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Special Collections

Historical Collections

Our Special Collections contain a variety of historical materials that span from Michigan's early colonial period to the second World War. These materials vary from maps and glass lantern slides to letters and artifacts of the Civil War.

African American Literature Special Collections

The African American Literature Special Collection (AALSC) was initially focused on literature written by African Americans from Detroit or who wrote about the city. It has developed into a comprehensive collection of works by and about African American authors. Topics include slavery, race relations, Black leaders, performers and athletes, United States history, political activism, folklore, Africa, and religion.

There are over 4,500 unique titles in this collection that spans from 1807 to 2014.

Arthur L. Johnson African-American History Collection

The Arthur L. Johnson collection of books, videos and non-print materials reflects the history of African Americans as it relates to the civil rights movement in the United States. The purpose of the collection is to serve the teaching and research needs of students and faculty, as well as the Detroit metropolitan community. The collection began in 1993 with a donation of several print and non-print materials from Arthur L. Johnson and the establishment of the Arthur L. Johnson Endowment.

Dennis Glen Cooper Collection

Dennis Glen Cooper (1905-1995) was a Detroit science teacher, travel writer and lecturer, photographer and filmmaker. He also hosted a local television show in the 1950s.

This collection consists primarily of images Cooper took, including many taken on location in the Philippines and New Guinea, during World War II. It also includes newspaper articles, manuscripts, and booklets, much of it focused on Isle Royale, Michigan during the 1930s. The glass slides have been reformatted and added to the library’s Digital Collections. The digitized images can be found here:
Dennis Cooper Glass Slides Collection

Frank Howard Collection of Civil War History

Frank Howard was a well known Michigan collector who put together one of the largest Civil War collections in the Midwest, focused particularly on Abraham Lincoln. The collection was purchased by the Wayne State University Libraries in the 1950s and the books were disbursed into the regular collections.

The non-book portion of the collection includes manuscripts, periodicals, postcards, signature books, ephemera, and artifacts.

Notable items include a lock of Lincoln's hair, a bloodied piece of bunting from the theater box where Lincoln was assassinated, and the sister pistol to the gun used to assassinate Lincoln.

Some of the letters from this collection have been digitized and are available in the WSU Library System Digital Collections.

Catalog records for the books in this collection can be found here. The other materials from this collection are described in this finding aid.

Leonard N. Simons Collection of Rare Michigan History Texts

Mr. Simons was a native Detroiter and attended “Old Main” in the 1920s when it was called the Detroit Central High School. His career was in advertising and he was a founding member of the Detroit-based Simons Michelson Zieve advertising agency. He served in the governance of many organizations, including the Board of Advisors for the Wayne State University Press and as the President and a Commissioner for the Detroit Historical Museum. Mr. Simons was instrumental in the creation of the “Streets of Old Detroit” exhibit in the museum. He was also a prolific fund-raiser and very much believed in giving back to society.

The Simons Collection started as a collection of books about the Northwest Territories, but the sheer volume of material available forced Mr. Simons to eventually limit the collection to Michigan-related books. Mr. Simons had most of these books rebound in beautiful full leather bindings with gold tooled lettering. 

Van Riper Family Correspondence

This collection is made up of of 78 letters written between 1836-1889 to members of the Van Riper family of Wayne County, Michigan. The majority of the letters are between cousins, Alexander and Henry Van Riper, from the years surrounding the Civil War; others are written between various family members and friends. The letters that date from the Civil War era discuss the daily realities of solider life such as illness, homesickness, and camp life. Also of topic are battles and other important Civil War events, including the burning of Atlanta and the assassination of President Lincoln. Letters written during these years by family members who did not join the infantry reveal the impact the war had on those at home. In these letters they discuss their concerns and feelings surrounding the war as well as recount everyday events in their lives. Letters dated from the years leading up to and after the Civil War are from family members discussing their daily lives and include topics such as school, farm work, harvest, health and travel.