An Important New Collection of African American Ephemera

The Libraries have recently received a large gift of the family library and material culture collections of Mr. Hemrick (Hink) Salley of Salley, SC. Parts of the library have been in his family for several generations, and Mr. Salley himself is an avid collector with varied interests.

One area he has especially focused on is African American literature, culture, and history, especially in the South. In addition to a substantial book collection, currently being cataloged here in the Irvin department, there is a large ephemera collection relating to African American imagery and race in America that stretches back to Reconstruction.

Much, if not most, of this imagery is overtly stereotypical and racist. There are many colored photo postcards from the early 20th century depicting rural life across the South  as well as comic postcards with racist caricatures. Of especial interest are the late 19th century items, such as a number of tintypes with African American portraits and a large group of advertising cards, fold-out pieces, and trade cards featuring African Americans.

All told, there are several hundred pieces in the collection, which is now available for research use.

Many manufacturers, Northern and Southern, adopted “old South” imagery in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to advertise their products to consumers in all parts of the United States. This nostalgia for an idealized antebellum world of placid Southern order was, of course, far from the reality experienced by those enslaved. The degrees to which African Americans are in turn idealized, scorned, laughed at, disparaged, and threatened in these pieces varies widely in scope and degree, from the relatively mild to the shockingly violent. As a result, this collection will have a great deal of future research value to students of American history, advertising, visual culture, and race.

I have consciously chosen to show several of what I will call milder images of racial difference in this post. There are many more items that are far more disturbing in the collection, and for that reason they are worth preserving, if perhaps not reproducing widely here. The collection is open and available for use anytime, and I would welcome further inquiries about it.


About Jeffrey Makala

The Irvin Department of Rare Books & Special Collections is located in the Ernest F. Hollings Special Collections Library at the University of South Carolina. The department preserves and makes accessible rare materials and special research collections supporting teaching and research across a wide range of disciplines.
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