William & Mary

Swem Library celebrates Black History Month

  • Black History Month
    Black History Month  The events include a talk with Randolph-Macon Professor Jack Trammell, author of "The Richmond Slave Trade: The Economic Backbone of the Old Dominion."  Image courtesy of Swem Library
  • Black History Month
    Black History Month  Pages from Swem Library's first edition copy of Twelve Years a Slave  Image courtesy of Swem Library
  • Black History Month
    Black History Month  Swem Library is the owner of a diary written in 1902 by Florence Barber, the granddaughter of Solomon Northrup, an American abolitionist and the primary author of the memoir "Twelve Years a Slave."  Image courtesy of Swem Library
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William & Mary’s Swem Library is celebrating Black History Month with a number of special events: screenings of the film 12 Years a Slave, a talk about the Richmond slave trade with author Jack Trammell and an exhibit of the work of prominent African-American photographer Louis Draper.

Last year’s Academy Award-winning film 12 Years a Slave has ties to William & Mary. Swem Library is the owner of a diary written in 1902 by Florence Barber, the granddaughter of Solomon Northrup, an American abolitionist and the primary author of the memoir Twelve Years a Slave, on which the film is based. In the memoir, Northup, an African-American man who was born free in New York, details his kidnapping in Washington, D.C., and sale into slavery.

The library purchased the diary – attributed to an unknown author at the time – on eBay in 2009. Even though its writer was a mystery, the diary offered a fascinating view into the life of a middle-class African American woman living in Virginia’s Tidewater area during the early 20th century. In 2012, Lauren Wallace ‘13, who served as an apprentice in Special Collections, researched details in the diary, ultimately revealing the identity of the author.

In honor of Barber’s grandfather, the library will host two screenings of the film 12 Years a Slave on Wednesday, Feb. 18 at 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. in the Botetourt Theatre, ground floor of Swem. The screenings are free and open to the public.

The following evening Swem will hold a talk with Jack Trammell, a professor at Randolph-Macon and author of The Richmond Slave Trade: The Economic Backbone of the Old Dominion. In the book, Trammell traces the history of the city's slave trade, from the origins of African slavery in Virginia to its destruction at the end of the Civil War. Solomon Northrup’s journey took him through Virginia when he was held briefly at the Goodwin-Templeton Slave Jail in Richmond before being sent to New Orleans.

The event will take place in the library’s Botetourt Theatre and Gallery 5:30-7:30 p.m. and will include a reception. Several items from Swem’s special collections relating to slavery will be on display, including Florence Barber’s diary, reproductions of letters written by slaves and an 1853 first edition of Twelve Years a Slave. The event is free and open to the public. Attendees are asked to RSVP by Feb. 16 to swemrsvp@wm.edu.  

Finally, to conclude its Black History Month commemorations, Swem Library will host a reception celebrating an exhibit of the photographs of Louis Draper (1935-2002) on Monday, Feb. 23.

A Richmond, Virginia native, Draper moved to Harlem in 1958 to study photography. In those early years he photographed in the streets of New York, capturing the social conditions of the time and the nuances of mid-century city life. Among notable contemporaries he photographed are Langston Hughes, Hughie Lee Smith, Miles Davis, Malcolm X, Katherine Dunham and the civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer. Draper was a founding member of the seminal black photographers’ collective originally named the Kamoinge Workshop, formed in 1963.

The reception will include a short talk by Draper’s sister, Nell Draper-Winston, who became the executor of Draper’s estate upon his death in 2002, and together with her colleague, Cheryl Pelt, partnered with Candela Books + Gallery to organize, research and promote the Draper archive. Draper-Winston will talk about her brother and some of the fifteen photographs that capture street scenes and portraits on display in this exhibit.

The reception will be held 4-6 p.m. in the library’s main lobby, first floor. Light refreshments will be served; the event is free and open to the public. Attendees are asked to RSVP by Feb. 18 to swemrsvp@wm.edu.

Other events

The Center for Student Diversity will also host a Black History Month program on Feb. 12, a solo performance by Chad Goller-Sojourne, titled "Riding in Cars with Black People & Other Dangerous Acts: A Memoir in Vanishing Whiteness." The event begins at 6:30 p.m. in the Commonwealth Auditorium.

A lecture that is part of the 2015 Middle Passage Project Health Equity Initiative will feature a leader at Eastern Virginia Medical School. Mekbib Gemeda, vice president for diversity at EVMS, will discuss “Unconscious Bias: Overcoming the Demons of Inequality” on Friday, Feb. 27, 4 p.m. at 227 James Blair Hall.