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  • April Green

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  • April Green

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Group of African Americans at the beach.

A group of African Americans enjoying a beach in San Diego, California, circa 1930. Image courtesy of UC San Diego Library, Special Collections & Archives.

UC San Diego Library’s Special Collections and Archives Acquires its First African Americana Collection

Collection chronicles the African American experience post-Civil War and documents migration West

A photo of Reuben the Guide

A photo of “Reuben the Guide,” a San Diego resident well-known for guiding tourists between San Diego and Tijuana, Mexico, circa 1900. Image courtesy of UC San Diego Library, Special Collections & Archives.

The UC San Diego Library announced today the addition of its first African Americana collection—the Turner Collection—to its Special Collections & Archives (SC&A). Donated by Steve Turner, a UC San Diego alumnus ‘82 and an avid collector, the collection is comprised of more than 300 items including rare photographs, pamphlets, photocards, posters and pinback buttons, many from the 19th century and all of which shed new light on the African American experience, particularly in the American West.

“We are honored to have received this collection,” said Erik Mitchell, the Audrey Geisel University Librarian. “Each piece offers a window into American history, showing a different perspective on times past—how compelling and necessary. It is our pleasure to present these materials to the UC San Diego community and public through our Special Collections & Archives.”

Turner’s focus was on a less well-known migration of African Americans to the West that preceded the great migration from the South between 1916 and 1970. His collection brings to light the story of pioneer immigrants who moved west after the Civil War and before World War II.

Photocard of African-American tourists in Tijuana, Mexico.

Photocard illustrating African-American tourists in Tijuana, Mexico, 1925. Image courtesy of UC San Diego Library, Special Collections & Archives.

Turner wrote, “Their story is one of achievement, participation and the pursuit of the American dream. They range from ordinary citizens to civic leaders and include everything in between… As these items migrate from my collection, I hope that a new generation of scholars will work to flesh out new understandings of both places and peoples.”

Library staff are currently working to digitize many of the materials in the Turner Collection in order to make them readily available to the community via the Library’s Digital Collections website.

“We are confident that these materials will be highly sought after for research and instruction at the university,” said Lynda Claassen, longtime director of the Library’s Special Collections & Archives. “We plan to digitize as many of the materials as possible, thereby expanding their reach, and hope to complete the digitization by year end.”

A poster of Jimi Hendrix.

A poster of the famed musician Jimi Hendrix. Image courtesy of UC San Diego Library, Special Collections & Archives.

Today, the UC San Diego Library provides access to more than 7 million digital and print volumes, journals and multimedia materials. The Turner Collection will join other prominent collections housed in the Library’s Special Collections & Archives, located at Geisel Library, including the Hill Collection of Pacific Voyages, Southworth Spanish Civil War Collection, Archive for New Poetry and many more.

While Geisel Library remains closed due to the pandemic, Special Collections & Archives is offering research appointments for UC San Diego students, faculty and staff. Research appointments are limited to requests that are not available online, or that cannot be fulfilled through the Library’s remote service offerings.

For more information about the Turner Collection, please email

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