The African American Southern Community
The American South-the place, its past, and its people-is of special significance to African American history, and the questions of race are at the heart of southern history. From the period of enslavement through the “Long Civil Rights Movement” to the present, the struggles and triumphs of African American life have shaped the South and changed the nation and the world. Sadly, the documentation of African American life in the South is at worst absent and at best underrepresented in many archival collections.
The Southern Historical Collection
From its earliest days the Southern Historical Collection (SHC) has acquired documentation of African Americans in the South. For nineteenth- and early twentieth-century collections, this documentation is often embedded in the papers of planters and other white southerners. In recent decades, curators have acquired more materials created by African Americans–families, businesses and other organizations, civil rights leaders, churches, and others. Now African American life is a primary collecting focus for the SHC.
Documenting The African American Southern Experience (DAASE) Initiative
In the fall of 2009, the SHC established the Documenting the African American Southern Experience (DAASE) Initiative. Through this initiative, the SHC extends its commitment to documenting African American life in the South. The initiative consists of an expanded collection development, digitization of collections, enhanced description of African American content within collections, public programming and outreach, and community collaborations and partnerships. During 2009 and 2010, the SHC proudly presented a range of programs centered on the DAASE Initiative, which includes exhibits, lectures, film screenings, tours, and performances.
Several term-limited funded positions have also been created where working with African American materials is a main focus. These positions compliment the ongoing work of the dedicated staff committed to providing access to SHC materials. The Overholser Archival Fellowship in African American Studies is dedicated specifically to increasing and expanding access to SHC materials related to African Americans. Responsibilities include updating online research guides, curating exhibits, leading course instruction sessions, and collaborating with other academic institutions and community groups. The Collecting & Public Programming Archivist works to attain acquisitions for the SHC as well as fostering outreach to the UNC community and general public through programs and exhibitions. Part of that effort includes reaching out to neighboring African American communities. The Manuscripts Processor position focuses on re-processing and creating EAD finding aids for ten collections related to African American history, improving intellectual and physical access to these collections.
As part of the DAASE Initiative, the SHC curated a large scale exhibition in entitled We Shall Not Be Moved: African Americans In The South, 18th Century to the Present, from 8 October 2009 to 5 February 2010 in the Salterelli Exhibit Room in Wilson Library. The exhibit highlighted items from various collections in the SHC that relate to African American southern history and culture. Feature letters, photographs, ledgers, and artifacts, the exhibit covered nine themes: Enslavement, Civil War & Reconstruction, Labor, Education, Military, Politics, the Long Civil Rights Movement, and Community & Culture. Two additional exhibits on campus were curated by the staff in the library at the Stone Center for Black History and Culture: a book display entitled “African Americans in the South: Highlights of the University Library Collection” held in Davis Library from October – November 2009, and a display of photographic reproductions from the SHC in the Stone Center Library from October 2009 – February 2010.
Digitization of collections with African American materials is also a critical piece in facilitating access to these collections. In December 2006, the SHC received an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Grant to strategize and develop plans for large scale digitization of manuscripts within the SHC. A scholarly workshop held in April 2008, “Southern Sources: Focusing the Conversation” brought together scholars from various disciplines (as well as archivists and librarians) to discuss technological and research implications in large scale digitization. The discussion included the need to digitize collections related to groups traditionally underrepresented in archives, such as African Americans. Making collections with an African American content digitally accessible are being given a top priority within the scope of the Mellon Grant. In January 2010, the Digital Southern Historical Collection was made available online, with digitized materials from over forty collections online. New collection materials will continue to be added as the digitization project continues.
These projects document just a few projects related to African American materials in the SHC. The SHC will continue to document groups historically underrepresented in the archival record through a variety of means.
The SHC will also continue to enrich its partnership with North Carolina Central University. The SHC already holds several archival collections jointly with NCCU via the African American Resources collections. We desire to work together on future acquisitions and programs, as well as partnering on projects involving students from both UNC SILS and NCCU’s library science programs. The SHC also seeks to establish collaborative relationships with archives at Historically Black Colleges and Universities in NC and across the South.
The SHC will continue to enrich its partnerships with organizations that have collections housed in the SHC, such as the Penn Center, Historic Stagville, and the Pope House Museum Foundation. Also, the SHC seeks to continue to work with various community organizations such as the Jackson Center for Saving and Making History at Saint Joseph’s Church in Chapel Hill (which collects oral histories of the African American residents in the Northside neighborhood). These organizations work to preserve African American history through a variety of ways – including public programming, educational institutes, and historic interpretation – and continued collaboration of the SHC and these significant institution will hopefully continue to facilitate and expand these efforts.
As the African American southern community continues to grow and evolve, so too will the SHC’s efforts to document its rich history.
The SHC proudly collaborates with a number of organization and institutions, including:
Historic Stagville, Durham, North Carolina
The Penn Center, St. Helena, South Carolina.
The Pope House
Institute of African American Research, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
James Shepard Library, North Carolina Central University, Durham, North Carolina
Sonja Haynes Stone Center for Black Culture & History
Center for the Study of the American South