Rare books, prints, photographs, slave narratives, manuscripts, letters, sheet music, foreign language publications and ephemera comprise the impressive special collections component of the Blockson Collection. The Collection's rare books section is particularly strong in its first editions, as well as its holdings in African, African-American and African-Caribbean publications dating back to the sixteenth century.
Among the rare works in the Collection are Leo Africanus' Ioannis Leonis Africani Africae descriptio IX lib. absoluta (1632); Phillis Wheatley's Poems on various subjects, religious and moral (1773); Olaudah Equiano's The life of Olaudah Equiano (1789); Robert Benjamin Lewis' Light and truth (1844); William Wells Brown's Clotel (1853); The Confessions of Nat Turner (1831) and David Walker's Appeal (1829). In addition, the Collection boasts first editions of works by Jacobus Elisa Joannes Capitein, Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. Dubois, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, Paul Lawrence Dunbar, George Washington Williams, Carter G. Woodson and others. There is also an extensive African Bibles collection.
The primary source materials of the manuscripts component of the Collection include sheet music, the principal papers of Samuel Holmes, Dr. R.R. Wright, Natalie Hinderas and Dr. Ruth Wright Hayre, as well as personal papers of William Still.
The Paul Robeson Collection contains sheet music, photographs, posters and ephemera. The Rhythm Brown Collection includes photographs, business records, and correspondence.
The Philadelphia (Alpha) Chapter Boule Society Papers of Sigma Pi Phi Fraternity, the first African-American fraternity includes programs, social registers and private correspondence.
Among the works of enslaved Africans in the Slave Narratives Collection are narratives by Olaudah Equiano, Ignatius Sancho, Prince Lee Boo, Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass and Nancy Prince.
The Prints and Photographs Collection includes prints and Black film posters, as well as photographs and prints of African-American Civil rights leaders, religious leaders, artists, entertainers and scholars.
Images of African-American associations and organizations are also included. This section also houses the John Mosley Photograph Collection which contains over 500,000 photographs, prints and negatives which provide a visual history of notable black entertainers, Negro Baseball League players, Penn Relays, social and political personalities and the general social life of Pennsylvania.
The Raymond Trent Oral History Collection contains thousands of taped interviews and radio programs on African and African-American history and culture.