Tag Archives: African American Archives

Building a collection and a community: The John Glanton F Collection

I believe that any people’s story is every people’s story, and that from stories, we can all learn something to enrich our lives.

Harriette Gillem Robinet

Building the library from the outside in comes full circle as the Hennepin County Library Digital Collections staff reaches out to further develop the John F. Glanton Collection of photographs. The 800 photographs in the collection reflect, and capture for posterity, the lives of African Americans who lived in the Twin Cities during the post WWII years.

In brief, John F. Glanton (1923-2004), a civil engineer by profession, was also an accomplished photographer.   With the fervor, without the solipsism, of today’s selfie enthusiasts, he carried his Graflex black and white camera everywhere – to weddings, parties, sports events, musical performances, church functions and family gatherings – wherever members of African American community of St. Paul and Minneapolis gathered during the late 1940’s.

Though Glanton didn’t talk much about his photographic collection, when he died at age 80, his family discovered and recognized the value the permanent record he had created. Fortunately, they realized that the collection deserved to be shared with posterity. The family donated the entire collection of 800 photographic negatives to the Hennepin County Library Special Collections.

Recognizing the value of the visual record, librarians encountered just one challenge:   Glanton was more interested in capturing, than captioning…

The photographer who had recorded all those hundreds of images had not identified his subjects – no doubt because the viewers would easily recognize their friends and family!

The solution: To build the collection from the outside in by engaging the public in the process – and fun – of identifying the subjects of Glanton’s photos.

Thus, on a warm day last July, generous members of the public gathered at Hosmer Library to enhance the resources of the Hennepin County Library by supplying names – and stories — for the subjects that Glanton had photographed.   The story of that project was widely shared in the local press; check these links for an overview of what’s preserved in the Glanton collection:

Members of the public also participated in follow-up sessions again at Hosmer Library and at St Peter Claver Church in St Paul.

Today, the photographs, now digitized, captioned and partially searchable, are an important feature of the Library’s Digital Collections. (See earlier posts on this blog.) And yet, the Glanton Collection remains a work-in-progress. Because many of Glanton’s subjects are not yet identified librarians continue to turn to the public to lend their eyes and memories to the group effort.

One way to contribute is as easy as a click on the collection to view the photos; if you are able to identify an event or subject, simply make a note in the “comments” section at the bottom of the screen for each photo. http://digitalcollections.hclib.org/cdm/search/collection/p17208coll1 Another possibility is to contact the library directly (specialcoll@hclib.org or 612 543 8200) to share the information or to obtain further information.

Or make it a social event by taking part in a gathering similar to the Hosmer and St. Peter Claver events. Staff of Special Collections are now working with staff at Sumner Library to schedule a Glanton Collection event in North Minneapolis, tentatively set for sometime in March. Staff are also working with the family that donated the photographs to plan an event during Black History Month in February.

 

Delilah Leontium Beasley, Self-directed researcher, Journalist, historian of African American History and Trailblazers

Delilah Leontium Beasley (1867-1934) deserves special recognition during African American History Month. Many of the stories of Black Americans, particularly Black Women, would have been lost to history without her bold and self-directed work.

Though most of her professional life was spent in California, Beasley was born in Cincinnati.  She published her first piece in the Cleveland Gazette at the age of twelve, then wrote a column for the Sunday Cincinnati Enquirer. She also worked at the Colored Catholic Tribune during her teens.

Life for Beasley changed dramatically when her parents both died when Delilah was still a teen. In order to support her younger siblings she took a job as a domestic for a local judge, then moved to Chicago where she had a successful career as a domestic, then hairdresser, then as a successful masseuse.   During all of this time she pursued her interest in the history of Blacks, particularly African Americans in California.

Her focused interest in the history of Blacks in California led her to move to Oakland in 1910 where she immersed herself in her passion for historical research. Working as a nurse and therapist, she began her independent research in the archives at Berkeley where she delved into black newspapers, recorded oral histories and stories. In 1915 Beasley began writing a weekly column. “Activities among Negroes” in the Oakland Tribune, a column that reflected the surge of public interest in African-American rights and history that was fueled by the furor over Birth of a Nation.

Beasley continued her independent study of historical and archival research. She sought out archival resources, including personal papers and diaries and conducted oral interviews with older Black Americans. In 1919 she published her research in a monumental history entitled The Negro Trail Blazers of California. The groundbreaking work chronicled the everyday lives and contributions of hundreds of Black Californians from pioneer days up to the early 20th Century. One unique feature of Beasley’s research was her emphasis on the strong role that women played in California history; the book includes several African American women whose stories might otherwise have been lost to history.

Beasley biographer, Lorraine J. Crouchett, writes that “the undertaking was extraordinarily difficult. Beasley found that Black Californians had no history; their records had been discarded from the collections that documented the state’s development. Yet in reproducing the words and photographs cherished by individuals, she caught their humanity as no one before her had done. Nonetheless, she was never completely accepted as a historian. While they seemed proud of her work, neither Black or white writers included her on any list of historians, nor has anyone before me attempted to examine her life and works with any thoroughness.”  Lorraine J. Crouchett, Delilah Leontium Beasley: Oakland’s crusading journalist. El Cerrito, CA: Downey Place Publishing House, Inc. 1990.

In her role as journalist, researcher and concerned citizen Beasley reported the news and did not hesitate to share her personal opinion on the issues of the day. Her overall effort was to promote a positive image of the Black community in the nation and in Oakland. She worked aggressively with the faith community, the NAACP and the National Congress of Colored Parents and Teachers to support efforts to reduce racist language and activities. In the 1930s she was a leader in the community struggle to pass anti-lynching legislation. She also shed the spotlight on African American leaders she wanted her readers to know.

Beasley’s involvement with the 1929 celebration of Negro History Week, established just four years earlier by Carter G. Woodson who also founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. The organization and Negro History Week were both a response in part to the Harlem Renaissance and the era’s national prominence of writers including Countee Cullen, Langston Hughes, and W.E.B. Dubois. According Beasley’s “News among Negroes” column, librarian Barbara Coles of the Oakland Free Library invited Beasley to prepare a list of books by American-American authors; Beasley published Cole’s supportive rationale: “The public library has a vital and important place in the scheme of adult education. Unrestricted by any curriculum, unhampered by any single purpose, we have been able to accumulate all that is known of ancient or modern culture. Supported by taxation, and no dependent upon individual support, we have been able to put at the disposal of every member of the community the resources which make possible understanding not only of ourselves, and of our forebears, but of our neighbors. We diffuse through our channels a survey of the historical significance of many peoples, the undertaking of which surely cannot but help to advance that great brotherhood of man, which will outlaw the sword and uplift the banner of the Price of Peace.”  Oakland Tribune, “Activities Among Negroes,” August 25, 1951. Quoted in Crouchett, p. 53

Those words must have convinced Beasley that her research and journalistic efforts had borne fruit – and that the stories of the Negro Trailblazers of California – and the hundreds of Americans of whom she had written over her lifetime, would live on.

Beasley continued her “News among Negroes” throughout her life. She died August 18, 1934 in Oakland. She is buried at Saint Mary’s Cemetery where a monument has now been erected to her memory.  Friends who attended her funeral 80 years ago were asked to remember Beasley by reciting this pledge:  “Every life casts its shadow, my life plus others make a power to move the world.  I, therefore, pledge my life to the living word of brotherhood and mutual understanding between the races.”