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Joseph Rollins, Sr. and Charlemae Rollins Collection Artifacts

Finding Aid: Joseph Rollins, Sr. and Charlemae Rollins Collection Artifacts
Repository: The DuSable Museum of African American History

Joseph and Charlemae Rollins CollectionCharlemae Hill Rollins and Joseph Walter Rollins, Sr. were a prominent couple in Chicago's African American community from the 1920s through the 1970s. While Charlemae Rollins is more well-known nationally, Joseph Rollins held a high civic profile through his veterans' activities, and he was frequently noted in society columns in Jet and the Chicago Defender.

A librarian, educator, writer, and master storyteller, Charlemae Hill Rollins is chiefly remembered as the children's librarian at the George Cleveland Hall Branch of the Chicago Public Library, where she worked closely with Vivian G. Harsh. Rollins also befriended Federal Writers' Project writers working at the Hall Branch, including Langston Hughes, and was an early mentor to Margaret Burroughs, founder of the DuSable Museum, and the poet Gwendolyn Brooks, whose poem honoring Rollins's retirement in 1963 reads in part:

Rhymed reverence, For such excellence, Is microscopic treasure. Nothing is enough For one who gave us love— Who gave us clarity— Who gave us sentience— Who gave us definition— Who gave us her vision.

While pursuing graduate study at the University of Chicago, Charlemae Rollins wrote a research paper on representations of African Americans in children's literature and their impact on children, which would eventually be published as the pamphlet The Negro in Children's Books. This publication began the crusade for which Rollins would achieve national recognition. Working to have children's books depicting racist stereotypes removed from library purchasing lists, in 1941 she published another influential pamphlet, We Build Together, which outlined criteria for the selection of literature relating to African Americans and included an annotated bibliography, one of the first of its kind. The copy of the first edition of We Build Together in the DuSable Museum's Rollins collection (shown here) includes emendations for the second edition in Charlemae Rollins's hand.

A separate collection of Charlemae Rollins's papers and Charlemae Rollins's personal library were donated to the Chicago Public Library, Carter G. Woodson Regional Library, Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection of Afro-American History and Literature, another Mapping the Stacks repository.

Gwendolyn Brooks's poem “For Charlemae Rollins” is from an unpublished manuscript in the Joseph Rollins, Sr. and Charlemae Rollins Collection, Collection of the DuSable Museum of African American History.

Selected Artifacts

Joseph Rollins in his Military Order of the Cootie uniform, ca. 1975.  Joseph Rollins, Sr., served in the rank of Sergeant Major with the 356th Infantry, 92nd Division in France and Germany from 1918-1919. Joseph was active in local veterans' organizations. He was a charter member of the Major Charles L. Hunt Post No. 2024 of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and a founder of the Monkey Mountain Pup Tent No. 20 of the Military Order of the Cootie, a fraternal organization which describes itself as the 'honor degree' of the VFW.  Monkey Mountain Pup Tent No. 20 was the first African American Pup Tent in the United States. The collection includes substantial ephemera and some records of Rollins's activities in both the Charles L. Hunt Post no. 2024 of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Monkey Mountain Pup Tent No. 20 of the Military Order of the Cootie. The Rollins collection includes papers and photographs from Charlemae Rollins's mother Birdie Tucker Hill, who taught in the public schools in Yazoo City, Mississippi and later Beggs, Oklahoma, where the Rollins family migrated when Charlemae Rollins was still a young child. Oklahoma schools were racially segregated, and Birdie Hill was probably a member of the statewide Oklahoma Association of Negro Teachers. The Rollins Collection includes over 300 photographs, including several dozen photographs of Joseph Rollins's veteran activities ranging in date from the 1930s to the 1980s. This photograph of the founding members of Monkey Mountain Pup Tent no. 20, with Joseph Rollins in the center of the front row, was taken in 1938. Among the 300 photographs in the Rollins collection are a number of photographs of the Rollinses at home in Chicago and with friends around the city. A young Joseph Rollins is in the front row, second from the left, in this photograph, dated 1941.

Images and credits.