Scholar and historian Charles Blockson has become one of the foremost experts on Black history, culture and the Underground Railroad. He was born in Norristown, Pa.. on December 16, 1933.

Blockson, the oldest of eight, was raised in Norristown by his parents, Annie and Charles Blockson. He became interested in African history from an early age, due to an exchange with a substitute teacher in fourth grade that he recounted for a Penn State documentary. When he asked about African-American history, the teacher told young Blockson that Black people were here simply to serve the needs of whites.

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Blockson was also interested in sports. He played football while attending Pennsylvania State University, where he played with future Pittsburgh Steelers star Rosey Grier. After Blockson’s graduation in 1956, he went on to teach history as a human relations advisor for the Norristown Area School District.

Through his extensive travels, Blockson amassed a collection of African-American historical artifacts including slave narratives, books, audio recordings, sheet music, letters and audio for a total of over 500,000 items detailing the Black experience. His collection, the Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection,  is now held at Philadelphia’s Temple University where he donated it in 1984.

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A noted expert on the Underground Railroad, Blockson has written more a dozen books. His family history is irretrievably tied to the Underground Railroad, as his ancestor, Jacob Blockson, was one of the enslaved people that ran to freedom with the iconic emancipator Harriet Tubman.

A co-founder of The African-American Museum of Philadelphia, Blockson donated 39 items belonging to Tubman to the National Museum of African-American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. .Among other accolades, Blockson was awarded the prestigious Philadelphia Award, which recognizes an individual who has made significant contributions to the community.

 

PHOTO: Charles Blockson  Creative Commons License

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