Boston’s Black History

I was rejected twice by a major institutional donor to digitize the Freedom House collection, in 2016, and then in 2018. The papers are extensive, and our low-ball digitization estimate was that it would take $150K to complete. The first time, it was because of some incorrect assumptions about the digital humanities portion of the grant, the second time (if I’m remembering correctly) is that it didn’t have ‘national significance’.  Recently, we began an in-house project, but it’s slow going, without money to pay vendors.

I’m disappointed, because if it had been funded, we would be wrapping up the work right now– at the height of BlackLivesMatter protests, the collection is completely closed.

I’m sharing this little narrative section, because it says a lot of things that I want to say about history, about community memory, the importance of Black Boston, and what kind of effect universal, free access to this collection could have.

Any chance [large granting agency] you want to reconsider, and happen to have $150K for us to continue to digitize Boston’s Black history?

neu_130163
Thomas Atkins, an unidentified man, Kenneth Guscott, and Paul Parks in front of the Liberty Mutual display at the 1968 NAACP Annual Convention.

Grant Narrative:

Freedom House brought people together around pressing Civil Rights and Social Justice issues from 1949 to the present. It served as both a mouthpiece for and as a reflection of the African-American community in Boston. The collection is thus of crucial value to scholars interested in studying grassroots social justice movements or how conversations on civil rights, Jim Crow, integration/desegregation, and Black Power were started or fostered in northern African-American communities. The Snowden’s attempts to alter Boston’s culture of discrimination chart the evolution of their strategy: starting with open houses, teas, and neighborhood clean-ups in the 1950s, expanding to block-by-block organizing efforts in the 1960s, and organizing more politically targeted events such as school walkouts and Freedom Schools in the 1970s.  The collection also casts an important light on how a ‘liberal’ northern city interacted with its residents of color over time, including city and state agencies, political leaders, philanthropic organizations, and employers.   

The collection also provides rich documentation of the experiences, activities, and social interconnections of an entire community. It offers a detailed record of the experiences through which the community expressed cultural identity over an extended period of Boston’s social justice history. Freedom House’s membership and board serves as an Honor Roll of leaders in Roxbury, suggesting the political and social alliances being established between community leaders and the larger Boston political scene. Ebony Fashion Fairs brought community members on stage for beauty contests, and the Showcase of Stars brought international performers like Nina Simone and the Commodores to perform. The collection can illuminate how the community united to influence and react to national events, such as Brown v. Board of Education.

Important strands of scholarship are already exploring Boston’s busing crisis, but the Freedom House collection has the potential to support perspectives that are often overlooked.  As Jeanne Theoharis has argued, much current scholarship on the history of Boston school desegregation, including Anthony Lukas’ Pulitzer-winning Common Ground (1986) represent “prevailing historiographical and sociological schools of thought that marginalize the entrenched and explicit structures of racism in Boston and erase a well-organized, protracted local movement constructed against racial injustice” (Theoharis and Woodard, Groundwork: Local Black Freedom Movements in America, 18). Adding Freedom House’s long history of local struggle for education equity provides ample research fodder.  

In addition to clear scholarly research value, the collection also carries immense significance for current curricular priorities in both the Boston Public Schools (BPS)  and potentially for other K-12 programs in areas where social justice history is a pedagogical priority. To commemorate the 40th anniversary of Boston’s court-ordered desegregation, BPS built a multi-grade curricular unit for students to study the city’s desegregation efforts. To assist, UASC has been spearheading the BPS Desegregation Project, a multi-institutional digitization project whose goal is to make available material that shows Boston’s decades-long fight for equal education. This project will take advantage of the DPLA platform and API to provide integrated searching across a deep pool of primary source material gathered from many different sources.


In 2007 we digitized some of their photographs; you can see them here: https://freedomhouse.library.northeastern.edu/ Imagine if we had the stories attached to those photographs?

Tear down this (pay)wall!: Equality, equity, liberation for archivists

Freedom HouseAttached is a preprint of an article that I have submitted for the forthcoming special edition of the Journal of Critical Library and Information Studies. “This issue will provide an extended exploration of “how an archival ethics of care can be enacted in real world environments.” https://journals.litwinbooks.com/index.php/jclis/announcement/view/10

My article, “Tear down this (pay)wall!: Equality, equity, liberation for archivists” uses the concept of radical empathy and applies it to a discussion of archival collections made available for sale by for-profit companies.

Some folks have asked me for the pre-print, and I thought it would be easiest to attach it here.

Enjoy!

Mecagni JCLIS _Paywall_ resubmission

Logs and Lists during COVID-19

This is the rough outline of a presentation I gave at a recent staff meeting, lightly edited and linked. I am in awe of how quickly my team was able to identify and prepare these projects, and how our part-time staff have just plugged away at these logs and lists for so many months. My team are a hard-working, resilient, and brilliant bunch.

FayFoto2We have a full complement of activities in the University Archives and Special Collections.  Hopefully you’ve all seen the teaching with archives Molly, Regina, and other R+I colleagues have been putting together, and have been highlighted in the last CATLR newsletter as “something they are currently reading”. We continue to provide reference services, work on blogs, oral history transcription editing projects, remote classes, webinars, and upgrading our CERES sites.  

But today I’d like to highlight some of the back-end work that COVID has given us the opportunity to work on:

Lists and Logs. 

Most very very large collections need to have some kind of list, log, or indexing system to make them usable to the originating organization.  Our 3 outsized collections, FayFoto, The Globe, and the Phoenix are no exception (although the quality of them vary widely). We are spending our work from home time developing strategies to upgrade those logs.

[NB. Embarrassingly, I did neglect to call out the work Gina Nortonsmith is doing with her massive Civil Rights and Restorative Justice spreadsheet work, but she will be given another time to shine in a staff meeting] 

FayFoto1FayFoto:

Information about the collection and acquisition is here:

https://librarynews.northeastern.edu/?p=274573

  • 80 years of commercial photography business
  • 7.5 million negatives
  • Index is contained in 29 log books, from 1968-1999, 310 pages each, mostly handwritten

Example of a log book:

https://repository.library.northeastern.edu/files/neu:cj82rg717

Part-time staff are hand-transcribing these logs, which will ultimately become an index to the ‘who, what, where’ of what was going on in Boston over those years.

Boston Globe box list

The Globe collection did come in with a subject log, one that is easily follow-able.  

And when packing the collection, Daniel developed a list of the boxes that make them much more easily retrievable.  And created this wonderful finding aid: https://archivesspace.library.northeastern.edu/repositories/2/resources/984

However, we only know what folder sits at the beginning of the box and at the end. After retrieving the same 25 Kennedy boxes a few times, we started box listing all of the Globe clippings boxes we retrieve. 

In addition to the folder list, staff included disambiguation based on the subjects of the clippings file, determining which John Buchannan is an Escaped convict, a lynn machinist, or a professor at Penn.

102 boxes later, we have a list, but it needs some editing before we are able to load it into archivesspace. 

Phoenix crowdsourced pilot

The Phoenix is one of our more heavily  used teaching collections.  But apart from browsing, there really isn’t a way to easily delve into the articles of the phoenix unless you knew what you were looking for. 

However, the Phoenix did produce two typed card file indices to its paper. These indices have been scanned, OCRed and made available online here:

18 Author Indexes, 1973- 1990 

13 Index Subjects, 1974-1986, (bulk 1974-1982)

Filed by year, each author index usually includes >1000 cards. 

Because we are so busy working on FayFoto, we have started exploring the idea of a crowdsourced project.  Let me know if you’d like to be a volunteer tester of the zooniverse instance we have started to put together.

Teaching with Archives

 

The 2020 Northeastern University Library Supporter’s newsletter is chock full of things that the University Archives and Special Collections have been involved in over the past year;  the Boston Research Center, The Holocaust Awareness Committee digital collections online, the COVID-19 Archive, the Boston Globe photo archive display tours, but what I am most proud of is our community-embedded Teaching with Archives program, stewarded by the fabulous Molly Brown. Here is the article from the newsletter. The whole newsletter is attached as a pdf at the end.


On any given day in the Northeastern University Library Archives and Special Collections, you could find a Northeastern student, a National Parks Service Ranger, a Boston Public Schools high schooler, or a Greater Boston community member visiting for a class using primary sources. The classes, workshops, and experiences offered by the Archives are a result of the Teaching with Archives program led by Molly Brown, the Reference and Outreach Archivist, and Regina Pagani, the Arts, Humanities, and Experiential Learning Librarian. Teaching with Archives classes equip participants to locate, read, and engage with primary sources such as meeting minutes, correspondence, photographs, local newspapers, and more related to the history of Boston’s social justice organizations as well as Northeastern University’s history. The Boston Public Schools (BPS) continue to include the Teaching with Archives program in their curriculum educating high school juniors about Boston’s school desegregation history. The BPS students visit the Archives to learn more about the long history of education activism and find primary sources to incorporate in a chapter they are writing about an activist. Students are asked to consider their chapter as a way of contributing to popular historical records about desegregation, and expanding it by embedding community informed archival records in their telling of an activist’s life. The sessions taught by Brown and Pagani emphasize experiential learning and encourage reflection about the participants’ own role in history, how their neighborhood, school, and beyond are part of the story of Boston’s past and present. They welcome anyone interested in learning from the Archives and Special Collections’ records. Find more about the Teaching With Archives program at https://library.northeastern.edu/archives-special-collections/services/teaching-with-archives 


For the third year this summer, the National Parks Service’s youth program “Historias de Boston” will return to the Archives and Special Collections to kick off their Latinx cultural heritage documentation project. Historias de Boston is a new youth employment program from the National Parks of Boston designed to engage youth in exploring the connections of the Latinx communities of Boston throughout the city’s history. At their sessions with Reference and Outreach Archivist Molly Brown, the Historias de Boston team listens to oral histories from the Archives as a group and explores materials from the Inquilinos Boricuas en Acción records and the Carmen Pola papers to think creatively about what Latinx history in Boston looks like in archival records, and how they could contribute to our understanding of the past. The session in the Archives and Special Collections helps direct and empower the students as they go out to begin collecting their own history. During the 6-week program, students research and gather stories within the three different sites of the National Parks of Boston and the Boston Latinx Community. Their final

project results in a group video project as well as personal video reflection which are all deposited and preserved in the archives. You can find the past two years of Historias de Boston stories deposited to the Archives at https://latinxhistory.library.northeastern.edu/historias-de-boston

2020_supporters_newsletter_-_web_optimized_file