Elmwood Park Zoo is proud to announce its role in the creation of a new exhibition featuring one of the world’s largest collections of African American history and culture. “The Charles L. Blockson Exhibition: an African and Afro-American Collection,” will feature portions of Charles Blockson’s private collection of over 700,000 items and artifacts that are related to the global Black experience. The exhibition will make its public debut on Juneteenth weekend, in a brand new gallery space built inside the historic Centre Theater in Norristown.

Born in Norristown in 1933, Charles L. Blockson is world renowned for his expertise in Black genealogy and the Underground Railroad. His collection (featuring rare books, current periodicals, letters, photographs, artifacts and memorabilia) was amassed throughout his life-spanning career as a historian, bibliophile and author. The Charles L. Blockson Exhibition focuses on his life’s work in documenting the global Black experience through history. The exhibition at the Centre Theater is made possible by Mr. Blockson, Curator Emeritus, and The Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection, Temple University.

“It is a special honor to have this exhibition in Norristown because it not only represents my life but the life of people of African descent, and the agony of enslavement and the ecstasy of freedom,” said Mr. Blockson.

A sampling of items scheduled to be on display represent:

  • Manuscripts from music artist Tupac Shakur
  • Memorabilia from Mr. Blockson’s youth
  • Images of rare books available at the Blockson Collection including The Underground Railroad by William Still.
  • Photos by John W. Mosley, a self-taught Philadelphian photographer who chronicled black life in and around Philadelphia from the late 1930s to the late 1960s  
  • “Men of Color” Civil War recruitment poster; issued in 1863, this promotion that urged African American men to enlist in the Union army was written by Frederick Douglass

The Charles L. Blockson Exhibition is one of many unique cultural offerings under development in an effort to provide Montgomery County residents with increased access to arts and culture. Elmwood Park Zoo and The Centre Theater are leading this movement, along with community liaisons such as the Norristown Borough Council and Norristown School District, as well as strategic partners such as the Valley Forge Tourism and Convention Board. 

“I am overwhelmed by Mr. Blockson’s dedication to preserving so many tremendous and important pieces of history, and his willingness to share these items in Norristown is an outstanding gift to the community,” said Al Zone, Elmwood Park Zoo’s Executive Director and CEO. “My hope is that with this exhibition, along with the Centre Theater performances, the Zoo, and all of our other arts and culture institutions, folks from all over the region will flock to Norristown to experience all that we have to offer.

Further details on the exhibition are available at the Centre Theatre Gallery website at https://thecentretheater.com/gallery/. The Centre Theater is operated by The Greater Norristown Society for the Arts, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. 
For information on supporting the Charles L. Blockson Exhibition, contact Jennifer Conti at jconti@elmwoodparkzoo.org or (610) 277-3825 x 229.