Diggin’ Into the Past: Black Librarians, Archivists, and Museum Professionals

Source: George Cleveland Hall Branch Archives, Chicago Public Library, Carter G. Woodson Regional Library, Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection of Afro-American History and Literature
Richard Wright presenting Vivian G. Harsh with an autographed copy of his book, Native Son, in 1941. Wright conducted research for his writings at the George Cleveland Hall Library Branch in Chicago. // Source: George Cleveland Hall Branch Archives, Chicago Public Library, Carter G. Woodson Regional Library, Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection of Afro-American History and Literature

Black librarians, archivists, museum professionals (museum/gallery founders, curators, and collectors), and community members have always played a critical role in documenting and shaping our understanding of black history and culture in America and worldwide. Laboring in love, these individuals were committed to researching, collecting, processing, cataloging, creating finding aids, conserving, interpreting, distributing, and exhibiting the “stuff” of our history. Yes, alladat!

Fortunately, my grad school experiences exposed me to the various dynamics of the historical process, allowing me to experience firsthand the relationship between historians, libraries, and archives. In my own journey, the library and archives are not only a safe haven for thought, but the foundation of the research process.  Historians, especially, often rely on libraries and archives for primary source materials. Unfortunately, I realize that many of our historical culture keepers, or griots, are often overshadowed by more prominent figures and movements.

Studying Katherine Dunham and her early years in Chicago, gave me the opportunity to become acquainted with other pioneering women like Vivian G. Harsh, Charlemae Rollins, and Margaret T. Burroughs, among others. However, these core women were actively engaged in research, writing, institution building, documenting and managing collections. In the process, I learned more about myself, but also about black women’s role in community development and in shaping black intellectual culture.

Related:

Arthur Schomburg

Carter G. Woodson

For a more extensive list of black librarians here’s a lovely pinterest I recently came across by Regina Townsend // @MsHootieHoo

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