Temple University will honor the memory of Charles L. Blockson, who had been curator emeritus of the Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection at the university when he died in June, at a special memorial service Tuesday.
The memorial service will be at 2 p.m. on Sept. 19 at the Temple Performing Arts Center, 1837 N. Broad St., Philadelphia, PA 19122.
Blockson, 89, an award-winning scholar and author, died June 14 at his home in Gwynedd. He founded the Blockson Collection in 1984 when he donated thousands of books and other memorabilia to the university.
“When he came, he brought 20,000 items to Temple and today, we have over 700,000 items and growing,” said Diane D. Turner, the Blockson Collection curator.
There will be music and poetry at Tuesday’s memorial service and a number of speakers will reflect on Blockson’s life and legacy.
Among the speakers, via a recorded video message, will be Lonnie Bunch III, the secretary of the Smithsonian Institution.
Before his appointment as secretary, Bunch was director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) at the Smithsonian. In 2010, prior to the new national museum’s opening in 2016, Blockson donated the silk and linen shawl Queen Victoria had presented to Harriet Tubman, and Tubman‘s hymnal and other personal items to the Smithsonian.
At a Washington D.C. ceremony acknowledging the gifts, Blockson spoke about his personal connection to Tubman and her fellow abolitionist William Still. “My ancestors escaped with her and with William Still,” Blockson said. “They took them right across the river into Canada. I still have relatives in Canada.”
Oliver St. Clair Franklin, the third Honorary British Consul for Greater Philadelphia, is also scheduled to speak at Blockson’s service.
In an interview last week, Franklin recalled the time that Blockson suggested they drop by to see Paul Robeson, who was living in West Philly.
The year was 1972. At the time, Franklin was the director of special projects at the Annenberg Center at the University of Pennsylvania, which was hosting the Philadelphia Black Film Festival that summer. Blockson attended a showing of the 1933 film The Emperor Jones, which starred Robeson.
“We both had posters of the film which showed Robeson, all dressed up as the emperor character,” Franklin said last week.
Franklin said Blockson suggested the two of them meet a few days later at the West Philadelphia house where an aging Robeson had moved in with his widowed sister, Marian Forsythe, in 1966. Robeson’s wife and manager, Eslanda Goode Robeson, had died the year before.
“When we got to the house, Robeson’s sister looked at me, but she didn’t know me. Then she looked at Blockson, and she recognized him and let us in,” Franklin said.
Robeson came downstairs dressed in a suit, and was on his way to a doctor’s appointment. He signed their posters, shook their hands, and then went on to his appointment. But Franklin said he never forgot seeing how excited and enthusiastic Blockson was at seeing Robeson, who was a hero to him.
Franklin later went on to become Philadelphia’s Arts Commissioner during the Wilson Goode Administration. He said Blockson encouraged him to become a serious collector as well.
Now 77, Franklin was named a Commander of the British Empire, an honor just below knighthood, days before Queen Elizabeth’s death last year. He received that honor for his service strengthening relationships between the United States and the U.K. as third British Consul.
He recently announced that his own book collection is going to Brown University.
If you plan to attend the Blockson memorial, the university has asked that you RSVP to email@example.com. Complimentary parking is available in the 15th Street Lot. Enter from 15th Street between Norris Street and Montgomery Avenue. The livestream will be available on September 19 and you can watch it here: https://news.temple.edu/blockson