Archiving while Black

Among the things 2018 will be remembered for is mainstream culture’s realization that white Americans use the police to challenge black entry into “white” spaces. Countless viral news stories detail how white people have called the police on black people for cooking, shopping, driving — basically for existing while black. A black body in a space presumed to be white is at best out of place and at worst a threat. This reality extends to less visible spaces, such as the historical archive. The archive, and black marginalization within it, has important implications for both scholarly and popular ideas about history.

The experience of archiving while black was perhaps best captured by the famed African-American historian John Hope Franklin. A native of Oklahoma who came of age during Jim Crow, Franklin experienced a series of formative racist incidents that led him to pursue a career in history. In his 1963 essay “The Dilemma of the American Negro Scholar,” he described his efforts to view collections at an archive in North Carolina.

[ Read the full article at The Chronicle of Higher Education. ]

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