As part of the Princeton University Library’s inaugural Archives Research and Collaborative History (ARCH) Program, 12 undergraduates and two graduate students from five historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) explored the connections among archives, historical narratives, and social justice at Mudd Library and Firestone Library from July 9 to July 13, 2018. They were asked to reflect on their experiences in writing. This post is the third in a short series of such reflections.
Do You Remember? Untitled Individuals And Closeted Negro Persons
By Kaya Mosley, Lincoln University
Being surrounded by so many fiery individuals has definitely lit a spark within me… kinda like nitrate film. Before my involvement in this program I viewed archives as simply dusty, old, mildewy smelling papers from “way back when”. Now I know that what is considered to be archives extends all the way to vinegar-smelling film and pre-presidential post-it notes. Aside from distinguishing smells, I became privy to a few more things.
- I learned that it is not so much what the archives tell us, but what we tell them that becomes important. Being an archivist is akin to being given the chance to “play God.” You are the sole writer of history, and the future, too. In relation to this power, I think of the estate records discovered of the Maclean House during the Princeton and Slavery project. Dan shared with us that he was going through documents of the Maclean family (Jr. and Sr.), and within the estate sale records of John Maclean, Sr., “negro persons” were listed grouped with property from the home. Surely that was not the first time someone came across those records. The truth was seen before. This practice of concealing, or erasing, history is not new, nor is it exclusive to Princeton’s archives.
- Sometimes you really have to fight the powers that be. On Wednesday night, I had the privilege to see the great Spike Lee Joint, Do the Right Thing. To know that the film was released almost 30 years ago is bone-chilling because we are still witnessing the same reality. Aside from the overall message of the film, Radio Raheem’s boombox is what stuck with me the most. Throughout the film, Radio Raheem travels around the neighborhood blasting Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power.” In relation to the archival world, oftentimes smaller collections have to fight “the powers that be” to have their story told, or the option to control their own narrative. Unfortunately, money talks, and it has a very captivating voice. This is the overarching problem that is affecting HBCUs and a plethora of community archives. Money does not always have to have the last say in matters concerning the history and future of a group. If there are enough people beating the door down, eventually they will be invited to the table.
- Let’s play a little trivia. Do you know the woman captured in this photograph by Gordon Parks?
If you’re a little shaky, I’ll provide some context verbatim from the museum’s description: “In these two portraits of protesters set apart from the crowd, [Gordon] Parks shifts the visual emphasis away from the civil rights movement’s charismatic leader to capture the contributions of individual citizens. Poignant images of individuals facilitated the empathy that Parks believed could undo the concept of difference that drove racism and segregation.”If you have not already figured it out by now, the “individual” pictured is Rosa Parks…THE Rosa Parks. As in the Rosa Parks who is best known for her instrumental role in the Civil Rights Movement associated with the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Why does this matter? BECAUSE IT IS ROSA PARKS.
During my tour of the ‘Picturing Protest’ Exhibit at the Princeton University Art Museum my group was shown this picture of Mrs. Parks. Even before being told, I knew with certainty that the photo on the wall was Mrs. Parks. So, why didn’t my tour guide, the curator of the exhibit, know who the woman in this image was? Her lack of knowledge of this image caused collective confusion among our group, and quite honestly made me question her credibility as a curator. Granted everyone makes mistakes, but this was one of those moments that truly begs the question…should other people tell our history?
All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed my experience not just as an Ivy Leaguer, but also learning the ins and outs of archiving. I look forward to playing in the “stacks” of my beloved institution, and using all of my newfound knowledge. I am greatly indebted to everyone who had a hand in developing and executing the ARCH program!
By Raegan Johnson, Tougaloo College
I’m for truth, no matter who tells it. I’m for justice, no matter who it’s for or against. — Malcolm X
July 10, 2018. Today was an emotion stirrer. The day that the three Tougalooans and Tougaloo College Archivist Tony Bounds had been waiting for. What was meant to be a brief presentation turned into a 25-minute history lesson on my institution. Not only did Mr. Bounds’s presentation captivate the attention of my fellow cohort members, but it also moved me to tears. To think that a small liberal arts private HBCU in Jackson, Mississippi, would be highlighted at an Ivy League school in New Jersey truly touched my “I love the Academy that is still plagued with white supremacy” spirit. This presentation was iconic. This presentation was informative. This presentation was moving. But most importantly this presentation was a representation of how vitally important archival work and archivists are to society, especially to the Black community.
However, this presentation evoked a sense of urgency in my spirit in regards to the state of HBCUs and our archives. We deserve and should be afforded the right to house our own artifacts, but the lack of resources causes our institutions to not do so. My
people, it is time to reclaim our heritage by housing our history in OUR own archives. Let’s take the proper steps to ensure that this becomes a reality.
My thoughts are limitless. This blog must continue…
Reparations. We need our reparations. I am sick of the anti-Black rhetoric from Black people. We already have to endure hatred from the colonizer. As the saying goes, “All skin-folk ain’t kinfolk.” Sorry for the tangents, but my sentiments are worthy to
be blogged. These are the thoughts that run through my mind during sessions. With all of the limitations placed on my Blackness, it is only right that I express myself through my writing. In regards to my week at the ARCH Program, this experience has left me perplexed, moved, motivated, but more importantly I’ve found a new found love for archival work. I am left motivated to be more of a scholar activist and serve as an
agent of change as it relates to the Black community. Black archivists matter and it is time that we reclaim our time and our history. When Rosa Parks is incorporated in an exhibit in the Princeton Art museum and the curator is ignorant of the fact that her exhibit houses the mother of the Civil Rights Movement, it is not only problematic, but disappointing. It is 2018. The Black narrative needs to be told and written by Black people. That is all.