Collectors Flock to Black Memorabilia Show

Special to Informer | 5/3/2012, 11:54 a.m.

The Silver Spring Armory may be a distant memory but the National Black Memorabilia & Collectible Show certainly isn't. In 1984, the armory hosted the first show in the United States and since that time, it's attracted crowds from across the country.

Last month the show returned amid much fanfare for its 28th year at the Montgomery County Fairgrounds in Gaithersburg, Md.

Uniting commerce with education, more than 80 diverse vendors filled the two-story building as collectors filed through the doors and into a veritable wonderland of historical artifacts and collectibles.

Collector and promoter Lindsey Johnson, said the show attracts an eclectic group - from truck drivers to academics - and all ethnicities.

"I told him to let me in because I'm your brother," joked Steve Castle, 70, of Alexandria, Va., a former Navy Federal Credit Union employee. Castle and Johnson greeted one another with a hearty hug.

"He's a regular," said Johnson, a native of Little Rock, Ark., and a retired IBM employee.

His buddy took the opportunity to talk about the annual event.

"This is the best show around," Castle said as he made his way inside. "I collect everything from A to Z."

The friendly exchange between Johnson and Castle exemplifies the spirit of camaraderie that exists between the vendors and the more than 1,000 novice and seasoned collectors who attend the show each year.

From the African Diaspora to artifacts from the Antebellum South to the Civil Rights movement to ephemera that commemorates President Obama, the show's vendors rattled off facts with the authority of historians who specialize in their own unique area of African-American history.

"All of American history is on money and stamps," said Sherrod Gresham, 58, a social worker from Knightdale, N.C., while holding a stamp and commemorative coin that honored Booker T. Washington.

"Some people specialize in just paper money," Gresham, author of the book, "African Americans on U.S. Currency & Numismatic Materials: Coins and Medals", said "but I collect any and all forms of currency."

Gresham said that five African-Americans' signatures have appeared on United States legal tender. The first being former United States Senator Blanche K. Bruce from Mississippi. Bruce served two terms as register of the U.S. Treasury in the late 19th century. The other four include Judson Whitlock Lyons, William Tecumseh Vernon, James C. Napier, an 1872 graduate of Howard Law School, and Azie Taylor Morton, who remains the only African American to serve as Treasurer of the United States.

From an 1828 copy of "The Columbian Orator", the book that inspired a young Frederick Douglass in the streets of Jacksonian Baltimore, to the Jolly Banks of late 19th century immortalized in Spike Lee's "Bamboozled" to pristine copies of popular black magazines from the 1950s, the show appealed to collectors of all ages.

Joseph Gregory, 14, happened to be one of the youngest collectors at the show. The Paint Branch High School freshman picked up a combined set of Upper Deck Michael Jordan basketball cards and DVDs for $25. "I think it's going to be worth something someday," said Joseph who lives in Burtonsville, Md.

Not everyone was on-hand to wheel and deal. From Buffalo Soldier reenactors to proprietors of the National African-American Roller Skating Archive, themes of commonality were expressed along patriotic, cultural, and recreational lines.