New Online this Fall: ‘African American Communities’

20 August 2015

Ethnic Studies | History

One of my personal highlights from the forthcoming African American Communities resource has been working with the oral history collections that will be featured within the project. 

The oral histories (sourced from the Atlanta History Center, Washington University in St. Louis and the Weeksville Heritage Center) contain personal accounts of the Atlanta Civil Rights Movement, African American art and culture and the African American community of Weeksville, Brooklyn. 

One of my favourites is an interview with Raven Wilkinson from ‘I’ll Make Me A World: African-American Artists in the 20th Century’ (an oral history collection from Washington University). This collection celebrates some of the extraordinary achievements made by influential African American artists of the 20th Century. Wilkinson - now a semi-retired ballet dancer - was the first African American woman to dance full-time with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in the mid-1950s. Replying to a question about being labelled a ‘black artist’ Wilkinson responds: 

‘I think an artist, primarily, is what it says it is. It's neither black nor white, it's an artist communicating their spirit, their soul, their conception of the world to people.’

Wilkinson’s interview (recorded in 1997) is so interesting to listen to, even when today many of the world’s elite ballet companies are still criticized for their failure to cast black dancers.

Focusing predominantly on communities in Atlanta, Chicago, St Louis, New York, and towns and cities in North Carolina this collection (due for launch in October 2015) encompasses documents from 1863 through to the 1980s, and reveals the prevalent challenges of racism, discrimination and integration, and a unique African American culture and identity. 

Students at Atlanta University

Students at Atlanta University. Image © Kenan Research Center at the Atlanta History Center. Further reproduction prohibited without permission. 

In addition to oral histories, researchers will be able to review:

• National Urban League records including material from the Chicago Urban League papers, 1917-1985 from the University of Illinois at Chicago and the Urban League of St. Louis records, 1918-1986 from Washington University in St. Louis. 

• Material on the legal battles for the desegregation of public schools and buses featuring material from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

• A complete run of The Messenger, 1925-1928, a popular civil rights magazine published by activist A. Philip Randolph, sourced from The Newberry Library. 

Users will also be able to explore the African American community of Weeksville in Brooklyn by using interactive floorplans of the Historic Hunterfly Road Houses.


Historic Hunterfly Road Houses, Weeksville

Historic Hunterfly Road Houses, Weeksville Brooklyn. Image © 5th of July Resource Center for Self-Determination & Freedom, Weeksville Heritage Center. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

African American Communities will be published in October 2015. Material has been sourced from six contributing archives and libraries including: Atlanta History Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, University of Illinois at Chicago, Washington University in St. Louis, The Newberry Library and Weeksville Heritage Center. Full access will be restricted to authenticated academic institutions who have purchased a license. For more information on African American Communities please click here.


About the Author

Sarah Hodgson

Sarah Hodgson

I am an Editor at Adam Matthew, an academic digital publisher of primary source collections in the arts and humanities. I have had the pleasure of working on a variety of projects including Mass Observation Online and African American Communities.