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The Drum and Spear Bookstore was founded in 1968 by Charlie Cobb, a former secretary for the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). It developed out of the civil rights/black power movement in Washington, DC. Its organizers set out to create a local as well as national and international resource for reliable information about the African American and African world, aimed at people of African descent, wherever they lived.

Drum and Spear specialized in books written by black authors and books on Asian, African, and African American subjects. It quickly developed into a combination bookstore, library, community center, and "literary haven," according to Professor Daphne Muse of Mills College. Muse noted, "It wasn't uncommon to see Toni Morrison and Amiri Baraka browsing the shelves alongside diplomats and regular folk." According to early board member Jennifer Lawson, the store opened at a time just before black studies took root in U.S. colleges and universities, when only a handful of Afro-centric bookstores operated in this country.

The founders took the name Afro-American Resources, Inc., and operated Drum and Spear Bookstore, Drum and Spear Press, and the Center for Black Education. The center held classes for community youth and sponsored educational forums and speakers. Afro-American Resources, Inc., originally consisted of Cobb, Anthony Gittens, Don Freeman, Courtland Cox, Ivanhoe Donaldson, and Marvin Holloway. The bookstore and press closed, said Lawson, because "all of its managers were artists and activists and not business people. We had created the activities for the social good, not for business purposes." The Drum and Spear operated from 1371 Fairmont Street, NW, until 1974.

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