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Three Centuries of Black History Collections

Among HSP’s vast collection of 21 million objects reside manuscripts, prints, photographs, posters, broadsides, flyers and books that offer opportunities for you to explore the expansive and rich story of people of African descent in America. Check out HSP’s African American Subject Guide for a complete list. To get you started, here are few highlights:

The American Negro Historical Society was founded in 1897 by a group of Philadelphia Black collectors to study and preserve materials documenting the American Black experience. Among the founders and early members were Robert Adger, W.M. Dorsey and Jacob C. White, Jr., who donated materials to the society, some of which are present in the collection. The collection is composed of administrative records of the society and materials collected by some of its members, including correspondence, minutes, reports, financial documents, membership lists, records of lectures and debates, library catalogues, baseball lineup and scorecards, speeches, printed matter, and portraits of distinguished Black leaders and abolitionists. Among those portraits is a watercolor of James Forten. (Pictured) Learn more in the Finding Aid.

Founded in 1775 as the Society for the Relief of Free Negroes Unlawfully Held in Bondage, the Pennsylvania Abolition Society worked not only towards the abolition of chattel slavery but also to increase social and economic opportunities for Black Americans; the organization continues that work today through grants. In this organization’s records that span over two hundred years, some true treasures of American history are found. Meeting minutes, financial records, and membership lists are part of the institutional records in this collection; it also contains the records of other committees and organizations to which PAS members belonged. Included in this group are the records of the Vigilance Committee. These documents contain William Still’s handwritten Journal C of Station No. 2 of the Underground Railroad, recording over 500 entries of people seeking their freedom from enslavement. The minute books of the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society describe the organization’s work to fundraise and build Pennsylvania Hall, which white pro-slavery Philadelphians attacked and burned three days after it opened.

Thelma McDaniel was a collector of literature of the civil rights, Black power, and communist movements in the United States and African solidarity movements abroad. As a resident of Philadelphia, she collected a variety of documents from mostly local organizations, including flyers, pamphlets, and newspapers expressing the sentiments, attitude, philosophies, strategies, and tactics of these various movements and participating groups and organizations. Although there is little information on McDaniel’s life story or her participation in the activities of these movements, her collection documents the socio-cultural and political dynamics of Black and multiracial struggles throughout the country. Learn more in the Finding Aid.

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