Gumby, L. S. Alexander, 1885-1961

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Born Feb. 1, 1885, in Maryland, Gumby was the son of Evangelist Levi Thomas and Louisa Morris Gumby. In 1901, he and his sister were sent to live with their grandparents and there the young man who loved reading made his first scrapbook at the age of 16 with some old wallpaper and a paste of flour and water. Gumby's first clippings were of President McKinley's assassination in Sept. 1901.

He spent the next year at Dover State College in Delaware studying law to fulfill his grandmother's dream for him. But he became impatient and felt his skills were inadequate. He packed his scrapbooks and eventually headed to New York City, where he immediately fell in love with the place that would be his home until his death almost 60 years later.

"At once I became a New Yorker in spirit and principle for I found here more freedom of action than I had ever known before," Gumby wrote in his 1951 essay, "The Adventures of My Scrapbook," for the Columbia Library World. Gumby became an enthusiastic fan of theatre and art and "formed the habit" of collecting all the playbills, pictures, and clippings he could find of his favorites.

During those early years in New York, Gumby wrote that it seemed "a willingness to change jobs was a mark of a youth's ambition." A friend told him of a job as a waiter at Columbia and there he began his relationships with a number of professors and students. He also clipped "everything I could find" about popular professors and President Nicholas Murry Butler.

By 1910, he organized his clippings and began to take his role more seriously. Gumby studied other collections in libraries across the U.S. and Canada, and also began collecting rare book editions and manuscripts with the help of his wealthy friend who was a partner in a Wall Street firm. And he met with other collectors like Arturo Schomburg.

At the same time, Gumby took a variety of other jobs to help sustain his passion. He became, for instance, the personal butler of a wealthy banker in the same area now known as Riverdale's Wave Hill. Gumby also was a founding member of the Southern Utopia Fraternity, a group organized for "young men from the South who came to New York seeking a larger experience."

Soon he became better known more for his collection of rare editions than for his scrapbooks and he opened the Gumby Book Studio at 2144 Fifth Avenue between 131st and 132nd Streets in Harlem. The historian lined his studio with books and continued clipping and pasting historic documents in his scrapbooks. Gumby's Studio grew so popular that it became a gathering place for many artists, actors, musicians, intellectuals, gays and lesbians of the Harlem Renaissance. Gumby called it the first "unpremeditated interracial movement in Harlem."

Meanwhile, Gumby's reputation as "The Count" and "Mr. Scrapbook" also continued to grow and he was asked to exhibit his collections in cities along the East Coast, earning him a listing in the 1922 edition of the Private Book Collectors' Who's Who. But by the Crash of 1929, Gumby's wealthy friend lost millions and the Studio lost support of its regulars. The collapse took such a toll on Gumby that he was forced to give up the Studio, sell many of his editions, and store his scrapbooks in the cellar of an acquaintance's house.

"The loss of my studio and fatigue from overwork," he wrote, sent Gumby first to Riverside Hospital in the Bronx and then to Randall's Island Hospital where he spent the next four years. In both hospitals, though, he continued collecting newspaper articles (some about his own hospitalization), photographs of visiting friends, and get well cards, all of which are included in his six autobiographical scrapbooks.

When he was released in 1934, Gumby set about retrieving his collections and restoring their condition, all the time adding more and more clippings, autographs and other documents. By 1950 he gave his collection to Columbia and in 1951, the University hired him for eight months to organize the materials.

Alexander Gumby considered his "History of the Negro in Scrapbook" more than a hobby. He wrote that, "The collection could well be called 'The Unwritten History.'" Gumby concentrated on African American history primarily because, "There are so many surprising and startling historical events pertaining to, or relating to the American Negro that are not recorded in the Standard Histories, dictionaries and school text-books, or if so, they are shaded so that they sound like a Ripley's 'Believe It or Not.' "

From "Black History Remains Alive in Alexander Gumby's Popular Scrapbooks" By Jo Kadlecek. Columbia News. Published: Feb 18, 2002.

From the guide to the Alexander Gumby Collection of Negroiana, [ca. 1800]-1981, (Columbia University. Rare Book and Manuscript Library, )

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf Gumby, L. S. Alexander, 1885-1961,. Collection of Negroiana, [ca. 1800]-1981, [microform]. Columbia University in the City of New York, Columbia University Libraries
creatorOf Gumby, L. S. Alexander, 1885-1961,. Alexander Gumby collection of Negroiana, [ca. 1800]-1981. Columbia University in the City of New York, Columbia University Libraries
creatorOf Alexander Gumby Collection of Negroiana, [ca. 1800]-1981 Columbia University. Rare Book and Manuscript Library,
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Baker, Josephine, 1906-1975. person
associatedWith Cullen, Countee, 1903-1946. person
associatedWith Douglass, Frederick, 1818-1895. person
associatedWith Dumas, Alexandre, 1824-1895. person
associatedWith Garrison, William Lloyd, 1805-1879. person
associatedWith Joplin, Scott, 1868-1917. person
associatedWith Lincoln, Abraham, 1809-1865 person
associatedWith Lincoln, Abraham, 1809-1865. person
associatedWith Louis, Joe, 1914-1981. person
associatedWith McKay, Claude, 1890-1948. person
associatedWith Mencken, H. L. (Henry Louis), 1880-1956. person
associatedWith Pickens, William, 1881-1954. person
associatedWith Robeson, Paul, 1898-1976. person
associatedWith Smith, Albert Alex. person
associatedWith Washington, Booker T., 1856-1915. person
Place Name Admin Code Country
United States
United States
United States
Subject
African American women
African Americans in the performing arts
African Americans--Social conditions
Slavery--United States
African Americans
African American teachers
African Americans--History
African American athletes
African American scientists
Slavery
Occupation
Function

Person

Birth 1885-02-01

Death 1961-03-16

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