Orangeburg, South Carolina: 1940. 5 1/8” x 7”. Blue faux leather over boards commercial autograph book. Pp. , nearly all inscribed. Very good: covers moderately worn at edges and lightly soiled; evidence of minor damp stain to edges of a few leaves, lightly smearing a few lines of ink but largely not affecting legibility; a few scattered ink splotches.
This is a lightly illustrated and deeply moving autograph book that belonged to a young African American woman, Leola Johnston. Leola was in the class of 1942 at the South Carolina HBCU, Claflin College, and this book showcases the hopes, wishes and lived experiences of her friends and classmates at the school.
Claflin College (now University) is the oldest HBCU in South Carolina and claims to be the first college in the state to welcome all students regardless of race or gender. The school boasts a long list of notable alumni, not least among them the 1884 graduates Alice Jackson Moorer and Annie Thortne, two of the first five Black women in the world to receive a college degree. This book was signed by a few graduates who went on to make waves as well, including Eugene Montgomery, Dr. Hubert V. Manning and Clemmie Barnes Hatchett. Montgomery (class of 1942) was the first executive secretary of the South Carolina Conference of Branches of the NAACP and a partner in the first Black-owned real estate and insurance company in Orangeburg. Manning, graduating in 1940, became the first alumni president of Claflin College. Hatchett (class of 1943) received her master’s degree from Atlanta University, worked with the Atlanta Teacher Corps and was a coordinator of the Model Cities Program. She retired in 1983 as an assistant high school principal and was recognized as a living “Platinum” alumna in 2013.
There were a total of 105 entries in this book, all of them taking up at least a full page. While many contained expected platitudes like “Do right. Do write” and “I wish you all the success through life,” this book went deeper. Entries showed creative and well-read students who quoted Longfellow, Epicurus and Booker T. Washington. The first entry had a fabulous illustration as well as quotes by Shakespeare, Shelley and Keats. About 15 other entries contained small sketches and doodles, mostly illustrating the logos of fraternal groups, the YWCA and what appear to be other student clubs. A few mentioned Leola's violin playing, singing and “constant choir trips,” and some were decorated with musical notation.
Several entries were emphatic in their messages of uplift, striving for success and working to meet one's goals: “Remember, you build the ladder by which you rise.” Many contained (possibly original) poems, inside jokes and tidbits of memories. There was also a bit of unexpected wisdom: “True love is like a painful tooth, it is bound to cause some uneasiness.” Friends gave their addresses as they were departing for the summer, revealing homes throughout South Carolina and as far away as New York, Connecticut and West Palm Beach, Florida.
A lovely collection of memories, musings and well wishes of African American college students, including a few who went on to notable careers. Very good. Item #7871