Alternative Histories in African American Scrapbooks

Natalie Pollard

in Writing with Scissors

Published in print November 2012 | ISBN: 9780195390346
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780199979240 | DOI:
Alternative Histories in African American Scrapbooks

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This chapter demonstrates how African Americans wrote histories unavailable in books by making scrapbooks of clippings from both the black and the white press. Scrapbook histories were weapons, and communal knowledge. In massive compilations—dozens or even hundreds of volumes, in some cases—black people asserted ownership of news and culture and passed along critical, oppositional reading of newspapers. The chapter draws on the work of more than a dozen nineteenth- and early twentieth-century African American men and women who made scrapbooks, with special attention to three African American men who created ambitious, monumental scrapbook collections that exemplify these four projects. The oldest, Joseph W. H. Cathcart (1823 or 1827–1895), a Philadelphia janitor, created his collection of more than one hundred massive pasted volumes starting in the 1850s. His friend William H. Dorsey (1837–1923) of Philadelphia made nearly four hundred scrapbooks between the 1870s and about 1903. In a later generation, L. S. Alexander Gumby (1885–1961), a gay black collector and salon host of the Harlem Renaissance, created more than a hundred elaborate scrapbooks, mainly in the 1920s.

Keywords: african american history; scrapbooking; press clippings; scrapbook histories; Joseph W. H. Cathcart; William H. Dorsey; L. S. Alexander Gumby; harlem renaissance

Chapter.  16585 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Literary Studies (19th Century)

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