Skip to main content

Skip navigation

Rare Books and Special Collections At Northern Illinois University: African American Collection

A brief guide to Rare Books and Special Collections at Northern Illinois University

African American Collection Links

African American Collection

African American Collection

We continually add materials to the African American Collection. If you would like to donate materials to this collection, or have a suggestion for a purchase, please contact Sarah Cain, the Curator.

Nearly all of our materials for this collection are located in our online catalog. To find out which books the library has in this collection, search for "African American Collection" including the quote marks under Any Word Anywhere in the online catalog.

The African-American Collection includes over 200 books and other materials in all subject areas by and about African Americans and other people of African descent throughout the world. Special emphases are placed on Black history, civil rights movements in the United States, literature by African American authors and pamphlets by Black authors on slavery, emancipation, and the Black experience in the United States. Northern also holds the papers of Willard Motley, an African-American writer who was part of the Chicago Renaissance.

Early highlights from the collection include the first book ever published by an African-American, Phyllis Wheatley's Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral(1773); the original edition of My Bondage and My Freedom by Frederick Douglass (1856); an early edition of William Still's The Underground Railroad; and an issue of the Liberator. Related materials also live in our American Popular Literature, Private Press, Gender Studies, and Rare Book Collections.

More modern materials include pamphlets on the Scottsboro Case; many titles by and about the Black Panther Party and Angela Davis; published speeches by Martin Luther King,Jr. and Malcolm X; signed books by Toni Morrison, Gloria Naylor, and Gwendolyn Brooks. We also hold a large run of Minister Louis Farrakhan's The Final Call newspaper.

Recent acquisitions include Countee Cullen's The Lost Zoo (1969); the first edition of Passing by Nella Larsen; and signed first editions of Audre Lorde's The Cancer Journals and First Cities.

Related Collections


Horatio Alger Fellowship for the Study of American Popular Culture
Northern Illinois University

The University Libraries, Northern Illinois University, invite applications for the Horatio Alger Fellowship for the Study of American Popular Culture. Funding is available to scholars who will be using materials from the Libraries’ major holdings in American popular culture. These holdings include the Albert Johannsen and Edward T. LeBlanc Collections of more than 50,000 dime novels, and the nation’s preeminent collections related to Horatio Alger, Jr., and Edward Stratemeyer. Eligible collections also include our comic book, science fiction and fantasy literature, and American Popular Literature Collections. Topics which could draw on the collections’ strengths might include the plight of urban children, image of the American West in popular literature, widespread use of pseudonyms, and stereotypical portrayals. Preference will be given to applicants who signify an interest in conducting research related to Horatio Alger, Jr.

The 2018 Fellowship award consists of a $2000 stipend. 

Candidates should submit a letter of interest, a curriculum vitae, a brief proposal for their research, and two letters of recommendation to: Curator of Rare Books and Special Collections, University Libraries, Horatio Alger Fellowship, Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, IL 60115-2868. Electronic applications may be emailed to

The deadline for applications is May 31, 2018, with research taking place between July 1 and December 31, 2018.

Unfortunately, due to state and university regulations, this award is available to US residents only.

Subject Guide

Sarah Cain's picture
Sarah Cain