Sunday, 20 January 2013

Week 32: Research and Collections Team

In my 20th week at the Mayme A. Clayton Library and Museum, I pulled materials for my Audio Assault exhibit, facilitated a Collections Advisory Board meeting, and discovered letters from Marcus Garvey’s widow, Amy Jacques Garvey, in Mayme’s papers.

The planning for the Audio Assault exhibit continues to illuminate my understanding of historic events and the curating process. My exhibit follows this line of thinking: The situation was looking pretty bad for blacks in America in the 1960’s due to segregation, violence, and racism…Zoom to Watts, California, a microcosm of the nation, with the same problems exploding into the rebellion of 1965…Black power emerges as a salve for the pain of the past and an affirmation for self-determination into the future…Zoom to “Wattstax” a benefit concert held at the Los Angeles Coliseum in 1972 featuring the most soulful, popular and progressive artists of the time, commemorating the 7th anniversary of the Watts Rebellion….Other popular artists and record labels begin to record songs and speeches that are more aligned with this notion of Black Power…Spoken word artists start writing and verbalizing their points of view which struck chords with many young Black men and women….Jazz musicians begin to create compositions that respond to the injustices of the day and challenge the status quo of the genre…This exhibit will have shown how creative pursuits, such as music and poetry, can uplift and unify a community through some of the toughest times. I pulled scrapbook pages, photographs, press releases, census tracts, posters, albums, protest buttons, and newspapers out of the MCLM collection to be assessed for inclusion in the exhibit. Larry and I are selecting the items that most strongly demonstrate the messages that I am trying to convey and manipulate them for use in the exhibit. There is still so much to discuss in terms of text panels, item selection, and exhibit installation but the pulse of the idea and the materials makes me feel like we are on to something big.

Saturday morning marked the first of many MCLM Collection Advisory Board meetings. I had been emailing this group since last October and the duplicate book project. Larry had asked me to schedule a meeting so that we could re-engage them with the museum and give them all the updates in person. I had six members RSVP to show up in person and one joined us via Skype. We started with introductions, moved on to staff and building updates, and then began our planning session. One member was unsure if the museum was open for researchers at this point, which led to an action item of updating our website with the pertinent information for researchers. When I discussed our work toward making the collection available through the Online Archives of California, the members were enthusiastic and encouraged us to include unprocessed collections because researchers may still be interested in sifting through materials. The group requested that I provide a full collection summary in time for the next meeting so that they can help us prioritize which collections should go up on OAC. When I think about the entire collection and its state of disarray, my head begins to sway a little. I have looked through the deeds of gifts before to get a handle on how many collections we have here at MCLM before but the way that they are accessioned and described makes it very confusing. Since the board is depending on me for the information, I will do my best to ask questions and figure it out within the next couple of weeks. Overall the meeting was productive. The group was enthusiastic about our strides in providing access to the collection and empathetic to our funding and staffing shortfalls. We will be meeting again on February 23, 2013.

Although I am not able to spend hours in the back processing Mayme’s papers, some volunteers are continuing to work on the project. One of our new volunteers Paula caught on to the system very quickly and spent Saturday working through a box of materials. It was to my surprise when I was giving a tour and she interrupts to show me a folder full of correspondence. The letters are to Professor Ted Vincent from Amy Jacques Garvey. Over the summer I had read, Negro in a Hat, a biography of Marcus Garvey, written by Colin Grant and I remember Mrs. Garvey very well. She was a formidable force in the United Negro Improvement Association. While Mr. Garvey was on the road with speaking engagements, getting arrested, or being forbade from re-entering the United States, she was making decisions and giving speeches at the UNIA headquarters in Harlem, NY. Mrs. Garvey was also the mother of Garvey’s two sons. Although their courtship and marriage was not always harmonious, she was a big part of Garvey’s rise to prominence. I recently read that Ted Vincent was a white “black nationalist” who earned his MA from UC Berkeley and taught a black history course at Merritt College in Oakland, CA. Black Panther founder, Huey P. Newton was in his class in 1964.  According to these letters, when Mr. Vincent was writing “Black Power and the Garvey Movement (1970)” he asked Mrs. Garvey for her stories and opinions. Mrs. Garvey seemed to comply and also gave him tips on his writing conventions. There are probably 20-30 letters in the folder dated 1969 until 1973. The scope of Mayme’s collecting patterns will never cease to amaze me.

No comments:

Post a Comment