In honor of Black History Month, the Department of Africana Studies and University Archives and Special Collections at California State University, Dominguez Hills (CSUDH) present “The Font of Black Culture in Los Angeles: The Alfred and Bernice Ligon Aquarian Collection” beginning Feb. 10
Featuring historical items from the famed Aquarian Book Shop in Los Angeles that were recently donated to the university’s archives department, the exhibit will run through Sept. 1 in the archives’ gallery. To commemorate the donation and the opening of the exhibit, a special reception will take place from 4 to 6 p.m. on Feb. 10.
“I am proud and honored to have facilitated the acquisition of this remarkable collection,” said Salim Faraji, associate professor or Africana studies at CSUDH. “Being born and raised in Philadelphia I heard about the Aquarian Book Shop through the scholarship of one of its most esteemed thinkers, the late Dr. Richard King. I have now been in Los Angeles for 20 years and this is my proudest achievement.”
Alfred and Bernice Ligon were proprietors of the Aquarian Book Shop from 1941 until it closed permanently in 1994. The longest-running black-owned bookstore in the country, the Aquarian Book Shop was often described as the “Font of Black Culture in Los Angeles” and the “Citadel of Black Intellectualism on the West Coast,” not only for its inventory of black literature but also for being a gathering place for a who’s-who of African American writers and thinkers of the day.
Since the death of Alfred Ligon in 2002, the Aquarian Spiritual Center, which he also founded, had been the stewards of collection. Last year, members approached Faraji about the university’s interest in properly preserving the items.
According to Faraji, the Ligons’ private collection of 5,000 books, journals, media, art and related materials from more than half a century in business represent history, culture, philosophy and life of African Americans and the African Diaspora in Los Angeles. In addition, the collection’s assortment of books and papers on metaphysical and occult studies illustrate how such practices as yoga, Eastern philosophy, ritual and the esoteric have roots in Africa.
“It’s very significant to finally get a place for the Alfred and Bernice Ligon Aquarian Collection,” said Marvin Matthews, a member of the Aquarian Spiritual Center and co-curator of the collection. “For almost 15 years the contents were in a kind of prison with no peering eyes or inquiring minds entering their domain. Now they can be honored for what they were created for.”
The collection is the largest donation the University Archives has received of African American and metaphysical books.
“With the help of community members who preserved this collection over several years, this archive and book collection is now in the library and we look forward to making it accessible to all who are interested,” said Greg Williams, director of University Archives and Special Collections.
“The Font of Black Culture in Los Angeles: The Alfred and Bernice Ligon Aquarian Collection” will feature key items such as photos, posters, magazines, programs and many of the 5,000 books donated, including autographed copies of books by Langston Hughes, Alex Haley, Maya Angelou.
The Feb. 10 opening reception is sponsored by the University Library and the Department of Africana Studies.
The University Archives and Special Collections research and exhibit space is located on the fifth floor of the University Library South Wing. Exhibit hours are from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.
For more information, contact University Archives and Special Collections at (310) 243-3895.