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Alfred and Bernice Ligon Aquarian Collection

 Collection
Identifier: SPC-2015-001

Scope and Content

The Alfred and Bernice Ligon collection consists of published books (including small press and self-published works) , published serials, manuscripts, pamphlets, posters, broadsides, paper ephemera, correspondence, book reviews, newspaper clippings, newsletters, administrative documents, publisher sell sheets and order forms, photographs, film negatives, cassette tapes, audio and film reels, VHS tapes, and digital materials (compact disk and thumb drive). The collection is split between archival materials described to the folder level, and published materials catalogued individually and searchable through the California State University Dominguez Hills Library catalog. Published materials focus on African American history and culture, literature by and about African Americans and Africans, and metaphysics.

The archival collection focuses on The Aquarian Book Shop and Aquarian Spiritual Center, its administrative functions, programs, events, classes, community involvement, and Alfred and Bernice Ligon as proprietors thereof. The bulk of the material focuses on the store and spiritual center rather than on the Ligon’s personal lives. Biographical materials on the Ligon’s include obituaries and eulogies, correspondence, and scrap books. There is also a file containing photocopies of biographical material on Alfred’s sister Jeni Le Gon.

Administrative files for the store and spiritual center relate to the business operations of the store including permits, dealings with publishers, order forms, correspondence, and the rebuilding of the store after the 1992 fire. Administrative files for the spiritual center include bylaws, Board of Directors rosters, and correspondence with members. Press coverage of the store is primarily from the early 1980’s.

Ephemera from events held by the store and spiritual center show the range of events from book and author related events like books signings, book fairs, book release parties, poetry readings, to those at the spiritual center like lectures on various topics including Black Gnostic Studies, “Founders Day” gatherings, worship sessions, multi-media presentations, discussions, and others. In addition to flyers and invitations for lessons and lectures, the collection includes handouts on various topics, lesson workbooks, poster charts of metaphysical studies, and the journal that the center produced; URAEUS: Journal of Unconscious Life. The Journal billed itself as the “New Age Black Journal.” It covered topics like history, holistic health, astrology, new-age parenting, the arts, sciences, culture, and education all with a view toward esoteric teachings.

The collection also shows the Ligon’s interest in African American history and culture with items that may have been sold in the store like greeting cards and post cards, ephemera from local cultural events, and publications by and about African Americans. The photographs in the collection are primarily from events put on by the book store and the spiritual center, and slides probably used by Dr. Ligon in teaching, but include some early photos of the Ligons and their families.

In addition to paper and photographic materials, the collection includes a large number of audio/visual materials. Hundreds of audio reels and cassette tapes record lectures and teachings of Dr. Ligon and his contemporaries on the Aquarian Gospel, esoteric astrology, Kabballah, occult philosophy, psychosynthesis, cosmic psychology, tarot, esoteric masonry, and Black Gnostic Studies.

Dates

  • Late 1800s - 2014
  • Bulk 1941-1996

Access

There are no access restrictions on this collection.

Publication Rights

All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the Director of Archives and Special Collections. Permission for publication is given on behalf of Special Collections as the owner of the physical materials and not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must also be obtained.

Biography and History

Alfred and Bernice Ligon were the founders of the Aquarian Spiritual Center, metaphysical studies scholars and teachers, owners of the longest running black owned book store in the country at the time of its closing, and community leaders. Alfred was born on April 5th 1906 in Atlanta, Georgia, and moved to Chicago at the age of ten. There he worked as a printer, performed as a clown, and managed a Theater and school. Alfred’s interest in the metaphysical began in the 1920s listening to Evangeline Adams radio show on astrology, and he later founded the Society of the Circle of Nine focusing on divine science and philosophy. In 1936 he moved to Los Angeles to study with The Brotherhood of Light and Esoteric Studies and Marc Edmond Jones’ Sabean Assembly. In Los Angeles he worked as a railroad porter and managed a dancing school with his sister Jeni Le Gon. Around this time he read a version of the bible called The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus Christ, which became the foundation for his philosophy and the inspiration for the name of the book store. In 1941 he opened the Aquarian Book Store and Library on East Jefferson Ave in Los Angeles with $100 he saved working as a railroad porter.

Bernice Ligon was born on October 6th 1912 in Riverside, California. She developed an interest in metaphysics as a teen and is quoted as saying “metaphysics, to me means mind above matter.” When she moved to Los Angeles in 1942 and met Alfred, their mutual interest in the esoteric brought them together and she began working at the book store. They married in 1948.

The Aquarian Book Store stocked books on the occult, metaphysics, and black history and culture that could be purchased or borrowed for a few cents a day. Though he continued to work for the railroad alongside the book store (putting in 30 years before he retired), Alfred continued to develop his passion for metaphysics. He started giving lectures and astrology classes in 1943, became a Doctor of Metaphysics in 1950, and started The Aquarian Spiritual Center in 1952. Though the financial viability of The Aquarian waxed and waned over the years, and was never the couple’s main source of income, they saw the book store and center as way to enrich the community and felt obligated to be there for those in search of knowledge.

In 1957 the Ligon’s moved the Book Shop and Spiritual Center to 1302 West Santa Barbara Ave (now Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.) and the Civil Rights Movement and Black Consciousness Movement emerged as focal point for the store’s inventory and outreach. With this, the shop came to prominence within the black community as it sought knowledge of itself. They hosted the first black history classes offered in Los Angeles; led by the Afro-American Study Association, the founding of the US organization, Community Theater, occult philosophy lectures, and black authors’ autograph parties. Through the book store, the Ligon’s provided books by and about African Americans and Africans which were not available elsewhere in Los Angeles at the time.

From the 1960s to the 1990s the Shop and Center held many classes, events, and conferences. In 1969 Alfred and others from the Spiritual Center began to develop and study what became Black Gnostic Studies. They concentrated on the connections between metaphysical thought and Ancient African cultures including Egypt and Ethiopia. From these studies came the concept of Blacks as “Seed People” (the source of life and culture). In addition to flyers and pamphlets about metaphysics and Gnosticism, the Aquarian Spiritual Center circulated a newsletter, and from 1977-1983, a journal called URAEUS.

In 1991 the store celebrated its 50th anniversary. Unfortunately, a year later riots erupted in Los Angeles after white police officers were found not guilty in the beating of a black man, Rodney King. The book store was caught in the struggle and was burned to the ground with over 7,000 books inside. A group of independent book store owners organized donations and a benefit featuring Maya Angelou and Alice Walker to raise more than $70,000.00 for to reopen the store. The rebuilt store was short lived however, and closed again in 1994 when Bernice was diagnosed with liver cancer.

Bernice was also active in the community outside of the Book Shop, including as the President of the District Council of the PTA in the early 1950s. Her contributions to the community were honored in several ways including as the subject of a documentary film in 1992 by Erma Elzy-Jones called Continually Turning the Pages: The Life of Bernice Ligon. She was also awarded an honorary doctorate of Humanities from the Inner Circle University of Los Angles and received an award from the City for “raising the consciousness through literature.”

Both Alfred and Bernice had children from previous marriages. Bernice’s daughter Zandra passed before her, and Bernice passed in 2000 of liver cancer at the age of 88. Alfred had a son Alfred Lloyd Ligon, a daughter Jeni Terrell, six grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren at the time of his death in 2002 at the age of 96.

Extent

50 boxes

25 Linear Feet

Language of Materials

English

Overview

This collection contains archival materials and rare books related to Alfred and Bernice Ligon as the proprietors and founders of The Aquarian Book Shop and Aquarian Spiritual Center in Los Angeles, CA; their interests in African American history and culture; and studies and teaching of metaphysics, occultism and black gnostic studies. The archival collection concentrates on the operations and events of the Book Shop, curriculum of the Spiritual Center, and African American culture. The rare book collection focuses on African American history and culture; literature and poetry by black authors; Africa and pan-Africanism; and metaphysics, the occult, spirituality, and gnostic studies. Included in the collection are published books and periodicals, small press poetry books and chapbooks, manuscripts, pamphlets, ephemera, newspaper clippings, administrative papers, photographs, film negatives, cassette tapes, film and audio reels, VHS tapes, and digital media.

Arrangement

Arranged in six series:
  1. Series I: Personal/Biographical, circa 1936- 2002; boxes 1-2
  2. Series II: Aquarian Book Store and Spiritual Center, 1950-1994; boxes 3-6
  3. Subseries a: Administrative
  4. Subseries b: Press
  5. Subseries c: Events
  6. Subseries d: Classes and Lessons
  7. Subseries e: Newsletters and Journals
  8. Subseries f: Library Inventories
  9. Subseries g: Items Removed from Books
  10. Series III: African American History and Cultural Materials, 1960s-1990s; boxes 7-8
  11. Series IV: Images, early 1900s-1990s; boxes 9-11.
  12. Series V: Audio/Visual Materials, 1950s-1990s; boxes 12-50
  13. Subseries a: Personal
  14. Subseries b: Stolen Legacy
  15. Subseries c: Aquarian Gospel
  16. Subseries d: Esoteric Astrology
  17. Subseries e: Coming Aquarian Age and Occult History
  18. Subseries f: Kaballah
  19. Subseries g: Occult Philosophy
  20. Subseries h: Psychosynthesis
  21. Subseries i: Cosmic Psychology
  22. Subseries j: Tarot
  23. Subseries k: Esoteric Masonry
  24. Subseries j: Aquarian Spiritual Center Conferences
  25. Subseries l: Black Gnostic Studies Related
  26. Subseries m: Series of tapes numbered 1-95
  27. Subseries n: Tapes of Dr. Ligon form the 1990s
  28. Subseries o: Other Tapes
  29. Subseries p: Other Reels
  30. Subseries q: Mass Market Records
  31. Subseries r: Motion Picture
  32. Series VI: Oversize Materials, circa 1941-1996; consult repository for map drawer number.

Acquisition Information

Collection donated to CSUDH Archives by Members of the Aquarian Spiritual Center and Aquarian Gospel Temple/ Alfred and Bernice Ligon Aquarian Collection.

Separated Materials

The collection includes over three thousand published books and serials individually cataloged and searchable through the University Library catalog (www4.csudh.edu/library/), or WorldCat (www.worldcat.org). All items are labeled as Ligon/Aquarian Collection.

Separated Material- Oversized

This collection contains oversized material that is located separately from the rest of the collection in Map Case 4, Drawers 1-3.

Processing Information

This collection was processed by Kendall Hinesley in 2015.
Title
Inventory of the Alfred and Berice Ligon Aquarian Collection
Status
Under Revision
Author
Finding aid prepared by Kendall Hinesley
Date
©2015
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
English
Script of description
Latin

Repository Details

Part of the California State University Dominguez Hills, Gerth Archives and Special Collections Repository

Contact:
University Library South -5039 (Fifth Floor)
1000 E. Victoria St.
Carson CA 90747
310-243-3895