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African American Studies: Primary Sources

Selected digital collections

African American Communities

"Focusing predominantly on Atlanta, Chicago, St. Louis, New York, and towns and cities in North Carolina this resource presents multiple aspects of the African American community through pamphlets, newspapers and periodicals, correspondence, official records, reports and in-depth oral histories, revealing the prevalent challenges of racism, discrimination and integration, and a unique African American culture and identity."

African-American Experience in Ohio, 1850-1920

Includes manuscript collections, newspaper articles, serials, photographs, and pamphlets.

African American Historical Serials Collection

"The African American Historical Serials Collection is a complete, centralized and accessible resource of formerly fragmentary, widely dispersed and endangered materials that document the history of African American life and religious organizations from primary source materials published between 1829 and 1922."

African American Perspectives: Pamphlets from the Daniel A. P. Murray Collection, 1818-1907

Digital version of the collection at MICROFORM 08889

African-American Newspapers, 1827-1998 Full-text collection of African American newspapers printed across the U.S. during the 19th and 20th centuries.

African American Newspapers: The 19th Century  (1827-1882)  Complete text of the major African-American newspapers published in the United States during the 19th century.

African American Periodicals, 1825-1995  Online collection of academic and political journals, commercial magazines, institutional newsletters, organizations' bulletins, annual reports and other diverse periodicals.  

African Americans in the Military, Part 1: Subject Files of Judge William Hastie, Civilian Aide to the Secretary of War, A-C  Chronicles Hastie's duties and daily interactions with African Americans attempting to overcome the systematic discrimination present in the government.

African Americans in the Military, Part 2: Subject Files of Judge William Hastie, Civilian Aide to the Secretary of War, D-M  This collection includes correspondence between the Office of the Civilian Aide and the soldiers, sailors, family members, and other interested parties concerning the ongoing discrimination in the military. 

African Americans in the Military, Part 3: subject files of Judge William Hastie, Civilian Aide to the Secretary of War, N-Z  The final installment of the files of the civilian aide to the secretary of war offers documentation on race relations on the home front and abroad in the military during World War II and in the immediate postwar years. The files show the frustrations associated with continued racial discrimination and segregation in the 1940s but also provide evidence of a growing movement for civil rights.

African American Sheet Music 

Digitized sheet music, with lyrics and illustrations, mostly from 1840-1950

Afro-Americana Imprints, 1535-1922 Full text of more than 12,000 printed works, including lesser known imprints published from the early 16th century to the early 20th century.

Afro-American Military Collection of William A. Gladstone   The William A. Gladstone Afro-American Military Collection (ca. 500 items) spans the years 1773 to 1987, with the bulk of the material dating from the Civil War period, 1861-1865. The collection consists of correspondence, pay vouchers, orders, muster rolls, enlistment and discharge papers, receipts, contracts, affidavits, tax records, miscellaneous military documents, and printed matter. Most items document African Americans in military service, especially the United States Corps d'Afrique and the United States Colored Troops, which were organized during the Civil War. Also included are many documents concerning slavery and various other Civil War documents that mention African Americans. The Revolutionary War items are primarily pay vouchers to Connecticut blacks who served in the Continental Army. World War I is represented by the papers of Lieutenant Edward L. Goodlett of the 370th Infantry, 93rd Division. 

American Song History database that contains 50,000 tracks that allows people to hear and feel the music from America's past. Will include songs by and about American Indians, miners, immigrants, slaves, children, pioneers, and cowboys. Included are the songs of Civil Rights, political campaigns, Prohibition, the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, anti-war protests and more.

Archives of African American Music and Culture

Hosted at Indiana University Bloomington, this site includes digitized manuscript collections, music, and media.

Archives Unbound Presents topically-focused digital collections of historical documents, including the records of the Revolutionary Action Movement (RAM), the National Negro Business League, Federal Surveillance of African Americans, and more. 

Black Abolitionist Archive.  A collection of over 800 speeches by antebellum blacks and approximately 1,000 editorials from the period.  

Black Abolitionist Papers Primary sources from African Americans actively involved in the movement to end slavery in the United States between 1830 and 1865.

Black Economic Empowerment: The National Negro Business League  The National Negro Business League was a business organization founded in Boston, Massachusetts in 1900 by Booker T. Washington, with the support of Andrew Carnegie. The mission and main goal of the National Negro Business League was "to promote the commercial and financial development of the Negro." The organization was formally incorporated in 1901 in New York, and established 320 chapters across the United States.

The Black Liberation Army and the Program of Armed Struggle (BLA) was an underground, black nationalist-Marxist militant organization that operated from 1970 to 1981. Composed largely of former Black Panthers (BPP), the organization’s program was one of "armed struggle" and its stated goal was to "take up arms for the liberation and self-determination of black people in the United States." The BLA carried out a series of bombings, robberies (what participants termed "expropriations"), and prison breaks. Date range: 1970-1983

Black Nationalism and the Revolutionary Action Movement: The Papers of Muhammad Ahmad (Max Stanford)  This collection of RAM records reproduces the writings and statements of the Revolutionary Action Movement (RAM) and its leaders. It also covers organizations that evolved from or were influenced by RAM and persons that had close ties to RAM. The most prominent organization that evolved from RAM was the African People’s Party. Organizations influenced by RAM include the Black Panther Party, League of Revolutionary Black Workers, Youth Organization for Black Unity, African Liberation Support Committee, and the Republic of New Africa. Individuals associated with RAM and documented in this collection include Robert F. Williams, Malcolm X, Amiri Baraka, General Gordon Baker Jr., Yuri Kochiyama, Donald Freeman, James and Grace Lee Boggs, Herman Ferguson, Askia Muhammad Toure (Rolland Snellings), and Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael). Date range:1962-1999

The Black Panthers Primary sources in PDF from Michigan State University Digital and Multimedia Center.

Black Short Fiction  Full text of 760 stories and folktales by African, African American, and Caribbean authors.

Black Thought and Culture Full-text collection of published non-fiction works is included, as well as interviews, journal articles, letters, and other materials of leading African-Americans. Biographical essays by leading scholars and an annotated bibliography of the sources in the database are also featured.

Black Women Writers Works of fiction, nonfiction and poetry by women from North America, Africa and the Caribbean.

Black Workers in the Era of the Great Migration, 1916-1929  Records relate to agricultural labor, industrial work, unionism, housing, race relations, returning veterans and their search for employment, and the process of migration from the South to the North.

Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936 to 1938

More than 2,300 first-person accounts of slavery and 500 black-and-white photographs of formerly enslaved people.

The Church in the Southern Black Community, 1780-1925

Digitized documents about the religious life of black people in the South.

Colored Conventions  Database of primary source documents relating to political conventions convened by African Americans throughout the 19th century

Digital Library on American Slavery.  Contains court records related to enslaved, people, "runaway slave advertisements," "Slave Deeds of North Carolina," and  "Slavery Era Insurance Registries."

Ethnic NewsWatch (1960+) Interdisciplinary, bilingual (English and Spanish), full-text database of the newspapers, magazines and journals of the ethnic, minority, and native press.

Federal Response to Radicalism in the 1960s.  Organized alphabetically by organization, this collection covers a wide range of viewpoints on political, social, cultural, and economic issues. It sheds light on internal organization, personnel, and activities of some of the most prominent American radical groups and their movements to change American government and society. Date range: 1956-1971. 

Federal Surveillance of African Americans  Between the early 1920s and early 1980s, the Justice Department and its Federal Bureau of Investigation engaged in widespread investigation of those deemed politically suspect. Prominent among the targets of this sometimes coordinated, sometimes independent surveillance were aliens, members of various protest groups, Socialists, Communists, pacifists, militant labor unionists, ethnic or racial nationalists, and outspoken opponents of the policies of the incumbent presidents Between the early 1920s and early 1980s, the Justice Department and its Federal Bureau of Investigation engaged in widespread investigation of those deemed politically suspect. Prominent among the targets of this sometimes coordinated, sometimes independent surveillance were aliens, members of various protest groups, Socialists, Communists, pacifists, militant labor unionists, ethnic or racial nationalists, and outspoken opponents of the policies of the incumbent presidents.  Date range 1920-1984

From Slavery to Freedom: The African-American Pamphlet Collection, 1822-1909

Fugitive Slave Petition Book for the District of Columbia, 1850-1860

Documents filed to support the legal rights of slave owners.

James Meredith, J. Edgar Hoover, and the Integration of the University of Mississippi.  In the fall of 1962 the college town of Oxford, Mississippi, erupted in violence. At the center of the controversy stood James Meredith, an African American who was attempting to register at the all-white University of Mississippi, known as "Ole Miss." Meredith had the support of the federal government, which insisted that Mississippi honor the rights of all its citizens, regardless of race. Mississippi’s refusal led to a showdown between state and federal authorities and the storming of the campus by a segregationist mob. Two people died and dozens were injured. In the end, Ole Miss, the state of Mississippi, and the nation were forever changed.  Date range:1961-1962

The Negro Motorist Green Book,1949 edition  The Negro Motorist Green Book was a travel guide that listed lodgings, tailors and other businesses that welcomed black patrons during Jim Crow. The guide, which was launched in 1936 and published for nearly 30 years."

New Deal Agencies and Black America  New Deal Agencies and Black America consists of documents from federal agencies and departments that either participated in New Deal programs or were created as a result of them. 

Oral History Online Provides indexing, plus some full text, for English-language oral histories that are publicly available on the Web and that are held by repositories and archives around the world. Primarily covers 20th-century America, but there is some content for other times and places.

Papers of the NAACP, Part 01: Meetings of the Board of Directors, Records of Annual Conferences, Major Speeches, and Special Reports This collection consists of six sections: the Minutes of the Board of Directors Meetings, 1909-1950; Monthly Reports of NAACP Officers, 1918-1950; Annual Conference Proceedings, 1910-1950; Proceedings of the Annual Business Meetings, 1912-1950; and Special Correspondence, 1910-1939.

Papers of the NAACP, Part 03: The Campaign for Educational Equality, Series A: Legal Department and Central Office Records, 1913-1940 The documents in this collection are organized into three sections: Administrative File (three series), Legal File (five series), and Addendum File (five series). Material in the Administrative File deals with discrimination in education, discrimination in teachers' salaries, and other general educational issues.

Peonage Files of the U.S. Department of Justice, 1901-1945  Peonage is a form of labor control that relies on debt to compel the worker. It is involuntary servitude, or slavery. Outlawed by an 1867 federal statute that lay dormant for thirty-one years, peonage in its various guises has been defined in a half dozen Supreme Court cases and scores of federal district cases. The documentary sources spread out in many directions--legal literature, state and local records, articles in magazines and newspapers, manuscript collections, and, primarily, the records in the National Archives. When the federal government began enforcing the peonage statute in 1898, the Justice Department accumulated records from U.S. attorneys and other federal officials in the field. It also received complaints directly from those who believed themselves held in peonage, or, when debt was not a factor, in slavery.

Princeton and Slavery   A mixture of digitized primary sources and historical essays details the role that slavery played in the development of Princeton University

ProQuest History Vault: Black Freedom 1 Digital Archive   Primary source material from federal agencies, letters, papers, photographs, scrapbooks, financial records, and diaries are among the unique resources available in digital format for the first time. Module one consists of 37 collections of organizational records and personal papers, and the second module is comprised of 36 collections from federal government agencies.

Race Relations in America     Based at Fisk University from 1943-1970, the Race Relations Department and its annual Institute were set up by the American Missionary Association to investigate problem areas in race relations and develop methods for educating communities and preventing conflict. Documenting three pivotal decades in the fight for civil rights, this resource showcases the speeches, reports, surveys and analyses produced by the Department's staff and Institute participants, including Charles S. Johnson, Dr Martin Luther King, Jr., and Thurgood Marshall.

Records of the Committee on Fair Employment Practices, Part 1: Racial Tension File, 1943-1945  Records of the Committee on Fair Employment Practices, Division of Review and Analysis, Part 1: The Racial Tension File, 1943-1945, from the National Archives, consists generally of newspaper clippings, statistical reports, memoranda, and correspondence. Materials in this collection mostly date from 1943 to 1946 with some documents going back to 1935.

Scottsboro Boys  Primary sources in PDF from Michigan State University Digital and Multimedia Center.

Wibur H. Siebert Collection of Underground Railroad Material

Sixties: Primary Documents and Personal Narratives 1960-1974  Contains letters, diaries, oral histories, posters, pamphlets, and rare audio and video materials documenting the key events, trends, and movements in 1960s America.

Slaves and the Court, 1740-1860     Pamphlets and book, 1772-1889, concerning the experiences of African and African-American enslaved people in the American colonies and the United States court systems.

Smithsonian Global Sound   Smithsonian Global Sound is a virtual encyclopedia of the world's musical and aural traditions. It includes the published recordings owned by the non-profit Smithsonian Folkways Recordings label and the archival audio collections of the Folkways Records, Cook, Dyer-Bennet, Fast Folk, Monitor, Paredon and other labels. It also includes music recorded around the African continent by for the International Library of African Music (ILAM) at Rhodes University as well as material collected by recordists on the South Asian subcontinent from the Archive Research Centre for Ethnomusicology (ARCE), sponsored by the American Institute for Indian Studies.

Social Issues Primary Source Collections  (19th Century+)  Primary source documents focusing on leading social issues for the environment; gender issues and sexuality; human and civil rights; and medicine, health, and bioethics.

Voyages: The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database“A single multi-source data-set of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade.”

We Were Prepared for the Possibility of Death:" Freedom Riders in the South, 1961 Freedom Riders were civil rights activists that rode interstate buses into the segregated South to test the United States Supreme Court decision in Boynton v. Virginia.  Boynton had outlawed racial segregation in the restaurants and waiting rooms in terminals serving buses that crossed state lines. Five years prior to theBoynton ruling, the Interstate Commerce Commission had issued a ruling in Sarah Keys v. Carolina Coach Company that had explicitly denounced the Plessy v. Ferguson doctrine of separate but equal in interstate bus travel, but the ICC had failed to enforce its own ruling, and thus Jim Crow travel laws remained in force throughout the South.  Date range:1961

Women and Social Movements in the United States (1600-2000)  Collection of full-text primary and secondary sources.  To find material by and about African American women use the Search feature to limit results to texts, people, or movements.

Zora Neale Hurston Plays at the Library of Congress   Ten unpublished plays reflecting Hurston's life experience, travels, and research into African American folklore.