One of my personal highlights from the forthcoming African American Communities resource has been working with the oral history collections featured within the project.
The oral histories (sourced from the Atlanta History Center, Washington University in St. Louis and the Weeksville Heritage Center) contain personal accounts of the Atlanta civil rights movement, African-American art and culture, and the African-American community of Weeksville, Brooklyn.
One favorite is an interview with Raven Wilkinson from “I’ll Make Me a World: African-American Artists in the 20th Century” (an oral history collection from Washington University). This collection celebrates some of the extraordinary achievements made by influential African-American artists of the previous century.
Wilkinson—now a semi-retired ballet dancer—was the first African-American woman to dance full-time with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in the mid-1950s. Replying to a question in a 1997 interview about being labelled a “black artist” Wilkinson responded:
“I think an artist, primarily, is what it says it is. It’s neither black nor white; it’s an artist communicating their spirit, their soul, their conception of the world to people.”
Wilkinson’s interview resonates today when many of the world’s elite ballet companies continue to be criticized for their failure to cast black dancers.
Focusing predominantly on communities in Atlanta, Chicago, New York, St. Louis, and towns and cities in North Carolina, this collection (expected to launch this October) encompasses documents from 1863 to the 1980s and reveals the prevalent challenges of racism, discrimination, and integration, and a unique African-American culture and identity.
In addition to oral histories, researchers will be able to review:
National Urban League records, including Chicago Urban League papers from 1917 to 1985 from the University of Illinois at Chicago, and materials from the Urban League of St. Louis from 1918 to 1986 from Washington University in St. Louis
- Materials on the legal battles for the desegregation of public schools and buses, featuring materials from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
- 1925–1928 items from The Messenger, a popular civil rights magazine published by activist A. Philip Randolph, sourced from the Newberry Library
Users will also be able to explore the African-American community of Weeksville in Brooklyn by using interactive floor plans of the historic Hunterfly Road Houses.
African American Communities will be published in October. Material has been sourced from six contributing archives and libraries including: Atlanta History Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, University of Illinois at Chicago, Washington University in St. Louis, the Newberry Library, and Weeksville Heritage Center. Full access will be restricted to authenticated academic institutions that have purchased a license. For more information on African American Communities, please click here.