HBCUs Should Archive the African-American Story

By Berry, John M. | Diverse Issues in Higher Education, August 24, 2017 | Go to article overview

HBCUs Should Archive the African-American Story


Berry, John M., Diverse Issues in Higher Education


The African-American sojourn is difficult to chronicle as a neat and tidy piece of history that can be packaged and put on show in an African-American historical museum. The ongoing saga is about a race of people who continually have to claim their rightful citizenship in this great nation through the overcoming of the stigma of their first status as chattel slaves.

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That they were "emancipated' with the swoop of a pen in 1863 does not overshadow the reality of having been freed into a stubborn social system that passed draconian Jim Crow laws to fix the "Negro problem." Those pernicious laws refused to go away until the Civil Rights struggle of the 1960s. But, sadly, the struggle for equality did not end there. One hundred and fifty-three years later, another generation wearily plods on, seeking justice and equality through vociferous protests that loudly claim "Black Lives Matter!"

Packed into these epochal milestones are clearly amazing Black men and women who had their eyes set on the prize. Each one in their moment of time fought in their chosen way to persuade America to honor its Constitution by recognizing that African-Americans are equal citizens. They fought to change the reality Dr. King pointed out in his "I Have a Dream" speech in 1962: "America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked 'insufficient funds.'"

These powerful survival stories that span more than 400 years need to be archived, studied and celebrated, but where? How should they be told and who should be the curator? Can this saga be housed in one location? Or should it be shared at different locations, such as HBCUs, the very institutions created in response to segregation and Jim Crow?

Can HBCUs provide the needed infrastructure to be the primary keepers of African-Americans' faith? "Faith," in this context, denotes confidence, trust, conviction and belief.

If these materials are not left under the care of HBCUs, where will future scholars travel to study the rise of the Motown empire or the important papers of General Colin Powell and Dr. Condoleezza Rice?

Here are a few of the stories of individuals worthy of archiving: Mother Hale, founder of Hale House Center; actress Hattie Mc-Daniel; singers and vocal groups such as the Delfonics, Blue Magic, Miles Davis and Marian Anderson; the giants of business and the arts: Oprah Winfrey, Madame C. J. Walker, authors Toni Morrison and James Baldwin; civil rights champions Shirley Chisholm and Dr. …

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