In celebration of Black History Month, the National Archives has curated a collection of African American History Month Resources. Needless to say, our National Archives contain a vast collection of primary and secondary materials related to the Black experience in America; in fact, the largest such collection our country has to offer, spanning time from the dark dawn of slavery in the colonies to today’s continuing civil rights struggle.
Due to the pandemic, the National Archive and Records Administration aka NARA aka the National Archives, is not open to the public. However, their research guides make exploring online resources a breeze, whether you’re interested in various topics or a time period in the chronological development of the Black experience. There’s three collections I would like to highlight: The American Image: Portrait of Black Chicago, The Modern Civil Rights Movement, and the Center for Black Music Research.
The American Image: Portrait of Black Chicago
John H. White, currently the staff photographer for the Chicago Sun-Times but then a photographer for the Chicago Daily News, took a series of photographs of Chicago’s African American community from mid-1973 to early 1974. He took these photos as part of the Environmental Protection Agency`s (EPA) DOCUMERICA project, and they comprise a candid time capsule view of Black life in Chicago during the early 1970s. [To navigate this collection, use the Intro, Part One, Part Two, Part Three links found under the photographer’s name in the top left corner.]
The Modern Civil Rights Movement
Chicago is the home of the midwestern regional office of the National Archives featuring permanent records created by federal agencies and courts in Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. Many of these materials have not been digitized and made available online, but this civil rights finding aid details notable civil rights cases from the Great Lakes region and the many primary records, such as court documents and investigative reports from federal agencies, available at the Chicago site.
Center for Black Music Research (CBMR)
While the National Archives own holdings are extensive, they also index other archival and research collections on aspects of the Black experience, so browsing the National Archives guides will lead you to other niche collections like the Center for Black Music Research at Columbia Community College in Chicago. This Center collects materials on Black music in world culture, including the United States, and features personal scores, recordings, notes, and other ephemera created as part of the artistic process of musical composition. Use their finding aids to discover both interesting and invaluable materials providing a unique and immersive view of the influence of Black musicians on American and world culture.
Lastly the National Archives maintains an impressive Calendar of Events that offers regular programming, including live-streamed lectures featuring distinguished scholars and panelists. Every fourth Thursday there is a free “Lunch and Learn” event; Thursday, Feb. 25 is The Black Family: Representation, Identity, and Diversity, a panel discussing the complexity of the Black family as the foundation of African American life and history. Follow the National Archives on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, or sign up for a newsletter to keep up with announcements, newly curated collection reveals, events, and more.