In the fall, William & Mary Libraries received a valuable collection of comic books and other graphic arts depicting African Americans, donated by Richard Percy Wright, an avid collector who lived in Williamsburg, Virginia.
“We are eternally grateful that Mr. Wright reached out to us about donating his collection,” said Carrie Cooper, dean of university libraries. “His collection will contribute to the depth of our collections on African American history and culture and will enhance research and scholarship around this topic.”
Wright passed away in November.
Wright first reached out to W&M in a letter he wrote to Cooper. In it, he explained that he was looking for a permanent home for his collection.
Wright knew he wanted his collection to reside in a place that would take care of it and where people would have a chance to use it.
“Mr. Wright had done his homework. He had investigated local universities, trying to decide where his collection would fit best,” said Cooper. “He heard about our Hip Hop Collection and learned about the courses W&M teaches on African-American history and culture and decided Swem Library would make a good home for his collection.”
Excited about the letter, Jay Gaidmore, director of the library’s special collections, contacted Wright. Their first meeting gave Gaidmore insight into Wright’s relationship with libraries.
“He told me about how he grew up in the Bronx and how the library became his refuge,” said Gaidmore.
Wright began collecting comic books that depicted African Americans in 1986. His collection grew to more than 1,000 comic books during the next 30 years. It contains early Tarzan, Avengers, X-Men and the Fantastic Four, featuring Black Panther’s first appearance. In addition to comic books, the collection has a variety of other materials that depict African Americans in pop culture including books, magazines, newspapers, original art, sheet music, cartoon drawings, photos and reference books, bringing the total number of items in the collection to over 3,100.
“His collection is impressive in its richness and depth. It’s also unique because it includes his research notes,” said Meghan Bryant, library archivist. “Mr. Wright created an inventory of his materials, which is wonderful to have as we process the collection.”
Once processed, the collection will be available to researchers and students who visit Swem Library’s Special Collections Research Center.
“I expect the collection will be useful for a variety of subjects, including film studies, studies of race and racism, art and illustration, African-American writers and publications, ephemera and advertising studies, and histories of collecting,” said Bryant.