By Christopher Harter
Creator: Wells, Eric Steele (1912-)
Extent: 3.43 Linear Feet
Date Acquired: 09/03/1969
The Eric Steele Wells papers document the family and education of Wells, a native of Charleston, South Carolina, especially Avery Institute in Charleston, where Wells attended school. The bulk of the collection includes material reflecting Wells' interest in collecting materials related to African American and African history. The collection contains correspondence, photographs, financial documents, Avery Institute publications and school documents, posters, printed ephemera, newsclippings and magazine articles, audiovisual material, and published papers.
The collection is arranged by personal and family records, materials related to Avery Institute, and materials collected by Wells throughout his life. A significant portion of the materials include handwritten notes by Wells regarding the significance of the individual items within the collection. The correspondence includes letters from his grandparents and other family members, as well as general correspondence. The bulk of the correspondence is from Wells' grandmother, Marie Steele, who raised him. Other correspondents include Wells' grandfather, Lewis; his uncle, Louis; and his brother, Thomas. The correspondence deals mainly with family matters and news.
General correspondence includes letters from Marie Pierce, who assisted in caring for Wells' grandparents in their later years; Herbert DeCosta, for many years the only African American licensed architect in South Carolina; and other friends that provide information about various members of the African American community in Charleston. Letters of note include a June 1969 letter from Martha Nickens about the Charleston Hospital Strike, as well as letters to Clifton Johnson, director of the Amistad Research Center, regarding Wells' collecting interests and the donation of his papers to the Center (1969-1971), a photocopy of a letter (April 26, 1969) written by Wells to his employer regarding employment inequities, and a letter from Ora W. Mobley of the Central Harlem Mothers Association (April 7, 1969). Lastly, a series of letters from former teachers at Avery Institute (Mrs. Florence A. Clyde, Mrs. Ruby Cornwall, Mrs. B.F. Cox, and A.W. Hoursey) and from the Avery Alumni Club are also included. Additional family materials include Lewis Steele's dues book and constitution of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America and Seventh Day Adventist and Watchtower Society publications collected by Maria Steele.
Materials related to Avery Institute include Well's diploma and a report card; a photograph of the graduating class of 1930; student newspapers; graduation programs and invitations; articles on the school; a school pennant, patch, and armband; and an essay written by Wells on the topic of "Charleston Vendors" (i.e., markets).
Eric Steele Wells was a lifelong collector of materials related to African American and African history, and his collected materials comprise the majority of his papers. These materials are generally arranged alphabetically by topic, and include printed ephemera, collected publications, photographs, and news clippings. Topics or individuals documented include: the city of Charleston, South Carolina; the presidential campaigns (1968) of Eldridge Cleaver and Dick Gregory; individuals and organizations such as Angela Davis, The Black Panther Party, Martin Luther King Jr., The Poor People's Theater, and Paul Robeson; churches in New York City, including Abyssinian Baptist Church, Mother A.M.E. Zion Church, and St. George's. African American dance, art, theater, and music are documented in collected flyers, playbills, programs, and sheet music.
In addition, materials related to Kenneth B. Clark and the Metropolitan Applied Research Center, as well as the topic of secondary education in New York City, are also included. Collected photographs are mainly comprised of publicity images of African American actors/actresses, musicians, and entertainers.
Topics of newspaper clippings include: the New York City Ballet, Nikki Giovanni, Ethel Waters, J. Waties Waring, Augustus Middleton, Duke Ellington, Paul Robeson, the Charleston Hospital Strike, Herbert DeCosta, Langston Hughes, and W.E.B. DuBois. Audiovisual materials include open reel audiotapes of interviews with Helen Purvis on Avery Institute and with Ruth Conyers, daughter of James Conyers, the first African American to enter the U.S. Naval Academy, as well as a World War II-era USO recording.
Eric Steele Wells was a graduate of Avery Institute in Charleston, South Carolina. Upon graduation, he moved to New York City, where he worked for Bell Telephone Laboratories and developed a collection of materials related to African-Americana and Africana.
Eric Steele Wells, was born in 1912 to Susie Gibson Steele and Thomas Wells of Charleston, South Carolina. He was raised by his material grandparents, Marie and Louise Steele. His siblings included Louise A. Allston and Thomas Wells. Eric Wells attended the American Missionary Association's Avery Normal Institute in Charleston, graduating in 1930. Following his graduation, he moved to New York City and lived in Harlem and Greenwich Village. Upon his arrival, he worked as a dishwasher, waiter, and chauffer. He studied machine craft at night at the Connecticut Technical School in Stamford, Connecticut, while working as a chauffer. Afterwards, he began works as a trainee-apprentice at The Bell Telephone Laboratories in 1943 and rose to Engineer-Associate at The Western Electric Company. He was employed as a skilled mechanical craftsman for over 26 years in the research laboratories at American Telephone & Telegraph Company. Beginning in Charleston and continuing into his New York days, Wells developed an interest in collecting materials related to African Americans and Africana.
Wells married Florence Gorden of New York in 1947; they had one daughter, Susan Marie, in 1954. Wells also had nine half brothers and sisters with the family name Herndon, many of whom lived in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Access Restrictions: This collection is open for research.
Use Restrictions: Copyright to these papers has not been assigned to the Amistad Research Center. It is the responsibility of an author to secure permission for publication from the holder of the copyright to any material contained in this collection.
Technical Access Note: Phonograph record and open reel audio tapes unavailable for use at this time.
Acquisition Source: Eric Steele Wells
Acquisition Method: Gift
Appraisal Information: The Eric Steele Wells papers document the family and education of Wells, a native of Charleston, South Carolina, especially Avery Institute in Charleston, where Wells attended school. The bulk of the collection includes material reflecting Wells' interest in collecting materials related to African American and African history.
African Heritage Magazine, Vol. 2, no. 1 (January 1964).
Apartheid in South Africa: Summary of the Report of the Special Committee on the Policies of Apartheid of the Government of the Republic of South Africa. New York: United Nations, n.d.
Breitman, George. Malcolm X: The Man and His Ideas. New York: Merit Publishers, 1969.
Negro Americans: The Early Years. New York: Classics Illustrated, 1969.
Comas, Juan. Racial Myths. Paris: UNESCO, 1961.
Downbeat. Vol. 19, No. 22 (November 5, 1952).
Drum. No. 151 (November 1963).
Dunn, L.C. Race and Biology. Paris: UNESCO, 1961.
Ghana Reconstructs. Vol. 2, no. 7 (1962), Vol. 3, no. 1-3 (1963).
Giovanni, Nikki. Black Judgement. Detroit, MI: Broadside Press, 1968.
Giovanni, Nikki. Poem of Angela Yvonne Davis. New York: Printed by Afro Arts, Inc., 1970.
Greenough, Richard. Africa Calls...: Development of Education, the Needs and Problems. Paris: UNESCO, 1961.
Higginson, Thomas Wentworth. Denmark Vesey. Los Angeles, CA: Bryant Foundation, 1962.
Jackson, James E. Three Brave Men Tell How Freedom Comes to an Old South City - Nashville, Tenn. New York: Publisher's New Press, 1963.
Jahoda, Marie. Race Relations and Mental Health. Paris: UNESCO, 1960.
Jet. Vol. XXXV, No. 20 (February 20, 1969).
Klineberg, Otto. Race and Psychology. Paris: UNESCO, 1961.
Kudrayavtsev, V. Friend and Ally in the Struggle for Independence and Freedom. London: Soviet Booklets, 1963.
Levi-Strauss, Claude. Race and History. Paris: UNESCO, 1961.
Little, Kenneth L. Race and Society. Paris: UNESCO, 1961.
Masyukevich, V. General and Complete Disarmament: What It Means for Asia and Africa. London: Soviet Booklets, 1963.
Miller, Henry. The Amazing and Invariable Beauford DeLaney. New York: Alicat Book Shop, 1945.
Morant, G.M. The Significance of Racial Differences. Paris: UNESCO, 1961.
Numade, N. Three Essays on the African Revolution. New York: New Century Publishers, 1963.
Second African Conference on Bilharziasis. World Health Organization Technical Report Series, No. 204. Geneva: World Health Organization, 1960.
Shapiro, Harry L. Race Mixture. Paris: UNESCO, 1960. Liberty or Slavery. The Great National Question. Three Prize Essays on American Slavery. Boston, MA: Congregational Board of Publication, 1857.
Thant, U. The Congo: An Account of United Nations Action and a Look Ahead. Reprinted from United Nations Review, Vol. 10, no. 2, February 1963.
Thurston, R.B., A.C. Baldwin and Timothy Williston.
United Nations Aid to Africa. New York: United Nations, 1961.
Winston, Henry. What It Means to be a Communist. New York: New Century Publisher, 1951.
Wood, Clement (ed.). The Best Negro Jokes. Girard, KS: Haldeman-Julius Company, n.d.
X, Malcolm. Malcolm X Talks to Young People. New York: Merit Publishers, 1969.
X, Malcolm. Two Speeches, New York: Merit Publishers, 1969.
Related Materials: The McClennan Family papers and the William F. Holmes scrapbook contain material related to the history of Charleston, South Carolina. The American Missionary Association archives addenda contains material related to Avery Institute.
Preferred Citation: Eric Steele Wells papers, Amistad Research Center at Tulane University, New Orleans, LA
Processing Information: Collection processed in September-October 2011.
Titles include: Arms and the Girl, The Member of the Wedding, Shuffle Along, Purlie Victorious, Bamboche!, Tiger Tiger Burning Bright
Performers include: Pearl Bailey, Katherine Dunham, Ethel Waters, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Claudia McNeil
Titles include: Othello, The Amen Corner, To Be Young Gifted and Black: The World of Lorraine Hansberry, An Evening of Dramatic Arts presented by Freedomways Magazine, Hello Dolly!, Ceremonies in Dark Old Men, Boesman and Lena, Black Girl, Jerico-Jim Crow, Shuffle Along
Performers include: Earle Hyman, Bea Richards, Pearl Bailey, Richard Ward, James Earl Jones, Ruby Dee