Works from the Alan Sussman Rare Book Collection

Curated by Kristin Waters, ’73
Resident Scholar at the Women’s Studies Research Center, 
Brandeis University, Massachusetts

From Europe to Africa to the Americas, the deepest story of colonial settlement is resistance to racial oppression. Guided by his discerning collector’s eye and deep commitment to civil rights, Alan Sussman amassed an unparalleled collection of works on transatlantic slavery and the struggle against subjugation. This exhibition selects works ranging from treatises against slavery by Granville Sharpe, Olaudah Equiano, William Wilberforce and Thomas Clarkson, to those supporting the inferiority hypothesis by Thomas Jefferson and Jefferson Davis. Rare editions of self-emancipation narratives by Frederick Douglass, Charles Ball, and the vast enumerations of William Still, the “Father of the Underground Railroad,” who sponsored Harriet Tubman and many others provide an illustrated chronicle of the frontline of resistance. 

The exhibition aims to entice the viewer both to explore the Sussman Collection through the Bard archives and to find parallel stories in contemporary form: Colson Whitehead’s award-winning novel, Underground Railroad and James McBride’s rendition of John Brown’s battles in “Bleeding Kansas” in his award-winning novel The Good Lord Bird, and Sue Monk Kidd’s The Invention of Wings about the Quaker Sarah Grimké’s fight against slavery.  

The struggle continued in the 20th century, revealed through the rare and priceless works of Malcolm X, Eldridge Cleaver, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Amiri Baraka, Bobby Seale, Huey P. Newton, and George Jackson, all represented here along with James Baldwin, who wrote, “I love America more than any other country in the world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”  This collection and exhibition record the love and pain that are at the heart of our ongoing struggles.

Above: “Desperate Conflict in a Barn,” from William Still, Underground Rail Road; A History of Facts, Authentic Narratives, Letters & etc. (Philadelphia) 1872, from the Alan Sussman Rare Book Collection, Stevenson Library, Bard College. This wood engraving by C.H. Reed depicts an incident that is said to have occurred in a barn in Terrytown, Maryland in 1853. In search of freedom, four Virginia slaves, Robert Jackson, Craven Matterson, and the latter’s two brothers escaped and travelled north. In Maryland, they were discovered by a man who saw them hiding in a thicket. According to the accompanying narrative, the man, who “talked like a Quaker,” urged them to go to his barn for protection. The man, however, betrayed them, and a group of authorities arrived soon thereafter. A struggle ensued, during the course of which Jackson and Craven were shot, as well as the man who betrayed them.
Text source: https://digital.librarycompany.org/
Above banner from left to right: Frederick Douglass, William Still, Harriet Tubman, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, Olaudah Equiano