Magazine article Black Enterprise

A Guardian of History: This Archivist's Job Is Steeped in Black Genealogy

Magazine article Black Enterprise

A Guardian of History: This Archivist's Job Is Steeped in Black Genealogy

Article excerpt

When Brenda S. Banks applied for an assistant archivist position at the Georgia Archives, her application created a frenzied buzz in the institution because "this black woman had applied. This was 1972," she recalls.

"Even though most of us were farther along, Georgia Archives was not. These are people whose heritage ... was steeped in Confederate history and Southern history." Today, Banks is its deputy director.

But not long after she joined the institution, Banks witnessed how Alex Haley's Roots ignited interest, in exploring genealogy. It did little, however, to encourage African Americans to enter the archiving profession. Banks says African American record keeping is "more of an oral tradition than a written tradition." She also notes that a "lack of understanding and trust in placing out papers with an institution" are issues archivists of African American descent have to address in public forums to elevate visibility and demystify the process.

Banks admits that the Society of American Archivists has also been "too busy working on what it is we do than advertising who we are and why it's good to be who we are." Now, they are focused on proving that the archival profession isn't "just about dusty old musty books and papers. It's about preserving information and providing access to information.

"As archivists, we have to understand the connection between records being created now ... you have to understand how it fits in history ... how it might be important 200 years down the line," Banks explains.

Archiving is important for a variety of reasons. Many corporations maintain an archive: Exxon, Disney, Coca-Cola, and Playboy each have private archives composed of corporate loges, advertising, patents, and legal papers. Government archives are those of local, state, and national agencies and serve the public, as do archives maintained by colleges, churches, and institutions like the Atlanta History Center, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York, and the new African American Depository for Records in Florida. …

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