Sunday, 29 July 2012

Week 8: Black in Chicago

This week at The HistoryMakers was full of tours and presentations. On Monday, we joined the NEH teachers for a black history tour of Chicago’s Southside. Our guide was Tony Burroughs. Mr. Burroughs pointed out important landmarks and told the stories of why they were significant. The statue that marks the northern border of Bronzeville is a black man with a suitcase, it is composed of discarded shoe soles and the surrounding suitcases are authentically preserved.

Julieanna and Tony narrating the tour

Public art in Bronzeville made with old shoe soles and suitcases, commemorating the Great Migration

Quinn Chapel, an important church in the black community

Margaret Burroughs' house on Chicago's Southside

A map and icons of the black neighborhood in the median of an intersection in Bronzeville 

Mr. Burroughs showed us the field near U.S. Cellular Field where the Negro leagues used to play. An interesting fact is that people used to get dressed up in their Sunday best to go to baseball games. In terms of collective memory, Jackie Robinson and the integration of baseball could be seen as a positive or a negative thing. Was the integration about bringing racial unity to the sport or absorbing the money that blacks were spending at the ballpark? The recruitment of the best black ball players without the black coaches, black club owners or black umpires fractured the culture of black baseball. A few weeks ago, I was watching parts of Ken Burn’s documentary on baseball and many black baseball players, including Jackie Robinson, have felt a sense of disenfranchisement within the major leagues from being unrepresented in the leadership of the sport. 

We also visited the Center for Black Music Research at Columbia College on Friday. We met with the archivists, Laura Lee Moses and Suzanne Flandreau, and learned more about their collection Compared to our other tours, the staff at the CBMR gave a pragmatic session on how they deal with demonstrating their relevance, protecting themselves from copyright issues and migrating their collection from one medium to another.

The executive director, Monica O’Connell took time to tell us about the institutional politics that are playing out at Columbia College today in terms of the existence of the CBMR. She explained how she spoke to a college administrator who essentially told her that archives are “irrelevant and dusty”. Sometimes, I feel like people really are in the Matrix, they don’t realize that their conditioning is conditioned. We need primary source documents to help us understand how the world came to be the way that it is. We need archivists that are trained to be inclusive recognize their own bias and how to minimize it. That is so rare; most professions train their recruits to promote a certain agenda or perspective. Monica concluded that working in cultural heritage institutions can easily be seen as a form of activism.

On Tuesday, we had the pleasure of listening to Ardra’s presentation to her host repository (Avery Research Center) in Charleston, South Carolina. Ardra’s new supervisor will be Georgette Mayo. Ms. Mayo seemed very nice and enthusiastic about Ardra’s arrival at Avery. On Wednesday, Alex entertained us with his presentation on the Maryland State Archives which is located in Annapolis, Maryland. His new supervisor, Chris Haley was the founder of the Legacy of Slavery Project that Alex will be working on for the remainder of the fellowship. I applaud Alex and Ardra for taking the first attempts at a high stakes presentation. I have learned a lot from their efforts which will make my subsequent presentation better than it would have been. The 2012-2013 fellows also introduced ourselves to members of the HistoryMakers board of directors, presented on our progress in the program. I was pleased that as diverse as we are in style and attitude, we put together a cohesive presentation in 20 minutes, and executed it without any problems. Dr. Salvatore lectured on the importance of donor relations and outreach within the archives. Dr. Reed helped us to elaborate on our knowledge of black Chicago gleaned from Mr. Burroughs black history tour. We also talked about what was happening with African Americans during World War II. In any free time, Skyla and I continued to work on the special collections for Valerie Simpson and Eartha Kitt.  

Amanda Carter and Cynthia Lovett at
Ghanaian Festival in Washington Park

People enjoying the Ghanaian food and music during a Chicago summer 

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