Charles L. Blockson

Marsha Levick
Mel Heifetz

Charles L. Blockson is the 96th recipient of the Philadelphia Award. Mr. Blockson, a historian, scholar, and author with deep roots in the Philadelphia region, has excelled in his lifelong, personal mission to document and preserve the record of African American history for future generations.

B lockson’s passion for history and books began at the age of nine when a teacher asserted “Negroes have no history”. That experience as a young child marked the start of a lifelong journey of unearthing, collecting, and preserving the history, culture, and contributions of African descendants. Over the years, his research and travels have inspired him to write 12 books on the topic, making him one of the foremost experts on the Underground Railroad

In 1984, Blockson donated his personal collection of rare publications and artifacts related to African American history and culture to Temple University. The Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection, one of the nation’s leading research facilities for the study of the history and culture of people of African descent, now contains more than 500,000 books, documents, and photographs.

B lockson is a co-founder of the African American Museum in Philadelphia. He has contributed books and other historical items to the Charles L. Blockson Collection of African-Americana and the African Diaspora at the Pennsylvania State University and the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NAAMHC) at the Smithsonian Institution. A recent donation to NAAMHC includes 39 of Harriet Tubman’s personal items – highlighted by the shawl that Queen Victoria presented to Tubman, the “crowing jewel” of Blockson’s collection.

Blockson has also spearheaded efforts to have various State Historical Markers placed throughout Philadelphia as part of the commemoration of the some of the history and events that have shaped the African American experience in the Philadelphia region, including a marker placed along Penn’s Landing, which commemorates the lives of enslaved Africans brought to local ports during the Pennsylvania slave trade era.

Blockson is a 1956 graduate of the Pennsylvania State University and has three honorary doctorate degrees from Lincoln University, Holy Family University, and Villanova University. He retired from Temple in 2006 and continues to serve as Curator Emeritus of the university’s Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection.