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Winemakers, Jazz Music, Poetry Readings: Everything You’re Missing at Temple’s Blockson Collection

Photo credit: Temple University

Photo courtesy of Temple University

During any given week, the Blockson Collection hosts a lineup of events about African American history and culture. One day may feature a reading by a former Philadelphia poet laureate, while another day is a celebration of jazz music. Stop by another time and you might catch a lesson about African-American winemakers.

The brains responsible for this dynamic — and at times unexpected — programming is Diane K. Turner, curator of the Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection. 

A historian and scholar, Turner attended Temple, where she completed a double major in art and anthropology and a master’s degree and a PhD in history. Upon graduation, she was awarded a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship at Brown University, which eventually sent her to University of South Florida, and later on, the African American Museum back in Philadelphia.

Photo credit: Temple University

Pictured: Diane K. Turner | Photo courtesy of Temple University

This series of posts led Turner to her eventual appointment as the curator of the Blockson Collection in 2007, for which she had previously worked as a graduate assistant while pursuing her PhD. Founded by Charles L. Blockson in 1984 (he retired in 2006), the Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection is one of the nation’s leading research facilities for the study of the history and culture of African Americans. And though it’s a major academic facility at Temple, it’s also a resource for public education. Turner, as curator, is tasked with procuring historically significant items and artifacts, and organizing a lively programming calendar to complement them.

“Our public programs are geared toward our collections,” says Turner, “Usually when we have a program, it’s highlighting resources, primary sources and other materials we have here in the collection.” Just days ago, these resources lent themselves to the collection’s third annual Jazz Appreciation Month concert featuring Robert “Bootsie” Barnes. This week, the collection hosts two events: one about African-American winemakers and a book signing with the daughter of civil rights leader and social activist Reverend Leon Sullivan, who recently wrote about her great-grandfather.

The rest of the season will feature an equally exciting and diverse lineup. Turner explains, “[One] of the things that we always emphasize is the fact that African-American history is American history, so it’s for everyone.” Turner’s programming is similarly accessible for everyone, which is why she champions compelling, informative events with crowd appeal.

Dr. C. Redding-Lallinger, MD by sculptor Charles Cropper Parks (1922-2012) | Photo courtesy of Temple University

Dr. C. Redding-Lallinger, MD by sculptor Charles Cropper Parks (1922-2012) | Photo courtesy of Temple University

The goal is that when people become interested in a subject from one of these events, they can return to the collection to learn more. And there’s plenty of information — for the novice and scholar alike — to discover: 500,000 items depicting the global black experience including books, manuscripts, sheet music, pamphlets, journals, newspapers, broadsides, posters, photographs and rare ephemera. They’ve also been working to digitize their collection, making it even more accessible to the public.

To learn more about Blockson Collection events and programming, visit their website. For more information about Temple University and its contributions worldwide, click here.