Xavier Gold – A Glimpse into the Xavier University Archives

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.

Photograph Sources: New Orleans Public Library (www.nutrias.org); Hurricane Digital Memory Book (www.hurricanearchive.org).

J.C.L.H.

4 thoughts on “Xavier Gold – A Glimpse into the Xavier University Archives

  1. I’m researching a biography of St. Katharine Drexel (a relative) and plan to explore Xavier’s archives this April. Your summary of the university’s history is wonderfully done.
    Many, many thanks!
    Cordelia Frances Biddle

    • We are indeed glad that this post was of use to you in your research. I frequent Xavier’s Archives often and would be glad to recommend any sources I can. They hold the records of the Sisters’ corporate body in Louisiana, through which they acquired property, etc. I will never forget the story shared with me by one of my older cousins in which she recounted meeting St. Katharine Drexel when she visited Klotzville, La. St. Katharine is also referenced in the history I am writing of the Knights of Peter Claver, the largest and oldest association of black Catholics.

      • Thanks so much, Jari. I’d love to hear more about your history of the Knights of Peter Claver. In creating St. Katharine’s story, I’m using as much historical context as possible. Her parents’ home was on the route of Lincoln’s funeral cortege, which sight (Philadelphia was deadly silent as the cortege rolled through the streets) altered her life; President Grant was a guest at her first cousin’s wedding; Grant’s disastrous “Peace Policy”; the genocide of the tribal peoples; the Social Gospel movement; the rise of anarchism; Plessy V Ferguson, etc.
        I plan to visit New Orleans April 16-19 for my first glimpse of Xavier.
        A question you may be able to answer prior to my haunting the Xavier archives. The annals at SBS list the straw agent for Southern University as “Mr. McInerney”. The only printed reference I’ve found is to a “Harry McEnery” who bought the land. McEnery makes more sense as it’s a well-established white family with strong Catholic roots.
        I’m delighted to be in contact with you.

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