Rare Book & Manuscript Library

L. S. Alexander Gumby collection of Negroiana, 1800-1981

Summary Information

At a Glance

Call No.: MS#0527
Bib ID 4078845 View CLIO record
Creator(s) Gumby, L. S. Alexander, 1885-1961
Title L. S. Alexander Gumby collection of Negroiana, 1800-1981
Physical Description 88 linear feet (Boxes A-B; Boxes 1-172 (includes CMI Boxes numbered consecutively), Flat box 189)
Language(s) English .
Access You will need to make an appointment in advance to use this collection material in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room. You can schedule an appointment once you've submitted your request through your Special Collections Research Account.

This collection has no restrictions.

This collection is located on-site.



Selected materials cataloged; remainder arranged. by subject or category.

Unmounted clippings are arranged: by subject in 14 file boxes.



A collection concerned with the various phases of black life in America, containing clippings, pamphlets, photographs, pictures, extracts from periodicals, and a representative group of approximately 350 letters, signatures, manuscripts, and documents. Among the letters are several each from Countee Cullen, Frederick Douglass, Alexander Dumas, fils, William Lloyd Garrison, Claude McKay, Abraham Lincoln, Henry Mencken, William Pickens, Albert A. Smith, and Booker T. Washington. Also, eighteen slavery documents.

Most of the material is mounted in 161 scrapbooks or groups of folio leaves. The clippings are from both general and specialized newspapers and magazines ranging in date from 1850 to 1960, however the majority of the material falls between 1910 and 1950. Whole volumes are devoted to major figures such as Joe Louis, Booker T. Washington, Paul Robeson, and Josephine Baker. Four scrapbooks contain signatures, signed photographs, and letters from a great variety of individuals. Among the unnumbered volumes of personal scrapbooks there are six volumes labeled "Gumby's Autobiography" containing personal letters, calling cards, photographs, post cards, and other printed material relating to Gumby's life.

Using the Collection

Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Restrictions on Access

You will need to make an appointment in advance to use this collection material in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room. You can schedule an appointment once you've submitted your request through your Special Collections Research Account.

This collection has no restrictions.

This collection is located on-site.

Terms Governing Use and Reproduction

Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. Permission to publish material from the collection must be requested from the Curator of Manuscripts/University Archivist, Rare Book and Manuscript Library (RBML). The RBML approves permission to publish that which it physically owns; the responsibility to secure copyright permission rests with the patron.

Preferred Citation

Identification of specific item; Date (if known); Name of Collection; Box and Folder; Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University Library.

Related Materials

See also: Ms Coll/Slavery, Ms Coll/Plimpton/Slavery

"The Unwritten History": Alexander Gumby's African America. Columbia University Libraries.


Materials may have been added to the collection since this finding aid was prepared. Contact rbml@columbia.edu for more information.

Alternate Form Available

Part I: Letters, manuscripts, doucments (2 boxes) is on microfilm

scrapbooks 1-139: Microfilm available for.

Unnumbered scrapbook: Autobiography.. (5 vols.) is on microfilm

Unnumbered scrapbook: Autographs (4 vols.) is on microfilm

Ownership and Custodial History

Gumby collected this material during the first half of the 20th century. He referred to the collection as Negroiana, and the title is maintained here.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Source of acquisition--Gumby, L. S. Alexander. Method of acquisition--Gift; Date of acquisition--1951. Accession number--M-51.

Scott Joplin items: Source of acquisition--Solomon, Joseph. Method of acquisition--Gift; Date of acquisition--1982. Accession number--M-1982.

Gift of L.S.A. Gumby, 1951-1960.

Gift of Joseph Solomon, 1982.

About the Finding Aid / Processing Information

Columbia University Libraries, Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Processing Information

Cataloged Christina Hilton Fenn 06/--/1989.

Scott Joplin items Processed BRC 02/--/1982.

Revision Description

2010-02-10 Legacy finding aid created from Pro Cite.

2019-05-20 EAD was imported spring 2019 as part of the ArchivesSpace Phase II migration.

Subject Headings

The subject headings listed below are found in this collection. Links below allow searches at Columbia University through the Archival Collections Portal and through CLIO, the catalog for Columbia University Libraries, as well as ArchiveGRID, a catalog that allows users to search the holdings of multiple research libraries and archives.

All links open new windows.


Heading "CUL Archives:"
"CUL Collections:"
"Nat'l / Int'l Archives:"
Autographs (manuscripts) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Bibliographies Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Brochures Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Galley proofs Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Greeting cards Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Notebooks Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Photographs Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Poems Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Postcards Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Programs (documents) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Releases Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Scores (documents for music) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Sound recordings Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Visiting cards Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID


Heading "CUL Archives:"
"CUL Collections:"
"Nat'l / Int'l Archives:"
African American athletes Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
African American scientists Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
African American teachers Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
African American women Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
African Americans Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
African Americans -- History Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
African Americans -- Social conditions Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
African Americans in the performing arts Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Baker, Josephine, 1906-1975 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Cullen, Countee, 1903-1946 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Douglass, Frederick, 1818-1895 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Dumas, Alexandre, 1824-1895 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Garrison, William Lloyd, 1805-1879 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Joplin, Scott, 1868-1917 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Lincoln, Abraham, 1809-1865 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Louis, Joe, 1914-1981 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
McKay, Claude, 1890-1948 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Mencken, H. L. (Henry Louis), 1880-1956 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Pickens, William, 1881-1954 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Robeson, Paul, 1898-1976 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Scrapbooks Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Slavery -- United States Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Smith, Albert A. (Albert Alexander), 1896-1940 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
United States -- History Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
United States -- Social conditions Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
United States -- Social life and customs Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Washington, Booker T., 1856-1915 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID

History / Biographical Note

Biographical Note

Born Feb. 1, 1885, in Maryland, Gumby was the son of Evangelist Levi Thomas and Louisa Morris Gumby. In 1901, he and his sister were sent to live with their grandparents and there the young man who loved reading made his first scrapbook at the age of 16 with some old wallpaper and a paste of flour and water. Gumby's first clippings were of President McKinley's assassination in Sept. 1901.

He spent the next year at Dover State College in Delaware studying law to fulfill his grandmother's dream for him. But he became impatient and felt his skills were inadequate. He packed his scrapbooks and eventually headed to New York City, where he immediately fell in love with the place that would be his home until his death almost 60 years later.

"At once I became a New Yorker in spirit and principle for I found here more freedom of action than I had ever known before," Gumby wrote in his 1951 essay, "The Adventures of My Scrapbook," for the Columbia Library World. Gumby became an enthusiastic fan of theatre and art and "formed the habit" of collecting all the playbills, pictures, and clippings he could find of his favorites.

During those early years in New York, Gumby wrote that it seemed "a willingness to change jobs was a mark of a youth's ambition." A friend told him of a job as a waiter at Columbia and there he began his relationships with a number of professors and students. He also clipped "everything I could find" about popular professors and President Nicholas Murry Butler.

By 1910, he organized his clippings and began to take his role more seriously. Gumby studied other collections in libraries across the U.S. and Canada, and also began collecting rare book editions and manuscripts with the help of his wealthy friend who was a partner in a Wall Street firm. And he met with other collectors like Arturo Schomburg.

At the same time, Gumby took a variety of other jobs to help sustain his passion. He became, for instance, the personal butler of a wealthy banker in the same area now known as Riverdale's Wave Hill. Gumby also was a founding member of the Southern Utopia Fraternity, a group organized for "young men from the South who came to New York seeking a larger experience."

Soon he became better known more for his collection of rare editions than for his scrapbooks and he opened the Gumby Book Studio at 2144 Fifth Avenue between 131st and 132nd Streets in Harlem. The historian lined his studio with books and continued clipping and pasting historic documents in his scrapbooks. Gumby's Studio grew so popular that it became a gathering place for many artists, actors, musicians, intellectuals, gays and lesbians of the Harlem Renaissance. Gumby called it the first "unpremeditated interracial movement in Harlem."

Meanwhile, Gumby's reputation as "The Count" and "Mr. Scrapbook" also continued to grow and he was asked to exhibit his collections in cities along the East Coast, earning him a listing in the 1922 edition of the Private Book Collectors' Who's Who. But by the Crash of 1929, Gumby's wealthy friend lost millions and the Studio lost support of its regulars. The collapse took such a toll on Gumby that he was forced to give up the Studio, sell many of his editions, and store his scrapbooks in the cellar of an acquaintance's house.

"The loss of my studio and fatigue from overwork," he wrote, sent Gumby first to Riverside Hospital in the Bronx and then to Randall's Island Hospital where he spent the next four years. In both hospitals, though, he continued collecting newspaper articles (some about his own hospitalization), photographs of visiting friends, and get well cards, all of which are included in his six autobiographical scrapbooks.

When he was released in 1934, Gumby set about retrieving his collections and restoring their condition, all the time adding more and more clippings, autographs and other documents. By 1950 he gave his collection to Columbia and in 1951, the University hired him for eight months to organize the materials.

Alexander Gumby considered his "History of the Negro in Scrapbook" more than a hobby. He wrote that, "The collection could well be called 'The Unwritten History.'" Gumby concentrated on African American history primarily because, "There are so many surprising and startling historical events pertaining to, or relating to the American Negro that are not recorded in the Standard Histories, dictionaries and school text-books, or if so, they are shaded so that they sound like a Ripley's 'Believe It or Not.' "

From "Black History Remains Alive in Alexander Gumby's Popular Scrapbooks" By Jo Kadlecek. Columbia News. Published: Feb 18, 2002.