February 1, 2018, we launched the BPS Desegregation Portal and I thought I would spend a few minutes talking about the origins of the project.
My predecessor served on the advisory committee of the “Lower Roxbury Black History Project,” which ran from 2006-2009. It was not an archives-driven project; it was managed and funded through City Affairs. Project funding ran out unexpectedly in 2009, so when I arrived at Northeastern in June of 2013, the interviews, digitized images, and photographs were sitting on an external hard drive on a shelf in the Archives, uncataloged and unfindable. Community members often asked “where is the oral history project?” when I met with them.
Library administration and I applied for some money to expand on this project and create an electronic home for it called ” The Lower Roxbury Digital Library.” The funder we approached was not interested– they asked us to come up with project that more closely resembled the Shoah Foundation— an oral history collection of national importance. Although the reason for this rejection rankled (Local history is the foundation of our work!), it got me thinking about what about our collections could qualify as of “national importance,” despite having a hyper-local focus. I surveyed our collections and determined that some of our most-used collections related to school desegregation in Boston– commonly known as ‘busing.’
And there was an anniversary– 2014 marked 40 years since the Garrity decision court ordered schools to desegregate. There were commemorative events and press– Boston City Council hearings, articles in the Boston Globe, the Mayor talked about his own personal experiences. To gague the temperature of a project on campus, I convened Northeastern faculty who were already using Boston’s school desegregation troubles pedagogically, from English, Education, History, Public History. Meghan Doran, then a Northeastern Sociology Ph.D. student, introduced me to the Union of Minority Neighborhood’s Boston Busing Desegregation Project, whose work completely altered the direction/thrust of our ideas (concepts of the long civil rights movement, focus on Boston’s education civil rights heroes, “it’s not the bus, it’s us”). The work continued: I was contacted by Josue Sakata, a curriculum designer for BPS, “was there material he could include in a new unit on Desegregation?” Fabulous NU student Martha Pearson started working on an independent study, “Boston Before Busing” which made use of new tools being built by the newly formed Digital Scholarship Group of the library. UMass Boston’s Public History program focused on school desegregation, creating another wonderful exhibit “Stark and Subtle Divisions.”, which introduced me to the wonderful collections at the Boston City Archives.
I mentioned all of this churn, and the possibility to colleagues at the Boston Library Consortium (BLC). We brainstormed– wouldn’t it be great for this information to be widely available and become part of public discourse? And then, could we unite our collections in one place? And if that was even possible, where? DPLA?
I did some Digital Commonwealth/DPLA searching and realized that the only material related to Boston’s desegregation fight were from WGBH. There were other collections, but they were all from the south and western parts of the country. This wasn’t surprising– the bulk of the most relevant collections were at Northeastern, UMass Boston, Suffolk University, and the City and State Archives– and none of us were adding metadata to Digital Commonwealth/DPLA.
We applied to BLC for two separate but related grants– technical assistance to help assist BLC institutions to develop the technical connection from our repositories to DPLA, and scanning funds for the school desegregation project. The goal of the two simultaneous grants would result in
- BLC institutions connected to DPLA
- Determining the feasibility of developing a roadmap for other collaborative collections.
If both projects were successful, it would also result in a collaborative desegregation collection. BLC funded both projects.
The press release: