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Series I: Correspondence, 1914 - 1971

Call Number: JWJ MSS 1050, Series I

Scope and Contents

Series I. Correspondence, documents Carl Van Vechten’s friendships and acquaintances with writers, artists, musicians, singers, actors, social activists and other members of the African-American community in New York City, and throughout the United States and abroad. The correspondence, which was formerly called “Letters from Blacks,” includes letters sent to Carl Van Vechten and his wife, Fania Marinoff, from Black artists, writers, and social activists, and from individuals corresponding about African-descended people and cultures. As noted in the processing note, decisions regarding the inclusion of correspondents in this collection were made by Van Vechten and curator Donald Gallup as the material was received by the library beginning in the 1940s, and those decisions have guided staff in subsequent processing of the collection.

The correspondence ranges from single letters to extensive correspondence documenting Van Vechten’s relationships with friends and associates over many years. Correspondents include writers James Baldwin, Charles W. Chesnutt, Countee Cullen, Owen Dodson, Chester Himes, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Nella Larsen Imes, James Weldon Johnson, and Richard Wright; composers and performers Marian Anderson, Pearl Bailey, William C. Handy, Nora Holt, J. Rosamond Johnson, Leontyne Price, Paul Robeson and his wife, Eslanda Robeson; artists Richmond Barthé and Aaron Douglas; educators Arna Bontemps, Elmer Samuel Imes, Harold Jackman, and Dorothy Peterson; and social activists Shirley Graham Du Bois , W.E.B. Du Bois, Grace Nail Johnson, Walter White and Roy Wilkins. Van Vechten’s philanthropic activities are documented by his correspondence with administrators and staff of institutions to which he donated collections of books, manuscripts, and photographs, including Fisk University, Howard University, Piney Woods Country Life School, and Wadleigh High School, among others, as well as individuals and institutions to which he provided financial support.

Folder-level scope and contents notes provide descriptions of third-party correspondents, photographs, writings, and other enclosures. In some cases, Van Vechten’s drafts and/or carbon copies of his outgoing letters to correspondents are included with the incoming letters. Letters to Fania Marinoff are interfiled with those to Van Vechten; folder-level scope and content notes indicate when an individual’s correspondence was sent only to Fania (FM).


  • 1914 - 1971


Language of Materials

From the Collection:

Chiefly in English.

Conditions Governing Access

From the Collection:

This collection is open for research.

Box 50 is for research use only, and may not be duplicated.

Boxes 80-81: Restricted fragile material. For further information consult the appropriate curator.


Organized into four subseries: A-Z Correspondence; Copies of Letters in Carl Van Vechten Papers from the New York Public Library; Christmas Cards; and Advertising Cards, Invitations to Clubs, Balls, and Restaurants. The A-Z Correspondence and Copies of Letters from the New York Public Library are arranged alphabetically by correspondent and chronologically within files. The Christmas Cards are arranged by year, then alphabetically by correspondent. The Advertising Cards and Invitations are arranged by size.

At some point in the past, library staff numbered each incoming letter from some correspondents in pencil. In cases where the numbering did not match the chronological ordering of the letters, current staff chronologically arranged them.


26.6 Linear Feet (58 boxes)

Processing Information

In preparing his papers for Yale, Van Vechten often provided separate manuscript and typed notes regarding individual correspondents, and/or annotated correspondence to explain or clarify the subjects of letters. In some cases, notes refer to enclosures that were not found during processing. Enclosures such as clippings, performance programs, writings, etc., that were sent with letters, were, in the past, often removed and added to other James Weldon Johnson Collection manuscript collections, per Van Vechten’s directions.

Part of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library Repository

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Access Information

The Beinecke Library is open to all Yale University students and faculty, and visiting researchers whose work requires use of its special collections. You will need to bring appropriate photo ID the first time you register. Beinecke is a non-circulating, closed stack library. Paging is done by library staff during business hours. You can request collection material online at least two business days in advance of your visit, using the request links in Archives at Yale. For more information, please see Planning Your Research Visit and consult the Reading Room Policies prior to visiting the library.