Scrapbooks on TV Sunday, May 14

Here’s how to take a break from grading: Run out to the cab where Jennifer Mayerle from CBS Sunday Morning is riding over to borrow one of my 19th century scrapbooks. She’ll use it as a prop in the studio on Sunday, May 14, when they (almost certainly) will air the segment on scrapbooks that I taped with them.

From L.S. Alexander Gumby’s scrapbooks.

We met back in August at Butler Library at Columbia University and talked about the hundred or so scrapbooks of L.S. Alexander Gumby, the great gay scrapbooker of the Harlem Renaissance, which are there, though I didn’t get to explicate them on camera. We also talked about others, not at Columbia —  William Dorsey’s over 400; the scrapbook Mark Twain invented, suffrage scrapbooks like Elizabeth Boynton Harbert’s, and one pasted into a book of sermons. Jennifer asked great questions, and I’m very eager to see what made it into the show!

And why did it take so long to air? Oddly enough, they’ve been covering more about politics this year.

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Back Number Budd talk Feb. 18, 1 pm, Astoria, Queens – note corrected time

Back Number Budd

Back Number Budd

If you didn’t have a scrapbook and didn’t have room for piles of newspapers in your house, how else could you find old news items? You could visit a form of offsite storage, flourishing first in a basement in midtown Manhattan, and then in an old horsecar barn in Astoria, Queens.

In the 1870s, an African American man known as Back Number Budd began sorting and organizing back issues of newspapers for sale to researchers, lawyers, and browsers. In a time before library newspaper collections or indexes, his business allowed his clients to find long lost information. Especially because he was black, buyers were suspicious of the high prices he charged for his work of sorting and saving old newspapers elsewhere considered trash. The story of his work offers a view into forgotten moments in African

Astoria Map

1891 Astoria Map

American history.

Fire destroyed Robert Budd’s business, but competition from the New York Public Library, which started saving more newspapers, and clipping services, which came into use in the 1890s, also displaced it.

            I’m excited to be speaking about Back Number Budd on Feb. 18, 1 pm at the Greater Astoria Historical Society, not far from where Budd had has warehouse, in Ravenswood, Astoria, Long Island City.

I already had the extraordinary pleasure of meeting some of his descendents in Massachusetts, and hope that someone in Astoria will have a lead on a photo of his business – or have other stories to share.

Thanks to the Public Scholars in the Humanities, Humanities New York, for sponsoring this!

Scrapbook talk DC May 23, 3:30

Writing with ScissorsWashington, DC was such productive rummaging ground for my research for Writing with Scissors. I am grateful that the Library of Congress saved the scrapbooks of Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Clara Barton, and Anna E. Dickinson, among others, and that Howard University’s Moorland Spingarn Collection preserved some of William Dorsey’s that didn’t end up at Cheyney University, one of John Wesley Cromwell’s, and the extraordinary collection that Joseph W. H. Cathcart passed along to Cromwell. So glad to be heading speaking about these and other scrapbooks in DC at the Washington Area Group for Print Culture Studies, Friday May 23, 3:30, at the Corcoran College of Art + Design, 500 17th St. NW, Washington, DC, RCR Room, Main Atrium. (Yes, that’s the same address as the Corcoran Gallery — plan your afternoon accordingly!)

 

Dorsey’s 400 Black History Scrapbooks

William Henry Dorsey was a dedicated scrapbook maker beyond belief — around 400 scrapbooks from the 1860s to 1910s — not just the phenomenal “Colored Centenarians” book I wrote about in some detail in Writing with Scissors, but others on Philadelphia’s African American notables, black prize fighters, pictures of Africans, black education, Emancipation anniversary celebrations, black Odd Fellows — the list is vast. And yes, my hunch was confirmed: he did know about Robert M. Budd aka Back Number Budd, the pioneering black dealer in old newspapers in NYC. He corresponded with him, and he clipped an article on him I hadn’t seen before, from the Indiana Freeman.

William Dorsey's nephew, Dorsey Seville, worked at the post office, and passed along undeliverable papers for his uncle to clip.

William Dorsey’s nephew, Dorsey Seville, worked at the post office, and passed along undeliverable papers for his uncle to clip.

Sabra Statham, Matt Isham, Mike Furlough and others at Penn State’s “People’s Contest” project for digitizing otherwise hidden resources from the years around the Civil War are hoping to digitize them. Keith Bingham of Cheyney University has sent them over to be assessed. I hadn’t seen much of the actual collection before, but mainly the microfilm. The pallet full of boxes is an impressive sight! And the contents are dazzling — so many forgotten bits and pieces of African American history, clipped from newspapers — sometimes from black newspapers that have no documented copies still existing. Not to mention more information on how Dorsey got the newspapers he clipped, and how his friends and colleagues used them.

Here’s a video of my talk, setting William Henry Dorsey’s scrapbook in the context of other black scrapbook makers.

What Was it about Philadelphia? African American Scrapbooks at Penn State U – Talk Jan. 30

Penn State University is hoping to help Cheyney University digitize some of the amazing collection of nearly 400 scrapbooks that William Henry Dorsey created from the 1860s to the turn of the century. William Dorsey knew other Philadelphia African American scrapbook makers as well. I’m honored to be heading to University Park, PA next week to speak about the scrapbooks they spent so much time on, and why they made them. And I’ll have a day in the library to revisit the scrapbooks — who knows what else I’ll find! On my wish list: more informatiDorsey scrapbooks at PSUon on Dorsey’s friend Joseph W.H. Cathcart, a Philadelphia janitor who made about 150 huge scrapbooks. And is it possible he knew Amos Webber?   What about Frank Webb?   Learn a bit more about Dorsey from a short article I wrote about his scrapbooks for The Root last year.

Sabra Statham has started a blog on the Dorsey digitization project. 

Of course Roger Lane mined Dorsey’s scrapbooks for his fine comprehensive history of 19th century black Philadelphia, William Dorsey’s Philadelphia and Ours.

Article on black scrapbooks on The Root

Why would a black janitor in Philadelphia in the 1870s make 150 scrapbooks? Why would

William Henry Dorsey

William Henry Dorsey

his friend, a black collector and amateur historian, make nearly 400? You may think of scrapbooks as a place to treasure up family pictures, but a century ago, African Americans created histories with them, shared community knowledge, and taught one another to read the white press critically.

For National Scrapbooking Day (May 4), it’s time to learn about how African American men and women saved and shared history in their scrapbooks not long after emancipation. My article in The Root explores the work of one prodigious scrapbook maker in Philadelphia, whose collection aided WEB Du Bois. (And of course there’s lots more about William Henry Dorsey in Writing with Scissors.)