Henry Louis Gates Makes Largest Literary Donation in HBCU History to Spelman

Noted historian Henry Louis Gates has donated more than 14,000 of his personal literary volumes to Spelman College, in what school officials are calling the single largest recorded literary donation ever made to any historically black institution.

The donation, which will be housed at the Atlanta University Center Robert W. Woodruff Library, will be on display for library visitors and archival research. Library officials say that more than 800 of the books will be placed in circulation, and more than 512 works will be kept in the center’s special collections.

“Spelman is honored to receive such a treasure from a scholar and luminary in the fields of African and African-American studies,” said Spelman President Mary Schmidt Campbell, Ph.D. “Throughout his career, Dr. Gates has been committed to ensuring that the presence of people of African descent is not overlooked in American history. This gift continues that effort and legacy, affording our students the opportunity to study their history and engage the world of the African Diaspora.”

Noted books from the donation include:

  • An autographed, first edition of James Baldwin’s second play, “Blues for Mister Charlie,” first produced and published in 1964. The play was dedicated to “the memory of Medgar Evers, his widow and children, and to the memory of the dead children of Birmingham.”

  • An autographed, first edition of Wole Soyinka’s “The Interpreters,” originally published in 1965. As Soyinka’s first novel, it examines post-independence Nigeria in the 1960s. Soyinka was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1986.

  • A first edition of Walter Mosley’s “Devil in a Blue Dress: A Novel.” The novel won a Shamus Award in 1991 and was later adapted into a movie starring Denzel Washington, Jennifer Beals and Don Cheadle.

“These volumes from my library can have no more meaningful home than Spelman College,” said Dr. Gates. “Generations of African-American women and men have ‘made a way out of no way,’ as we all know, and binding us together and leading us have been the strongest and most brilliant Black women, who recognized and lived the importance of education as the gateway to knowledge, opportunity and empowerment.