Every age, every race, has its leaders and heroes.

~ Ohíye S'a (Charles A. Eastman)

Libraries tend to hold those materials that mainstream society values. Nowhere is this clearer than in the field of rare books. Because of the money required to assemble a strong collection of rare books, rare book collectors tend to come from positions of privilege and their collections reflect that privilege. Collectors have historically prioritized writings by culturally valorized authors. Rare books libraries, whether in private or institutional hands, are therefore often heavily Eurocentric with collections that emphasize the accomplishments of white straight men. These collecting tendencies further compound historical challenges faced by women writers, LGBTQ+ authors, and people of color in getting their voices heard.

This exhibit was born out of a desire to showcase materials within Special Collections at the University of Missouri that were produced by historically excluded people. These are people who have contributed to a variety of fields, from literature to social science, from social activism to polar exploration, but whose achievements are not as well-known as they should be. They are as much a part of history as their more aggressively researched white, male contemporaries and deserve to be celebrated both for their personal accomplishments and as a reminder of the challenges that were and are still faced by many members of society.

The exhibit is grouped chronologically with Henry “Box” Brown (c. 1815 – June 15, 1897) beginning the exhibit and Alison Bechdel (born 1960) concluding it, but you are free to explore it in any order that you wish.

A word on terminology

The term “Black” is being used to refer to Americans of African descent. The word is capitalized to express the shared experience of Black individuals within the United States. Black Americans have developed a culture unique from the myriad peoples and cultures on the African continent and the term “Black” attempts to honor that distinction.

The term “Native American” is used to refer to indigenous peoples who were living in the Americas prior to the arrival of European colonists in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. We are aware that it is a problematic term, as it conflates numerous cultures and nations into one category. To combat this, we use the names of Native American nations alongside Native American wherever possible.