From the archives

A sampling of excerpts from the university’s archives provides a window into the African-American experience at VCU and its predecessors.


While Black History Month has its roots in 1926, when historian Carter G. Woodson started Negro History Week, it first expanded to a month-long celebration on a college campus. Black United Students, a student organization at Kent State University, proposed the expansion and in 1970 was the first to celebrate Black History Month. In 1976, it was officially recognized by President Gerald R. Ford.

As colleges across the U.S. continue the tradition of paying tribute to the achievements and contributions of African-Americans this month, there is much to be learned from taking an introspective look at the African-American experience at Virginia Commonwealth University and its predecessor schools.

VCU Libraries’ Special Collections and Archives offer a wealth of information and resources on a wide range of topics, including an impressive amount of archival material chronicling the university’s history. Student newspapers, yearbooks, oral histories, books on the university’s history and other primary sources can be accessed anytime as part of VCU Libraries’ Digital Collections. The excerpts below relating to the African-American experience are just a small portion of the resources available in the collection, and the VCU community is encouraged to explore them to learn more at

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First all-black comic book added to VCU Libraries’ Comic Arts Collection


All-Negro Comics No. 1 was the first comic book written and drawn exclusively by African-American comics creators.

VCU Libraries has acquired an extremely rare copy of All-Negro Comics No. 1, the first comic book written and drawn solely by African-American writers and artists.

“It’s one of the holy grails of comics,” said Cindy Jackson (B.S.’93/B; B.A.’01/H&S; M.A.’05/H&S), library specialist for comic arts, who oversees VCU Libraries’ Comic Arts Collection, which has roughly 175,000 items, including more than 125,000 comic books. “It is so important to the history of comics. I’ve been in this job for 20 years and I never thought I’d ever hold one of these in my hands. And now we have one in the collection for researchers to use.”

All-Negro Comics No. 1 is a 48-page anthology comic published in June 1947 and remembered not only for being the first comic by African-American creators, but also for its positive portrayal of African-American characters — such as detective Ace Harlem and Lion Man, a college-educated, scientist superhero — in an era in which most African-American comic book characters were racist caricatures.

“It’s the first time you see respectful treatment of African-American characters,” Jackson said. “It is a time capsule. It is a very of-the-1940s comic, but it shows the African-American characters doing things that previously had only ever been done by white characters — things like solving mysteries and being the hero, not the sidekick.”

All-Negro Comics was published by Philadelphia newspaper reporter Orrin C. Evans along with two partners. Evans, who died in 1971, was inducted into the Will Eisner Award Hall of Fame in 2014.

Tom De Haven, a creative writing professor in the Department of English in the College of Humanities and Sciences and the author of “It’s Superman!” and “Derby Dugan’s Depression Funnies,” among other novels and graphic novels, said that All-Negro Comics No. 1 is “one of the very rarest of the rare.”

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New ‘Workshop’ offers 3-D printing, a laser cutter, sewing machines, a 4K video studio and one really, really big video screen


Natalie DeMenthon, a junior communication arts and computer science student, loves making costumes, particularly ones inspired by video games. So when VCU Libraries’ new innovative media center opened its doors recently, she decided to try out one of its 3-D printers to fabricate a cosplay prop.

“I used one of the 3-D printers to make a plaster splicer mask from ‘Bioshock,’” said DeMenthon, as she operated a sewing machine in the center’s makerspace. “The pattern was available for free online, so I was like ‘Yes! I’ve got to try this.’”

DeMenthon is an innovative media student assistant who works in the Innovative Media Department’s new center, called The Workshop, located on the lower level of James Branch Cabell Library and built as part of VCU Libraries’ $50.8 million expansion and renovation.

The Workshop offers a comprehensive variety of multimedia resources and services, including a 4K video studio, loanable media equipment, an array of video editing and graphic design stations, an audio studio, a video game lounge with six gaming consoles, and a makerspace featuring 3-D printers, a laser cutter, sewing machines, a computerized tabletop router and much more.

“We support any kind of hands-on creation, both digital and analog,” said Eric Johnson, head of innovative media for VCU Libraries. “It’s not just about having fun — though that’s a really good way to learn — it’s about enabling people to create objects that are important to them. It’s about providing tools and expertise to support the scholarly exploration of what I sometimes call ‘multimedia and matter.’”

The Workshop is open to all VCU students, faculty and staff, and it’s aiming to be accessible to both beginners and more experienced users.

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Black History Month at VCU aims to spark dialogue, celebrate black excellence

Keith Knight

Keith Knight

Virginia Commonwealth University will celebrate Black History Month with a variety of events throughout February that are meant to provoke thought and conversation.

“I am truly excited for this year’s Black History Month events and the dialogue that may come as a byproduct of these programs,” said Yolanda Avent, director of the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs in the Division of Student Affairs, which coordinates VCU’s Black History Month activities. “We have a month full of thought-provoking educational and social programs designed to engage and celebrate black excellence.”

All of the events will be free and open to the public, though registration may be required for certain events.

Political cartoonist Keith Knight will deliver the 14th annual VCU Libraries Black History Month Lecture, titled, “They Shoot Black People, Don’t They? From Ferguson to NYC, Political Cartoonist Keith Knight on Police Violence in the U.S.” He will speak on Feb. 4 from 7 to 9 p.m. in the Lecture Hall (room 303) of James Branch Cabell Library.

Knight is known for creating funny, politically astute comics strips that touch on many divisive issues, including racially motivated police violence. His talk will be followed by a book sale and signing, as well as a public reception.

“Keith Knight is a cartoonist for the modern age who deftly uses his humor to address often divisive political, social and racial issues,” said Cindy Jackson, library specialist for comic arts with VCU Libraries, which is sponsoring the lecture. “His comics will make you laugh, but most importantly they will make you think.”

For more details or to register for Knight’s lecture, go to

Get the full list of Black History Month activities at VCU.

Cabell Foundation awards $1M challenge grant to bolster VCU’s new library


The new James Branch Cabell Library

The Cabell Foundation, known for its strategic and generous support throughout Richmond and Virginia, has awarded a $1 million challenge grant to VCU Libraries. Money raised will assist VCU Libraries in fully outfitting and equipping the new James Branch Cabell Library, as well as provide funding for future needs.

The grant challenges VCU Libraries to raise $1 million in new gifts and pledges by June 30, 2017. When VCU Libraries reaches that goal, the foundation will commit $1 million, bringing the total raised to $2 million for the new library. Half of the funds raised will support the New Building Fund, which will outfit and equip the new library with the kind of furnishings and equipment not provided by state funds, and will help VCU realize the full promise of this extraordinary new space for students. The other half of the funds will create a permanent Library of the Future Fund, an endowment earmarked to continually update technology in the building and to replace worn-out, broken and outdated furniture.

“The Cabell Foundation is such a tremendous friend and partner of VCU. Their visionary support over many years has forever impacted the university, and for this, we are most grateful,” said VCU President Michael Rao, Ph.D. “This challenge grant will provide support to each and every VCU student and faculty and staff member through the investment in the VCU Libraries.”

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Digital map shows spread of KKK across United States like ‘a contagion’

Each red dot represents a local Klan chapter, known as a Klavern, that spread across the country between 1915 and 1940.

Each red dot represents a local Klan chapter, known as a Klavern, that spread across the country between 1915 and 1940.

A joint project between a Virginia Commonwealth University history professor and VCU Libraries shows for the first time how the Ku Klux Klan spread across the United States between 1915 and 1940, establishing chapters in all 50 states with an estimated membership of between 2 million and 8 million.

The project, “Mapping the Second Ku Klux Klan, 1915-1940,” is an animated, online map that illustrates the rise of the second Klan, which was founded in Atlanta in 1915 and spread rapidly across the country to total more than 2,000 local units, known as Klaverns.

“The project is using technology to demonstrate, and make available for people to contemplate, the nationwide spread of the Ku Klux Klan,” said John Kneebone, Ph.D., associate professor and chair of the Department of History in the College of Humanities and Sciences. “This map shows that you can’t just say ‘Oh, it was those crazy people in the South.’ The [KKK] was in the mainstream.”

The map, he said, invites the viewer to learn about the Klan in their own area, and to reflect on how the Klan’s vile message of racism, anti-Semitism and anti-Catholicism appealed to so many millions of Americans.

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VCU community to help transcribe 17th-century manuscripts for Folger Shakespeare Library

An image from one of the manuscripts - Folger Shakespeare Library V.a.103, fol. 3v - that will be transcribed at the upcoming “transcribathon.” It contains an epigraph written for Shakespeare.

An image from one of the manuscripts – Folger Shakespeare Library V.a.103, fol. 3v – that will be transcribed at the upcoming “transcribathon.” It contains an epigraph written for Shakespeare.

The Virginia Commonwealth University community is invited to take part in a “transcribathon” at which they will transcribe and encode two 17th-century manuscripts from the collection of the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C.

The event is part of the Folger Shakespeare Library’s ongoing Early Modern Manuscripts Online project that aims to provide scholars and the public with convenient online access to transcriptions, images and metadata for a variety of one-of-a-kind English manuscripts from the 16th and 17th centuries, including letters, diaries, wills, coats of arms, literary pieces, recipe books and more.

“The purpose of this kind of activity is to make difficult-to-read manuscripts accessible to and searchable by scholars, teachers and students,” said co-organizer Claire Bourne, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of English in the College of Humanities and Sciences. “The work of those participating in the VCU transcribathon will be in the service of future scholarship and learning.”

The transcribathon will be held Nov. 13 from noon to 4 p.m. in the second-floor Multipurpose Room of James Branch Cabell Library. The event is free and open to the public. No prior experience with paleography, which is the study of historical handwriting, is required.

The event is sponsored by VCU Libraries, the Department of English, the Humanities Research Center and the Folger Shakespeare Library.

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Nursing postcard collection featured at VCU Libraries


The Kay Seidenberg Nursing Postcard Collection consists of American and European postcards relating to the nursing profession. Kay Seidenberg (B.S.‘85/N) began collecting postcards shortly after embarking on her nursing career. At first she was more of a generalist in her collecting, but she gradually began to acquire nursing related cards.

While building her collection she learned about Edith Cavell, an English nurse who was executed by the Germans in 1915 for assisting Allied soldiers to escape from occupied Belgium. The “Edith Cavell: A Nurse Who Did Her Duty,” at VCU Libraries’ Tompkins-McCaw Library for the Health Sciences, is now on exhibit and will run through Feb. 5, 2016.

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$50.8 million expansion, renovation of VCU’s main library is now open

The new building defines the academic library of the future, emphasizing collaboration, openness, discovery and creativity.

The new building defines the academic library of the future, emphasizing collaboration, openness, discovery and creativity.

Virginia Commonwealth University’s greatly expanded and renovated James Branch Cabell Library is now open, providing VCU’s more than 31,000 students with vastly more space to study, collaborate, discover, create, and conduct research.

The $50.8 million project adds 93,000 square feet of new construction and 63,000 square feet of improvements to the existing library, with 90 percent of the space designed specifically for student use.

“There simply is no great university without a great library,” said University Librarian John Ulmschneider. “I think our new library truly captures the accomplishment, the pride and the optimism that is VCU today.”

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What lies beneath: Exhibition of alumnus’s masking tape sculptures opens at Tompkins-McCaw

Nickolai Walko

Nickolai Walko

Anatomy fascinates Nickolai Walko (B.F.A.’14/A). Had he followed in his father’s footsteps and become a doctor, no one would have been surprised. Instead, the 24-year-old forged his own path by pursuing sculpture, graduating from the Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts in December.

But, as VCU has proven time and again, medicine and art overlap in a number of ways. It’s fitting, then, that Walko’s first solo exhibition at his alma mater takes place at the Tompkins-McCaw Library for the Health Sciences on the VCU Health MCV Campus. “Unmasked: A Visual Dissection” runs from Oct. 22 through Jan. 31.

The title comes from the unusual medium Walko favors and his technique in revealing what lies beneath it. Each of the approximately 30 pieces in the show is made from masking tape. Walko has been working with masking tape since high school, when he took an art class at the Governor’s School for the Arts in Norfolk.

“I kind of continued to work with this medium that really fascinated me, that was so different from painting or drawing or traditional material,” Walko said. “That’s why this show is unique. It’s all made out of masking tape. And the whole approach is so different from painting or drawing, because with painting or drawing, you’re adding to the surface, whereas with this, it’s already there, but you’re taking away almost like carving out a marble sculpture.”

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