African Americana from Between The Covers Rare Books
By Michael Stillman
Between The Covers Rare Books' latest catalogue is one of African American History and Literature. This one is a bit different from most in the field we encounter. Typically, the focus in African Americana is slavery, abolition, and the Civil War. This catalogue more or less picks up after the point these others conclude. One notable shift with this primarily post-Civil War material is that most of it is actually written by Black authors. The earlier works tend more to be about African Americans, some sympathetic abolitionists, others slavery apologists, but mostly white. In the post-Civil War era, we start to see more African Americans getting their own works published. What's more, we start to see works that are not just related to race and racial issues, but books in the fields of literature, art, music, science, poetry, and religion. Nevertheless, issues relating to race remain a dominant theme, as America still struggles to reach its ideal of being colorblind. Here are a few samples from this new catalogue.
The pervasive racial discrimination of the 19th century made professional advancement for Blacks almost impossible. Lewis Latimer was a remarkable exception. The son of a runaway slave, Latimer served in the Navy during the Civil War despite being underage, and then returned to his native Massachusetts to land a job with some patent lawyers. He studied drafting, which led to his producing the patent drawings for Alexander Graham Bell's telephone. He would later parlay his drafting skills into inventions, including the carbon filaments used in light bulbs and a toilet for railroad cars. In 1884, he went to work for Thomas Edison, and became one of the latter's 28 "Edison Pioneers." In 1890, with Edison's encouragement, Latimer and co-authors C.J. Field and John Howell published Incandescent Lighting, a book designed to explain this amazing new invention to the uninitiated. Item 2 is a copy of this scarce book. Priced at $3,500.
Frederick Douglass was the preeminent Black civil right leader of the 19th century. Born into slavery, he escaped at age 20 in 1838, settling in upstate New York. Douglass began attending abolitionist meetings, and became a protege of William Lloyd Garrison. At the age of 23, he was asked to speak at one of these meetings, and what the audience discovered was a spellbinding voice. He became an important speaker and author, his autobiography of his life as a slave becoming an immediate best seller. Douglass would go on to advise President Lincoln on affairs relating to the recently emancipated slaves, and he would continue as an important voice on black and women's rights issues until he died in 1895. Item 27, published in 1897, is In Memoriam Frederick Douglass. It includes a biographical sketch of Douglass and numerous tributes from a who's who list of civil rights activists of the 19th century. $800.
Louis Vaughn Jones was an accomplished African-American violinist who was asked to play at President Franklin Roosevelt's first inauguration. In 1931, he inscribed this photograph of himself to another black violinist, Joseph Douglass. "To Mr. Joseph Douglas," it reads, "One who has been a pioneer and an inspiration to this generation of Negro violinists." Joseph Douglass was the grandson of the aforementioned Frederick Douglass. Item 70. $500.