The Black Studies Center

The Black Studies Center

In Special Collections

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Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library
901 G St. NW, Room 320
Washington, DC 20001

Monday - Thursday 11 a.m. - 8 p.m.
Friday - Saturday 9:30 a.m. - 5:30 p.m.
Closed Sunday

See Also:
Reading Room Guidelines
Class Visits


Prior to the opening of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library in 1972, there was a growing  demand for circulated books by and about African Americans among Washingtonians. In an attempt to meet this need, the DC Public Library Board of Trustees voted to establish an independent Black Studies division in 1970. Today, the Black Studies Center houses over 15,000 books that focus on the Black experience in the United States and throughout the African diaspora. In addition, the Center maintains subscriptions to current local and national African American newspapers and a collection of historic Black newspapers on microfilm. Since its inception, the Black Studies Center has hosted events featuring authors and public speakers on topics that further the study and discussion of the contributions of African Americans in the United States and abroad. As one of the units that comprise the Special Collections Department, the Black Studies Center exists as a public space for research, reading and community dialogue.


Free Access to Online Collections

Use your library card and PIN number to log in from a home or school PC via the links below.  
  • Accessible Archives - A searchable collection of African American Newspapers from 19th Century that includes Washington, D.C. resources.
  • African American Experience - Contains 500 full-text reference and scholarly articles and over 4,000 slave narratives. Includes primary documents, maps and images, lesson plans, searchable timelines and Web links. 
  • African American Studies Center - Contains more than 5,000 biographies, 7,500 articles, and hundreds of maps, documents, images, timelines, Web sites and charts and tables of African-American life, history and culture.
  • Black Studies – DCPL Virtual Reference Collection - Searchable eBooks that are good resources for school age students through high school.
  • Black Studies Center: In Library Only - Includes Abolitionist Papers, Historic Black Newspapers, History Makers, Dissertations, The International Index to Black Periodicals and the Index to Black Literature and other full-text journals and newspapers.
  • Ethnic News Watch - Provides full-text coverage of more than 250 publications from the ethnic and minority press.
  • Federal Surveillance of African Americans 1920-1984 - Search more than 88,000 images dealing with the Justice Department's and its Federal Bureau of Investigation's widespread investigation of those deemed politically suspect.
  • Fight for Racial Justice And the Civil Rights Congress - Search more than 56,000 pages of  the Civil Rights Congress (CRC) involvement in notable civil rights and civil liberties issues such as Willie McGee, the Trenton Six, Martinsville Seven and many others. 
  • Historic Black Newspapers - These same publications are also available via the Black Studies Center database that is linked above.
  • Ralph J. Bunche Oral Histories Collection on the Civil Rights Movement - Search more than 700 transcriptions of interviews of individuals who made history in the struggles for voting rights, against discrimination in housing, for the desegregation of the schools, to expose racism in hiring, in defiance of police brutality and to address poverty in the African American communities.
  • See also Black Studies Online Research for an annotated list of all Library holdings

Current Newspapers, Magazines, & Journals


  • Microfilm Holdings List (includes Black Studies Center and Washingtoniana holdings)
  • Black Studies Periodicals List (includes current and historic titles in print and microfilm)
  • Titles include:
    • Colored American Magazine (Boston) — “The Ebony Magazine of Its Day” (August 1900 – December 1902; January 1903 – October 1909)
    • Black American Literature Forum (V. 10 – V 25; Includes indexes)
    • (Frederick) Douglass Monthly (1858-1863; Includes an index)
    • Muhammad Speaks — (September 1960 - September 1971) The current title is The Muslim Journal, and is a Black Studies Center Subscription
    • Negro History Bulletin (V. 1 – V. 48; October 1937 – Jan/Dec 1985)
    • Negro World (February 1923 – October 1933)
    • Phylon (V. 1 – V. 40, 1940 – 1979; includes indexes)
Rare Books & Personal Papers

  • Beatrice M. Murphy Collection - Over 1,200 donated books from the personal collection of the late Beatrice M. Murphy, a pioneering African American librarian, advocate, and promoter of African American literature, including early editions of W.E.B. Dubois’ Souls of Black Folk and Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God.
  • Anne Cook Reid Collection of Paul Laurence Dunbar’s first editions
  • Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr. Edited by Clayborne Carson et. al. Berkeley, Ca.: University of California Press, 2005. Volumes 1-5 of 6.  Volumes include but are not limited to: speeches, sermons, letters, school papers and articles.
  • The American Slave: A Composite Autobiography. General Editor George P. Rawick. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1977. Divided into two series plus a supplemental series. Slave narratives are arranged by state.
  • A small collection of volumes inscribed by the authors
  • Papers for three individuals (see below) who were an important part of the Harlem Renaissance Movement.  

Harlem Renaissance

  • Gwendolyn Bennett Papers, 1916-1981. Manuscript Collections from the Schomburg Center for Research and Culture, printed guide for reel contents available.
  • Papers of Countee Cullen, 1921-1969. Filmed from the holdings of the Amistad Research Center at Tulane University, printed guide for reel contents available.
  • Langston Hughes Collection, 1926-1967. Manuscript Collections from the Schomburg Center for Research and Culture, printed guide for reel contents available.
  • Harlem Renaissance. Editors, Christine Slovey and Kelly King Howes. Vol. 1 Detroit:UXL, 2001. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web 11 June 2013. A searchable eBook from the DCPL Virtual Reference Collection
  • Washington, D.C. Harlem Renaissance Parallel Movement: Black Renaissance in Washington, D.C. website
  • Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance. Edited by Cary D. Wintz and Paul Finkelman. New York: Routledge, 2004.

Subject Encyclopedias

  • List of Encyclopedias, Dictionaries and Multi-Volumes in the Black Studies Center
  • Titles include (examples):
    • Encyclopedia of the African Diaspora: Origins, Experiences and Culture. Edited by Carole Boyce Davies. Santa Barbara, Ca.: ABC CLIO, 2008.
    • Encyclopedia of Race and Racism. Editor In Chief, John Hartwell Moore. New York, NY: Thompson Gale, 2008.
    • Writing African American Woman: An Encyclopedia of Literature by and about Women of Color. Edited by Elizabeth Ann Beaulieu. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2006.


  • Blacks in Selected Newspapers, Censuses and Other Sources: An Index to Names and Subjects. Compiled by James de T. Abajian. Boston: G.K. Hall & Co., 1977. Primary sources from the 19th to the early 20th centuries, including newspapers, U.S. and individual state census records, U.S. regional and city directories and other periodicals. Also includes names and subjects related to African American family life and history in the U.S.


Works by African-American adult fiction writers, reflecting various historical periods through the 1970s, whose works are supported with literary criticism and author biographies. Examples of authors represented in the Black Studies Fiction collection are:

  • Ed Bullins
  • Charles W. Chesnutt
  • W.E.B. DuBois
  • Ralph Ellison
  • Chester Himes
  • Dorothy West
  • Walter E. White
  • Frank Yerby
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