Our nation celebrates Black History Month each February to recognize the accomplishments and contributions of Black Americans throughout our nation’s history, as well as pay tribute to their experiences and struggles in the face of adversity.
It is in this spirit that we invite you to join us in honoring Black History Month by exploring the following featured selection of Library resources highlighting Black art and activism.
Freedom: A Fable: A Curious Interpretation of the Wit of a Negress in Troubled Times: with Illustrations (1997) by Kara Elizabeth Walker – This illustrated pop-up book calls upon the history of anti-Black imagery in the U.S. to make a commentary on the ways racism has endured. Appearing to be a Civil War-era story, the book follows a formerly-enslaved woman after emancipation, but it quickly becomes evident that freedom and liberation for Black folks in the U.S. is an ongoing fight.
“Rosa Parks Series” (2016) by Amos Kennedy, The Claremont Colleges Special Collections Visual Materials Collection – Amos Paul Kennedy, Jr., an American printer, book artist and printmaker, highlights the work of human rights activist Rosa Parks in this series of prints. Political quotes and powerful phrases like, “All I was doing was trying to get home from work” are boldly printed across a shimmering multicolor composition of words and ideas. The 16 prints are each signed by Kennedy.
Brian Shannon Activism Photographs, 1960-1979, Social Movements Collection – A series of black and white photographs by Brian Shannon covering varying subjects including the 1968 Chicago Democratic Convention, anti-war demonstrations, French protests, the San Francisco Bay Area “be-in,” student protests, Black Panther Party demonstrations in New York City, and individual activists such as Coretta Scott King, Tariq Ali, David Harris, and Berkeley activist “Big Bill.” Mounted prints found in the collection are from assignments for The Militant newspaper between 1966 and 1968.
Freedomways (1961-1985) – Founded in 1961 by Louis Burnham, Edward Strong, W.E.B. Du Bois, and Shirley Graham Du Bois, Freedomways was the preeminent journal on Black theory, culture and politics. The journal featured literary authors such as James Baldwin and Alice Walker, as well as visual artists such as Elizabeth Catlett. Noted for its international scope in a time of global anti-colonial triumphs, the journal also featured pieces by Kwame Nkrumah, the first Prime Minister and President of Ghana, and Trinidad and Tobago-born journalist-activist, Claudia Jones.
Way Down South (1932) by Clarence Muse, David Arlen; prints by Blanding Sloan – The Claremont Colleges Library holds #109 of the 1,000 original prints of this illustrated novel, signed and inscribed by Clarence Muse. Muse was the first Black actor to star in a film, reaching over 150 movie credits by the end of his career. In 1939, he starred in the film adaptation of Way Down South, which used a script co-written by Muse and Langston Hughes.
Boundaries (2017) – Presidential Inaugural Poet Richard Blanco and contemporary landscape photographer Jacob Bond Hessler collaboratively produced this work to investigate the historic and current visible and invisible boundaries of race, gender, class and ethnicity in America. Special Collections Folio copy is #34 of 50, is hardbound and in a navy blue clamshell case with an accompanying folded booklet. Enclosed inside the case is a photograph printed on aluminum, and a corrected manuscript proof of a poem.
Black Lives Matter Paper Necklace Book (2020) by Irene Chan – Multi-disciplinary conceptual artist Irene Chan produced a hand cut ‘Black Lives Matter Paper Necklace’, which is both a pendant and a book, in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. On the Ch’An Press website, the book artist encourages potential buyers “to write or draw behind the letters (hidden) or on the letters that will be seen and become part of the pendant.” A metal chain and clasp are included to wear the art.
Samella Lewis Contemporary Art Collection, Claremont Colleges Digital Library – This Scripps College digital collection focuses on contemporary artists, with a special emphasis on art by women and African American artists. Featured are mixed-media works by Stas Orlovski and Susan Rankaitis; drawings by Elizabeth Turk; prints by John Biggers, Elizabeth Catlett, Sue Coe, Floyd Coleman, Samella Lewis, Nancy Macko, Adrian Piper, Faith Ringgold, Alison Saar; and photographs by William Anderson, Joyce Campbell, Anton Hardt, and Carrie Mae Weems. Scripps College inaugurated the collection in honor of Dr. Samella Lewis, who taught at Scripps from 1969 to 1984 and who wrote the first textbook on African American art history and monographs on leading artists.
If you are interested in examining any of these materials, we invite you to make a Special Collections Reading Room appointment. Questions can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org or (909) 607-3977.