Washington University Libraries’ James E. and Joan Singer Schiele Print Collection provides an excellent resource for anyone interested in 19th century African American history. This collection contains over 450 portraits, battle scenes, news clippings, political cartoons and other historical images that document the American abolition movement, Civil War, emancipation, and the Reconstruction period.
The collection contains a number of portraits of figures important to early African American history, including a photograph of abolitionist Fredrick Douglas and a reproduction of Louis Schultze’s portrait of Dred Scott. The Schiele Collection also contains a Replica of the Dred Scott decision handed down at the St. Louis Courthouse in 1852. Both the portrait of Scott and the decision are currently on display in the Olin Library Special Collections Classroom.
The Emancipation Proclamation
Also included in the collection are a number of images and texts from newspapers announcing the emancipation of all African Americans in 1863, including a beautiful print by Thomas Nast illustrating what emancipation would mean for the freed slaves. On the left of his illustration, slaves are being stolen from their native lands, sold at auction, and beaten, while on the right, newly freed African Americans are making homes for themselves, attending school, and receiving compensation for their work.
African Americans on the Battlefield
After emancipation, the 54th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry began recruiting African American soldiers to fight in the Civil War. Fredrick Douglas was active in recruiting for this regiment, and his two sons were among the first to enlist. Below is a print from an 1865 edition of Harper’s Weekly by Thomas Nast depicting an African American regiment in action.
A highlight of the Schiele collection is a set of thirty-six Kurz & Allison prints, whose specialty was creating high-quality chromolithographs to commemorate important events in American history. Below are two Kurz & Allison prints of the Storming of Fort Wagner and the Battle of Olustee, in which you can see African American soldiers fighting alongside white soldiers to gain victory over the Confederates.
If you would like to see more of the James E. and Joan Singer Schiele Print Collection, over half of the prints are available for viewing online through our digital exhibit. A few of the prints are also currently on display in the Special Collections Classroom in Olin Library. A list of the entire collection, organized by subject matter, can be found here. If there is a particular print you would like to view, you can always drop by Special Collections and one of our librarians will be happy to assist you!