The Beinecke Library has announced the acquisition of the Walter Evans Collection of Frederick Douglass and Douglass Family Papers, described as “the most extraordinary private collection of Douglass manuscript material in the world” by David Blight, Sterling Professor of History, of African American Studies, and of American Studies at Yale. The Evans Collection joins the library’s James Weldon Johnson Memorial Collection of African American Arts and Letters.
The Walter Evans Collection of Frederick Douglass and Douglass Family Papers includes records maintained chiefly by Frederick Douglass’s children Frederick Douglass, Jr., Lewis H. Douglass, and Charles T. Douglass, including nine scrapbooks constructed by various of the sons and including material ranging from original autograph letters to newspaper clippings. Of special note is a scrapbook containing letters to Frederick Douglass from Henry Highland Garnet, Alonzo Ransier, Charles Sumner, John Greenleaf Whittier, and Martin Delany. Other highlights include several autograph letters from Frederick Douglass, Sr. to Lewis Douglass from Haiti during his tenure there as consul; letters from Lewis Douglass to his wife Amelia while Lewis was a member of the famed Massachusetts 54thregiment of the Union Army; text of several of Douglass’s addresses as recorded by the family, usually after the fact; and a manuscript of Douglass’s eulogy for William Lloyd Garrison.
“Dr. Walter Evans has long been known both for his extraordinary collections and as someone devoted to sharing those collections with the public in an effort to bring much-deserved attention to African American artists, writers, and other historical figures,” said Melissa Barton, curator of prose and drama in the Yale Collection of American Literature and a curator of the James Weldon Johnson Memorial Collection. “The Beinecke Library could not be more thrilled that Dr. Evans has entrusted us with the care of his remarkable Frederick Douglass collection.”
Evans reflected: “Since I first began collecting in the mid-1970’s, my goal has been to collect art, books, letters, and manuscripts that told the story of the African American experience. A part of my mission was to share what I had collected with the general public. The placement of the Douglass and Douglass Family papers from my collection in the Beinecke Library archives is in keeping with our shared mission of having these papers available to students, professors, scholars, and the world.”
“I believe that the past informs the future,” Evans said. “America has not yet successfully addressed the wrongs of its past. Frederick Douglass’s struggles, acts, and words are relevant and essential today. My hope is that scholars, students, and researchers will find this collection a wellspring of profound thought and analysis from which to construct a new path to understanding, resolution, and reconciliation for America. My wife Linda and I are certain that the Beinecke Library will honor and care for these important materials as I have for the past 35 years.”
The collection’s value for research and scholarship is evident in Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom, Blight’s Pulitzer Prize winning biography of Douglass published in 2018, which he dedicated to Walter and Linda Evans.