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Duke Libraries acquire papers of prominent historian

The John Hope Franklin Research Center for African and African American History and Culture is pleased to announce its recent acquisition of the papers of John Wesley Blassingame, the nationally-renowned scholar of American history and author of such influential works as The Slave Community: Plantation Life in the Antebellum South, Black New Orleans: 1860-1880, and Frederick Douglass: The Clarion Voice.  Blassingame’s path-breaking scholarship has had a profound impact on the American understanding of slavery and the African American experience.  The collection includes correspondence, personal manuscripts and research files from Blassingame's long academic career, and is particularly rich in materials drawn from his work on the Frederick Douglass Papers.

John Wesley Blassingame served as professor of History, African-American Studies and American Studies for twenty-nine years at Yale University.  Before he went to Yale, Blassingame was a lecturer, educator, and historian at Howard University, Carnegie Mellon University, and the University of Maryland.  Blassingame was a prolific scholar who also found time to serve as a contributing editor to the journal Black Scholar and was on the editorial board of the Journal of Negro History, the American Historical Review, and Southern Studies.  In addition he was an influential mentor to a generation of African American scholars at Yale and elsewhere.

In addition to his individual scholarship, Blassingame frequently collaborated with other influential scholars.  Along with Mary F. Berry, Blassingame co-authored Long Memory: The Black Experience in America, a book which has been hailed as a “modern classic” and which is widely taught in college classrooms across the United States.  Blassingame was also co-editor with Louis Halan of The Autobiographical Writings of Booker T. Washington.  Over the last twenty years of his life, Blassingame dedicated himself to editing the papers of Frederick Douglass, and he had published six volumes of Douglass’s manuscripts before his untimely death in February of 2000.

Blassingame’s dedication to the collecting and editing of Douglass’ papers was reflective of his larger concern that limited and poorly-organized source material had prevented students and scholars from fully understanding the “peculiar institution” of chattel slavery in the southern United States.  His 1977 book, Slave Testimony, collected over seven hundred pages of heretofore-unpublished material including slave letters, interviews, and speeches, making it one of the most important documentation sources of the slave experience published in the 20th century.

The John Hope Franklin Research Collection is a fitting place for the Blassingame papers since it shares his commitment to securing and making available historical documents that can enrich our collective understanding of the African American experience and how this experience has profoundly shaped the course of American history.

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Posted 2 October 2009

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Last modified October 2, 2009 1:11:31 PM EDT