$500,000 Grant Will Help Southern Historical Collection Preserve African American History

January 27, 2016

This is an archival post originally published on January 27, 2016.

Members of the Southern Historical Collection staff (standing) meet with participants in the Eastern Kentucky African American Migration Project. A new NEH challenge grant will help to establish the position of African American Collections and Outreach Archivist to advance projects such as this one.

A challenge grant of $500,000 from the National Endowment for the Humanities will help establish an African American Collections and Outreach Archivist as a permanent position in the UNC Library’s Southern Historical Collection (SHC). The funding will also support the archivist’s outreach and educational efforts.

The Library has already begun to raise the $1.5 million required to meet the challenge.

Bryan Giemza, director of the SHC, said that he and his staff are not aware of another academic research library that has permanently endowed a similar position with such a heavy emphasis on outreach. “We believe that UNC is, if not the first, then among the very first university libraries to make this commitment,” he said.

Yet collecting the untold stories of African American communities is critical for research and understanding.

“To have a conversation about race, you must first have an honest dialogue about history. That requires access to a complete documentary record, reflecting a full range of perspectives and experiences,” said Giemza.

In addition to acquiring significant materials for the SHC, the archivist will partner with African American communities in the South, helping them to tell their own stories by identifying and preserving documents, recordings, photographs, and memorabilia.

This emerging model of “community-driven archives” has already proven fruitful, said UNC archivist Chaitra Powell. “My work with communities is about helping them curate their own history in a way that is responsive and respectful.”

Powell and the SHC have already realized successes through a partnership with the Historic Black Towns and Settlements Alliance, relationships with the African American communities of the Triangle and a three-way collaboration with sociologist Karida Brown and the historically black coal mining town of Lynch, Kentucky, which is now building a community archive.

“Thanks to the NEH and private supporters, we will be able to sustain this work far into the future,” said Giemza.