Thursday, July 26, 2012

William Wells Brown Lecture

Two days ago I received an email announcing the Rare Book School (RBS) was featured in the New York Times. After perusing the RBS website, I discovered they host a Summer Lecture Series. Unfortunately, there was only one lecture remaining but I did make a point to go.   It was held in the beautiful Small Special Collections Library on campus next to the Alderman Library.  I had about 30 minutes to spare so enjoyed two exhibits. One being Sound in Early America which showed off numerous wonderful old music related manuscripts and books in their collection.

Last night Dr. Ezra Greenspan, "an archaeologist of the written word", spoke about the nineteenth century writer William Wells Brown.  For many years, Dr. Greenspan has been meticulously investigating physical locations, archives, and publications in attempt to recreate Brown's footsteps and will publish a book about his findings, due out in 2014.  Dr. Greenspan presented his fascinating journey and the twists and turns encountered while researching the nearly unrecorded history of the man he classifies as the most important African-American writer of the nineteenth century.

Familiar Childrens book for sale
I was unsure exactly what the lecture encompassed... was it on Browns life, or one of his published books, or the actual printing process of a book?  Given the short timeframe between my discovery of this lecture and the event, I went rather blindly to it but with eyes and ears wide open.  Dr. Greenspan enthusiastically led us on a journey through the history of an African-American that began his life as a slave and ended it as a renound writer.  An intriging journey of his attempt to research a mans life who had very few early family documents to support his existance.  In the early 1800's there were few mentions of slaves , other than number and if lucky their "American given" names. The only documents Dr. Greenspan had to use were slave owner family histories, which he has meticiously pieced together to ascertain the early history of William W. Brown.

The lecture brought back wonderful memories of my cousin Lee and I researching our own family history in the nearby library and driving around town to discover an actual road named after our family!  It was a great discovery and led us down another path to find more links to our past.
If you are an antique book lover, as I am, you must visit the Small Special Collection Library.  My Grandmother Hall was an avid book reader, school teacher, and writer, publishing one book.  I moved into her home 25 years after her death and the renters of 25 years had lovingly left her books throughout the house in various bookcases!  Twenty years after that, just a month ago, my mother and I were "cleaning the garage" and discovered boxes and boxes and boxes of more of my Grandmothers books!  We sorted through, donating a car trunk load to the Goodwill (of god forbid hopefully) non- valuable books.  What remained is mostly at my house... "mostly"... there is MORE.

Dr. Greenspan continues to look for leads into the past to fill in more missing links of William W. Brown and has given me the motivation to seek out old family history that might not be obvious on the written page.


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