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James S. Haskins Papers

Identifier: MSS 0327

Scope and Content

The James S. Haskins Papers dates from the 1920s to 2023, with bulk dates of 1961 to 2004. The papers include both professional and personal papers from throughout Haskins's career as an author, speaker, and teacher. Though most of his book manuscript materials are housed at Boston University (an inventory of which can be found in "Subseries IIc: Correspondence") the highlights of this collection can be seen in Haskins's essays and speeches, the subject files on Lionel Hampton, the (sometimes still unpublished) works sent to Haskins for help with writing and publishing, and in the treatment of Haskins by others as teacher, mentor, entrepreneur, and friend. Additional scope notes are available for each series and subseries in the contents list below.


  • Creation: 1920s-2023
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1961-2004



Series "III. Personal papers and correspondence" is restricted until 2056 per the donor agreement. Box 31, folder 16 "UF notices of appointment and contracts" is also restricted. For questions regarding access to these papers, please consult with the Literary Collections Archivist.

Biographical/Historical Note

James Stanley Haskins was born in Demopolis, Alabama on September 19, 1941. His parents, Henry and Julia Brown Haskins, fostered a love of books and reading in their children, a task made more difficult by a segregated South where African Americans were not even allowed in the local public library. Haskins left the area for high school, attending the prestigious Boston Latin School, but returned to Alabama after graduation to attend Alabama State College in Montgomery (now Alabama State University).

During this time, Haskins became involved in the Civil Rights Movement and anti-segregation protests, for which he was expelled from the conservative college. He then enrolled at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology in 1960. He returned to Alabama State, which had become more open to the Movement, to complete a Bachelor of Arts degree in History in 1962. This was followed by the completion of a Master's degree in Social Psychology in 1963 from the University of New Mexico (Albuquerque).

Haskins moved to New York City after graduating and worked at a variety of institutions trying to find his place (the New York Recorder, the Department of Welfare, New York Daily News, and a Wall Street brokerage house), but found them each dissatisfying. He began to teach, travelling among several schools teaching music, and eventually got a position in Special Education at Public School 92 in Harlem. He took notes about his thoughts and feelings, and detailing his innovative solutions for challenging students. Those notes were later published as his first book, Diary of a Harlem School Teacher (1969). After its success, he was asked to write books for children and, recalling his youth where he had nothing to read but the encyclopedias his mother got from the grocery store, Haskins chose to focus on nonfiction works that would speak to children and wrote Resistance: Profiles in Nonviolence (1970). It was the first of many works that would bring the stories of African American history to light for children.

Haskins wrote many biographies for children and adolescents, including ones about Rosa Parks, Langston Hughes, Ralph Bunche, Hank Aaron, Shirley Chisholm, Martin Luther King, Jr., Barbara Jordan, Katherine Dunham, Winnie Mandella, Bayard Rustin, Diana Ross, and many more. Likewise, Haskins also wrote works for adults, many of them also biographies, including those on Scott Joplin, Lena Horne, Bricktop, Dinah Washington, Lionel Hampton, Pinckney Benton Stewart Pinchback, Scatman Crothers, and others. Additionally, he wrote nonfiction that revealed more about Black culture and experiences, as well as books on other cultures, in works focusing on Black soldiers, explorers, and inventors; African American music, dance, and theater; hoodoo, witchcraft, and mysticism; war and protest; assorted language dictionaries and counting books; religions of the world; and more. He even wrote on subjects as varied as Snow Sculpture and Ice Carving, Teenage Alcoholism, people with disabilities and the Special Olympics, and Werewolves.

Haskins continued teaching throughout his writing career. He was a visiting lecturer at the New School for Social Research (New York City, 1970 to 1972), the State University of New York (New Paltz, 1970 to 1972), Indiana University - Purdue University (Indianapolis, 1973 to 1976), and Manhattanville College (Purchase, N.Y., 1972 to 1976), as well as an associate professor at Staten Island Community College (1970 to 1976). Haskins joined the University of Florida (UF) English Department in 1977 and taught there until his death.

Additionally, Haskins served as a consultant for the Smithsonian's travelling exhibit The Jazz Age in Paris as well as for various other projects. He wrote book reviews for many publications, including FlaVour magazine, the St. Pete Times, Florida Historical Quarterly, and the Gainesville Sun. And he served as a mentor to students and other authors (both aspiring and established), and to business entrepreneurs, especially those in the Black community.

Haskins won numerous honors and awards for both writing and teaching, the most notable being the Coretta Scott King Award for The Story of Stevie Wonder (1977), multiple Carter G. Woodson Awards (1988, 1994, 1997, and 2009), and the ASCAP Deems Taylor Award for Scott Joplin: The Man Who Made Ragtime (1979). Two of his books also served as the basis for movie treatments: The Cotton Club and Mr. Bojangles.

Haskins split his time between New York and Florida during his entire tenure at UF. He was married to fellow author and museum specialist Kathleen Benson and had three children, Michael, Elisa Beth, and Margaret Emily (known as M. E.). Haskins died in Manhattan on July 6, 2005.

More information regarding the life and works of James Haskins is available in "Series I. Biographical materials" of this collection. Additionally, a recording of the UF Haskins memorial service is available in UFDC.


33.88 Linear feet (55 boxes, oversized folders, and framed images)

Language of Materials



James Haskins (1941-2005) was a prolific author of more than 100 published books, mostly of African American nonfiction and biography for children and adolescent readers, though he is perhaps most known for his books The Cotton Club and Mr. Bojangles, which each served as inspiration for film adaptations. He was also a Professor of English at the University of Florida and maintained a busy schedule of speaking and lecturing engagements. The James S. Haskins Papers includes both professional and personal records from throughout Haskins's career, which is highlighted in this collection through his essays and speeches, the subject files on Lionel Hampton, the (sometimes still unpublished) works sent to him for help with writing and publishing, and in the treatment of Haskins by others as teacher, mentor, entrepreneur, and friend.


The collection is organized into four series: "I. Biographical information," "II. Professional papers," "III. Personal papers and correspondence," and "IV. Photographs and scrapbooks."

Physical Location

Please note that this collection is partially housed in the Auxiliary Library Facility off campus and will require advance notice for timely retrieval. Please contact the Special and Area Studies Collections department prior to your visit.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donated by Kathy Benson Haskins.

Alternative Format Available

Digital reproductions of selected items in the James S. Haskins Papers are available online via the University of Florida Digital Collections (UFDC). Please read the Permissions for Use statement for information on copyright, fair use, and use of UFDC digital objects.

Related Material

Much of Haskins's book manuscript material, original correspondence, and interview recordings are housed at Boston University's Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center. More information is available on their website.

Processing Notes

A collection of files on assorted digital media has been put aside for later processing. Please consult with the Curator regarding interest in these records.

A Guide to the James S. Haskins Papers
Finding aid created by Steve Duckworth
August 2015 (Updated September 2023)
Description rules
Finding Aid Prepared Using Dacs
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Description is written in English.

Repository Details

Part of the Special and Area Studies Collections, George A. Smathers Libraries, University of Florida Repository

George A. Smathers Libraries
PO Box 117005
Gainesville Florida 32611-7005 United States of America