Xavier University Campus, 1915-1933, Former Site of Southern University, Present Site of Xavier University Preparatory School
In all the communities where they exist, historically black colleges and universities rise triumphantly as temples of knowledge and as testaments to the resilience and ability of a people once held in bondage. The task of university archivists and librarians is great as many HBCUs are beginning to embrace their histories and the histories of the communities in which they exist.
Xavier University of Louisiana (New Orleans) has a unique history as the only historically black Catholic university in the western hemisphere and the only Catholic university in America founded by a saint. The university was founded in 1915 in a building which had previously served as home to Southern University and A&M College. Initially a preparatory high school course of studies was offered. In 1917, a two-year normal course was added and eight years later, in 1925, a full collegiate course of four years was begun. In 1933, new buildings were dedicated on Pine Street in the city’s Gerttown section, which has remained home to Xavier ever since.
The Archives of Xavier University, which are located on the third floor of the university’s Library building, contain manuscript, visual, and three-dimensional sources which chronicle the history of the University. Yearbooks were published intermittently in the school’s early years, although the Archives has copies dating back to 1926. The Archives also has several bound volumes with extant issues of the university newspaper. There are extensive files with correspondence and other papers of the past presidents of the university. These past presidents were all religious sisters from the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament. There are also annual scrapbooks which were prepared for Saint Katharine Drexel during her latter years.
The Archives has the papers of several notable alumni including Professor Oscar Bouise, Professor Charles Rousseve, David Jackson, and Clarence Jupiter. Charles Rousseve’s master thesis, The Negro in Louisiana, was one of the most important works published by Xavier University Press during its brief existence. David Jackson was chair and professor in Xavier’s Department of Negro History, one of the first in the nation, which was founded in 1933.
Dedicatory Excercises, Xavier University Campus, Adminstration Building, 1933-Present
Among the Archives’ treasures is an original copy of Les Cenelles (1845), the first anthology of poetry published by people of color in the United States. It also houses the Charles F. Heartman Collection of antebellum records of slavery and freedom in Louisiana.
One of the Archives’ major strengths is in the history of black Catholics. It has a set of microfilm, compact discs, and printed material which comprises a large part of the records of the Society of Saint Joseph of the Sacred Heart (Josephite Fathers). This set is one of only two duplicates of a large amount of information contained in the Josephite Archives in Baltimore. The Archives has a near-complete run of The Claverite, Saint Augustine’s Messenger, and other periodicals published in the interest of black Catholics.
The Archives has several artificial collections of great value. The “New Orleans Black Benevolent Associations Collection,” has ephemera and printed booklets from several dozen benevolent and mutual aid organizations between 1872 and 1940. The Xavier Photographs Collection and priceless Arthur P. Bedou Collection are invaluable to those looking for photographic documentation of black New Orleans. Arthur Paul Bedou was the dean of New Orleans’ black photographers and served as official photographer to Booker T. Washington, Tuskegee Institute, and several other institutions.
The collections noted above are just a sample of the collections held by the Archives of Xavier University of Louisiana. The able archivists who have an encyclopedic knowledge of all-things Louisiana, Mr. Lester Sullivan and Mr. Irwin Lachoff, stand ready to answer any questions and requests from researchers. We encourage you to add your local university archives to your research list and we salute Xavier as it moves towards its second century!
N.B. This post is dedicated to Saint Katharine Drexel, Foundress of Xavier University, and Sister Roberta Smith, S.B.S., Foundress of the Xavier University Archives.