Ancient Egyptian Arabic Order Nobles of the Mystic Shrine, and the law firm of Cobb, Howard, Hayes and Windsor. Coupled with such earlier acquisitions as the papers of Alain Locke and E. Franklin Frazier, the Manuscript Division is now the largest and most diverse repository of primary research materials documenting the Black experience in America. In 1983, a guide to its collections was published [12]. Registers of processed collections are also included in Chadwyck-Healy's inventory [13]. Primary resources total more than 400 collections spanning in excess of 6,000 linear feet.

The new Howard University Museum (HUM) stemmed from Kelly Miller's proposal, made at the time the Moorland Foundation was established. The founders of the university had established a museum as part of the first library as early as 1868. However, its development was apparently abandoned in the early decades of the university's growth. Miller's idea was not endorsed in 1914, but it was revived on his retirement in 1934. The committee on the creation of a museum documenting Afro-American and African life included Porter, Charles H. Wesley, Rayford W. Logan, E. Franklin Frazier, Charles H. Thompson, and other leading university scholars. However, the committee's detailed report of 1938 was not acted on, and the project remained dormant until creation of the MSRC in 1973. HUM is seen primarily as a teaching museum, emphasizing the visual documentation of African and Afro-American history and culture and serving as a resource for formal university instruction as well as a facility available to the public schools and the general community. It was opened in February 1979 with the well received inaugural exhibition "Toward the Preservation of a Heritage," which drew on the resources of the Research Center. Although its development has not proceeded as rapidly as desired, HUM has also mounted "A Century of Black Photographers: 1840-1960" (1983), "For Women Only: An Exhibition of Local Black Women Photographers" (1983), and "An Exhibition of Gifts to the Howard University Museum" (1983, 1985).

Meanwhile, the Library Division continues to augment its holdings. In addition to many other donations and purchases, the MSRC acquired in 1975 the library and papers of alumnus C. Glenn Carrington; this collection resulted from fifty years of great effort and personal sacrifice. As a library collection, it is second only to the Spingarn Collection in size and scope and, at the time of its acquisition, was exceeded only by the Locke Collection in its comprehensiveness. The Carrington Collection contains more than 2,200 books in fifteen languages, approximately 500 recordings, and eighteen storage boxes of manuscript materials, photographs, broadsides, prints, periodicals, sheet music, newspapers, and a variety of other items. The cataloged holdings now total more than 115,000 volumes and more than 12,500 microforms [14].

Currently, the MSRC continues to host thousands of scholars and other visitors from many parts of the world. It cooperates with many institutions, individuals, and organizations on publications, exhibitions, and video programs, and in November 1983, it hosted the landmark conference, "Black Bibliophiles and Collectors: A National Symposium," with support provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Endnotes

1. Director, Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, Howard University, Washington, DC 20059.

2. Winston, Michael R, "Moorland-Spingarn Research Center: A Past Revisited, a Present Reclaimed." New Directions (Summer 1974), p. 20; a full discussion of the proposal for a national library and museum can be found in Kelly Miller Papers, Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, Box 71-1, Folders 13-37.

3. Jesse E. Moorland to Stephen M. Newman, December 18, 1914, Kelly Miller Papers, Box 71-1, Folder 28.

4. The J. E. Moorland Foundation of the University Library," Howard University Record 10 (January 1916): 10.

5. ibid, p.11.

6. Porter, Dorothy B. "A Library on the Negro." American Scholar 7 (Winter 1938): 115-117.

7. "Negro Materials Catalogued by WPA Project Workers." Hilltop 8 (April 13, 1939): 2.

8. The Arthur B. Spingarn Collection of Negro Authors. Washington, D.C.: Moorland Foundation, Howard University Library, n.d. [ca. 1947].

9. ibid., p.1.

10. ibid., p.7.

11. "Negro Materials Catalogued by WPA Project Workers." Hilltop 8 (April 13, 1939): 2.

12. Guide to Processed Collections in the Manuscript Division of the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center. Washington, D.C.: Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, 1983.

13. National Inventory of Documentary Sources in the United States. Cambridge, Mass.: Chadwick-Healey. 1983.

14. The Glenn Carrington Collection: A Guide to the Books, Manuscripts, Music, and Recordings. Washington, DC: Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, Howard University, 1977.

References

1. Winston, Michael R, "Moorland-Spingarn Research Center: A Past Revisited, a Present Reclaimed." New Directions (Summer 1974), pp. 20-25.

2. Kelly Miller Papers, Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, Box 71-1, Folders 13-37.

3. Jesse E. Moorland to Stephen M. Newman, December 18, 1914, Miller Papers, Box 71-1, Folder 28.

4. The J. E. Moorland Foundation of the University Library," Howard University Record 10 (January 1916): 10.

5. Porter, Dorothy B. "A Library on the Negro." American Scholar 7 (Winter 1938): 115-17.

6. "Negro Materials Catalogued by WPA Project Workers." Hilltop 8 (April 13, 1939): 2.

7. The Arthur B. Spingarn Collection of Negro Authors. Washington, D.C.: Moorland Foundation, Howard University Library, n.d. [ca. 1947].

8. Guide to Processed Collections in the Manuscript Division of the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center. Washington, D.C.: Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, 1983.

9. National Inventory of Documentary Sources in the United States. Cambridge, Mass.: Chadwick-Healey. 1983.

10. The Glenn Carrington Collection: A Guide to the Books, Manuscripts, Music, and Recordings. Washington, DC: Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, Howard University, 1977.

 

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