As written by Gary Miles
The Philadelphia Inquirer


Charles L. Blockson, world-renowned historian of African American culture, founder and curator emeritus of the Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection at Temple University, award-winning scholar, and prolific author, died Wednesday, June 14, at his home in Gwynedd. He was 89.

Reared in Norristown and told by a white teacher in fourth grade that Black people had no history worthy of study, Mr. Blockson went on to assemble two of the world’s largest collections of African American history, culture, and contributions. In addition to the aggregation at Temple, the Charles L. Blockson Collection of African-Americana and the African Diaspora resides at Pennsylvania State University, Mr. Blockson’s alma mater.

Mr. Blockson was an authority on the Underground Railroad and the Great Migration of the early 1900s, and his trove of nearly a million books, documents, photographs, letters, posters, slave narratives, sheet music, original phonograph recordings, and countless other artifacts at Temple and Penn State provide uniquely comprehensive and intimate perspectives of the African American experience.

In 2017, when he received the 2016 Philadelphia Award for community service, Mr. Blockson told The Inquirer he was driven to “uncovering the history of our past in order to build a better future.” In 2013, he told the newspaper his collections are “a legacy that comes primarily from books and the people I met, all kinds of people of all ages. I am emeritus and all, but I will never retire. … I’m following a noble tradition from those who paved the way for me.”

He donated Harriet Tubman’s signed hymnal and other personal items he received to the National Museum of African American History and Culture at Washington’s Smithsonian Institution in 2016, and the Centre Theater in Norristown houses the Charles L. Blockson Exhibition.

The cause of Mr. Blockson’s death has not be disclosed. “I and countless others will carry my father’s memory in our hearts and will find comfort and strength in the profound and impactful legacy he leaves behind,” said his daughter Noelle.

State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta said Thursday that he will introduce legislation to mark Mr. Blockson’s Dec. 16 birthday as a state holiday. “Charles Blockson is a giant of a man,” Kenyatta said. “He is a hero.”

Mr. Blockson revered historian Arturo Alfonso Schomburg and traveled the world to assemble his own historical collections. He visited bookstores, antiques shops, and church bazaars in Norristown, Philadelphia, New York, and elsewhere in search of items that revealed the history of African Americans.

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