Special Collection and Archives

John Hope and Aurelia E. Franklin Library Special Collections & Archives


The Special Collections and Archives of the John Hope and Aurelia E. Franklin Library at Fisk University contains some of the oldest and most definitive collections of African American history and culture.  Since the establishment of the University in 1866, it has been the library’s tradition to acquire materials by and about African Americans and people of the African Diaspora. Louis Shores, a noted author, and the school’s first professional librarian, came to Fisk in 1928. Shores embarked on a systematic plan to collect and preserve materials by and about African Americans and house them separately in the library. In 1929, Fisk enlisted the aid of foreign dealers to provide works for its special Negro Collection. This effort resulted in the purchase of twenty-eight pamphlets and manuscripts on the early history of black domestic servants in Europe. By fall 1930, Fisk hired black bibliophile Arthur Schomburg as curator of the collection. He was experienced and knowledgeable in the field and immediately began to build a collection, similar to his own, for Fisk. He acquired a number of unusual and retrospective works that otherwise might not have been gathered. By this time as well, Fisk, through an agreement with the Southern YMCA Graduate School in Nashville, concentrated on collecting works on blacks outside the United States and dated prior to 1865 as well as appropriate materials on blacks in this country since 1865. On the other hand, the YMCA had concentrated on collecting such works published after 1865. Thus, Fisk was able to gather materials on the Negro in the West Indies and Africa, a large pamphlet collection, and two rare and priceless volumes that were, and remain, the choice items in Fisk’s collection. These are the Lincoln Bible, presented to President Abraham Lincoln by the “loyal colored people of Baltimore” and given to Fisk by his son Robert Todd Lincoln; and a Bible especially edited for slaves, with all passages related to freedom omitted. The Slave Bible, as it has come to be known, is now perhaps one of only two or three known to be extant. As the Depression years came, Fisk was forced to scale down its activities and the library was no exception. Schomburg left before he was able to put in place his buying plan and ideas for housing the materials that he had purchased. 


Arna Bontemps, writer of the Harlem Renaissance era and librarian, became head librarian in 1943. Although his budgets were never generous, he was able to build the Special Collections even more by gathering the papers of such African American luminaries as Charles Waddell Chesnutt, Langston Hughes, John Mercer Langston, Scott Joplin, and W. E. B. Du Bois, and the archives of the Julius Rosenwald Fund, including photographs of the schools that Rosenwald built for blacks in fifteen Southern states. Bontemps also brought to his staff professionals who began to process the growing collection of manuscripts and archives and to prepare finding aids for them. Increasingly, scholars began using the collections for master’s and doctoral theses, books, articles, and films. 


The Archives of Fisk University was officially established in 1948 under the administration of the University’s first African American president, Charles S. Johnson. An Archives Council was formed, and Dwight H. Wilson was appointed the first University Archivist. Because of the work of the Archives Council, Fisk University became the first black institution to become a member of the Society of American Archivists.

Smith, J.C. (2009). From Andrew Carnegie to John Hope: Library Development at Fisk University. Tennessee Libraries, 59(4)


To ensure preservation of African American history and culture and our heritage as an historically black college, the Fisk University Special Collections and Archives collects, organizes, preserves, and makes available for scholarly use the official records of the university and the personal papers of individuals entrusting custody to the university.  

Special Collections Hours & Contact

By Appointment Only (Please complete the form to request an appointment) – No Exceptions

Days of Operation: 

Tuesday - Friday 9:00 am-Noon
We are closed for one hour for lunch from 12:oo pm until 1:00 pm
Tuesday - Friday: 1:00-4:00 pm

Closed on holidays & during university scheduled breaks 

Contact Information

Diona Layden - Special Collections Librarian


Collections A-D

Collections E-J

Collections R-V