The manuscripts and archival collections are strongest for the twentieth century in the areas of the performing arts, women, Harlem, African American writers, civil rights organizations and activities, manuscripts and research files of historians and other scholars, papers and records of individuals and organizations documenting radical political movements, religion, and eighteenth and nineteenth century Haitian history. Geographic concentration within the manuscripts collection is primarily in the United States.
The sheet music collection strengths lie in spirituals, jazz from the 1930s and 1940s period, and popular songs.
Subject and genre strength for the rare book collection include slavery and anti-slavery in the United States; fiction; travel narratives in the Americas and Africa; history of Blacks in the United States and Caribbean; biography; and, poetry. In addition, the collection has one of the finest representative collections of works by authors of the Harlem Renaissance, nineteenth century Black women authors, and monographs published during the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries by and about Black people.