The Randolph Linsly Simpson African-American Collection consists chiefly of photographs dating from circa 1850 to 1970, but also includes printed illustrations, original artwork, documents, and ephemera that provide a record of black history in the United States for the period circa 1770 to 1970. The focus is on African-American subjects, but the collection also includes the work of black photographers, as well as images of white men and women, many of whom were associated with the abolitionist movement. Collected with a broad scope, the photographs represent the work of professional photographers in various regions of the United States and some European countries, and the formats present reflect the development of photographic processes, beginning with Daguerreotypes and extending through mid-twentieth century formats. The collection contains images of Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King, Marcus Garvey, W. E. B. DuBois, Paul Lawrence Dunbar, Sojourner Truth, Louis Armstrong, and Joe Louis, as well as of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, among other highly recognized figures. It also includes a large number of photographic portraits of lesser-known African-American subjects, including politicians, bankers, athletes, entertainers, domestic servants, formerly enslaved people, and soldiers. Among the few documents in the collection is a ship manifest noting enslaved people aboard the "Telegraph," out of Providence, Rhode Island, in 1811. The collection also includes three-dimensional artifacts such as commemorative spoons, lapel buttons, and a plaster bust of Booker T. Washington.
Note that there is some overlap between the series, and that images can be found not only in Series I. Visual Material, but in Series II. and III. as well. In Series II. Printed Material, several printed documents and booklets include illustrations or postcards. In Series III. Artifacts, images are often incorporated into objects.