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Michigan State University

Black Women's History and Culture: Primary Sources in Special Collections: Home


This guide is not meant to cover the full history of African American women, but rather to identify aspects of that history where Special Collections has material that isn't available in the rest of the MSU library, or even in most other academic libraries.

Beauty culture

Book cover for Accent African

The period from 1940-1980 saw dramatic changes in how many African Americans dressed and styled their hair, reflecting the changing Black identity.

Black Feminist Movement

Cover of Our Women Keep Our Skies From Falling

Selected key documents in the Black Feminist movement:

Resource Guide Editor

Ruth Ann Jones

Instruction/Outreach Librarian

Stephen O. Murray and Keelung Hong Special Collections

Michigan State University Libraries


Black Women Oral History Project

Photograph of Maida Kemp, interviewee in the Black Women Oral History Project

The Schlesinger Library for the History of Women in America (Radcliffe College) carried out the Black Women Oral History Project from 1976 to 1981.

Hundreds of women were nominated to be interviewed, and 72 chosen. They represented a cross-section of African American women who had made "significant contributions of varying kinds to American society in the early and mid-decades of the twentieth century."

Special Collections has the full set of print transcripts of the interviews and a guide to the transcripts.

The finding aid on the Schlesinger Library website has:

  • A biographical paragraph about each woman interviewed
  • Page images of the transcripts
  • Audio files for some of the interviews

Cookbooks by African American women

Cover of Meals and Memoirs: Recipes and Recollections of African Americans in Tucson, Arizona

MSU has an extensive cookbook collection, with more than 25,000 titles covering five centuries and all parts of the world. African American and African diaspora cookbooks are a priority collection area.

The very first cookbook by an African American woman:

Some early books on African American cooking were actually written by white women, using the recipes of their black cooks. (It can be hard to identify these from the publication info alone.)

  • For a list of cookbooks known to be written by African Americans: Chronological Bibliography in Doris Witt's Black Hunger: Soul Food and America.

After 1960 it's pretty safe to assume that a book on African American cooking is by an African American author.

Romance magazines

Sample issue of the romance magazine "Tan"

Jive. MSU has selected issues from 1955 to 2000.

Tan Confessions. MSU has selected issues from 1951 to 1970.

Terri L. Jewell Papers (MSS 220)

Cover of The Black Woman's Gumbo Ya-Ya, edited by Terri Jewell

Black lesbian poet Terri Lynn Jewell (1954-1995) was born in Louisville but attended MSU and lived in the Lansing area as an adult.

The Terri Jewell Papers (MSS 220) include her personal papers, drafts of poetry and essays, and material gathered for unpublished writing projects.

Our archival collections are stored off-site. Please request three days before your visit.

Vertical files

Sweet Honey in the Rock musical group on stage

Vertical files are a way for libraries to organize uncataloged ephemera by subject. Ephemera is printed material that was not meant to be saved permanently, such as pamphlets, event flyers, product catalogs, and newspaper clippings.

In Special Collections we keep vertical files on activism and popular culture. Vertical files related to African American women:

Women in the Black Power Movement

Poster with portrait of Angela Davis and caption "Free Angela Davis Now!"

Find material in Special Collections by:

Zines by African American women

Detail from cover of Naija Punx zine.

Zines are a form of independent media, produced and published by individuals without corporate involvement. Titles in our collection by African American women: