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October 28, 2002

Special Collections receives donation of Hatch-Billops holdings

By Deb Hammacher

In what will greatly enhance teaching and research opportunities in 20th century African American studies, a portion of the Hatch/Billops Collection in New York—an extraordinary collection assembled during the past 35 years—has been donated to Emory by collectors Camille Billops and James Hatch.

The Hatch/Billops Collection, built by artist and filmmaker Billops and her husband Hatch, a theater historian, will continue its active program of documentation and acquisition, including development of the oral history archive and publication of an annual volume of interviews, “Artist and Influence: The Journal of Black American Cultural History.”

“Virtually every great research library in the United States has been built upon the core acquisition of a major private library; the Camille Billops and James V. Hatch gift is that order of gift for African American collections at Emory,” said Joan Gotwals, vice provost and director of libraries.

The donated materials will be known as the Camille Billops and James V. Hatch Archives. Materials include oral history tapes, scripts of unpublished plays, posters, photographs and many boxes of books and periodicals. Included among the several hundred playscripts received are works by Amiri Baraka, Ed Bullins, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Lorraine Hansberry, Zora Neale Hurston, Willis Richardson, Wole Soyinka, Melvin Van Peebles, Derek Walcott and Richard Wright.

“Emory received this wonderful gift not only because of the growing reputation of our collections, but also because of the commitment we were willing to make: This includes a designated space, a curator and fellowships for researchers,” said Linda Matthews, director of Special Collections.

The Billops and Hatch Archives will be a center for scholarly research in African American arts and letters, according to Randall Burkett, curator of African American collections. “This is, to my knowledge, the most important archive of African American arts and letters of the 20th century in private hands,” Burkett said. “The archive is a rich resource for students and scholars that significantly boosts the research offerings in African American studies at several Atlanta institutions. This sort of material will attract students and researchers from across the country.”

An archive of this nature is significant not just on its own merits, Burkett said, but in its ability to attract additional collections. One example already is the acquisition of approximately 25 boxes of the Delilah Jackson Archives. Jackson has been a rescuer of papers, photographs and memorabilia of New York performers of all kinds, including dancers, singers, musicians and theater folk.

The Hatch/Billops collection was born of necessity, according to one of the collectors. “[It] originated in 1968 when Camille and I were teaching art and literature respectively at the City College of New York,” Hatch said. “With the rise of the civil rights movement and a concomitant increase in racial consciousness, a demand rose for courses in black American art, drama and literature. We found that very little had been published on the history of the African American cultural arts, and much that had been published was out of print. We began collecting primary materials for our students, and soon, artists, writers and theater folk were sending material to us for safekeeping.”

With a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, Hatch and Billops began to conduct oral histories with artists in all disciplines—art, cinema, dance, drama, literature, music—and on related educational and political topics. Billops began photographing the works of black artists in exhibitions and private collections.

To complement this project, which now numbers nearly 10,000 slides, she and her husband assembled a library of books, periodicals and clippings. Hatch began to collect published and unpublished plays, set designs, theater programs, and historical and biographical works, and today the collection is one of the most comprehensive to be found.