In Memoriam: Charles Leroy Blockson, 1933-2023

Charles L. Blockson, curator emeritus of the Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection at Temple University in Philadelphia, died at his home in Philadelphia on June 14. He was 89 years old.

A native of Norristown, Pennsylvania, Blockson was a graduate of Pennsylvania State University. He traveled the world and amassed a huge collection of more than 700,000 books, papers, photographs, newspaper articles, journals, sheet music, posters, artifacts, and memorabilia. His collection spans from 1581 to the present day. Among the most notable items are Harriet Tubman’s signed hymnal and the shawl that Queen Victoria presented to Tubman.

Blockson donated his collection to Temple University in 1984. That same year he wrote the cover story “Escape from Slavery: Underground Railroad” for National Geographic. He was the first African American to write a cover story for the magazine. Blockson authored 13 books on Blacks in Pennsylvania, the Underground Railroad, and the Haitian Revolution.

“Mr. Blockson is well-respected because of his passion for collecting, preserving, and disseminating the histories of people of African descent,” said Diane Turner, curator of the Blockson Collection at Temple University. “His collections make accessible rich and diverse stories about their histories and cultures. He has been a great influence on numerous scholars, students, and people of all nationalities.”

“No African American that I can recall has ever had an impact on the genealogical study of African people as Charles Blockson did,” added Molefi Kete Asante, Temple University professor and chair of the department of Africology and African American studies.

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