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Path Press Archives

Finding Aid: Path Press Archives
Repository: Chicago Public Library, Carter G. Woodson Regional Library, Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection of Afro-American History and Literature

Path Press ArchivesPath Press, originally founded in 1969, was one of the first black-owned publishing companies in the United States. Its founders, Herman C. Gilbert and Bennett Johnson (now the Vice President of Haki Madhubuti's Third World Press), launched the press with two publications—the late Frank London Brown's second and final novel, The Myth Maker, and Herman C. Gilbert's first, The Uncertain Sound. The press closed due to financial difficulties, but launched again ten years later with Gilbert's second novel.

The press peaked in 1987, when it published five books, including American Diary, the autobiography of former Chicago Defender editor Enoch P. Waters, and Mary Wilson's To Benji, With Love. However, by the 1990s, the press had begun to concentrate most of its efforts on other aspects of the black media, including black book distribution and film. Nevertheless, despite its brief list of published titles, the press's archive tells a story that is central to the early history of black publishing and black entrepreneurship alike.

The Path Press Archive contains extensive correspondence, manuscripts and other materials relating to The Negotiations, To Benji, With Love, American Diary and its other published titles. It also contains a number of unpublished manuscripts by unknown authors, and well-known authors such as Ellis N. Cose and David Covin. There is also material relating to two unpublished anthologies: one would have been a tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr.; the other would have been a poetry anthology edited by Margaret Burroughs. Finally, the collection includes a detailed record of the press's business practice, including sales records, MBE certification applications, business prospectuses, and several cases of litigation and Better Business Bureau complaints. There is also information on the press's attempts to produce black films, and detailed records from their years in black book distribution.

Selected Artifacts

The Negotiations, Herman C. Gilbert's second novel, was published by Path Press in 1983 and became a literary sensation within the black community.  The novel was set in the not-so-distant future (1987), just as black Americans had finished voting to separate from the United States and form an independent nation.  It sold over 11,000 copies in hardback, and helped to cement Path Press's position at the forefront of black publishing in Chicago. Draft of a press release for Frank London Brown's Remembrance Ceremony, held upon the publication of Brown's posthumous novel, The Myth Maker, published in December 1969.  The ceremony was hosted by Path Press's founders, Bennett Johnson and Herman Gilbert, and featured speakers such as Harold Washington, Margaret Burroughs and John Oliver Killens, amongst others. Photograph taken at the Frank London Brown's Remembrance Ceremony, Path Press's inaugural event, with a clipping from the Chicago Defender announcing the event. Sitting (l to r) are Bennett Johnson and a young Harold Washington; standing is John Oliver Killens, author and Pulitzer Prize nominee. Letter from Reverend Jesse Jackson to Herman Gilbert regarding his contribution to a planned MLK Jr. anthology (never published), 28 April 1969. Letter from Herman Gilbert to Alice Browning, 23 February 1970, with the poem to which Gilbert refers, published in Browning's magazine, Negro Story, in April/May 1946. Letter from Herman Gilbert to Enoch Waters regarding American Diary (1987), with a heavily edited manuscript page from the book, and a surprisingly appreciative note from Waters in response, 18 February 1983. Herman Gilbert's answers to an interview question posed by James Kwame Clay after the publication of The Negotiations (1983), 22 June 1984.  As Gilbert's first published poem also suggests, Gilbert started writing while serving as a soldier stationed in India in World War II. Flyer for Herman Gilbert at the Round Table for African-American History, held at the DuSable Museum, 18 November 1984. Zack and Herman Gilbert, ca. 1984.  Zack, Herman's brother and an established poet, published Up North Big City Street (1987) with Path Press, and offered his editing, illustration and layout services to the press throughout its run. Ben Wilson was a high school basketball star who was shot to death the day before the first game of his senior season.  His fame shone national attention on inner-city violence and the insufficiency of many hospitals in poor areas, and Path Press published his mother's account of the tragedy in 1987.  Featuring a forward by the mayor of Chicago, Harold Washington, the book sold 4,000 copies in hardback and 9,000 in copies paperback.  Mary Wilson is shown here with Jesse Jackson, planning Benji's funeral in Reverend Jackson's home, 1984 (photo credit: John White, Chicago Sun-Times). Hand-drawn mock-up of the cover of American Diary, by Enoch P. Waters, published in 1987. First page of a lost Negotiations screenplay adapted by Reginald Clifford Williams, ca. 15 July 1988, with a note from Bennett Johnson, 16 January 1991.  The Path Press Archive also features a full screenplay of The Negotiations, adapted by Lenwood Robinson.

Images and credits.