Resources in the Toppan Rare Book Library for Black History Month

Black History Month is celebrated annually in February. It honors all Black people from all periods of U.S. history, from the enslaved people first brought over from Africa in the early 17th century to Blacks living in the United States today. But the commemoration goes beyond U.S. borders. It has received official recognition from the Canadian government and is also observed in Ireland and the United Kingdom.

We’d like to highlight resources in the Toppan Rare Books Library that explore or study African and African American communities. It is important to note that, historically, some books that were attributed originally to Black men and women were heavily changed by non-Black editors. This is important to keep in mind when assessing the accuracy and legitimacy of these accounts.

Letters of the Late Ignatius Sancho, an African, vol.1 – The first volume of a 1782 collection of Ignatius Sancho’s letters to friends and contemporaries. Ignatius Sancho, a Black British writer, composer, shop owner, etc., was born into slavery in 1729. Through his connections, he escaped slavery and earned an education. His letters discuss life in Britain at the time from his unique viewpoint. Among other things. Sancho was also the first Black person to vote in a British election, being a man of property. This volume was published after Sancho’s death and the work was edited by Joseph Jekyll, a British Whig Member of Parliament. (Toppan Rare Books Library, Fitzhugh Collection: CT 788 S168 A3 v.1.)

The Negro in American Life and Thought: The Nadir, 1877-1901, Rayford W. Logan – This work is a political history in which Dr. Rayford Logan argued that the period from 1877 to 1901 was the nadir, or low point, of the treatment of African Americans in the United States. Logan was an African American historian, activist, and First World War veteran. He had also been a member of Franklin Roosevelt’s “Black Cabinet,” an informal term applied to a group of Blacks who served as public policy advisors in Roosevelt’s presidential administration (Toppan Rare Books Library: Coe Deacc. Collection: 1954.)

Black Man’s Burden, John Oliver Killens – A series of essays on race relations in America originally published in 1965. Killens was an African American novelist, civil rights activist, and Second World War veteran. The essays are on a variety of topics, from “The Black Psyche” to “The Myth of Non-Violence versus the Right of Self-Defense.” The essays are written in an extraordinarily vivid and frank yet informal style. Please note this book contains racially offensive language in its vivid description of racism in the American South. (Toppan Rare Books Library: William R. Coe Collection: E185.61 .K487 1969.)

Ebony Pictorial History of Black America, Editors of Ebony with Introduction by Lerone Bennett Jr., Vols. 1 and 3 – A large pictorial history of African American life beginning with ancient African history and ending in the 1970s. The first volume covers the “African Past to Civil War” while volume three covers the “Civil Rights Movement to Black Revolution.” Ebony was first published in 1945 by Black publishing magnate John Johnson with issues coming out monthly. The magazine changed hands in the late 2010s and the print publication ended in 2019. In 2020, the magazine was sold and is now published digitally. Google Books has made digitized copies of Ebony magazine from the 1950s through 2008 available online. (Toppan Rare Books Library: State Library Collection)

Page 278 of Ebony Pictorial History of Black America in the Toppan Rare Books Library.

Narrative of Sojourner Truth; A Bondswoman of Olden Time, Emancipated by the New York Legislature in the Early Part of the Present Century; With a History of Her Labors and Correspondence Drawn from Her “Book of Life”, Olive Gilbert – An 1875 copy of the narrative of Sojourner Truth, a former slave, abolitionist, and woman’s rights advocate. This book contains Truth’s life story, as told by Gilbert. The book also contains additional materials, including personal letters, letters to newspapers, a section of anecdotes. The back page of this copy also contains newspaper clippings related to her death in 1883. (Toppan Rare Books Library: Fitzhugh Collection: E185.97 T85x 1875.)

The below publications also offer insight and analysis of the African and African American community written by either governmental entities or scholars.

An Abstract of the Evidence Delivered Before a Select Committee of the House of Commons in the Years 1790, and 1791, on the Part of the Petitioners for the Abolition of the Slave Trade – A summary of evidence presented to the Parliament of Great Britain in favor of the abolition of the slave trade. Divided into chapters by topics that include the acquisition of slaves, their emotions, their mistreatment, and more, this book presents vivid first-hand testimony given by many people from a wide variety of backgrounds including ship captains, doctors, shop owners, and clergy. Also included is a fold out graphic of the conditions on a slave ship and a fold out map of the east coast of Africa. (Toppan Rare Books Library, Fitzhugh Dewey Collection: 326.1 Ab89.)

Cover of An Abstract of the Evidence Delivered Before a Select Committee of the House of Commons in the Years 1790, and 1791, on the Part of the Petitioners for the Abolition of the Slave Trade from the Toppan Rare Books Library.

Arator; Being a Series of Agricultural Essays, Practical & Political: In Sixty-One Numbers, Col. John Taylor – A series of essays on agricultural topics by American philosopher, politician, and Revolutionary War veteran John Taylor. Two chapters of this book mount a defense of the institution of slavery. Taylor – a slave owner – argued that while slavery may be wrong, it was necessary to the agricultural economy of the United States. Taylor additionally objected to the creation of a free black class, pointing to horrific bloodshed during the Haitian Revolution as justification, thus indicating the significance of that successful slave uprising for both free and enslaved Americans. This book contains outdated and offensive language. (Toppan Rare Books Library: Wentworth Collection (uncat): Taylor, John, Arator 1814.)

American Negro Slavery, Phillip Bonnell Ulrich – One of the first histories which seriously sets out to examine southern chattel slavery as an entire institution and how it and the broader American South influenced and interacted with each other. While Ulrich sets out to give a mostly economic and non-personal history of American slavery, in doing so he tended to ignore or overlook the personal experiences of all involved. More damningly, Ulrich’s racial attitudes caused him to downplay the agency and actual conditions the enslaved endured. (Toppan Rare Books Library: Coe Deacc. Collection: Phillips, Ulrich B. American Negro Slavery 1918.)

For more information on these and other resources from the Toppan Rare Books Library, contact the staff at or 307-766-3756.

Post contributed by Toppan Rare Books Librarian Dr. Mary Beth Brown and Toppan Library staff member Marcus Holscher.


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