Among the estimated 50,000 collectors of Black memorabilia, the phenomena of gathering and sharing these items has been described as a “movement” by such historians as Malinda F. Saunders and Jeannette Carson. The duo wrote a book about the depictions of Black people in America and how those images became collectors’ items.

Unlike other immigrants who fled to America willingly, the images of generations of enslaved Blacks brought here from the African continent were always depicted by our captors and viewed as negative by those in captivity.

The book describes how organizers of the movement are aware that Black memorabilia provides a chronological documentation of our saga and represents a significant part of American history. Among the oldest collectibles of Black memorabilia are slave documents and items related to the slave trade dating back to the 18th century.

“No other ethnic group has been or can be depicted in imagery which encompass such a broad range, thus, making Black Memorabilia one of the most diverse types of collecting in existence,” wrote Carson, in {The History of the Black Memorabilia Movement}.

After centuries of enslavement, the first Black Memorabilia Collectible Show and Sale ever held in this country was in 1984 at the Armory Place in Silver Spring, Md.

Molefi Kete Asante, president of Molefi Kete Asante Institute for Afrocentric Studies, has written 70 books and over 400 articles on African-American history. He said artifacts from our history are of two types: those we have created and those that have been created about us.

“Those we have created tend to be positive, but some of those created by whites in the United States, in fact, most of the memorabilia created about our people might be called negative, anti-black, and racist,” said Asante.

For Carson, the book offers the novice, curious and the collector a better view of who, what, when, where, why and how behind the Black Collectible Movement.

Collector A. Peter Bailey said he had no idea he was a collector of Black Memorabilia. “The book captures all of the excitement and energy felt by those of us committed to that movement. All I knew about was my inability to discard Black magazines. I have become aware of the importance of Carson’s helping to bring some structure to people such as myself,” said Bailey.

The book celebrates the individuals who initiated the movement and the events that catapulted it into the mainstream. Another collector, Carolyn Bartlett of Fort Washington, Md., said as a child she often wondered why Hollywood only wanted to show Blacks in a negative light. “After reading this book I grasped a whole new point of view on Black history,” said Bartlett. “The best collection one could have now is the one on our President Barack Obama.”

Who would ever think that some of the most degrading images of Black people would be considered collectibles as well as learning tools for future generations? The book gives the reader insights on what hidden treasures to look for in Black memorabilia. Artifacts such as coon, jezebel, sapphire and picaninny caricatures can yield a pretty hefty bounty and serve as a reminder of where Black people will never be taken again.

“Collecting Black memorabilia is a way of learning about African-American history and serves as a constant reminder to the collectors of our experiences in this country,” said Lindsey Johnson
Gaithersburg, Md.

The chronicles outlined in the book tell about the acceptance and rejection of Black memorabilia by those who have suffered the most from slavery. It encourages others to continue the collection adding items today that will have significant importance in the future as we evolve into a people who have survived a multitude of obstacles.

“The History of the Black Memorabilia Movement provided facts about people, places, events, and gave historical accounts of the experience Jeanette Carson and her colleagues had in producing the shows and other Black Memorabilia organizations,” said Velma Banks of New York. “Many people can be remembered for their collections and their desire to preserve the legacy of the African-American community.”

Valencia Mohammed

Special to the AFRO