National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Charleston Branch Collection

For the past couple of weeks, I have been inventorying the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Charleston Branch Collection. The local branch was started in 1916 by individuals who believed in being an advocate for the African-American voice in both Charleston and South Carolina. The collection has been asked about by several researchers, which provided the opportunity to prioritize the inventorying and eventual full processing of this collection

The bulk of the collection I have inventoried so far ranges from 1988 to 1994; and while we were hoping for some earlier materials from the Association, the years we have provide insight into the social conditions for African Americans in Charleston and South Carolina.

Letters

The types of letters found in the collection include thank-you letters, cards, calls for boycotts of stores, media outlets, and petitions. In addition, there are memorandums from the NAACP National Branch about what issues are important to the branch, such as the Benjamin Hooks controversy and Clarence Thomas’s appointment to the Supreme Court.

Some of the most interesting letters and correspondence to read in the collection are from people who write to the branch asking for assistance. In the letters, it is possible to read the desperation, hope, anger, frustration, and a range of other emotions people have about their situation. Issues include discrimination in the workplace, wrongful termination, police brutality, wrongful imprisonment, custody issues, gender discrimination, etc. There are a few full court cases in the collection, while others are comprised of letters asking for assistance. Institutions and business that were accused of discrimination by the complainants range from institutions of higher education (ex. the Citadel) to grocery stores (ex. Piggly Wiggly) to the public school system to department stores. The amount of letters that the association received asking for this kind of assistance is disappointing, disturbing, and overwhelming. By reading these letters, one becomes more aware of how much injustice is in the American justice system, and I wonder what happened to these individuals.  I have not found a form that notes how the branch decided which cases to investigate; however, I imagine the branch wanted to help as many people as possible, but had to be selective because of limited resources. According, to a 1991 Freedom Fund Drive press release:

“The Branch is the reliable and trusted voice airing their [African Americans] grievances, articulating their hopes and expressing their frustrations—whether it be to a local employer or to the Governor of South Carolina.”

Programs and Publications

The collection contains some copies of the NAACP’s Crisis Magazine (circa 1980s) as well as the local branch newsletter sent to the members of the organization. There are records detailing special programs and events undertaken by the association such as their Annual Freedom Fund programs, the ACT-SO Golf Classic, the 1992 Gospel Concert, and the NAACP Annual Conventions (regional and national).

Issues

As one would imagine, the social issues of politics, education, and voting comprises a lot of the collection. Records of note are those that detail statistics about the number of African-American teachers in the Charleston County School System; the number of Black politicians in South Carolina; the importance of voting for Black politicians; the need for minority businesses in South Carolina and particularly Charleston; media biases; and efforts relating to the struggle to take down the Confederate flag from the state house dome.

Other Records

Other important records include the rules, constitution, branch manual of the NAACP; the meeting minutes and the agendas for the branch executive board, general body, and various committees; membership lists, officer positions, and membership drive information; local and national newspaper clippings; and records relating the NAACP’s role in helping the community rebuild after Hurricane Hugo hit Charleston in 1989.

Exhibit: Lorenzo Dow Turner

The pieces for the exhibit arrived yesterday and we are all excited to see it up and to have people come and view it with us next Thursday, Jan 12th.

Exhibit Opening Information

 http://blogs.cofc.edu/averynews/files/2012/01/DowTurnerPostcard.pdf

Exhibit Background Information

The Avery Research Center is excited to host “Word, Shout, Song: Lorenzo Dow Turner Connecting Communities through Language”, the world-class exhibition developed by the Smithsonian Institution’s Anacostia Community Museum, in January 2012. This exhibition is a beautiful and thought-provoking assemblage of artifacts, photographs, and text that documents the life and work of Dr. Lorenzo Dow Turner, whom many scholars consider as the first African-American linguist and the Father of Gullah Studies. It also examines the visceral interconnections between African diasporan cultures on three continents: the Gullah-Geechee communities of South Carolina and Georgia; the Afro-Brazilian community of Bahia, Brazil; and the West African cultures from which the other two were born.

The Turner family had been free for four generations by the time Dow Turner was born in 1890, which helped him pursue a stellar education that included an undergraduate degree from Harvard College and a Ph.D from the University of Chicago. His studies eventually led him to the South Carolina Lowcountry and his introduction to the Gullah language. He immediately began to see similarities between it and various African languages. Turner’s curiosity of a language that sounded much like English, yet was without formal academic study, led him to twenty years of research on the language and its people, including many sojourns to West Africa to expand his research.

Before Dow Turner’s research, the Gullah language was unclassified, unstudied, and considered informal gibberish. Using an inquisitive ear, Turner was able to eventually link Portuguese and English words to their myriad of African roots within Gullah, and “Word, Shout, Song” visually and audibly explains this in a magnificent exhibition
Although born on American soil and free at the time of Dow Turner’s studies, the speakers had retained the past of their enslaved ancestors and beyond to their African heritages. In that vein, the Gullah language is a syncretic fusion of the African, American, and European ties that weave through the speakers’ legacies.

Dow Turner’s research helped bridge the gap between the descendants of the enslaved people on the Lowcountry Sea Islands to the descendants of the enslaved people on the mainland—linguistically as well as culturally. The exhibit chronicles all of the research, trips, recordings, and findings through aural and visual means. To have an exhibit not only of this importance, but also of this stature, come to the College of Charleston is an honor and a landmark.

Various generous donations to the Avery Research Center have made this exhibition possible, including the Office of the President at the College of Charleston, MUSC, the MeadWestvaco Community Development and Land Management Group, the City of Charleston, the Charleston Convention and Visitors Bureau, and the National Park Service.

Part 1: Introduction to Community Archives

For the Fall 2011 Avery Messenger newsletter, I am writing a brief piece about what community archives are, some of the reasons why one would do community archiving project, and some of the benefits for the archive and archivist. In this post, I will provide a little bit more information about the role of an archivist in a community archive project. This is part one of a five-series posts.   

In May 2011, I graduated with my Masters of Science in Library and Information Science from the University of Illinois’s Graduate School of Library and Information Science (www.lis.illinois.edu), where I focused on the intersection of archives and community informatics (http://www.cii.illinois.edu/).  There is variation within the scholarly and academic community about what the definition of community informatics is and how it differentiates between social work, service learning, human-computer interaction (HCI), and other academic disciplines that aim to connect communities with technology. However, despite the variations, there is a central idea/concept that drives it: helping underserved and underrepresented communities bridge the Digital Divide (which in itself is a loaded term).

Community Archives ApproachThe definition of community can be varied; it does not just have to encompass a geographic boundary (i.e. a town, a neighborhood, a street), but also can be defined by gender, sexuality, race, religious affiliation, ethnicity, culture, occupation, organizational and corporate affiliation, etc.  Thus, when a community archiving project is developed the individuals involved have to define the scope and content of what they are collecting.

There is potential and possibilities as seen by the various projects done around the country and even the world to bring the stories and histories of these communities to the digital world. Examples include:

Aurora Hernandez with her daughter in Davenport, Iowa, 1952.

  • Mujeres Latinas Project—http://www.lib.uiowa.edu/iwa/mujeres.html
    • This project documents the lives and contributions of Latinas and their families to Iowa history.
  • The Black Metropolis Research Consortium—http://www.blackmetropolisresearch.org/
    • Is dedicated to making Chicago based archival holdings relating to African American history, culture, and politics more accessible to the public
  • eBlackCU (eBlack Champaign-Urbana)—http://eblackcu.net/portal/
    • Is an online collaborative collection that documents the history and culture of African Americans in Champaign-Urbana (IL)
  • Alive in Truth: The New Orleans Disaster Oral History and Memory Project—http://www.aliveintruth.org/index.html
    • Consists of the stories of displaced people after Hurricane Katrina from 2005 to 2006. The oral histories were recorded at the Austin (TX) Convention Center.
  • Hurricane Digital Memory Bank—http://hurricanearchive.org/
    • Is a digital collection that presents the stories and a digital record of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita survivors

However, for African-American communities, one needs to preserve and collect the physical documents before one can put the material online to be accessed by people and preserved (with the proper digital preservation policies in place). This is because much of the history of an African-American community has been dispersed, lost, and/or destroyed by those who did not know the value of what they had in their homes and/or offices. In addition, it is also important to acknowledge the fact that scholars/researchers/students who do research in communities often do not report back to those within the communities—the sources of the work. Instead, this information is kept with the scholar/researcher/student and/or institution with which the person is affiliated. Thus, the work of an archivist who wants to collaborate with and develop a community archive program is twofold.

Untitled Item from Collection

 

  1. Provide information to communities about what the archive has about their specific community. (Note: Depending on your institution, this may not be clearly established, but think about what kinds of papers you have and if there is information/records about a community project done in the archived papers of the institution? Is there a student thesis that talks about the community? Are there maps of area? Etc.) Any type of connection (i.e. trust) that you can establish with the community is a start, especially if your institution has historically had a negative relationship with it. Doing this says this new project is going to be a give and take between the community and the archives. The more open and honest communication can be between the archival institution and the community the better. The archivist should not just push information on the organization(s)/individual(s)/institution(s); s/he is also learning from the community about its history, culture, and heritage.
  2. Assist and collaborate with organizations, institutions, and individuals (key and low key) to document, preserve, and collect the records/papers/materials that demonstrate the activity of the community (historical and current). Key organizations and institutions refer to the mainstream African-American organizations in the community that one automatically thinks about (ex. NAACP, the Black churches, and the Urban League). Key individuals refer to the leaders of these organizations as well as people within the community who are heavily involved in community activism and Civil Rights. Low-key organizations and institutions refer to those in the community that are small, grassroots, underground, and may not get the attention they deserve because of the populations they serve. Low-key individuals refer to those whom people do not notice or think are important, and they are usually members of low-key organizations and institutions. An example of this would be The New York City (NYC) Taxi Cab project, which consists of oral histories and records of eight NYC taxi drivers (http://nyctaxisoralhistory.com/project/items), and the Black Gay and Lesbian Archives at the Schomburg Center for Black History and Culture of the New York Public Library.

Throughout the time I am here, I will continue to post more about what community archives are, what they aim to achieve, how to start one, and the challenges and opportunities they provide.

Brief Bibliography

  1. Bastian, Jeannette and Ben Alexander, eds. Community Archives: The Shaping of Memory. London: Facet Publishing, 2009.
  2. Huvila, Isto. “Participatory archive: towards decentralised curation, radical user orientation, and broader contextualisation of records management. “Archival Science 8 (2008): 15–36.
  3. Ketelaar, Eric. “Sharing: Collected Memories in Communities of Records.” Archives and Manuscripts 33 (2005): 4.
  4. McDonald, Amy S. “Out of the Hollinger Box and Into the Streets: Activists, Archives and Under-Documented Populations” Master’s paper, UNC, 2008.
  5. Vos, Victor-Jan and Ketelaar, Eric. “Amsterdam Communities’ Memories: Research into how Modern Media can be applied to Archive Community Memory. “  In Constructing and Sharing Memory: Community Informatics Identity and Empowerment, edited by Larry Stillman and Graeme Johanson, 330-342. Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2007.

 

Blog Updated

The new picture (of William Leroy Blake and members of the Jenkins Orphanage Band) and blog title (“Not Just in February”) of the Avery Research Center’s blog represents the fact that we at the Avery  Research Center promote and document African-American history all-year around. Our collections demonstrate that the African-American experience cannot be limited to just one month. The individuals and organizations within the repository signify the fact that our legacies need to be celebrated and remembered not only so we do not forget them, but also to empower and encourage us to continue onward.

The Jenkins Orphanage was created in 1891 by Rev. Daniel Jenkins because he saw that there was a need for one in the African-American community. The band was created by Jenkins to raise money for the land for the orphanage due to the lack of support from the city and limited public will. It was eventually built at 20 Magazine Street in Charleston, South Carolina. Jenkins sought instruments for them to play and hired P.M. “Hastie” Logan and Francis Eugene Mikell to tutor the children. It is reported that the uniforms worn by the youth were hammy-downs from the

Lonnie Hamilton. Obtained from http://www.charlestonjazz.net/hamilton-lonnie-iii/

Citadel. The band was composed of the children from the orphanage and they were given the opportunity to play around world such as at the London Expo and the St. Louis World Fair. The profits from the shows went to the upkeep of the orphanage.  Mo

Cat Anderson. Obtained from http://northbysouth.kenyon.edu/1998/music/cat/cat.htm

re about the Jenkins Orphanage can be found in John Chilton’s book A Jazz Nursery: The Story of the Jenkins’ Orphanage Bands. 

Some well-known band players are Lonnie Hamilton (we have his papers), Jabbo Smith (hear him play), Cat Anderson, and Freddie Green.

The band reflects the fact that Charleston, South Carolina played an important role in the creation of Jazz music as we know it today.

Additional Resources

IMLS Fellow Update

I have been working at the Avery Research Center for about a month now and I have been keeping busy and productive. My progress in the archives and social media are detailed below.

Archives

I have processed and created the finding aids for two collections, the Humane and Friendly Society and the Lecque Family Papers.

The abstract for the Humane and Friendly Society reads:

The Humane and Friendly Society was a benevolent society of free African American men in Charleston, South Carolina. The Society served as a way to provide for widows, orphaned children, a burial place for its members, and it also arranged apprenticeships and educational opportunities for African American men.

The collection consists of administrative materials of the Humane and Friendly Society including meeting minutes, correspondence, and membership lists. Topics of discussion include raising membership dues, care of the graveyard, and the rules of being a member. The record journal notes who paid dues, how long they have been a member of the Society, and where members are buried in Charleston. The plot records include completed and blank application forms.

Before I processed this collection I knew that there were organizations created by African-Americans that assisted the community in many aspects, but this was my first look at a society that was dedicated to helping to bury individuals. Working with this collection allowed me to see how deep racism is; that even in death African-Americans and Caucasians could not be next to each other.  One of the major issues of concerns within the meeting minutes was the cost of membership in relation to the upkeep of the Humane and Friendly Society cemetery (which is located in the Magnolia Complex).

The other collection that I worked on was the Lecque Family Papers. Working with a family collection as opposed to an organizational collection presents different challenges and context in terms of the arrangement and description. Since I am not from the area I did not know who the Lecque family was and why their collection would be here at Avery, but I read the newspaper clippings I began to see the role that the family had in establishing the Liberty Hill community in North Charleston. Most of the collection delves into the history of Liberty Hill and St. Peters’ African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church, but the collection also consists of genealogical information, legal documents, funeral programs, and photographs of the Lecque family. Some of the photos were framed in oval sized frames and Ms. Georgette Mayo and I had to decide if we wanted to take the photos out of the frame or keep it in there. This was a preservation decision, we were not sure if we took the pictures out of the frame if the photo(s) would become damaged.  Ultimately, we decided that the photos should remain in the frames.  In order to obtain a better understanding of the family structure I did genealogical work on the Lecque family using Ancestry.com at the South Carolina Reading Room at the Charleston County Public Library. From there I used census records, the social security index, and draft cards to compile a list of birth and death dates and marriage information.

The collection that I am working on presently is the Prince Hall affiliated Order of the Eastern Star Chapter No. 41 Papers. This collection has been great to work on as I am interested in organizations that women are a part of and kinds of work that they do. The collection consists of administrative records, financial materials, records relating to the O.E.S. rituals and ceremonies, as well as material documenting the activities of Prince Hall Lodge No. 46 (the Charleston Lodge). I will post a full commentary on it when completed.

Social Media

The other activity that has been keeping me busy has been increasing Avery’s social media presence. I have been maintaining the Keep Your Eyes on the Prize blog well as updating Avery’s Facebook page on a daily basis with information about African-American issues, concerns, resources, etc. on a local and national level. From my efforts I have gained more “likes” on the Avery page and made connections with relevant people who are interested in African-American history and culture, historic preservation organizations, and cultural heritage societies locally, South Carolina, and nationally. Through these connections Avery obtains a broader network of supporters and also increases the visibility of the archival collections and encourages people to use our resources. In addition, we promote our programs and staff activities.

Ms. Mayo and I attended a webinar (an online workshop at the College of Charleston’s Addlestone Library) regarding the creation of interactive subject guides (a guide created by archivists and librarians that compiles relevant information about a certain subject/theme for researchers). Historically subject guides were static (i.e. text only), but now with the diverse modes of transmitting information this needs to be changed. The presentation stressed the importance of video, audio, and visual materials as well as including blogs, news feeds, and student created content in these subject guides. I am investigating the possibilities of using these types of subject guides at the Avery Research Center.

A couple of examples of interactive subject guides can be found here:

The presentation can be found online here

If you have any thoughts about what topics and themes you would want to see done as subject guides please comment below.

Graduate Internships at the Avery Research Center

Graduate Internships at the Avery Research Center

Hosting Institution: Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture in Charleston, South Carolina

Through its research facilities, museum exhibits, archival collections and numerous outreach programs, the Avery Research Center tells the rich story of the lives and contributions of Africans and African Americans in the Lowcountry and the wider African Diaspora.

Listing Department(s): School of Library and Information Science (USC); History, Historic Preservation, Arts Management (CofC); African American Studies; Urban Studies; Political Science; Sociology; Anthropology; Women’s and Gender Studies; African Studies
Requested Number: 2 Graduate Students
Commitment: Internships begin at the start of the Fall or Spring semester and require at least 10 hours/week for 14 weeks.  Please inquire for information on Summer internships.
Schedule:

 

The interns must be available for ten hours during the workweek, Monday through Friday, during the hours of 10am to 5pm.

The weekly time commitment may be broken into shifts of 2-5 hours.

Compensation: Academic Credit / Unpaid
Goals: The Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture seeks undergraduate interns to assist in a dynamic and engaging program of collecting, transcribing, and archiving manuscript collections and oral histories. Students will gain professional training and hands-on experience in the collection of oral histories that reveal untold stories of the civil rights revolution; labor and work; gender and African American women; race and the city of Charleston; and struggles for “Black Power” in the American South.  Students will be trained in the professional standards of conducting, transcribing, preserving, and digitizing oral history interviews.  As students work with the material, they will also be encouraged to use our oral history collection to conduct their own research and student papers.
Description: Avery interns will be stationed in the Reading Room to assist the Public Historian with the transcription of oral histories already conducted.  Additionally, interns may have the opportunity to go out into the local community to conduct oral histories of their own, with the oversight and assistance of the Public Historian.

Student interns will also have the opportunity to work with the Director of Archival Services on Avery’s substantial manuscript collections.  Students will assist with reference material, exhibits and tours, archival arrangement, organization, and description.

Each intern will be expected to write at least one publishable blog post on an oral history collection or research topic related to Avery’s archival holdings.  Where possible, the Public Historian will strive for a match between student interests and oral history projects.

Enrichment: Weekly, the Public Historian will have one-on-one meetings with interns to assess the students’ experiences and to discuss the problems, possibilities, and potential richness of their work in oral history.
Evaluation: Students will have mid-term and end-of-term evaluations conducted by the Public Historian.
Feedback: Students will also have the opportunity to provide feedback to the Avery internship program through mid-term and end-of-term evaluations.
To apply or request more information, please contact Avery’s Public Historian, Dr. Robert Chase, at chasert at cofc dot edu.  Interested applicants should include a current resume and cover letter.
 

 

Robert Chase: An Introduction

The Avery Research Center is excited to welcome the newest member of our team, Robert Chase!  He began working here in September.

Dr. Robert Chase is the public historian at the Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture at the College of Charleston.   Dr. Chase specializes in public history, oral history, civil rights and social justice movements, and African American history.   Born in New York City and raised in Washington, DC, Dr. Chase received his MA in history from George Mason University and his PhD in history at the University of Maryland, College Park.  He is the recipient of the University of Maryland’s E.B. and Jean Smith prize for best dissertation in political history.  Previously, Dr. Chase has held postdoctoral fellowships with Southern Methodist University, Case Western Reserve University, and Rutgers University.  His forthcoming manuscript, Civil Rights on the Cell Block: The Prisoners’ Rights Movement and the Construction of the Carceral State, 1945-1990, explores the roots of twentieth century prison growth, inmate society and the coercive relationship between keeper and kept, and the legal struggle between inmates and the state over race, prisoners’ rights, and questions of citizenship.

He is working on inventorying the oral histories that we have in our collection and developing new oral history projects.

More information about him can be found

  1. http://sas.rutgers.edu/news-a-events/feature-archive/1084-post-doctoral-and-new-faculty-fellows-enrich-research-and-teaching 

So when you see him around, say hello!

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