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Collection Connections: “Twelve Years a Slave”

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(The following is a guest post by Cheryl Fox, Library of Congress Archives collection specialist in the Manuscript Division.) 

Daniel A. P. Murray (1852 -1925). Photographer unknown. Photograph, undated.
Daniel A. P. Murray (1852 -1925).

Solomon Northup’s account of his kidnapping in Washington, D.C., sale to a plantation owner in Louisiana and subsequent escape was first published in 1853, the year he regained his freedom. The Library of Congress Rare Book and Special Collections Division holds an 1859 edition of “Twelve Years a Slave,” which you can read about in this previous blog post.

Daniel A. P. Murray included the book in his 1900 bibliography, “Preliminary List of Books and Pamphlets by Negro Authors” – a project he produced while working at the Library of Congress.

Murray, born in 1852 in Baltimore, worked at the Library from 1871 to 1925. U.S. Special Agent on Negro Education Thomas J. Calloway contacted then Librarian of Congress Herbert Putnam in January 1900 to request books or pamphlets written by African American authors for a display at the upcoming Exposition Universelle in Paris. Within a few months, Murray had compiled a preliminary list of 300 works. He credited former Librarian of Congress Ainsworth Spofford’s “amazing foresight” in collecting many of the books and pamphlets he found in the Library’s collection.

Murray also appealed to the public by traveling to African American communities, including Baltimore and Philadelphia, to find more books. He composed a letter that was printed and widely circulated, requesting materials or information that could be sent to the Library at no postage charge.

Murray’s list grew to 1,100 titles and became the core of the Library’s “Colored Authors’ Collection.”

Exhibit of American Negroes at the Paris Exposition. Photographer unknown. Photograph undated, in Review of Reviews, vol. 22.
Exhibit of American Negroes at the Paris Exposition. Photographer unknown. Photograph undated, in Review of Reviews, vol. 22.

The Paris Exposition attracted more than 48 million visitors. Murray’s bibliography and several hundred books in the Palace of Social Economy were part of an exhibit curated by W.E.B. DuBois, “The American Negro.” Read more about the exhibition here.

W.E.B. DuBois paid special attention to Murray’s work in his description of the exhibit:

“Perhaps the most unique and striking exhibit is that of American Negro literature. The development of Negro thought – the view of themselves which these millions of freedmen have taken – is of intense psychological and practical interest. There are many who have scarcely heard of a Negro book, much less read one; still here is a bibliography made by the Library of Congress containing 1,400 titles of works written by Negroes; 200 of these books are exhibited on the shelves.” (Du Bois, W.E. Burghardt. 1900. “The American Negro at Paris.” The American Monthly Review of Reviews, vol.XXII, no.5 (November): pp.575-577. )

Judges for the Paris Exposition awarded the American Negro exhibit several medals; by popular demand, it was immediately sent on to the 1901 Pan American Exposition in Buffalo, N.Y.

After the Paris Exposition, the works collected by Murray and displayed in the exhibition were placed in the Library. At his death in 1925, Murray bequeathed his personal library of more than 1,400 volumes and pamphlets to the Library as well. The resulting collection of materials, many of them unique, provides a rich catalog of information on African-American life around the turn of the century.

In addition to the books and pamphlets Murray collected, portions of the “American Negro” exhibit W.E.B. Du Bois and special agent Thomas J. Calloway compiled are housed in the Prints and Photographs Division. A description of these materials is found here.

Comments (3)

  1. Dear Erin Allen, that you for this Blog and info on Solomon Northup history and info on Daniel Murray’s important work. As founder of Solomon Northup Day 1999, I was pleased to be honored at the Library of Congress in May 2000 at the Bicentennial Celebration, Local Legacies project. This event honored individuals and their guests from around the country. Maybe you can come up to the 16th annual event this year, July 19, 2014 at Skidmore College. Best regards, Renee Moore,

  2. Dear Cheryl Fox: I want to locate a high-resolution image of the engraving “Scene In The Slave Pen At Washington” in “Twelve Years a Slave,” for publication in “Lincoln and the Abolitionists: John Quincy Adams, Slavery, and the Civil War” (HarperCollins, June 2017). It’s the engraving in which James Birch is beating Northrup. I’ve tried the usual on-line sources, including the LC, but without success. Any suggestions? Can you help? Best, Fred Kaplan

  3. Dear Fred Kaplan,
    Thank you for you question. The engraving “Scene in the Slave Pen at Washington,” is an illustration in Northrup’s Twelve Years A Slave. You can find a digitized version of the book on HathiTrust Digital Library. Here is the link:
    The illustration is on p. 44.
    Cheryl Fox

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