Ex Libris: Gilbert Sims Derr

Starting in the 1960s, DePaul Professor and Alumnus Gilbert Sims Derr strove to inspire mutual understanding between African-Americans and whites by providing resources for African-American studies at DePaul.  In his words, “When the whites get a better idea of what the blacks have contributed to our mutual culture, many of the problems of race relations will be eased.”

Derrs (center) at the opening of the Research Center for Black Studies, 1969.

Gilbert Sims Derr (1917-1989) grew up in Durham, North Carolina. He completed his undergraduate work at Hampton Institute in Hampton, Virginia in 1939 and received a Masters Degree from DePaul University in 1948.  While researching his thesis on interracial education, he discovered that DePaul University’s library lacked materials on African Americans.  He vowed to provide these materials by creating a research center for African-American studies at DePaul.  Then, while teaching part time at DePaul in the School of Education and serving as a human relations coordinator in the Chicago public school system, Derr contributed his DePaul salary to the Verona Williams Derr Fund.  The money from this fund went towards a scholarship fund, lecture series and the Verona Williams Derr Collection (named for Derr’s wife) now housed in DePaul Universitys Special Collections and Archives.

The Collection contains books relating to African-American culture, Negro Life and History, Black-White Experience, and the Area of Black Studies. The publication dates for the books range from the 1790’s through to the 1960’s.  Professor Derr collected books that presented both sides of the race issue.  The collection contains pro-slavery book titles such as An Enquiry Concerning the Intellectual and Moral Faculties, and Literature of Negroes, 1810 by H. Gregoire and Cotton is King, and Pro-Slavery Arguments; Comprising the Writings of Hammond, Harper, Christy, Stringfellow, Hodge, Bledsoe, and Cartwright, 1860.  On the other side, the collection also includes anti-slavery publications such as Lydia Maria Francis Child’s 1833 An Appeal in Favor of that Class of Americans Called Africans and texts by Abolitionists and African American authors such as Harriet Beecher Stowe and Paul Laurence Dunbar.

Verrona Derr CollectionBrowse African American literature and American slavery history.

Check out some selections from the Derr Collection on exhibit on the third floor of the library through February 28, 2009.

Contact Special Collections and Archives for more information.


Many book collectors paste bookplates inside the front covers of their books and the Latin words ex libris, meaning “from the library of,” were often used.

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