Black History Month in the Archives and Libraries

Every February, ProQuest, the online subscription service for journals, archives, and other historical delicacies unlocks its African American digital archives for Black History Month. This year is no exception, with open access in the month of February for the following ProQuest products: Historical Newspapers™ – Black Newspapers, Black Studies Center (primary and secondary resources), as well as its Civil War Era (newspapers and pamphlets) and African American Heritage (family-related records) databases. It would be hard to overstate the incredible range and depth of material available and it’s well worth taking some time to dive into what’s available even if this isn’t your main area of research, before it gets locked down again at the end of the month.

Geoffrey & Carmen:
A Memoir in Four Movements
, a photography exhibition found at the DuSable Museum of African American History.

The opening of this digital archive puts us in mind of the many terrestrial archives of African American history that deserve to be better known. While many may be familiar with the extraordinary collections in the New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, only locals may know that it also offers stellar public programming, with top-notch talks, panels, and cultural events all year round. Though it may have a smaller footprint, the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center at Howard University in Washington, D.C., rivals the Schomburg for comprehensiveness and breadth. Named for Dr. Jesse E. Moorland and Arthur B. Spingarn, the collection has a history that is significant in its own right. Although the library of the DuSable Museum of African American History in Chicago is closed for renovations, many of the manuscripts in its collection have been digitized and are available through the ProQuest databases mentioned above. Lastly, the Amistad Research Center, which is connected to Tulane University in New Orleans, contains over 10 million documents on racial and ethnic history, broadly defined.

The AHA’s Archive Wiki is constantly being updated, but two institutions caught our eye when we did a search for African American collections. The National Heritage Museum in Lexington, Massachusetts, is entirely focused on collecting material about American Freemasonry, including African American Masons and fraternal organizations. The museum’s website offers a handy set of blog posts on individual artifacts relating to this history as well. Historians of vernacular music will find manuscripts and recordings in the collections related to African American sacred and gospel music at the Center for Popular Music at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Research guides to the collections include material on blackface minstrelsy and music of the American civil rights movement.

The AHA is launching a new initiative aimed at doing outreach with these archives and others for the Archives Wiki project, so be sure to check back over the next few months for new additions. If you know of archives or libraries with African American-centered collections that should be in the Archives Wiki and aren’t represented, let us know in the comments and we’ll contact them.

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