What is a Community Archive?

Community archives and other community-centric history, heritage, and memory projects work to empower communities to tell, protect, and share their history on their terms. In 2017, the Southern Historical Collection at the Wilson Special Collections Library of the University Libraries was generously funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for a grant to “form meaningful, mutually supportive partnerships that provide communities with the tools and resources to safeguard and represent their own histories.”  We argue that “Community archive models and community-driven archival practice address the ‘symbolic annihilation’[to quote Michelle Caswell] of historically marginalized groups in the historical record, and aim to create sustainable and accessible memory projects that address these archival absences.”[1]

So what does it mean? A whole host of complex, complicated moving parts that if done right could transform the historical record! And it wouldn’t just be the grant funded community driven archives team (CDAT) doing it, but rather a true collaboration between the CDAT and communities to keep communities in control of their narratives.

Communities can preserve their history in a myriad of ways. They can keep records in  brick and mortar buildings like the Mayme A. Clayton Library and Museum, or they can curate a digital archive like the South Asian American Digital Archive.[2]  Communal heritage or memory can be expressed through historic markers or murals, like the Portland Street Art Alliance’s “Keep on the Sunnyside Mural Project”[3] and through guided walking tours, such as those created by the Marian Cheek Jackson Center.[4] History and heritage can even be expressed through parades, commemorations, and community celebrations. In her article, “The records of memory, the archives of identity: Celebrations, texts and archival sensibilities” Jeannette A. Bastian notes,

the relationships between collective memory, records, community and identity as expressed through a particular celebration—a carnival— [is] located within the paradigm of a cultural archive. That paradigm theorizes that if an annual celebration can be considered as a longitudinal and complex cultural community expression, then it also can be seen dynamically as a living archive where the many events within the celebration constitute the numerous records comprising this expression.[5]

Community archival work can also be done in public libraries like the Queens Memory Project or with the support of universities like the SHC’s Community-Driven Archives project. We call our work community driven archiving because we take cues from community members on the best ways to support their memory work, we would not trample the long standing tradition of community owned and operated archives by co-opting their name.

We understand that working with communities to create archival, historical and heritage-based projects means grappling with complex issues of identity, ownership, and legacies of marginalization.  Community history has always been present; the community archives movement didn’t suddenly discover these histories.[6] We have a lot more to share about our perspective and experiences with community driven archival work, including its benefits and challenges for a large organization with a complex history like the University Libraries. With this post we are signaling that boosting community voices in all their intersectional, diverse, complicated and creative outputs is a top priority in the Southern Historical Collection these days.

This is a model we created to help us visualize the relationship between traditional archival users and community-history creators. By changing the emphasis on who is being considered essential to the archives story, you can completely change the priorities.

We post every week on different topics but if there is something you’d like to see, let us know either in the comments or email Claire our Community Outreach Coordinator: clairela@live.unc.edu. 

Follow us on Twitter    #AiaB #yourstory #ourhistory #communityarchives #EKAAMP #HBTSA #SHC #SAAACAM #memory

[1] “About: Community-Driven Archives Overview,” https://library.unc.edu/wilson/shc/community-driven-archives/about/

[2] South Asian American Digital Archive, “SAADA”, https://www.saada.org/

[3] Portland Street Art Alliance, “Keep on the Sunnyside Mural Project”, http://www.pdxstreetart.org/articles-all/sunnyside-mural-project

[4] Marian Cheeks Jackson Center “Soundwalk of Northside,” https://jacksoncenter.info/northside-stories/soundwalk-of-northside/

[5] Jeannette A. Bastian, “The records of memory, the archives of identity: Celebrations, texts and archival sensibilities,” Archival Science, (2012), 122.

[6] Yusef Omowale, “We Already Here,” Medium: Sustainable Future, September 3, 2018, https://medium.com/community-archives/we-already-are-52438b863e31.

Partnering with The San Antonio African American Community Archives and Museum (SAAACAM)

The San Antonio African American Community Archives and Museum (SAAACAM) is in the process of developing a vibrant and much-needed community memory 501(c)(3) devoted to African American history, culture, and experience in San Antonio. They say it best in their Mission Statement:

“The SAAACAM mission is to collect, maintain, disseminate and interpret a digital database of authentic community based African American history; encourage and promote interdisciplinary education of shared history at all levels; practice stewardship of the broadest range of resources; and produce creative and innovative programs to heighten public awareness and self esteem.”

SAAACAM volunteer and Dr. Karida Brown during an oral history training.

Just a month into our jobs in late 2017, the Southern Historical Collection’s Oral Historian and Documentarian Bernetiae Reed and I were on our way to San Antonio, along with our colleague and Mellon Community Liaison Dr. Karida Brown, to visit with SAAACAM.

So what is Chapel Hill doing in San Antonio? The SHC’s role at SAAACAM is to share and develop resources and tools that help SAAACAM succeed in its goal of becoming a self-sustaining, self-directed, empowered archive and museum. We want to share what we know and cheerlead as SAAACAM finds a path that makes sense for its own community. We do this through training and discussion modules, consultation and research assistance, a small technology budget that aims to get projects familiar with oral history and preservation work, and backup repository support when deemed useful by SAAACAM.

Continue reading “Partnering with The San Antonio African American Community Archives and Museum (SAAACAM)”

Archiving the Women’s March

Like many other repositories, the Southern Historical Collection is interested in collecting information about recent local protests in response to national events. We are partnering with the North Carolina Collection to make this happen for the Women’s March that took place on January 21, 2017.

We will be collecting a limited number of items in the following three categories: social media, ephemera (signs, flyers, hats, etc), and images. Because posts and tweets disappear quickly, we are beginning with social media. Stay tuned for information about donating “stuff” and images!

On archiving social media:

Over the last few years, we have turned more of our attention to methods of archiving social media. We can’t capture everything, so we prioritize documenting moments and movements–phenomena that produce dynamic but ephemeral concentrations of information.

This spreadsheet shows the hashtags and social media sites we are capturing and will be updated as needed. Please comment on Facebook or send us an email if you know of any widely-used, location-specific hashtags or pages that we have missed.

Continue reading “Archiving the Women’s March”

An African American first responder: An oral history with William C. Covington

Contributed by Chaitra Powell, African American Collections and Outreach Archivist 

OfficerCovington
William C. Covington in his uniform

The tales of African American first responders, over the years, are full of bravery, perseverance, strength, and principle. These men and women are at their best when society is at its worst. The Southern Historical Collection is always looking for ways to shine light on these important figures in our collective history.

Starting in March of 2015, we have had the pleasure of working with one of Charlotte’s early African American police officers, Mr. William C. Covington. We want to feature Mr. Covington on this blog post as a way to show how important it is to be cognizant of gaps in the historical record and do our best to address them. We also think that it is quite timely to hear a retired police officer’s perspective on the role of police officers in African American communities.

HighYCovington

Mr. William C. Covington was born February 26, 1926 in Charlotte, NC. He attended Belleville School (K-6), West Charlotte High School (7-12) and Johnson C. Smith University, where he graduated with a degree in Biology in 1950. Shortly after graduation, he was drafted into the Army and stationed at Fort Eustis in Virginia, and spent some time abroad in Germany.

By 1953, he had moved back to the States, to a harsh racial climate and meager job prospects. He used his GI Bill to study photography in New York City, like his friend James Peeler. However, he was unable to use the credential to earn a sufficient living for himself and his family. Covington reluctantly applied to the Charlotte police department and began his career in 1954.

 

BrotherhoodCovington

Covington and his fellow African American police officers patrolled Charlotte’s seven African American neighborhoods on foot. He remembers how he used to help people by maintaining order in public places as well as the support and protection of his community; even when he had to arrest someone.

 

Although, he was made to feel insignificant by the white officers, he found a profound brotherhood among the African American policemen. The men helped to form the North PoliceAcademyCovingtonCarolina Organization of Black Police Officers which provided support and advocacy for African American police officers who were constantly feeling the brunt of unjust policies. For example, African American police officers were not supposed to arrest white criminals and they were never promoted or given raises, even if they had college degrees or exemplary records of service. Covington was a part of the team that successfully sued the Charlotte-Mecklenburg police department for discrimination in the 1970’s.

The full one hour and forty five minute oral history session with retired policeman, Mr. William Cecil Covington, is currently being processed at the Southern Historical Collection. Please contact us directly if you are interested in mediated access to this content; hopefully it is the beginning of much more material related to the history of African American first responders in the American South.

An African American first responder: An oral history with William C. Covington

Contributed by Chaitra Powell, African American Collections and Outreach Archivist 

OfficerCovington
William C. Covington in his uniform

The tales of African American first responders, over the years, are full of bravery, perseverance, strength, and principle. These men and women are at their best when society is at its worst. The Southern Historical Collection is always looking for ways to shine light on these important figures in our collective history.

Starting in March of 2015, we have had the pleasure of working with one of Charlotte’s early African American police officers, Mr. William C. Covington. We want to feature Mr. Covington on this blog post as a way to show how important it is to be cognizant of gaps in the historical record and do our best to address them. We also think that it is quite timely to hear a retired police officer’s perspective on the role of police officers in African American communities.

HighYCovington

Mr. William C. Covington was born February 26, 1926 in Charlotte, NC. He attended Belleville School (K-6), West Charlotte High School (7-12) and Johnson C. Smith University, where he graduated with a degree in Biology in 1950. Shortly after graduation, he was drafted into the Army and stationed at Fort Eustis in Virginia, and spent some time abroad in Germany.

By 1953, he had moved back to the States, to a harsh racial climate and meager job prospects. He used his GI Bill to study photography in New York City, like his friend James Peeler. However, he was unable to use the credential to earn a sufficient living for himself and his family. Covington reluctantly applied to the Charlotte police department and began his career in 1954.

 

BrotherhoodCovington

Covington and his fellow African American police officers patrolled Charlotte’s seven African American neighborhoods on foot. He remembers how he used to help people by maintaining order in public places as well as the support and protection of his community; even when he had to arrest someone.

 

Although, he was made to feel insignificant by the white officers, he found a profound brotherhood among the African American policemen. The men helped to form the North PoliceAcademyCovingtonCarolina Organization of Black Police Officers which provided support and advocacy for African American police officers who were constantly feeling the brunt of unjust policies. For example, African American police officers were not supposed to arrest white criminals and they were never promoted or given raises, even if they had college degrees or exemplary records of service. Covington was a part of the team that successfully sued the Charlotte-Mecklenburg police department for discrimination in the 1970’s.

The full one hour and forty five minute oral history session with retired policeman, Mr. William Cecil Covington, is currently being processed at the Southern Historical Collection. Please contact us directly if you are interested in mediated access to this content; hopefully it is the beginning of much more material related to the history of African American first responders in the American South.

Four Years Later: Finishing a daily blog with the Civil War’s end

Four years ago, Wilson Library began an ambitious blog that samples the vast holdings on the Civil War among the various collections here. Every day the Civil War Day by Day blog posts a document that is exactly 150 years old to the day. The blog’s objectives have been to present objects exactly as the people who created them would have seen them, and put a human face to those who lived, suffered, died, or survived during this tumultuous time in American history.  It provides insights into the varied perspectives from within the conflict.

bloggers_750
The picture taken of the Civil War Day by Day team shortly after receiving the Primary Source Award from the Center for Research Libraries. From left to right: Biff Hollingsworth, Barrye Brown, Jason Tomberlin, Samantha Crisp, Stephen Fletcher, Katie Harper, Helen Thomas, Matt Turi, Nancy Kaiser. (Photo by Jay Mangum)

The blog has received much positive attention from commenters, and followers. It is featured on the Society of North Carolina Archivists’ blogroll, and even won a Primary Source Award from the Center for Research Libraries in the access category last year. Overall, the blog’s efforts are diverse in nature—it draws documents from the Southern Historical Collection, the Rare Book Collection, the North Carolina Collection, and University Archives and Record Management Services. It documents the war from various perspectives as well, including military papers and diaries, and letters written by women, slaves, soldiers and farmers. Though the blog cannot give an exhaustive picture of the war, it is a small sample of what people thought and wrote as events unfolded.

18650316_01
An image from a recent post on the Civil War Day by Day blog. This is a letter from E.P. Alexander to his wife. To view the whole letter, and its transcription, see the 16 March 1865 entry.

When hostilities began on April 12, 1861, at Fort Sumter the future of the country was uncertain. But unlike the men and women who lived during this time, we know that the end of the war approaches! The last turbulent weeks of the war included the Battle of Bentonville, the drama at Appomattox Courthouse, Lincoln’s assassination, and General Johnston’s surrender in Durham, NC. We’d like to announce the culmination of the blog’s efforts over the years. And as our sesquicentennial  documentation comes to a close on April 26th, we hope you’ll join us in turning your attention to the letters, broadsides, diary entries and sketches that help tell us about the end of the War. Most of all, we hope that you have learned as much about the realities of the Civil War, and those who lived during it, as we have!

Four Years Later: Finishing a daily blog with the Civil War’s end

Four years ago, Wilson Library began an ambitious blog that samples the vast holdings on the Civil War among the various collections here. Every day the Civil War Day by Day blog posts a document that is exactly 150 years old to the day. The blog’s objectives have been to present objects exactly as the people who created them would have seen them, and put a human face to those who lived, suffered, died, or survived during this tumultuous time in American history.  It provides insights into the varied perspectives from within the conflict.

bloggers_750
The picture taken of the Civil War Day by Day team shortly after receiving the Primary Source Award from the Center for Research Libraries. From left to right: Biff Hollingsworth, Barrye Brown, Jason Tomberlin, Samantha Crisp, Stephen Fletcher, Katie Harper, Helen Thomas, Matt Turi, Nancy Kaiser. (Photo by Jay Mangum)

The blog has received much positive attention from commenters, and followers. It is featured on the Society of North Carolina Archivists’ blogroll, and even won a Primary Source Award from the Center for Research Libraries in the access category last year. Overall, the blog’s efforts are diverse in nature—it draws documents from the Southern Historical Collection, the Rare Book Collection, the North Carolina Collection, and University Archives and Record Management Services. It documents the war from various perspectives as well, including military papers and diaries, and letters written by women, slaves, soldiers and farmers. Though the blog cannot give an exhaustive picture of the war, it is a small sample of what people thought and wrote as events unfolded.

18650316_01
An image from a recent post on the Civil War Day by Day blog. This is a letter from E.P. Alexander to his wife. To view the whole letter, and its transcription, see the 16 March 1865 entry.

When hostilities began on April 12, 1861, at Fort Sumter the future of the country was uncertain. But unlike the men and women who lived during this time, we know that the end of the war approaches! The last turbulent weeks of the war included the Battle of Bentonville, the drama at Appomattox Courthouse, Lincoln’s assassination, and General Johnston’s surrender in Durham, NC. We’d like to announce the culmination of the blog’s efforts over the years. And as our sesquicentennial  documentation comes to a close on April 26th, we hope you’ll join us in turning your attention to the letters, broadsides, diary entries and sketches that help tell us about the end of the War. Most of all, we hope that you have learned as much about the realities of the Civil War, and those who lived during it, as we have!

Eatonville, Florida: A Vital History

Contributed by Bryan Giemza, Director of the Southern Historical Collection

As part of the Collection’s ongoing work with the Historic Black Towns and Settlements Alliance, I visited the historic town of Eatonville, Florida in December.  In recent days the town commemorated the legacy of one of its notable residents, as the Zora! Festival celebrated the life and work of writer Zora Neale Hurston.  Professor William Ferris delivered a keynote address there, and attendees had the opportunity to soak up some of the atmosphere and remarkable local culture of a town that has retained its distinctiveness through the years.

A 2008 New York Times article gives a sense of the town and its atmosphere; I had a chance to visit some of the places and people it mentions.  Stepping into Eatonville is transporting.  Against all expectation, with the suburbs of Orlando at its doorstep and the interstate visible from the town center, Eatonville has survived the fragmentation common to many small southern towns. If Eatonville retains a small-town atmosphere, it is also mindful of deep history.  Town residents told me of the sacrifices entailed in protecting those legacies; where they have succeeded, one said, is because the townspeople “have a backbone.” Eatonville is permeated with a sense of the importance of history as well as its fragility.

Mrs. Maye  St. Julien
Mrs. Maye St. Julien explains the significance of historic documents in the Eatonville Town Hall (est. 1887).

From the first, Mayor Bruce Mount and his staff were gracious hosts. Mrs. Maye St. Julien shared insights into town history and her life story was fascinating in its own right. The City Hall houses many artefacts and keeps the minutes of its meetings, dating back to the mid-twentieth century (many earlier records were lost to a fire). We were warmly received by Ms. Hortense Jones of St. Lawrence A.M.E., who opened the chapel, its walls brightened by the J. Andre Smith murals that incorporate scenes from local life. The paintings offer a kind of primer to fire a child’s imagination, with inscriptions such as “And when I am thirsty He brings me a bowl/Of life-giving water to sweeten my soul.”

Mayor Mount walking
Mayor Mount walking from the Moseley House (not visible), with St. Lawrence A.M.E. at center.

From the standpoint of historic preservation, there is much to sweeten the soul in Eatonville.  I viewed the guest book of the Household of Ruth, and saw on its pages many names familiar from Zora Neale Hurston’s life and her writing.  We enjoyed lunch at the restaurant owned by former mayor Abraham Gordon, Jr., and toured the Moseley House, which brims with period artefacts that reflect the careful stewardship of Hurston’s own Zeta Phi Beta sorority.  Later we toured the school on the grounds of the Hungerford Institute, now closed, and gleaned a sense of its importance to the community.  At various times during the day I benefitted from the archival perspective and generosity of Mrs. N.Y. Nathiri, and was privileged to meet her mother, Ms. Ella Dinkins, who at ninety-seven years of age remembered town history with unfailing clarity.

Mrs. N. Y. Nathiri
Mrs. N.Y. Nathiri displays artefacts in the home of Mrs. Ella Dinkins.

The day came to a fitting and memorably powerful end with a chance to walk the grounds around Mrs. Louise Franklin’s home. With a catch in his voice, her son explained how the family had held that had been purchased against all odds. It had long served as an oasis for black life—social gatherings, picnics, campouts, baptisms, community fellowship—in spite of segregation’s long grind.  This history was made tangible, for example, in the lanyards that dangle where lanterns once glowed from tree branches, and in the planks that had served as simple benches, now overgrown by the trees. Seeing and touching that history made it real to him (and to me), and brought home the importance of conserving it.

Mrs. Franklin
Mrs. Franklin shows one of the benches on her historic and storied property.

The visit was also a reminder of how fortunate the Southern Historical Collection is to work in partnership with communities that are using their unique heritage to support campaigns of renovation and preservation, as the HBTSA charter states, “such that those who follow will have the ability to assume active stewardship to understand, interpret and appreciate these historic places through the lenses of their inhabitants.” These projects require the talents of community members, students, and future archivists, and so we were grateful to have a chance to tell others about the work of HBTSA at a breakout session during the recent TEDx UNC conference.  My good colleague Chaitra Powell and I shared information with attendees about the Historic Black Towns and Settlements Alliance (HBTSA), the summer fellowships in the towns sponsored by UNC’s Center for the Study of the American South, and the forthcoming ThatCamp Community Archives conference at UNC. We hope that the conference will contribute to the energy and creativity surrounding HBTSA and serve other communities as well.

Chaitra Powell
Chaitra Powell shares information about the Historic Black Towns and Settlements Alliance and ongoing SHC projects at TEDx UNC.

Next Stop: The Great State of Alabama

The documentation of African American “spaces and places” has been identified as a goal of the Southern Historical Collection, and to that end we have successfully partnered with the Historically Black Towns and Settlements Alliance (HBTSA). We are working with the leaders and community members of various towns to help them leverage their impressive histories to generate cultural tourism and a sense of pride among their citizens. The SHC curatorial team has made visits to these towns to examine archival materials for research and historic value, as well as making recommendations about preservation and potential community documentation initiatives.

Façade of New Hope Baptist Church, Hobson City, Alabama
Façade of New Hope Baptist Church, Hobson City, Alabama

In the second week of December 2014, I had the pleasure of visiting both Hobson City and Tuskegee, Alabama.

Hobson City, Alabama was founded in August 1899 by a group of African Americans when they were politically excluded from the neighboring town of Oxford, Alabama. This made Hobson City the first all Black municipality in Alabama. Through changes in society, industry, and the economy; the town has maintained itself for 115 years. My hosts shared with me the incredible significance of the Calhoun County Training School, the five local churches, and Holloways (a club that was a stop on the illustrious chitlin circuit). One of the highlights of the trip was the delicious barbeque ribs and coleslaw from Brad’s BBQ!

(l-r) Carthell Green, Mayor Alberta McCrory, and Barnard Snow, looking at artifacts in Hobson City
(l-r) Carthell Green, Mayor Alberta McCrory, and Barnard Snow, looking at artifacts in Hobson City
Artwork near the mayor's office in the municipal complex, Tuskegee, Alabama
Artwork near the mayor’s office in the Municipal Complex, Tuskegee, Alabama

I thought that I knew a lot about Tuskegee; starting with the University, Booker T. Washington, George Washington Carver, the Tuskegee Airmen, and the Syphilis Experiment. While all of these elements are commemorated in museums and archives, there is a history of a community in Tuskegee that is not very well known. In the 1923, a Veteran’s hospital, staffed by Black doctors and nurses, was established to care for Black soldiers who fought in World War 1. Dyann Robinson, formerly of the Dance Theater of Harlem is the artistic director of the Tuskegee Repertory Theater. Deborah Grey is the director of the Tuskegee Civil and Human Rights and Multicultural Center which tells the story of Tuskegee from the original indigenous inhabitants to the election of its first Black mayor, Mr. Johnny Ford, in 1972.

Chaitra and Mayor Johnny Ford stand in the middle of the Tuskegee History Committee and various city officials, Tuskegee, Alabama
Chaitra and Mayor Johnny Ford stand in the middle of the Tuskegee History Committee and various city officials, Tuskegee, Alabama

Both visits were incredibly informative and signal the beginning of a long series of partnerships between the Southern Historical Collection and diverse communities throughout the American South.

 

Keeping it cool, dry, and constant

Contributed by Biff Hollingsworth, Collecting and Outreach Archivist

A few weeks ago, SHC Director Bryan Giemza and I traveled to the Mississippi Delta to discuss the preservation of several archival collections found in the area. During the visit I couldn’t turn my archivist brain off – I couldn’t help but ruminate on the physical environment around us, especially as it relates to the preservation of archival materials there. I realized that the Mississippi Delta is a very hostile place for paper!

Fresh from this experience, and since we often get questions from the public about the proper storage of personal and family collections at home, I thought I’d offer a few basic guidelines that I’ve learned from working in the field. And perhaps this is the best time of year to consider this, since it is a time when many of you are pulling out Christmas decorations from storage, clearing space in your closets for winter coats, or bringing out old photographs from your personal archives to scan for that awesome (or awkward?) DIY holiday calendar that you plan to give to all your loved ones this year.

IMG_3703
The sun beats down on the Delta – even in November.

Paper preservation experts, such as the Northeast Document Conservation Center and the preservation section of the National Archives, agree on three basic environmental factors for safe storage of documents, photographs, films and other treasures. The storage environment should be:

  • Cool,
  • Dry, and
  • Constant

Three things the Mississippi Delta is not! For example, look what the Delta’s hot and humid climate has done to the paint on the ceiling of one of the buildings that we visited during our trip.

IMG_3687

But how cool is cool? And how dry, and how constant? Well, documents and photographs are a lot like human beings. Both are “comfortable” in an environment that:

  • is about 60-70 degrees Fahrenheit
  • is kept at 40-50% relative humidity (RH)
  • has clean air and good circulation.

Temperature extremes and fluctuations speed up the chemical breakdown of paper that causes them to become brittle or discolored.  Also, excess moisture can result in mold growth and other archival nightmares.

So, where’s the best place in your home to store family collections? It certainly depends on specific environmental factors in your home, but often the best place to store family collections is in the interior part of the living space within your home, like inside a hall closet, where you know things will stay nice and cool, dry, and constant. Also, an added bonus of a hall closet is that collections stay in the dark, out of harmful sunlight.

Just remember: would you want to live in a leaky barn in the Delta? Or in a musty crawlspace under the house? Or in a hot garage?