Historian and archivist Dr. Diane Turner has been named as the successor to Charles L. Blockson, the legendary curator and founder of the Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection at Temple University who stepped down in December.
Turner will officially succeed Blockson on Sept. 10 as the curator of one of the world’s largest collections of materials on Black history and culture.
“Diane’s deep understanding of the African-American experience, her professional record and her connections to local communities make her the ideal person to lead the Blockson Collection as it moves into a wonderful new home in Sullivan Hall this academic year,” says Temple President Ann Weaver Hart. “I am grateful to Vice President for Student Affairs Theresa A. Powell, Charles Blockson and the rest of the search committee for bringing Diane, a Temple graduate, back to main campus.”
Turner is currently a course director for the Bard College Clemente Course in the Humanities, a project director for the Oral History Project for Black Community in Woodbury, N.J., and teaches Black history at Camden County College. From 2002 to 2006, Turner served as curator of collections and exhibitions for the African-American Museum in Philadelphia.
Turner is also the editor of the new book, Feeding the Soul: Black Music, Black Thought, an anthology of essays, personal narratives, interviews and poems that reveal the misconceptions in standard accounts of the evolution of Black music.
She earned her bachelor’s in anthropology and art and a master’s and doctorate in history, all from Temple. She says she’s happy to be returning to her academic home.
“I’m thrilled to be back at Temple and I’m honored to continue the Blockson legacy,” Turner says. “This world-class collection represents Mr. Blockson’s vision of promoting a greater understanding of African-American history by conserving and preserving historical materials in a repository that is easily accessible to all.”
Blockson began collecting in his teens, ultimately creating a pool of items that scholars and researchers from around the world have been exploring for decades. The collection of more than 30,000 items is made up of books, manuscripts, sheet music, letters, pamphlets, journals, newspapers, broadsides, posters, photographs, statues, busts, and rare ephemera. For instance, it contains first-edition works by Phillis Wheatley and W.E.B. Du Bois, African Bibles, correspondence between Haitian revolutionaries, Paul Robeson’s sheet music and thousands of taped interviews and radio programs.
Not only will the collection receive a new curator in the fall, but construction will also begin before the end of the year on a larger and more prominent space for the collection in Sullivan Hall — the building where it is currently stored. It is being housed in separate rooms totaling less than 2,000 square feet. But after construction is completed, the collection will be moved to a single, 3,000-square-foot room.
“The Blockson Collection’s new home will be the kind of large, welcoming, open and well-lit space that the collection and the scholars who use it deserve,” Hart says.
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