Wednesday, May 29, 2013
Will Howard Dodson Jr. help secure the Dr. Nathan Hare and Dr. Julia Hare archives for Howard University?
We think Howard Dodson Jr. may be the man to resurrect the Moreland Library, literally, from the dustbin of history. We think if he can secure the Hare archives, he will secure his place in history, especially since Howard University treated Dr. Nathan Hare with abysmal rudeness in kicking out the goose who laid the golden egg called Black Studies!
--Marvin X, Director, The Community Archives Project, Oakland CA
May 29, 2003
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Howard Dodson Jr. has made a career of tending to the words and works of his ancestors.¶ As head of the world-renowned Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem, Dodson acquired the diaries of Malcolm X, the papers of Nat King Cole and Lorraine Hansberry, the collections of anthropologists Melville J. Herskovits and St. Clair Drake, and the prints of Harlem life by photographer Austin Hansen. ¶ But after 25 years as Schomburg’s leader, Dodson was ready to retire, done with the 9 to 5, eager to explore Peru’s Machu Picchu, Ethiopia’s rock-hewn churches, Xi’an’s terra-cotta warriors and other sacred sites from around the world. ¶And then the call of his ancestors came again.
Which is why the 74-year-old finds himself sitting in the Founders Library on the campus of Howard University, one of the nation’s top historically black universities, where last year he accepted the position of director of the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center and the Howard University Libraries.
“I said to myself, nobody else,” he recalled.
How could he say no to his forebears whose books, manuscripts and photographs populate Moorland-Spingarn when many of their papers have been left in a jumble, disorganized and poorly preserved?
Dodson sits in a conference room lined with wooden bookshelves filled with an unsorted mix of worthless paperbacks and rare treasures of black literature, including a copy of the 19th-century tome “The Negro Genius,” by Benjamin Brawley. The shelves are an apt metaphor for his new calling.
Moorland-Spingarn, which rivals the Schomburg in the breadth and depth of its collections documenting the global black experience, is home to the papers of singer, actor and activist Paul Robeson and those of Harlem Renaissance-era philosopher and critic Alain Locke (including the unpublished manuscripts of Zora Neale Hurston’s “Barracoon”), along with the legal briefs of NAACP Litigation Director Charles Hamilton Houston.
But while Schomburg’s star rose under Dodson’s watch, Moorland-Spingarn, begun nearly a century ago with the donation of the library of black theologian and intellectual Jesse E. Moorland, had been in a slow decline. Budget cuts led to staffing drops. Important parts of its rich trove of ephemera and manuscripts are largely inaccessible, sitting in cardboard boxes in rooms that are not kept at a constant temperature to slow deterioration.
Moorland-Spingarn’s library division houses more than 175,000 books, pamphlets and periodicals. But of the materials housed in the center’s collection of Howard University archives, 99 percent remain unsorted. Of the 660 volumes — manuscripts, sheet music, transcripts, photographs — held in the center’s manuscript division, only one-third has been processed; another third has been inventoried, but the remaining third is wholly unsorted.
“The lessons of history that can be gleaned from [those] collections are not available,” said Professor Gerald Horne, chairman of history and African American studies at the University of Houston, who lamented the lack of access to the papers Moorland-Spingarn holds from the National Conference of Black Lawyers.