While a graduate student Randall Burkett started collecting books to support his research on Marcus Garvey and on African American religious history. Over the years his collection expanded to include books, pamphlets, prints, newspapers, and ephemera related to African American life and culture. He has exhibited selections from his personal collection at Harvard University’s Widener Library, the Grolier Club in New York City, and elsewhere.
Burkett published two books on Marcus Garvey and with others compiled a four-volume index to biographical sketches and portraits of nearly 35,000 African Americans, initially available on microfiche but now accessible online via African American Biographical Database. While associate director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for Afro-American Research at Harvard University (1985-1996) he served as associate editor of the 1,000-page Harvard Guide to African American History and for 20 years edited a newsletter in Afro-American religious history.
Since 1997, Burkett has been responsible for building Emory University’s collection of African American rare books, manuscripts, photographs, and print ephemera, and he has raised nearly three quarters of a million dollars to endow acquisition and fellowship funds for the Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library.