The James Weldon Johnson Collection houses significant books and manuscripts related to African American history and culture. In addition to important manuscripts from writers whose papers comprise part of the JWJ Collection—such as James Weldon Johnson’s Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man and God’s Trombones; drafts of Langston Hughes’s famous poem “Harlem”; and Richard Wright’s Native Son—the collection contains a number of important individual manuscripts. Key early holdings include: Hannah Crafts’ The Bondwoman’s Narrative—a fictionalized autobiography thought to be the first novel written by an African American woman, and the only known novel written by a fugitive slave—and Austin Reed’s The Life and Adventures of a Haunted Convict, the earliest known prison memoir by an African American writer. The JWJ Collection contains the manuscript of W.E.B. DuBois’s Harvard thesis, The Renaissance of Ethics (with handwritten annotations by William James). The Collection also houses important 20th century manuscripts, such as: Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God and James Baldwin’s Crying Holy (which would become his celebrated first novel Go Tell It on the Mountain).
Alongside this robust archive of individual manuscripts, the JWJ Collection contains a comprehensive collection of print holdings. In addition to the personal libraries of Langston Hughes, James Weldon Johnson, Carl Van Vechten and other important literary and cultural figures, the collection houses a number of early first editions: such as The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, and the Memoir and Poems of Phillis Wheatley.
Image above: Frontispiece portrait of Phyllis Wheatley, 1834.