Historically Black College and University Archives: Protecting American History
HBCU archives preserve essential artifacts for future scholars.
Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) designate colleges founded before 1964 to provide accredited education for Black students. Today they account for only 3% of higher learning institutions, but their graduates represent 25% of all Black college graduates. HBCUs are slated to produce 50% of all future Black lawyers, public school teachers, and 80% of future Black judges. Preserving the histories and accomplishments of these vital institutions is something many HBCU libraries do, along with important aspects of Black life in America from Reconstruction through the Civil Rights Era.
Note: This article will share several archives to check out. In many cases, appointments and prior permission are required to view the archives in person, usually for research purposes, but many collections are online.
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The HBCU Library Alliance Digital Archives. You don't even need to leave home to visit this one. An alliance formed by several HBCU members has digitized thousands of documents relevant to the founding and continuation of the HBCU institutions. Contents include photographs, university correspondence, manuscripts, photos and drawings of campus buildings, alum letters, memorabilia, and programs from campus events.
Tuskegee University Archives Repository. Tuskegee University was founded on the site of a one-room schoolhouse that had as its first teacher Booker T. Washington. Today its archives include photos and videos of many pillars of national and Tuskegee University history, such as John Lewis, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Jesse Jackson, Shirley Chisholm, and Stokely Carmichael, among others. The archives also contain books (including faculty publications), manuscripts, Tuskegee University periodicals and newspapers, ephemera, photographic images, and other recordings.
Robert W. Woodruff Library at Atlanta University Center. The Atlanta University Center is a community of multiple HBCU institutions, including Clark Atlanta University, the Interdenominational Theological Center, Morehouse College, and Spelman College. Collectively, these archives have thousands of documents on wide-ranging aspects of Black life in America, including civil rights and race relationships, education, theology, history, politics and voter registration, social conditions, lives of women and children, labor, Nobel prizes, and music, among many others.
John Hope and Aurelia E. Frank Library at Fisk University. Fisk University's library's special collections and archives have some of the oldest items related to Black life and the African diaspora. Among its collections are the papers of Charles Waddell Chesnutt, Langston Hughes, John Mercer Langston, Scott Joplin, and W. E. B. Du Bois, and the archives of the Julius Rosenwald Fund, including photographs of the schools Rosenwald built for blacks in fifteen Southern states. The archives were established in 1948 under the administration of the university's first Black president, Charles S. Johnson. Under the guidance of the newly established Archives Council, the university became the first Black institution to become a member of the Society of American Archivists.
The John B. Coleman Library at Prairie View A&M University. This collection has a diverse set of holdings, including a large group of materials related to Black religious life and culture between 1829 and 1922, Black poets (including the first known recording of a Black poet, Lucy Terry Prince), periodicals and newspapers, Civil War primary documents, a robust collection of documents regarding slavery and abolition, and an Ebony Magazine archive from November 1945 to June 2014.
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These and other HBCU libraries continue to build archives covering all aspects of Black life in America. They continue digitizing their holdings, allowing people everywhere to learn more.