Preserving Black History

This Black History Month I want to highlight places that are preserving black history. Establishments like the Louis Armstrong Archives, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, the National Museum of African American Music, the Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection at Temple University, and countless museums and archives that collect and catalog information pertaining to black history are a necessity. For many African Americans, having organizations that hold this information is key to keeping black history alive for future generations. Young black people like myself, need these collections so we can learn from our predecessors and either continue or be inspired by their legacies. The history that is told in textbooks often does not include a complete picture of the accomplishments of African Americans, but these collections can help change that.   

Credit: The New York Public Library

Founded in 1925 in Harlem, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture houses a large collection of various items pertaining to people of African descent across the diaspora and is a resource for researchers or anyone wanting to learn more. They house essential documents such as records from the Underground Railroad, rare manuscripts, slave records, and other items that cover from the time period of slavery to current day. Without places like the Schomburg these documents could be lost or undiscovered in other locations. Having records from slavery, as an example, allows for scholars to gain a better understanding of the lives of slaves and non-scholars can learn about the sides of slavery that is not taught in schools. There are a lot of gaps in teaching American and world history, and black children and others need a place like the Schomburg to educate them on the history of black people. 

The Louis Armstrong Archives, located at Queens College and opened in 1994, houses the largest collection dedicated to a single jazz musician- a feat that needs to be common across the country. Here at the archives we collect anything of significance that relates to Louis Armstrong directly or indirectly. By doing this we are protecting Louis’ memory and dispelling any inaccuracies in his history. Items such as Louis’ reel to reel tapes, his personal writings and correspondence are a way to get a picture of how Louis saw the world and his achievements. We also house intimate photos and audio from people that knew Louis and could attest to his genius both on stage and off. The Archives conserve the biography of Louis and a significant part of jazz history, which is a part of American history. More places like the Armstrong Archives are needed to uphold the history of important black figures. 

Inside the Armstrong Archives. Photo by Jazz Milligan

Archives and collections are not the only places where black history is stored, museums also house, exhibit, and educate the public about black stories. Museums like the National Museum of African American History and Culture, and The Legacy Museum are all sites of education about the history of blacks in America. The approach for these museums is to educate and provide a narrative for visitors to understand black history from different angles. Museums are a way for people who want to learn about history and experience it physically. They can also educate a mass number of people at once; school groups can take tours and have students discuss what they see together, and tourists can learn new things from different sources.

Courtesy of The National Museum of African American History & Culture. Photo by: Alan Karchmer from Douglas Remley

        Today people are taking it upon themselves to archive black history on different forums. Technology and social media has allowed people to create their own digital archive that is accessible to anyone. Renata Cherlise started a website/Instagram in 2015 titled Blvck Vrchives (http://www.blvckvrchives.com), a place where she curates collections about everyday black life both past and present. She and others have started a grassroots movement of collecting stories and photos of black history that is not usually found in textbooks. Documenting everyday black life is just as important as documenting a famous person’s life. Collecting the stories of typical black people can help to combat the negative stereotypes that plague the black community. Seeing photos or listening to oral stories can give people an intimate look at how black people live. Black history encompasses a lot of information and having a variety of sources about it makes studying and learning easier. 

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