Momentous and Timely

Pages from a notebook with two black and white photographs attached showing Sterling Brown as a student at Williams.

Note: Williams College Archives and Special Collections has organized a small celebration on April 30, 2021, in honor of Sterling Brown’s 120th birthday. Register for the virtual events here.

The Chapin Hall columns are immediately recognizable behind a young Sterling Allen Brown, who strikes a contemplative pose in the black and white photograph—hands in his pockets, face turned from the camera, looking off to his left, snow blanketing the ground. Brown, a 1922 graduate of Williams, went on to become one of the country’s most influential poets and scholars, rooting his poetry in folklore and Black vernacular.

Now this iconic photograph, along with books, manuscripts, letters and more, are housed in the Williams Libraries—a donation to the college from the Brown family.

Lisa Conathan, head of Special Collections, says the new archive will be “the cornerstone of our 20th-century American literary collections.” And Rhon S. Manigault-Bryant, associate professor of Africana studies, calls the acquisition “serendipitous, momentous and timely. … We anticipate that faculty, students, alumni and researchers alike will engage with his materials and learn a great deal about Black culture, poetry and the instrumental legacies of Black educators.”

Resources to catalog the material and make it accessible to researchers were made available through the Sterling Brown 1922 Endowment, established in 1990 by the Williams Black Alumni Network, with supporting gifts from various reunion classes.