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Charles L. Blockson archival collection

Identifier: 10113

Scope and Contents

The Charles L. Blockson archival collection, a product of Charles LeRoy Blockson’s (1933-2023) extensive collecting throughout his lifetime, contains detailed documentation of Charles Blockson’s life and career including documents from his time at Penn State, his literary career, and activism. The collection also contains material on Black history, art, and culture. This collection includes postcards, stamps, posters, newspapers, correspondence, sheet music, and works of historical scholarship. There is also a collection of buttons, metals, photographs, vinyl records and plaques which provide a physical element to this collection. Charles Blockson was a collector of all things related to Black history. This holistic approach to collecting is reflected in the wide variety of items and subject matter that appears in this collection. The majority of the collection relates to the history of African Americans from roughly the 1900 to 2006. There are, however, also documents and items related to the Black experience outside of the United States, including postcards, stamps, historical scholarship and news articles about African and Afro-Caribbean people and their experiences. The collection highlights Black culture through its particularly rich collection of Black art, writing and documentation of Black performances, with extensive collections from famous Black performers, including: Paul Robeson, Marian Anderson and Josephine Baker, each of which have their own dedicated series in the collection. Along with the celebration of Black achievement and culture, many of the items in this collection document the racism toward and oppression of Black people in America and abroad. This racism appears scattered throughout the collection. It appears on postcards and photographs, in advertisements and newspapers as well as in the biases of historical scholarship. This collection as a whole showcases incredible Black historical and cultural achievement through its particular focus on Black art, performance, and culture without ignoring the difficult history of racism and oppression that likewise makes up a part of this history.


  • Creation: 1787-2006
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1930-2000

Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies of original materials may be made available for research purposes at the discretion of the Eberly Family Special Collections Library. Photocopies or reproductions of original materials may be subject to fees as outlined by the Pennsylvania State University Libraries reproduction policies.

Copyright is retained by the creators of items in these papers, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law. Patrons seeking advice on the availability of unpublished materials for publication should consult relevant copyright law and laws of libel.

Custodial History

Charles L. Blockson collected the materials in this collection throughout a period of many years and then donated the collection to Penn State in 2006.

Processing Information

Cassie Florian reprocessed this collection in the fall of 2022 in consultation with Lexy deGraffenreid. The collection was originally processed as nine separate collections: the Charles L. Blockson Black history and cultural events collection, the Charles L. Blockson collection on Marian Anderson, the Charles L. Blockson Personal and Literary Papers, the Charles L. Blockson Posters and Graphics Collection, the Charles L. Blockson collection on Josephine Baker, the Charles L. Blockson collection of postcards and related materials, Charles L. Blockson Collection of Political Buttons and Artifacts and the Charles L. Blockson Collection on Paul Robeson. These collections were combined to form one larger collection and was given the title Charles L. Blockson archival collection. While eight of the nine original collection titles were maintained as series titles, the Charles L. Blockson Posters and Graphics collection was broken up and placed into different series in this new archival collection that better highlighted the posters content, not just their medium. Everything was re-foldered and the majority of the collection was re-boxed. The majority of this collection’s original folder titles were maintained during reprocessing. This included keeping folder titles that contain outdated and offensive language. These titles were maintained in order to not hide the racism that exists within these documents and instead allow them to be visible in a way that does not condone their viewpoint. The only time that folder titles were changed was to either better represent the contents of a folder or if the original titles in some way silenced Black voices and/or obscured key themes in this collection. Cassie Florian implemented an entirely new order to the postcards and other materials series in order to elevate relevant topics, particularly racism and enslavement, which had been obscured in its previous organization. Sub-series were added to the Charles L. Blockson Black history and cultural events series and the Charles L. Blockson Personal and Literary Papers series in order to better aid researchers as they navigate these two rather large series.


39.6 Linear Feet


This collection contains the personal papers, collected documents and artifacts of bibliophile, author, historian, lecturer, and Black history advocate Charles L. Blockson. This collection contains a wide variety of information on Black history in a multitude of formats including written, audio material and visual media. Black art, culture, history, and activism are particular strengths of this collection.

Physical Location

For current information on the location of these materials, please consult the library catalog.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

This collection was acquired from Charles L. Blockson in 2006.

Biographical / Historical

A native of Norristown, Pennsylvania, Charles L. Blockson attended Penn State on a scholarship, distinguished himself on the gridiron, as he had in high school, and broke school records in the discus. The origins of his massive collection and interest in Black history and culture comes from an incident in his youth. The incident, which involved his fourth-grade teacher who told Blockson that Black people have no history and were born to serve white people, he cites as the moment where his passion for collecting was ignited. From there, Blockson’s interest in Black history continued and over time he managed to amass one of the most impressive collections of Afro-American history to date. Aside from collecting, Blockson made history through direct interaction with his local community as activist and an educator. In 1972, Blockson became an advisor for human relations and cultural affairs at the Norristown Area High School where he also taught African-American history. Four years later, he co-founded the Afro-American Historical and Cultural Museum in Philadelphia, directed the Pennsylvania Black History Committee, and the Pennsylvania Afro-American Historical Board. In terms of scholarship, Blockson authored many books about Black history, with a particular focus on Pennsylvania, his home state, providing his local community with important knowledge of their own history. His first book Black Genealogy was written published in 1977 with Ron Fry, beginning his career as an author. His growing expertise led him to research, write, and publish another book, Pennsylvania’s Black History, in 1981. Blockson continued to write many more monographs perhaps the most famous being ‘The Underground Railroad’ published in 1987. As a bibliophile and activist, Blockson responded to the absence of research materials about African American history and culture by amassing a collection of books, photographs, drawings, sheet music, posters, and broadsides about African American history. Charles Blockson passed away on June 14, 2023.

Related Materials

In 1984 Blockson donated this collection of over 150,000 items to the Special Collection Department of Temple University Libraries. He then served as curator of his namesake collection, the Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection. This collection anchored a new doctorate program for African-American studies at Temple University.

Charles L. Blockson donated his library to the Eberly Family Special Collections Library. It can be found in the Libraries Catalog using the collection title "Charles L. Blockson Collection of African Americana and the African Diaspora."

Guide to the Charles L. Blockson archival collection
Compiled by Cassie Florian
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Revision Statements

  • 2023: Lexy deGraffenreid updated the Biographical/Historical note and Scope and Content note, June 2023

Repository Details

Part of the Eberly Family Special Collections Library Repository

104 Paterno Library
Penn State University
University Park 16802 USA