DPLA announces new partnerships with five libraries and archives to build national digital Black women’s suffrage collection

By DPLA, July 14, 2020.
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Pivotal Ventures grant funds to support digitization efforts at five institutions

July 14, 2020 / updated July 23, 2020 –Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) today announced a set of partnerships with the Atlanta University Center Robert W. Woodruff Library; Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture in Charleston, South Carolina; Tuskegee University; the Amistad Research Center at Tulane University; and Southern California Library to collaborate on the creation of a national digital collection that highlights the roles and experiences of Black women in the women’s suffrage movement, as well as Black women’s history of activism, as part of the centennial celebration of the passage of the 19th Amendment. 

Atlanta University Center and Tuskegee University are both HBCUs with collections documenting women’s history of organizing for political action in the South. The Avery Research Center and Amistad Research Center are institutions committed to collecting, preserving and providing open access to the history and culture of African Americans and the diaspora.The Southern California Library documents and makes accessible histories of struggles that challenge racism and other systems of oppression and holds extensive collections of histories of community resistance in Los Angeles and beyond. 

“We are excited to be able to launch this collaboration with these five vital American institutions,” said DPLA executive director John Bracken. “Our mission at DPLA is to expand access to knowledge and information, and we are thankful to our partners and to  Pivotal Ventures for enabling this collaborative effort to shine a light on an important piece of our nation’s history.” Shaneé Yvette Murrain, DPLA Community Manager added, “The digitization of these collections focused on Black women represents an important opportunity for researchers, students, and the public to interact more intimately with the legacies of these inspiring women, and make connections to the present moment.” 

The collaboration is powered by funding from Pivotal Ventures, an investment and incubation company created  by Melinda Gates. Funds will enable the partner institutions to digitize artifacts related to the history of Black women in the suffrage movement, and, more broadly, women’s rights, voting rights and civic activism between the 1850s and the 1960s, in order to make these important collections more widely accessible.

“The Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture at the College of Charleston is delighted to be a partner on this important grant as it aligns with our mission,” said Aaisha Haykal, Manager of Archival Services at the Avery Institute of Afro-American History & Culture. “The grant is important to us as it provides us the space to expand the story of civil rights and activism in the South Carolina Lowcountry by centering Black women. Additionally, it supports the College of Charleston’s curriculum and research needs of the faculty and students.The selected collections represent an intent to demonstrate that women-led and/or focused organizations impacted many avenues of life including, but not limited to health, education, and politics. Through this funding we can digitize print and audiovisual materials, and via metadata remediation add and edit access points from previously digitized records in the Lowcountry Digital Library.”

The centerpiece of the Black women’s suffrage collection will be a new website that will surface artifacts related to Black women in the suffrage movement as well as original content providing historical context. The site will launch later this summer. In addition, DPLA is partnering with the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library on their Engage2020: Look Back, Move Forward events.

On July 16, 2020, from 1- 2:30 pm ET, in commemoration of the anniversary of Ida B. Wells-Barnett’s birth, DPLA will host Race, Gender, Politics, and History: Reconstructing Visibility of Black Women’s Activism, a webinar featuring a keynote by Allison Robinson, doctoral candidate in American History and American Material Culture at the University of Chicago. Robinson will discuss teaching with digital exhibits, her experience working with the university’s Ida B. Wells collection, and how digital artifacts can help reconstruct visibility. Representatives from our partner institutions will also introduce the collections that they are digitizing as part of the Black Women’s Suffrage collection and provide some perspective about how these artifacts can help us better understand Black women suffragists and the historical and continuing activism of Black women. A recording of this event is available here.

Addendum added July 23, 2020: 

DPLA received $400,000 in funding for the creation of a national digital Black women’s suffrage collection, including the development of a dedicated website and original contextual content, in the fall of 2019 from Pivotal Ventures. A portion of these funds will be distributed to our partners to support the following work:

Southern California Library ($26,600); 

Southern California Library will digitize a set of records housed within the personal papers of Charlotta Bass (1879/80? – 1969), owner and editor of one of Los Angeles’s first Black newspapers, the California Eagle, from 1912 to 1951. Bass is perhaps best known for her lengthy battle against racially restrictive residential covenants. But as a journalist, community activist, and candidate for several elected offices—including the vice presidency of the United States—Bass was at the center of Black community’s fight for justice in Los Angeles and beyond for much of the twentieth century.

Atlanta University Center Robert W. Woodruff Library ($25,000); 

The AUC Robert W. Woodruff Library will complete the digitization of and metadata creation for 5,000+ images, including photographs, correspondence, scrapbooks, and printed materials from the following collections: 

  • Grace Towns Hamilton Papers and Atlanta Urban League Papers – Grace Towns Hamilton (GTH) was the first African American woman elected to the Georgia General Assembly in 1965.
  • Southern Regional Council Records and Voter Education Project Organizational Records – The Southern Regional Council (SRC) Papers (1944-1968) highlight the reform-oriented organization headquartered in Atlanta. During the late 1940s and 1950s, the SRC focused on interracial cooperation and struggled against massive resistance in the South. The organization promotes voter registration, political awareness, and racial equality. The Voter Education Project (VEP) was formed as a project under the SRC in 1962, in cooperation with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
  • Neighborhood Union Collection – In 1908, Lugenia Burns Hope, along with eight other women in the West End neighborhood of Atlanta, initiated the Neighborhood Union, an organization aimed to create settlement projects aiding underprivileged Black families.

Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture ($25,000); 

Funds will support the  digitization of a selection from ten archival collections (audiovisual and manuscript) as well as metadata remediation on four previously digitized collections. Manuscript collections include:

  • Helen Evangeline Banks Harrison Papers, circa 1850-1985
  • Mamie E. Garvin Fields Papers, 1894-1987
  • Ethelyn Murray Parker Papers, 1899-1992
  • Phillis Wheatley Literary and Social Club Papers, 1916-2011
  • Miriam DeCosta Seabrook and Herbert U. Seabrook Papers, 1882-1995

Tuskegee University ($25,000); and 

Funds will support the digitization of the “Tuskegee Women’s Club Journal,” which includes the origins of the organization in 1889 through the 1920s. Started by Booker T. Washington’s third wife, Margaret Murray Washington, the journal is full of information regarding how women at Tuskegee felt about art, music, literature, and politics. This subgrant will also support finish processing and digitizing the Jessie Guzman collection. Jessie Parkhurst Guzman (1898 -1996) was born in Savannah, Georgia, educated at Howard University (BA, 1919) and Columbia University (MA, 1924), and worked at Tuskegee University for over 40 years. During Guzman’s time at Tuskegee University, she served as director of the Department of Research and Records (now called the archives) and Dean of Women (1938-1944). In 1950, she was named Tuskegee’s Woman of the Year, and in 1954, she sought public office with the Macon County Board of Education.

Amistad Research Center ($7,147)

Funds will support the digitization of a set of records housed within the personal papers of Mississippi businesswoman, church leader, and civil rights activist Clarie Collins Harvey (1916-1995). This set of records pertains to the formation and activities of Womanpower Unlimited, a Jackson, Mississippi-based organization co-founded by Collins in 1961 initially to provide aid to the Freedom Riders.

For more information about this work, please contact DPLA community manager Shaneé Yvette Murrain at shanee@dp.la.

About the Digital Public Library of AmericaThe Digital Public Library of America amplifies the value of libraries and cultural organizations as Americans’ most trusted sources of shared knowledge. We do this by collaborating with partners to accelerate innovative tools and ideas that empower and equip libraries to make information more accessible. For more about DPLA, visit dp.la.