Collection MSG 1342 - Roy States Black History Collection

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Roy States Black History Collection

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Physical description

Approximately 140 linear cm of textual materials, 34 linear cm of graphic materials, 682 volumes and 4 objects.

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Biographical history

Roy Wellington States, CD, (1919-1980) was a Black activist, amateur historian and McGill staff member who as a teenager began a lifelong pursuit of collecting books and other information about Black people in history and contemporary society. These materials would ultimately be donated by his estate to McGill University's Rare Books and Special Collections in 1981, at which time they constituted the largest Black history collection in private hands in Canada.

States was born on February 15, 1919, in New Glasgow, Pictou County, Nova Scotia, to a family descended from Loyalists who had fled the American Revolution. He attended New Glasgow High School, taking a five-year break between 8th and 9th grade to help support his family after his father was blinded in a workplace accident.

He volunteered for the Canadian Army in 1939, at the outbreak of the Second World War. In an example of the overt racism he experienced all his life, he was turned away on the grounds that the service "was a white man's army, and this was a white man's war." He nonetheless succeeded in enlisting on August 1, 1940 in the Pictou Highlanders, a local Canadian Army infantry regiment. He served in several locations during the war, including northwestern Europe and Germany, and was awarded five decorations. Demobilized in 1947, he returned to Nova Scotia and studied at Horton Academy, where he received a Licentiate in Theology in 1949.

States worked for a year as student pastor, then became disenchanted with Black churches because what they taught did not match what Black history had showed him. He moved in 1953 to Montreal, where he would reside for the rest of his life. In 1954 he re-enlisted with the regular Armed Forces, in which he served until 1969. States was able to visit 33 countries in the performance of his military duties, as well as during leaves and furloughs, and everywhere he traveled he visited libraries and sought out books about Blacks. He also had the opportunity to meet and talk with prominent Black leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King and, on a separate occasion in Boston, Malcolm X.

States retired from the Army in 1969, at age 50. Involved since the late 1940s in advocating for civil rights and promoting greater knowledge of Black history, he now devoted even more of his time to these pursuits. These activities included writing newspaper columns and giving conference presentations, as well as working in various capacities for the National Black Coalition of Canada.

In 1973, States took a position as Supervisor of Special Events and Activities at McGill University's Department of Physical Plant. His role was to make the physical arrangements for events such as public lectures, concerts and ceremonial occasions, including the University's twice-yearly Convocations and the Installation ceremonies for new Principals. One of his enduring contributions in this role was the creation of a gold-fringed blue velvet antependium, embroidered with the University's coat of arms, to decorate the speaker's lectern at these ceremonies; its basic design is still in use today.

Roy States received several honours during his lifetime for his achievements, notably a special plaque from the National Black Coalition of Canada "in recognition of many years of devoted services to Canada, particularly the Black community and the NBCC." It was presented to him in Halifax on November 3, 1979, almost exactly one year before his death at age 61, in Montreal, on November 13, 1980.

Custodial history

The Roy States Black History Collection was donated to McGill University's Rare Books and Special Collections in 1981 by the estate of Roy Wellington States.

Scope and content

The fonds consists of books and other materials about Black people in history and contemporary society which Roy States collected from his teenage years to the end of his life. The materials are primarily English-language works produced during his lifetime, and the majority of them are from Canada or the United States. The physically largest series within the collection (Series B, Monographs) consists of 679 published volumes, most of them books and a smaller number of them booklets. These volumes are all catalogued individually, with a common sublocation of "Roy States Collection" within Rare Books and Special Collections. The remaining series contain a diversity of published, ephemeral, and unpublished materials, including various items by or about Roy States himself. Series A is a group of biographical materials and other items which relate directly to States. Series C consists of booklets and brochures. Series D consists of complete issues of newspapers, and Series E consists of complete issues of serials other than newspapers. Series F contains an assortment of newspaper and magazine clippings, as well as reprinted or photocopied extracts from books, journals and other works. Series G contains materials relating to conferences and meetings, chiefly involving groups and organizations advocating for civil rights; the materials include programs, agendas, minutes and reports, as well as the text of various speeches presented at these events. Series H consists primarily of graphic materials which have been mounted in cardboard-and-plastic display sleeves or in glass-fronted wooden frames. Series I is a group of miscellaneous materials such as studies, reports, typescripts, bibliographies and leaflets.

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Donated in 1981 by the estate of Roy Wellington States.


A Roy States Biographical Materials
B Monographs
C Booklets and Brochures
D Newspapers
E Journals, Magazines and Newsletters
F Clippings and Extracts
G Conference and Meeting Materials
H Graphic Materials and Realia
I Miscellanea

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  • English
  • French

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