The Manuscript Division has one of the nation's most valuable collections for the study of African-American history and culture. The Library's holdings include information about slavery and the slave trade as well as other aspects of plantation life. Papers of slaveholders provide one view of slavery, and slave narratives give another. Diaries and journals further illuminate lives spent in slavery and freedom. The manuscripts of black and white abolitionists such as Frederick Douglass and Salmon P. Chase describe the efforts of those who attempted to alleviate the plight of slaves, and the records of the American Colonization Society detail the saga of African Americans who left the United States and established the West African nation of Liberia in the mid- nineteenth century. Papers relating to black participation and victimization in the Civil War abound, and African-American history during Reconstruction is reflected in collections pertaining to newly elected black officials such as John Mercer Langston, Blanche K. Bruce, Hiram R. Revels, and Francis L. Cardozo.
Efforts by African-Americans to educate themselves and find meaningful employment can be traced in the papers of historian Carter G. Woodson and educator Nannie Helen Burroughs. Also available are the papers of the first three presidents of Tuskegee Institute—Booker T. Washington, Robert Russa Moton, and Frederick D. Patterson. The papers of Gen. Noel F. Parrish--the white World War II commander of the Tuskegee air base where black airmen were trained by the army air corps for the first time—reveal how blacks and whites worked together to dispel racist presumptions of black inferiority. Information on the training of black aviators and the establishment of the Tuskegee flight school may also be found in the diaries of historian Rayford W. Logan, who in the early 1940s was acting chair of the Committee on Participation of Negroes in the National Defense Program.
Logan is best known as a historian and professor at Howard University, but like other prominent black educators he was also involved in civil rights activities. The papers of historian Lorenzo J. Greene, who taught for many years at Lincoln University in Missouri, similarly reflect his involvement in the National Urban League (NUL) and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), his participation on two different presidential commissions concerning the status of blacks and children, and his authorship of an important study on school desegregation for the United States Civil Rights Commission. The papers of Kenneth Bancroft Clark also reveal a college professor and social psychologist whose concern with the psychology of racism brought him national attention in the post-World War II era, when his research on the detrimental effects of segregation was cited in the 1954 Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas.
The division's collections are particularly strong for the history of the twentieth-century civil rights movement. The work of individual activists, rights organizations, and jurists is well represented. The NAACP and the NUL were founded in the first decade of the twentieth century and became important vehicles for the advancement of civil rights for blacks in the United States. Both, in turn, selected the Library of Congress as the repository for their records. While the NUL has tended to concentrate its efforts in the area of equal employment opportunities for blacks, the NAACP has moved forward on many fronts and has been most successful in its drive for equal legal protection. The NAACP led the struggle for the abolition of segregation, discrimination, lynching, and other forms of racial oppression.
The NAACP headquarters and Washington bureau records include more than two million items, which provide a rich source for the social history of black Americans in the twentieth century. In addition to these organizational records, the division holds the personal papers of some of the individuals who worked closely with the NAACP such as Moorfield Storey, the association's first president; Arthur B. Spingarn, its third president; and Roy Wilkins, longtime administrator and executive director from 1965 to 1977. The division also holds the records of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which was created by the NAACP just before World War II but eventually became independent of the parent organization. The fund's records document its presence at the forefront of the legal struggle for civil rights. Complementing these records are the personal papers of Justice Thurgood Marshall, who was the special counsel and director of the fund from its creation until 1961, when President John F. Kennedy appointed him to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.
Other important civil rights activists and organizations represented in the Manuscript Division include the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, whose records date from 1920 to 1968, and the union's founder, Asa Philip Randolph, who also served as its president from 1925 to 1968. The papers of Bayard T. Rustin, a close associate of Randolph and an apostle of non-violent action, are also in the division's holdings.
The papers of two well-known political figures, Patricia Roberts Harris and Senator Edward W. Brooke, illustrate the efforts of African Americans to move into the center of the political arena. Harris, the first black woman to hold a Cabinet position, served as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare (later called Health and Human Services) under President Jimmy Carter. Brooke was the third black United States senator in the nation's history and the only one elected in the twentieth century until Carol Moseley Braun's victory in 1992.
The division's African-American manuscript collections have served historians well, supporting the much-increased scholarship in black history that began in the 1960s. The NAACP records are annually the most heavily used collection in the division, and other black history collections attract large numbers of scholars, testifying to their importance not only to the Library but to the nation itself.