Guide to African American Documentary
Resources in North Carolina
Timothy D. Pyatt, Editor
University Press of Virginia
© 1996 by the Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia
Conditions of Use


North Carolina Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

North Carolina Collection
CB# 3930 Wilson Library
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill NC 27514-8890

Phone: (919) 962-1172

Fax: (919) 962-4452

Hours: Monday-Friday 8:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m.; Saturday 9:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m.; Sunday 1:00-5:00 p.m.

Services: photocopying available


A Long and Continuing Tradition: African Americana in the North Carolina Collection

Robert G. Anthony Jr.

On February 7, 1918, Charles Lee Smith, president of Edwards & Broughton Printing Company in Raleigh wrote Mary L. Thornton that he was mailing three books she had recently requested for the North Carolina Collection. Among the titles Smith reported shipping was The History Of The Negro Baptists Of North Carolina , by J. A. Whitted, published by Smith's firm in 1908.

Thornton's request for the Whitted book, which she made shortly after her appointment as first curator of the North Carolina Collection, illustrates the beginning of a long and continuing tradition of acquiring publications relating to the African American experience in North Carolina. Even before the Collection was formally organized as a separate department in 1917, there was already in the library a small but significant nucleus of materials on African Americans in North Carolina. Over the years, the Collection's curators and staff have added greatly to those holdings. Today, a significant portion of the more than a quarter million printed items and half million photographic images in the Collection may be of interest to researchers studying the African American experience in the Tar Heel state.

Religion and Church Histories

Whitted's history of African-American Baptists is but one of many publications about the religious life of African Americans in North Carolina found in the Collection. There are, for example, a significant number of other denominational histories, such as Wm. Joseph Barber's The Disciple Assemblies Of Eastern North Carolina and Linda D. Addo and James H. McCallum's To Be Faithful To Our Heritage: A History Of Black United Methodism In North Carolina . Over the years, the Collection has also acquired histories of individual African-American churches (i.e. Grace African Methodist Episcopal Zion in Charlotte, Mount Olive Baptist in Lewiston, and Oberlin Baptist in Raleigh.).

Researchers may also find useful the Collection's holdings of publications issued by religious bodies, such as minutes, journals, and programs for statewide, regional, or local conventions and meetings. For example, the Collection owns copies of the 1919 and 1923 minutes of the Cape Fear Annual Conference of the A.M.E. Zion Church and the published proceedings for the 1921 annual session of the Woman's Home & Foreign Missionary Convention of the Brunswick-Waccamaw Missionary Baptist Association.

At times, various historically white churches have sponsored separate units to organize religious work among African Americans. The Collection holds publications from several such groups. From the Archdeaconry for Work among Colored People, Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina, for example, it has copies of the published minutes of the annual convocation for nine of the years between 1905 and 1927 inclusive. Unfortunately, the publications of such religious groups, whether issued by African-American churches or by historically white churches, were usually printed in limited quantity and not distributed widely. In many cases, the North Carolina Collection will have only a few issues -- occasionally only one -- from a particular group. But often this small run will be the sole surviving records for these organizations.

Autobiographies and Biographies

The personal stories of not only ministers and religious leaders, but also African-American teachers, business leaders, physicians, athletes, politicians, writers, and many more North Carolinians from additional professions can be found in the Collection's extensive holdings of autobiographies and biographies. Some are lengthy books, while others may be short pamphlets or unpublished theses and dissertations. In still other autobiographical and biographical publications, former slaves tell or have their life stories told. In the past few years, for example, the Collection has added autobiographies/ biographies of escaped slaves Harriet Jacobs and Moses Roper; contemporary minister/political leader Joy Johnson; Episcopal priest Pauli Murray; Wilmington physician Hubert Eaton; basketball star Michael Jordan; and writer Charles W. Chestnutt, to name but a very few.

Creative Writing

Creative writing by African-American North Carolinians such as Chestnutt has been collected assiduously. Published verse by George Moses Horton, slave poet of Chatham County and Chapel Hill, a special printing of "On the Pulse of Morning," the presidential inauguration poem by Winston-Salem resident and Wake Forest University professor Maya Angelou, and works by late nineteenth and early twentieth century poet James Ephraim McGirt represent the range of materials available. Writings by contemporary African-American novelists, poets, and dramatists who either are from or set their works in North Carolina, such as Gerald Barrax, Linda Beatrice Brown, Jaki Shelton Green, Randall Kenan, Lenard D. Moore, and Samm-Art Williams are also present.

Several African-American writers, such as Charles Chestnutt and Maya Angelou, are the subjects of an increasing body of literary criticism of African-American belles-lettres. The Collection, of course, also offers numerous examples of fiction and poetry with African-American characters and/or other references to African Americans in the Tar Heel state but written by non-African-American authors.

Journalistic endeavors by Tar Heel African Americans is another area of writing well documented in the North Carolina Collection. In the latter years of the Reconstruction and early years of the Jim Crow periods, several newspapers appeared with African American communities as their primary intended audiences. Between 1877 and 1894, it is estimated that at least twenty African American newspapers were established in the state, although most lasted less than two years and offered only small press runs. From various sources, the North Carolina Collection has acquired microfilm copies of a number of these papers.

More recent acquisitions have included sizable microform runs of several major long-established African-American papers, such as the Star Of Zion (Salisbury/Charlotte), Carolinian (Durham), and Charlotte Post . Although the Collection maintains subscriptions to paper copies of only a few current newspapers of any type, preferring to invest periodically in microforms of backfiles, it does receive and retain paper copies of several African-American community newspapers. These include The Carolina Times (Durham), Carolina Peacemaker (Greensboro), and Winston-Salem Chronicle . In addition, a complete run of Black Ink , the newspaper of the Black Student Movement at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is available.

Arts and Crafts

African-American artists too figure in the holdings of the North Carolina Collection. Exhibition catalogs featuring the works of painters, such as Romare Bearden, Minnie Evans, and Selma Burke, have been acquired. Several lists of active African American artists are also available for use in the Collection's Reading Room. Free African-American cabinetmaker Thomas Day of Caswell County has been the subject of one major exhibition and a number of articles, and the North Carolina Collection Gallery owns a sampler chest he crafted. Published materials on African American music and dance have also been collected, plus a limited number of audio-visual recordings.

Education and Educational Institutions

Researchers may be interested as well in the Collection's holdings of publications by or about various educational institutions associated with African Americans. Among these are catalogs, newsletters, and other publications from historically African-American schools and colleges. Some are from institutions that still operate. Others, however, document the activities of now defunct schools and colleges, such as Palmer Memorial Institute at Sedalia, Plymouth State Normal School, and the Orange County Training School at Chapel Hill. Although usually only a handful of issues of a publication may have been preserved, they nevertheless offer insight into the operations and nature of the institutions that produced them.

In addition, there are among the Collection's holdings publications from several educational organizations, such as the North Carolina Teachers Record (1930-1970), the quarterly of the North Carolina Teachers Association. Statistical and sometimes narrative information on state and local government support of public schools and colleges for African Americans during the age of segregation can sometimes be found in separate publications or sections of general reports issued by state government agencies.

Charitable and Social Institutions

Materials from various charitable and social institutions important in the lives of African Americans in North Carolina can also be found in the Collection. For example, there are a number of reports and pamphlets from the Central (Colored) Orphanage of North Carolina at Oxford and the programs since 1952 of the annual Debutante Ball of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority held in Raleigh. Yearbooks, programs, brochures, fliers, and other printed materials distributed by African-American clubs and social organizations from around the state have been acquired. Published histories of a variety of private and public institutions seeking to promote the public welfare, especially in the African-American community have also been collected. Recent acquisitions in this area include monographs such as Through The Years , 1867-1977: Light Over Darkness: A History Of The North Carolina School For The Negro Blind And The Deaf , by M. H. Crockett and Barbara Crockett Dease, and Stanford L. Warren Branch Library: 77 Years Of Public Service: A Phoenix In The Durham Community , by Beverly W. Jones.

Local Histories and Genealogical Abstracts

The Collection also acquires local histories of African American communities, a growing field of interest for historians, both professional and amateur. For example, the Collection recently obtained histories of the towns of James City and Navassa and the Greensboro communities of Mount Zion and Warnersville, plus a pictorial history of African-American life in Charlotte and Mecklenburg County. A number of local historians and genealogists are abstracting public records relating to African Americans, such as cohabitation bonds, marriage records for former slaves, and free African Americans in census returns. Other abstractors and compilers have focused on transcribing cemetery gravestones, and a genealogical society has published abstracts from the records of the North Carolina Freedman's Savings & Trust Company. The North Carolina Collection seeks to acquire copies of such published abstracts and lists.

Clippings Files

The Collection's newspaper clippings files provide another valuable source for information on African Americans in North Carolina. Prior to 1975, hundreds of clippings from a number of different newspapers and on a variety of African American-related subjects were clipped, pasted on tagboard, and microfilmed. Then paper prints were produced from the microfilm and bound in four volumes labeled "Negroes in North Carolina." These are available for use in the Reading Room. Subject clippings dated after 1975 are currently being microfilmed, and copyflo prints of these articles should be available in the Reading Room soon. Biographical clippings have not been separated by race of individual featured, and those on African Americans will be found throughout the 264 bound volumes in the Reading Room, which cover through 1989. Clippings from more recent years have been pasted on tagboards and are available at the Reading Room reference counter.

An extensive collection of approximately a half million photographs and photographic negatives also comprise a major resource for research in the North Carolina Collection. Countless images among these holdings depict African Americans or some aspect of African-American life in North Carolina. Individuals wishing to conduct pictorial research should make an appointment to meet with the Collection's photographic archivist, who can offer guidance in the use of these materials.

Access to the Collection

Researchers interested in the published materials found in the North Carolina Collection will want to begin by consulting with a member of the Reading Room staff and then by examining the card and online catalogs. Most recent acquisitions and some of the more significant older materials are now represented in the online catalog. But it is essential to remember that cataloging records for more than three-quarters of the Collection's holdings are available only in the paper card catalog.

Publications may, of course, be identified by checking cataloging records in the card and online catalogs under specific titles or authors. Several topical subject headings, however, will also prove especially useful for researchers interested in materials on the African-American experience in North Carolina. For example, there are more than twenty-three inches of catalog cards with the subject tracings Afro-American -- , Afro- Americans, North Carolina -- Negro -- , and North Carolina -- Negroes.

Most of these rather general tracings are divided further by more specific subheadings, such as Art, Artists, Baptists, Education, Fiction, Lawyers, Newspapers, Poetry, Social conditions, Songs and stories, Suffrage, and numerous others. Additional important subject headings include North Carolina -- Slavery, North Carolina -- Race problems, and North Carolina -- Race relations. Also, publications that concentrate on African Americans in particular communities may be traced under the names of individual cities or counties, such as Greensboro (N.C.) -- Race problems and Pitt County (N.C.) -- Negroes. Reading Room staff are always willing to assist visitors in locating materials in the North Carolina Collection, and researchers are urged to make their needs known when they visit. Individuals studying African-American religion may, for example, wish to talk with the staff member who has recently inventoried the Collection's holdings of publications issued by several African-American denominations. Another staff member is active in a statewide African-American history and genealogy organization and may be able to offer timesaving guidance in locating useful materials.

The acquisition of publications relating to the African American experience in North Carolina has been an important goal of the North Carolina Collection since its creation in 1917. Today African Americana is among the most heavily used material in the Collection. In the years to come, the Collection will continue to identify and acquire materials appropriate for adding to these holdings. In the future, as the opportunity to publish becomes even more accessible -- via desktop publishing, xerography, and other reproduction processes -- the number of publications being produced will undoubtedly continue to increase. It can also be expected that the number of publications relating to African Americans in North Carolina will grow. Many of these will likely be issued by small printers or individuals, and it will be difficult for libraries to identify and acquire them. Researchers interested in the preservation of published African Americana relating to the Tar Heel state are urged to notify the North Carolina Collection of important local or limited quantity publications. This will help the Collection continue its long tradition of acquiring African Americana.

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