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Spotlight on the Raymond F. Trent Collection

February 11, 2022

Overview of the Raymond F. Trent collection at the Biddle Law Library.

On November 22, 1982, Judge A. Leon Higginbotham of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals wrote to Raymond F. Trent and stated,

I am touched by your generosity, both to me personally and to all of us now and in the future who benefit from the many valuable hours you invest in the Raymond F. Trent Collection. The variety and depth of the materials you have discovered make your collection of special value, and we all owe you a debt of gratitude.”

Trent with colleagues Ken Gakus, Pat Mikesell, and Judy Vaughan-Sterling of the Biddle Law Librar... Trent was a former Senior Library Clerk of the Biddle Law Library who had dedicated his career to compiling resources and material on the history of education and practice of Black lawyers in the United States. This collection, composed of correspondence, books, periodicals, articles, and audio tapes, is part of the Biddle Law Library Archives and Special Collections Department, where it continues to serve researchers and contribute to their scholarship.

Trent was born in Darby, PA and was one of seven children to his parents Frederick D. Trent and Irene Woodson Trent. In 1948, he bought a tape recorder and began recording radio shows, focusing on the Black experience in the 1960s. He graduated from Cheyney State Teachers College (now Cheyney University) in 1958 and worked as a welder, caseworker, and teacher before accepting a part-time job at the Biddle Law Library in 1964. Trent was eventually hired full-time as a library clerk, was promoted to senior library clerk in 1968, and retired in 2013 after nearly 50 years. Trent passed away in 2018 at the age of 74, survived by his wife, Gwendolyn, and many nieces, nephews and friends.

The Ray Trent Collection: Past & Present

Letter from Judge A. Leon Higginbotham, Jr., regarding his work with Trent, 1975. During his time at Biddle, Trent assisted Judge Higginbotham and countless other researchers in finding resources related to the history and education of Black lawyers and to Black students’ law school experiences in Philadelphia and throughout the United States. The depth and breadth of the collection of articles, books, interviews, news clippings, and other secondary sources made Trent known for being able to locate anything for researchers about Black history in the legal profession.1

The Biddle Law Library recognizes the importance of the work of Ray Trent and the enduring value of the Raymond F. Trent Collection. The Archives Department plans to dedicate significant energy and resources to this collection to ensure that this material is available for researchers in perpetuity.

Researchers interested in this collection will find collected newspaper clippings and journal articles on the following major topics:

  • Macon B. Allen, the first Black man admitted to the bar;
  • Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander, who was the first Black woman to receive a Ph.D. in economics in the United States (1921), and the first Black woman to receive a law degree from the University of Pennsylvania Law School;
  • Raymond Pace Alexander, an American civil rights leader, lawyer, politician, the first Black man to graduate from Wharton School of Business, and the first Black man appointed as a judge to the Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas;
  • Experiences of Black law school students;
  • Discrimination in education;
  • Discrimination in employment;
  • Biographies and experiences of Black judges, Black lawyers in Pennsylvania, and Black legislators.

For additional information about the Raymond F. Trent Collection or other collections held by the Biddle Law Library Archives and Special Collections, please contact biddlearchives@law.upenn.edu. A list of books and periodicals in the Ray Trent collection can be found here in the Biddle Library’s online catalog, Search Center.

1. Dubin, Murray. “Noting a Collector of Black History.” Philadelphia Inquirer, 10 February 1989.

Written by Sarah Oswald, Archivist, and Liz Wittrig, Project Archivist