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Special Collections and Archives

Special Collections and Archives consist mainly of primary and secondary materials on African-American themes. The collections serve the research needs of Fisk students and faculty as well as external scholars.

Among the rare items there are:

  • The American edition of Phillis Wheatley’s Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral (1773)
  • Examples of Benjamin Banneker’s almanacs
  • A bible especially edited for slaves in the West Indies in 1808
  • A first edition of Les Cenelles (1845), the first anthology of poetry by blacks published in this country
  • Clotel, or The President’s Daughter (1853), the first novel by an African-American
  • Harriet E. Wilson’s Our Nig (1859), the first novel published by a black in the U.S.
  • Nearly 200 printed items from American minstrel shows
  • A bible presented to President Abraham Lincoln by free blacks of Baltimore in 1864

Special Collections contains university archives as well as papers and works of scholarly and literary figures of national acclaim. Among these are:

Ballentine Hall Cornerstone Collection

Consists of publications associated with religious education and Fisk information left in the dormitory at its 1889 groundbreaking.

The Black Oral History Collection

Founded in 1970 and strengthened in 1971-73, the collection contains taped interviews with persons who have been eyewitnesses, participants, or contributors to the African-American experience.

Included are taped interviews with residents of all-black towns, Vietnam veterans, literary figures, musicians, scientists, educators, and women. Among the subjects represented are Margaret Walker Alexander, Arna Bontemps, Eubie Blake, Cab Calloway, Will D. Campbell, Owen Dodson, Aaron Douglas, Jewel LaFontant, Ethel Ray Nance, Era Bell Thompson, and Howard Thurman. The Radcliffe College Black Women Oral History project transcripts are also housed here.

Bontemps, Arna Collection

Bontemps was head librarian at Fisk University from 1943 to 1964. The collection contains correspondence, library materials, committee and organization items, newspaper clippings, and photographs.

Burris, James Dallas Collection

Includes biographical material, photographs and artifacts associated with this member of Fisk’ first graduating class of 1875. Such documents as a course evaluation from John Ogden, noted abolitionist and co-founder of Fisk are contained.

Chesnutt, Charles Waddell Collection

Dating from 1864 to 1938, the collection consists of personal and business correspondence, typewritten manuscripts, and published and unpublished writings. Journal and notebooks (500 pages) cover random periods; photographs document the author, his family, and acquaintances such as Anna Julia Cooper, Booker T. Washington, and Joel Spingarn.

Cooke, Geoffrey Collection on the Clinton B. Fisk Family

Contains documentation of correspondence of General Fisk’s wife, Janette Crippen-Fisk, and daughter, Mary Fisk Park; his appointment as Department of Interior Commissioner of Indian Territory in 1873; land transactions by his father and mother; and published and unpublished biographical writings on General Fisk and his wife.

Davis, Alice Coachman Collection

Includes correspondence, newspaper clippings, photographs, and programs relating to the career of the first black woman to win a gold medal in the Olympics.

Dorsey, Thomas Andrew Collection

Contains biographical data, correspondence, sheet music, articles, clippings, phonograph recordings, audiotapes, photographs, and programs.

Douglas, Aaron Collection

Includes general and personal correspondence (1921-1974) with the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Harmon Foundation; early drawings, sketches, and watercolors; lectures; speeches; programs; photographs; and newspaper clippings (1930-1973).

DuBois, W. E. B. Collection

Contains correspondence relating travels and writings, material relating to the NAACP, manuscript of The Black Man and the Wounded World, clippings, and pamphlets.

Fisk Jubilee Singers Collection

Includes clippings, contracts, financial reports, music, autographs, scrapbooks, photographs, memorabilia, and the diaries of Ella Sheppard Moore.

Fisk Jubilee Singers European Tour Collection

Contains ten boxes of correspondence, agent reports and financial records for the years 1875-1877.

Fisk University Institute for Research in Black American Music Collection

The collection documents the establishment, activities and accomplishments of the project. Resources include, but are not limited to, correspondence, financial records, brochures, programs, invitations, booklets, sheet music, dissertations, photographs and miscellaneous materials.

Gershwin, George Memorial Collection of Music and Musical Literature

Donated by Carl Van Vechten in 1947, the collection is named in honor of his friend, George Gershwin. Sheet music represents such black composers as W. C. Handy, William Grant Still, and J. Rosamond Johnson. Correspondence, photographs, books, and phonograph recordings are included.

Haynes, George Edmund Collection

Contains general correspondence and correspondence dealing with the National Urban League on urban conditions among black people, classroom lectures, and clippings.

Langston Hughes Collection

Includes biographical data, correspondence, writings (plays, poetry, typescripts, books), articles, clippings, playbills, programs, and photographs.

Imes, Elmer S. Collection

Contains biographical information, correspondence, course material, drawing notes, plans, photos, professional affiliations, and writings. Documentation of equipment supply companies, faculty recruitment and recommendations, and lecture notes of the infrared spectroscopy scientist and second African American to earn a Ph.D. in Physics in the U.S.

Johnson, Charles Spurgeon Collection

Contains materials relating to Johnson's role as Director of the Social Science Department and as President of Fisk University. There are correspondence, writings and addresses, committees and organizational involvement, speeches, materials from the Race Relations Institute at Fisk, studies, surveys, and interviews with former slaves, photographs, reports, and newspaper clippings.

Johnson, Charles Spurgeon Collection

Similar to the other Charles Spurgeon Johnson collection, this collection of 27 boxes spans the years 1935-1956 and contains correspondence, writings, reports and social science department materials.

Johnson, James Weldon Collection

The collection holds general correspondence with Thomas Elsa Jones and Mary Fisk Park, newspaper clippings regarding Johnson’s death, articles, speeches, writings, photographs, and sheet music.

Jones, Thomas Elsa Collection

The collection consists of personal materials, general correspondence, publications; addresses, manuscripts, reports, speeches and writings, special events, and miscellaneous materials.

Thomas Elsa Jones Collection

Contains correspondence, board of trustee, faculty, staff and students materials, financial records, organizational affiliations and reports. This collection of seventy-one boxes augments the other Thomas Elsa Jones collection.

Joplin, Scott Collection

Includes correspondence, newspaper clippings, photographs, and sheet music.

Langston, John Mercer

Includes correspondence, speeches, writings, legal papers, and clippings.

Lunceford, Jimmie Collection of Music & Memorabilia

Contains seven Jimmie Lunceford and the Lunceford Orchestra (the Harlem Express) albums, 1934-1944; fourteen photographs of the 1926 Fisk Alum and his aggregates on stage, traveling, and in promotional activity; along with significant information attained through liner notes and images of Lunceford with his manager and band members as well.

Nail, John B. Collection

Contains correspondence with noted persons Mary McLeod Bethune, James Weldon Johnson, and Arthur Spingarn and with organizations including the NAACP, The Daytona Educational and Industrial Training School for Negro Girls, The Fourth Pan-African Congress and The Society for the Ethical Culture of New York.

Napier, James Carroll Collection

Contains correspondence, speeches, documents, scrapbooks, newspaper clippings, photographs, and papers of the Anna T. Jeanes Fund.

Rogers, J. A. Collection

There are writings, newspaper clippings, notebooks of his research, documents, photographs, and awards.

Rosenwald, Julius Fund Archives

The archives trace the history of the Rosenwald Fund from its incorporation in 1917 to its dissolution in 1948. In the collection are photographs and clippings of prominent leaders of the era, such as educator Horace Mann bond and librarian and writer Arna Bontemps, and correspondence and philanthropic activities.

Virtually every major African-American organization of the time had some contact with the fund, as it offered financial support to a diverse range of efforts involving leadership development and education of African-Americans. There is an extensive file of Rosenwald schools built in thirteen Southern states.

Sigma Pi Phi (The Boulé) Papers

Includes the official papers of the organization. There are reports, correspondence, documents, photographs, and records.

Spence Family Collection

The Spence Collection incorporates data coverage of the Spence family migrating to America from Scotland which includes genealogy, correspondence, writings, family materials, documents, financial records, photographs and numerous Fisk related materials.

Talley, Thomas W. Collection

Holds correspondence, legal documents, published and unpublished works, notes, programs, music, and newspaper clippings.

Work III, John Wesley Collection

Contains general and personal correspondence (1915-1971); materials dealing with the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers; studies, speeches, writings, materials on the Fisk Jubilee Singers tour of 1956; sheet music; and autographed copies of music by black composers.