Resources for the study of the African American experience are rich, varied, and abundant at The Bancroft Library. For many years, The Library has been actively building a research-level collection in African Americana consisting of major published source materials, manuscripts, photographs and assorted ephemera. The collections document a variety of areas but fall chiefly in the humanities, social sciences, law, botany, and health sciences.
For several decades, The Bancroft Library has successfully acquired almost everything published by and about major African American writers including pamphlets, introductions, prefaces, and important critical and bibliographical material. Launched in 1978, The Bancroft Library’s African American Writers Collection contains thousands of books, manuscripts, correspondence, photographs, and other rare works by African American authors. Materials range in date from the 1790s to the present and are regularly used by students, faculty, and outside scholars.
Library holdings include the papers of many notable writers such as Langston Hughes, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Ted Joans. The book collection includes essentially all important contemporary black American writers.
The Library places particular emphasis on the history of African Americans in the American West. The Bancroft Library serves as the repository for several local African American organizations such as the NAACP West Coast Region, the Records of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, and The Black Scholar journal. There are also materials related to church-affiliated groups and private individuals such as the Craft-Trotter family, Hamilton T. Boswell, and Jeremiah Burke Sanderson. Manuscript and archival collections documenting black activism can be found in collection such as the Eldridge Cleaver Papers, the Social Protest Collection, and the Free Speech Movement.
There is extensive documentation of African Americans in the bay area in the photographic and pictorial collections of the Bancroft. This includes the archive of African American photographer David Johnson, Steven Shames’s photographs related to the Black Panthers, Michelle Vignes’s photographs documenting the blues in the San Francisco Bay area, and Rosalie Ritz courtroom drawings documenting many prominent court cases involving African Americans.
The University Archives houses a growing amount of materials that relate to the history of African Americans at the University of California and on the Berkeley campus, particularly. Among the institutional records are reports pertaining to the status of black students, staff, and faculty at UC Berkeley, and a number of student publications. These administrative materials also include documentation of some notable campus events such as writer James Baldwin's visit in 1979, and the records of a -- so far -- small number of student and alumni organizations. Faculty and administrators' papers make up a significant segment of archival sources, those of David Blackwell and Barbara Christian, the first African American full professor and first African American female tenured professor at UC Berkeley, being two examples. Additionally, the archives include collections of selected alumni, which document their lives and experiences.
The Oral History Center within The Bancroft Library has conducted numerous oral histories with African Americans. These include the Port Chicago Oral History Project, interviews with African Americans in the Rosie the Riveter World War II American Warfront Project, and interviews scattered throughout the themed interviews conducted by the Center. Moreover, The Oral History Center's African American Faculty and Administrative Staff project includes oral histories with individuals associated with the University of California.
A comprehensive listing of The Bancroft Library's Archival Collections was created in March 2020. This list will be updated on a periodic basis.