Archives and Civil Rights

John_Lewis_1964-04-16From Thursday, April 6th, through Saturday, April 8th, I attended the 2017 Midwest Archives Conference, held in Omaha. Throughout these three days, I heard about (and saw) many examples of amazing online digital archives and came away from the weekend with many ideas for improving Bellevue University’s own archives, which I’ll begin to implement over the coming months.

What I want to talk about specifically, however, were the plot threads that ran all throughout the conference: civil rights and politics. The conference opened with a session on the history of the famous Standing Bear v. Crook case, and the bulk of the remaining sessions discussed subjects like documenting protests and riots and preserving the history of and reaching out to social minorities. Even the sessions that focused more on the technical aspects of archival work circled back to these themes.

One of the most compelling such sessions focused on Washington University’s efforts to restore the complete uncut interviews from Henry Hampton’s landmark Eyes on the Prize documentary series. You can view their efforts here (if you watch only one, I particularly recommend the 1985 John Lewis interview). Not only was the technical insight into film editing and restoration fascinating, but the history of the content itself and its continued relevance is remarkable. Of all the resources I saw at the conference, this was the one whose importance I was most struck by, and it would not have been possible without outside funding.

A recurring theme at the conference was the necessity of government funding for archives, libraries, and museums. Concern was expressed, session after session, about a recent budget proposed by President Trump that would see such funding essentially removed altogether. This proposal, coupled with the current administration’s stance on issues like immigration (and his feud with the above-mentioned John Lewis), lent the conference an almost revolutionary air, as several presenters delivered impassioned defenses of libraries, humanities, and the arts, pointing to their work as necessary for the continued improvement of social matters in the U.S.

You can read more about the proposed budget in question here.

The presentation on Standing Bear v. Crook was in part presented by author Joe Starita, whose book on Standing Bear is available to check out from the Bellevue University Library.

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