1,000 Racial Homicides Investigated in Unprecedented Burnham-Nobles Digital Archive

Screen capture from Northeastern School of Law website Sept 27, 2022

In 2016, I had a meeting with Rose Zoltek-Jick from the Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project at the Northeastern School of Law. Paraphrased and simplified*, she said “I just heard that Northeastern had an archive. We’re building an archive. We need you!”

6 years and a cast of thousands lending their skills to its creation later, today CRRJ launched the Burnham-Nobles Digital Archive. It’s been one of the most meaningful and impactful projects I’ve ever worked on, and I’m so happy that Rose reached out that day.

I’m also so proud of the team in the Library who worked so hard and carefully to make this all happen (see credits for the full list), but most importantly Project Archivist Gina Nortonsmith, who held us all together and moving forward with grace and humor.

Check it out: https://crrjarchive.org/

And come to the launch event October 7 2022
https://crrj.org/efforts/by-hands-now-known-civil-rights-and-restorative-justice-digital-archive-conference/

*law scholars have a tendency to be a little verbose.


Content of the press release follows:

09.27.22 — Today, the Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project (CRRJ) at Northeastern University School of Law released the Burnham-Nobles Digital Archive, one of the most comprehensive digital archives of racial homicides collected to date. The Archive brings together evidence demonstrating the extensive scale and scope of killings between 1930 and 1954 in the Jim Crow South. Many of the 1,000 cases of anti-Black killings were mishandled by local police and prosecutors or went unreported until investigated by Northeastern students in law and journalism and their faculty. Built on open-source architecture, the Archive offers users the opportunity to learn about how violence affected people’s lives, defined legal rights and shaped politics during the Jim Crow era. The Archive can be found at crrjarchive.org.

“I think I am joined by the hundreds of people who worked on this project in hoping it will deepen our understanding of the function and impact of anti-Black violence in our country’s history, and concomitantly, the character of the resistance movements that fought against it. This Archive is not a closed file drawer. We hope it will invite further scholarship and academic discourse, and, importantly, provide communities with the resources they need to create memory, acknowledge trauma, and support demands for a more just future,” said Professor Margaret Burnham, founder and director of CRRJ. She is also the author of the related, highly acclaimed new book, By Hands Now Known: Jim Crow’s Legal Executioners.

Over the past 15 years, more than 400 students in Northeastern Law’s Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Clinic have scoured historical newspapers, archival collections, federal records and genealogical databases. Joined by scholars in history, political science, sociology and media studies, and by pro bono attorneys, these students have carefully preserved and logged 20,000 pieces of evidence for 1,000 cases of anti-Black killings in 11 former Confederate states from 1930 to 1954. Over time, they have amassed records for each case such as death certificates, press clippings, federal, state and local law enforcement files, reports from civil rights groups, state and federal courts, images and recorded personal stories.

The Burnham-Nobles Digital Archive puts the underlying, hidden narratives from this era on display, and brings justice to families and communities so that they may better understand their context and begin to repair intergenerational damage. CRRJ fosters opportunities for public dialogue between representatives of the state entities that committed the wrongs and representatives of the wronged. In many of these cases, CRRJ has worked with families and communities to find restorative justice responses, such as public community acknowledgments, markers and street re-namings in memory of victims, and museum exhibits documenting the murders. CRRJ has also brought cases to court, including a landmark settlement with Franklin County, Mississippi. CRRJ also serves as a resource for scholars, policymakers and organizers involved in various initiatives examining these crimes.

Thanks to generous support from the Mellon Foundation and the Ford Foundation, CRRJ partnered with the Northeastern University Library’s Archives and Special Collections, Digital Production Services and Digital Scholarship Group to review the collection, organize it, describe it and make it available to the public.

About Northeastern University School of Law

The nation’s leader in experiential legal education since 1968, Northeastern University School of Law offers the longest-running, most extensive experience-based legal education program in the country. Northeastern guarantees its students unparalleled practical legal work experiences through its signature Cooperative Legal Education Program. More than 1,000 employers worldwide in a wide range of legal, government, nonprofit and business organizations participate in the program. With a focus on social justice and innovation, Northeastern University School of Law blends theory and practice, providing students with a unique set of skills and experiences to successfully practice law.

Boston Globe coverage of our Latinx community portal

Rarely seen snapshots of Latino Boston

Boston Globe article Sept 15, 2022

By Omar Vega Globe Staff, Updated September 15, 2022, 3:00 a.m.

Whether they are family photo albums or institutional records, photographic archives bring alive moments in time — individuals, families, and communities captured in joy, fellowship, daily life. Many of these repositories represent people at risk of being erased from history or inaccurately portrayed. Where the collective memory falters, photographs remind us.

That’s one of the pleasures of Boston’s Latinx Community History online archive. It contains more than 41,000 digital images that Northeastern University has made freely available as a resource to the community, students, and scholars. The items were drawn from two local organizations that donated their records to Northeastern, Inquilinos Boricuas en Acción and La Alianza Hispana.

I wanted to look into the history of Latino and Hispanic photographers in Boston after reading “Latinx Photography in the United States — A Visual History,” a 2021 book by Elizabeth Ferrer. That book explores the civil rights struggles and daily life in the Chicano communities of Los Angeles and the Nuyorican and Boricua communities of New York City and Chicago during the 1960s and ’70s. Most of the photos in Ferrer’s book had not appeared in histories of photography in the United States.

A lot of the images were published in Spanish-language newspapers coming up at that time — especially in social justice papers such as La Raza and Palante. The Latino community of Boston was not as sizable as those in LA and New York, but still I wondered: Was something comparable happening in Boston back then?

I spent hours at the Boston Public Library straining my eyes, looking through poorly scanned microfilm of La Semana and El Planeta, Spanish-language newspapers in Boston that got their start in the 1970s, but not much came from it.When I made some more inquiries at the library and the Museum of Fine Arts, though, I heard about the Northeastern archives.

At first I was mostly focused on finding the names of photographers active in Hispanic communities in Boston during the ’60s and ’70s. But as I looked at the photos themselves, I started to see parts of the city coming to life. It was a visual diary of Christmas pageants, Puerto Rican festivals, and community outreach programs — including a successful grassroots effort to help save a Puerto Rican South End community from gentrification.

I’m not from this city, but in these images of strangers from decades ago I imagined my teenage mom with friends on a trip to the lake, a sassy glance at the camera that recalled my dear friend Natalie, and a babe in arms who could have been my cousin Dre. I saw myself in these photos too.

After more than eight years living here, I looked at these photographs and truly felt like a Bostonian.

https://www.bostonglobe.com/2022/09/15/opinion/rarely-seen-snapshots-latino-boston/?event=event25

Centering Communities in Digital Collections

Digital Commonwealth Conference Logo

I’ve been asked to speak at the Digital Commonwealth annual conference on June 14, 2022. I’m on a panel entitled “Harnessing the Power of Academic Institutions for Change” with Kate McNally (Brandeis) and Emily Pfotenhauer (Wisconsin Library Services). I’ll be speaking about a whitepaper Rebecca Riccio, Becca Berkey and I just recently published in Northeastern’s Digital Repository, Principles of Anti-Oppressive Community Engagement for University Educators and Researchers. https://repository.library.northeastern.edu/files/neu:5x21tg54q

Becca, Rebecca and I have been thinking about a set of best practices for community engagement that eventually became these Principles for a number of years now, and it feels really good to have them out in the world. Early ideas and thoughts I had about this topic include:

  • A (fake) certification program for DH projects that follow a set of guidelines or principles called LEEDh (2017)
  • “What Would the Community Think?” a conference presentation at DLF where I talked about how I went looking for a ‘ethical community engagement for dummiess’ resource and couldn’t locate one in the archives/library literature (2018)
  • My newly published article about how Paywalls are bad for under-represented communities (2022) https://doi.org/10.24242/jclis.v3i2.126 (2022)
  • Other conferences and publications about Radical Empathy, which is (of course) related, but the Principles only speak to a tiny piece of the RE puzzle.

I’m really excited about this presentation (and a few more I’m scheduling this spring/summer) becase it’s the first time I’ll have a publication (apart from a zine) that attempts to guide us toward a better future. It’s one thing to poke at our field and say “this thing is terrible” and completely another thing to gather a set of ideas and write them down in an attempt to help make things better.

Please come! The conference is a full day, is only $20 max, and the keynote is Dr. Tonia Sutherland (#swoons in Archives)

If you’d like to see the presentation, go here:

https://www.dropbox.com/s/ptcfy6q2r77qrcf/2022%20DC%20Conference%20-%20Harnessing%20the%20Power%20of%20Academic%20Institutions%20-%20Presentations.mp4?dl=0

Edits 8/19/22: removed registration link and added link to presentation.

Phoenix story on WBZ Radio

I talked to Matt Shearer, a reporter for WBZ Radio Boston this week for a story on how Northeastern Archives worked to put the Boston Phoenix free online this week. I missed listening to them live, but Matt sent me .mp3s. You can listen to them at the links below.

The first segment is on how people used to read the Phoenix while riding the T (Boston’s public transit system), and what it’s like for students to read the papers now:

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1pWzhgryvknahNEk9H0CW1MsX72633-YM/view?usp=sharing

The second is on the Phoenix classifieds section. It includes me talking about how I found many of my 1990s era roomates there:*

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1-VyZ1Cn7kHpzdLpzRefBXsFftHpY8NCh/view?usp=sharing

Enjoy! I think they’re cute.


*Shout out to 5 Malbert, the $303/month (which included toilet paper, but not utilities) 7 bedroom apartment I lived in for 4 years– It always had a band playing in the basement, someone sleeping on the couch, and a cockroach skeleton in the silverware drawer. Memories.

Boston Phoenix issues now available freely online

In 2015, Stephen Mindich donated the archives of the Boston Phoenix to the Northeastern University Archives and Special Collections. Now, a scanned copy of many of the issues are available for free in the Internet Archive.

How we got from A. to B. is the subject of a blog post by Caralee Adams on the archive.org blog. You can read the article at this URL http://blog.archive.org/2021/12/15/boston-phoenix-rises-again-with-new-online-access/ but I’ve also pasted the content below. Thank you Caralee and team!

Some exciting things have happened along the way:

1. I met Brewster Kahle (well, zoom, but still…)

2. Dan Kennedy wrote a really complementary article on his blog Media Nation, which made me blush the color of the Hancock tower’s beacon when it rains. Thank you, Dan. https://dankennedy.net/2021/12/16/after-a-long-delay-most-of-the-boston-phoenix-print-archives-are-now-online/

Boston Phoenix Rises Again With New Online Access

Posted on  by Caralee Adams

For more than 40 years, The Boston Phoenix was the city’s largest alternative weekly in covering local politics, arts, and culture.

The Boston Phoenix, Volume 2, Issue 44 – October 30, 1973

“It was really a pretty legendary paper. The style of the writing and the quality of writers were nationally known,” said Carly Carioli, who started at the newspaper as an intern in 1993 and became its last editor-in-chief.

With the advent of online advertising, it struggled like many independent newspapers to compete. In 2013, the Phoenix folded.

After the publication shut down, owner Stephen Mindich wanted the public to be able to access back issues of the Phoenix. The complete run of the newspaper from 1973 to 2013 was donated to Northeastern University’s special collections. The family signed copyright over the university. 

Librarians led a crowdsourcing project to create a digital index of all the articles and authors, which was helpful for historians and others in their research, said Giordana Mecagni, head of special collections and university archivist. Northeastern had inquired about digitizing the collection, but it was cost prohibitive. 

As it turns out, the Internet Archive owned the master microfilm for the Phoenix and it put the full collection online in a separate collection: The Boston Phoenix 1973-2013. Initially, the back issues were only available for one patron to check out at a time through Controlled Digital Lending. Once Northeastern learned about the digitized collection, it extended rights to the Archive to allow the Phoenix to be downloaded without controls.

Read The Boston Phoenix at the Internet Archive

“All of a sudden it was free to the public. It was wonderful,” Mecagni said. “We get tons and tons of research requests for various  aspects of the Phoenix, so having it available online for free for people to download is a huge help for us.” 

Inquiries range from someone trying to track down a classified ad through which they met their spouse, or an individual looking up an article about a band. The paper was a leader in writing groundbreaking stories about the LGBTQ community, the AIDS crisis, race and the Vietnam War—often issues not covered in the mainstream press. “Making that coverage public is adding an immense amount to the historical record that would not be there otherwise,” said Carioli. He said he appreciates the preservation and easy access to back issues, as do other journalists, researchers and academics.

“It’s a dream come true,” said Carioli of the Internet Archive’s digitization of the newspaper. “The Phoenix was invaluable in its own time, and I think it will be invaluable for a new generation who are just discovering it now. It was a labor of love then and the fact that it’s online now is huge for Boston, but also for anyone who’s interested in independent media and culture.”

East Boston Historical Society and Museum

I recently joined the Board of the East Boston Historical Society and Museum. I love Eastie history, love working toward impossible tasks, and to top it off, I can see the Donald McKay house from my kitchen window. The Museum was recently featured in Historic Boston, Inc.’s blog, which you can read directly here, but I’ve copied the text below as well.

_____________________________

SEPTEMBER 23, 2021 
MEET THE EAST BOSTON MUSEUM AND HISTORICAL SOCIETY

in Blog by Kathy Kottaridis

Earlier this year, with assistance from the East Boston Community Development Corporation (EBCDC), the East Boston Museum and Historical Society entered into a purchase and sale agreement with the owner of the historic Donald McKay House at 80 White Street in East Boston.

The Museum is devoted to preserving and promoting centuries of East Boston history. It provides regular local history programs for the public and has long hoped to identify an historic building for its headquarters.  When the Donald McKay House became available, they were convinced it was the perfect place for the organization’s home and a museum of East Boston history.

Hey Brian Gannon, I see you!

Debra Cave, the organization’s President, leads an all-volunteer organization with an 11-member board of directors.  “The East Boston Museum is an organization with members from ages 24 to 75,” she said.  “We have so many stories to tell and so much more to discover about our past that can inform the future.”   Cave particularly highlights three themes that are woven through East Boston’s 400-year written history that guides the Museum’s work:  transportation, immigration and advocacy.

Historic Boston is supporting the East Boston CDC and the Museum on a feasibility study for the house’s preservation and transformation into a museum.  The three organizations are actively interviewing architects and consultants to help with planning.

“Most of us who grew up in East Boston have been hearing about Donald McKay all our lives,” said Cave.  “This is a rare opportunity to purchase a building associated with him, and a great chance for the Museum to have the space it needs to store collections, present programs and display exhibits that will tell a bigger and richer history of the neighborhood.  Our members value history, but we also believe in building community by understanding the past and present.  This should be a place where everyone in the community feels welcome.”

“We are often offered donations of papers, books, and such, and haven’t had the space for their storage,” said Cave.  “The McKay House gives us space to plan for acquiring things that residents and visitors can use for research, and that we can use to create exhibits.”

The Donald McKay House was built by McKay (1810-1880) in 1844 near the crest of Eagle Hill.  McKay lived there until he moved to Hamilton Massachusetts in 1869 for the last decade of his life.  McKay emigrated to the US from Nova Scotia, and established his shipyard on the East Boston waterfront, from which he launched dozens of great 19th century sailing vessels, including clipper ships like the Flying Cloud and the Sovereign of the Seas, which was clocked as the fastest sailing ship ever recorded.

The City of Boston CPA has granted the Museum $400,000 toward the McKay House acquisition.  The Museum and the CDC are working on a capital campaign to raise the funds necessary to purchase the building.  Over the next several months, East Boston CDC, the Museum and HBI will be working with its chosen architect, engineers and contractors to determine the cost of restoring the historic house and adapting it for public and commercial uses.

According to Debra Cave, the East Boston Museum will plan the new facility with input from a cross section of East Boston community organizations whose work can complement the goals of the McKay House. “Many East Boston groups have cultural programming that we can support, too,” said Cave.  “We’re going into this optimistically and with our eyes wide open.  This will be hard work, but we know it will be a valuable contribution to the present and future of the neighborhood, and we know we have the right partners working alongside us.”

Neighborhood Matters, lunchtime film and lecture series

Neighborhood Matters, 2014

In 2014, Bree Edwards and I founded a lunchtime film and lecture series called Neighborhood Matters, to “celebrate the ways in which community groups have shaped the neighborhoods surrounding the Northeastern campus.” It was intended to be a chance for students, faculty, and community members to meet, share some takeout from the delicious Haley House Bakery and Cafe´, and learn about various aspects of our communtities’ history.

I often joke that my goal was to start an event series that required almost nothing, “All I have to do is pop the VHS tape in and press play!”** But Bree really hepled shape the series into something more– an intentional space without an us/them; one that uses food as a connector, and conversations that bridge gaps and promote mutual understanding. We have attempted to keep this up even after Bree’s career path took her elsewhere.

The guest speakers/commenters/presenters we’ve asked to come to campus have been superstars. Each has openly shared their nuanced and vast understanding of the topic at hand while also being incredibly patient with our students. The 2014 series (flyer pictured above) featured Mel King, Carmen Pola, and John Barros! What a lineup.

I’ve been assembling a little digital collection of our Neighborhood Matters posters, and you can see it here. Enjoy. https://repository.library.northeastern.edu/collections/neu:ww72bs340

**please note that this was a pragmatic choice– at the time I had one employee, a lot of technical debt to deal with, and an archive to run.

Overcoming the Paywall: Radical empathy and making the Gay Community News accessible to all

The August 2-8, 1987, issue of the Gay Community News. Its front page is an image of protesters standing in front of the U.S. Capitol with the headline "DC-Active! Coming out center stage to march on Washington"
The August 2-8, 1987, of the Gay Community News.

The Library (thanks, Kerri!) recently published a piece about the article I wrote for the Journal of Critical Library and Information Studies (currently in preprint) that problematizes for-profit companies selling digitized collections that originate from under-documented comminities, and our attempt to un-paywall the Gay Community News. I’ve pasted the text below, but the article can be read directly on the Library’s blog here.

TL;DR? The main message is to archivists and digital collection builders: You can un-paywall your collections legally, too!

______________________________________

When Jackson Davidow was looking for information on Boston’s gay community in the 1970s, he knew where to go.

“I’ve long been interested in the relationship between queer politics and queer art, particularly in Boston in the 1970s, a point at which the city was a crucial hub of gay discourse, activism, nightlife, and sex,” said Davidow, a postdoctoral fellow in the “Translating Race” Lab at the Center for the Humanities at Tufts University. Gay Community News “was grounded in the political, cultural, and social environments of Boston. For that reason, it is an invaluable resource for researchers who study gay and lesbian life and liberation in Boston and beyond.”

Scan of the January 12, 1974 issue of the Gay Community News. It includes the headlines: New Gay Bills; UNH Saga Continues; and Maine Gays Attacked
The January 12, 1974, issue of the Gay Community News, one of its first published.

Gay Community News (GCN) was started in 1973 by eight Bostonians seeking to create a community voice for gays and lesbians in the Boston area. Originally published as a 2-page mimeographed sheet, the newspaper grew to have a national and international audience by the late 1970s and became one of the longest-running and most progressive national newspapers in the gay community. It was a natural place to start to gather the information Davidow needed. Issues of the GCN and records from its parent organization, the Bromfield Street Educational Foundation were subsequently donated to the Northeastern University Archives and Special Collections (NUASC).  

While today’s researchers can contact many archives by email and receive scans of collections remotely, there was a time when physically visiting an Archives was only possible for those who lived in or could travel to the area. To provide more access to collections in the 1980s and 1990s, some Archives made arrangements to microfilm high use portions of their collections. In recent years those microfilms have been digitized and are offered via subscription to libraries — usually at a high cost — and then made available to the students and faculty affiliated with that university, a practice commonly described as “paywalling.”

Unfortunately, this means that the many of the volunteers who wrote and edited articles, turned the crank on the mimeograph machine, or paid to advertise a queer night at a local club no longer have access to the content they created. It’s a trend that Giordana Mecagni, Head of the NUASC, knows all too well. Troubled, she recently published “Tear Down This (Pay)wall!: Equality, Equity, and Liberation for Archivists” in the Journal of Critical Library and Information Studies. The piece describes the negative effect paywalled archives have on institutions, archives, and researchers, and focuses on the GCN.

“Having the Gay Community News behind a paywall results in uneven access, where affiliates of universities can access the resource but members of marginalized groups within the queer community may not,” Mecagni wrote.

“Paywalls restrict who has access to archival materials. Many scholars are independent and unattached to academic institutions, or attached to academic institutions that do not have the money to subscribe to special historical resources,” Davidow added.

The NUASC recently completed an effort to made the Gay Community News freely available to anyone by re-scanning the GCN with help from the Boston Public Library’s “Library for the Commonwealth” program. This program provides free scanning services to Massachusetts libraries who have unique materials they want to share widely  and freely. Now researchers, students, members of the LGBTQIA+ community, writers, and anyone else can browse through 26 years of the GCN to get a glimpse of the gay community in Boston and around the world.

Researchers like Davidow are thrilled.

“The digitization of GCN helps scholars and community members learn about and revisit these important histories,” he said. “During my research for my recent essay in The Baffler, ‘Against Our Vanishing,’ I talked with many people involved in GCN, and everyone was thrilled to learn that the full run is available online.”

The GCN is available to access digitally through the NUASC’s LGBTQIA+ History Collection.


Against Our Vanishing– Jackson Davidow in the _Baffler_

Jackson Davidow was a 2020-2021 New England Regional Fellowship Consortium awardee, working in our University Archives and Special Collections and several other member archives He recently published an article in the Baffler that draws from his archival research on Gay art and politics in 1970s Boston including the newly publicly available Gay Community News. It is a wonderful read.

https://thebaffler.com/latest/against-our-vanishing-davidow

When I had been dancing for hours, hugging briefly one woman then another, jumping up and down, music blasting—Patti LaBelle, “Voulez-vous couchez avec moi / ce soir”—a moment would come when I would feel ecstatic with love for everyone, every single one of us, all of us lesbians together, even if I didn’t have anyone to go home with.