This Black Librarian Expanded Black History Literature at This HBCU

Via Flickr
Adé Hennis
October 17, 2023

“The only rewarding thing for me is to bring to light information that no one knows. What’s the point of rehashing the same old thing?” Dorothy Porter wanted to expand on what Black literature could be in a view that limited us to enslavement only.

When Porter first joined Howard University’s library staff in 1928, she noticed a problem. “[Students] weren’t interested in Africa or the Caribbean. They were really more interested in being like the white person,” she said. The Columbia graduate was determined to change that.

Along with collecting Black literature that told stories from different cultures around the world, Porter disregarded traditional library classification systems, which often classified all Black-related topics under slavery or colonization. “That was stupid to me,” said Porter. Indeed it was.

Porter instead used genres, such as art, anthropology, economics, and education. By the time she retired, the library amassed over 180,000 books and other sources.

Porter made it her duty to protect Black history, by fighting against Eurocentric systems. Imagine a world where our stories and ways of knowing take precedence in our communities. How would our stories look then?

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