Rare Book Museum Highlights African American Collection during Black History Month

KENNESAW, Ga. | Feb 22, 2021

Kennesaw State University’s Bentley Rare Book Museum celebrates literature and history year-round, and the disciplines will intersect during Black History Month as the museum recognizes the contributions African American writers have made to society.

Throughout February, JoyEllen Williams, special collections curator for the Department of Museums, Archives and Rare Books, will be featuring works from the museum’s Harlem Renaissance collection, which includes pieces written during the cultural explosion and revival of black art, literature and music between WWI and WWII.

JoyEllen Williams

“Having these collections of books that were written, published, owned and annotated by African Americans help us learn so much about the Black experience,” Williams said.

This month, Williams is hosting a program called Virtual Coffee with a Curator each Wednesday at 10 a.m., where she discusses a variety of topics related to rare books.

“A lot of the period pieces of the Harlem Renaissance demonstrate a diverse perspective of the Black experience during that time,” Williams said. “We have a really substantial collection of Langston Hughes’ works with a lot of early and first editions, including a book that is inscribed and signed by him. We also have a couple of first-edition pieces by Zora Neale Hurston, and a variety of works by Nella Larsen, Countee Cullen and Claude McKay, and a signed piece by James Weldon Johnson.”

Rare Books

Aside from the Harlem Renaissance collection, the museum also features a collection of Civil Rights literature with some early and first-edition works by civil rights icons including pieces signed by Martin Luther King Jr., Andrew Young and Rosa Parks.

To Williams, having the opportunity to showcase African American literature allows people to understand the past Black American experience and frame the present and future.

“These works are important to highlight because they enable us to hear about the African American experience told through personal experiences,” Williams said.

The Bentley Rare Book Museum, a unit of the Department of Museums, Archives and Rare Books, is Georgia’s first rare book museum and the state’s third-largest museum-grade rare book collection.

– Josh Milton

Photos by Jason Getz

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A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its more than 43,000 students. Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia with 11 academic colleges. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 7 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit kennesaw.edu.