Posted August 8, 2007

New curator for Blockson Collection named

Construction to begin soon on improved, larger space in Sullivan Hall

Diane Turner
Photo by Joseph V. Labolito/Temple University

After a nine-month national search, historian and archivist Diane D. Turner has been named the next curator of Temple's renowned Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection, one of the nation's foremost university-based collections of African-American prints, photographs, slave narratives, manuscripts, letters and other materials.

"Diane's deep understanding of the African-American experience, her professional record and her connections to local communities make her the ideal person to lead the Blockson Collection as it moves into a wonderful new home in Sullivan Hall this academic year," said Temple President Ann Weaver Hart. "I am grateful to Vice President for Student Affairs Theresa A. Powell, Charles Blockson and the rest of the search committee for bringing Diane, a Temple graduate, back to Main Campus."

Turner will start on Sept. 10, 2007. She will succeed Blockson, who retired as curator on Dec. 31, 2006. Aslaku Berhanu has been serving as the collection's interim curator since Jan. 2, 2007.


From 2002 to 2006, Turner was curator of collections and exhibitions for the African-American Museum in Philadelphia. During her tenure, the museum acquired many significant materials ranging from Charles Johnson prints to First African Baptist burial artifacts, and it was awarded grants to conserve and preserve the collection, including a project to digitize the civil rights photos of the museum's Jack T. Franklin Photographic Collection.

Turner currently is a course director for the Bard College Clemente Course in the humanities, an innovative higher-education program for low-income and minority students sponsored by Rutgers University–Camden's Mid-Atlantic Regional Center for the Humanities. She also teaches African-American history at Camden County College; serves as project director for the African-American Community in Woodbury, New Jersey Oral History Project; and is a consultant for several museums. Her latest book is Feeding the Soul: Black Music, Black Thought.

In 2006, Turner curated “Look Again: African-American History is American History” at Philadelphia’s Rosenbach Museum & Library, the first exhibit of African and African-American items from the Rosenbach’s collection in the museum’s history.

Turner, a native of Malvern, Pa., holds three Temple degrees: She earned a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and art in 1983, a master’s degree in history in 1991 and a doctorate in history in 1993.

“I’m thrilled to be back at Temple and I’m honored to continue the Blockson legacy,” Turner said. “This world-class collection represents Mr. Blockson’s vision of promoting a greater understanding of African-American history by conserving and preserving historical materials in a repository that is easily accessible to all.”

Born in Norristown, Pa., Charles Blockson began his collection in his youth before becoming one of the nation’s leading experts on the Underground Railroad. Today’s Blockson Collection includes first-edition works by Phillis Wheatley and W.E.B. DuBois, African Bibles, correspondence of Haitian revolutionaries, Paul Robeson’s sheet music, narratives by Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass, thousands of taped interviews and radio programs, and more than 500,000 photographs.

The Blockson Collection soon will move to a new, larger, more prominent space made possible by President Hart on the first floor of Sullivan Hall. Currently housed in separate rooms totaling less than 2,000 square feet, the collection will occupy a single, contiguous, 3,000-square-foot space when construction is completed later this academic year. The new entrance to the collection will face Sullivan Hall's main doorway.

Philadelphia architecture firm Kelly/Maiello has been hired to design the collection's new space. Construction will begin during the fall 2007 semester, and will be completed in the 2007-08 academic year.

"The Blockson Collection's new home will be the kind of large, welcoming, open and well-lit space that the collection and the scholars who use it deserve," Hart said.

In fall 2006, Hart announced the formation of the Blockson Collection Endowment Committee, co-chaired by Temple Trustee James S. White and Deputy Provost Richard M. Englert, to honor the legacy and accomplishments of Charles Blockson by raising funds for the preservation and dissemination of his collection. The President's Office has allocated $100,000 to begin the process of building resources.