The AFRO is Letting Our Archives Out of the Box


As a result of a partnership between the Afro-American Newspapers Archives and Research Center, Johns Hopkins University’s Sheridan Libraries Center for Educational Resources and the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences’ Center for Africana Studies, members of the general public will now have access to the newspapers' archival collection, with the click of a mouse.

Funded in 2007 by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the collaborative project, Diaspora Pathways Archival Access Project (DPAAP), focused on organizing and describing the Afro's archives. This ongoing project has resulted in the development and launch of a Web site that provides access to a wealth of historical documentation of the African American experience (http://morgue.afro.com/AfroArchon/).

Afro publisher, John J. Oliver, spoke at a reception heralding the Web site, expressing his appreciation and excitement.

"We're proud that this part of our dream has reached this particular stage. But again, like all dreams, this is just the beginning. We, at the Afro, are absolutely proud of the partnership we have. We look forward to continuing, and we're excited about the black history that we are indeed unfolding. It's an exciting experience, and we invite you to join us," stated Oliver.

Moira Hinderer, who began working on the project in 2007 as a postdoctoral fellow in Hopkins' Center for Africana Studies and Center for Educational Resources and now manages the university's side of the project, feels that the Afro Archives probably hold the most extensive collection of any black newspaper in the country.

"In just the past few days in the archive, I have found correspondence from Josephine Baker to the AFRO, a photo of a service honoring Emmett Till held at Sharp Street Church in 1955 and hundreds of letters from Carl Murphy challenging racially derogatory language and images in advertisements, radio programs, and newspapers," Hinderer explains.

The original archival materials, a vast collection of handwritten notes, newspaper clippings, photographs, funeral programs and much more, date back to the 1880s and have been contained in 2,000 boxes at the newspapers' North Charles Street offices. These delicate historical records require extremely careful handling as they are removed and catalogued. According to Afro archivist, John Gartrell, this laborious task has been handled primarily by interns.

While working on the project as an intern at Hopkins, Tom Smith was so impressed by the archives' incredible collection of more than 1.5 million images that he spent his senior year building a machine that could autonomously digitize the images. He estimates that the most recent model of his Gado scanning robot is scanning at four times the speed of the original and half the cost of normal manual digitalization, and will have scanned 20,000 of the archives' images by May 2012.

Even with the assistance of a robot, there is still much work to be done, but the task is well worth the results.

As Moira Hinderer reminds us, "This is a heritage collection that reflects all of our experiences – a history that we should all know and treasure."

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The AFRO is Letting Our Archives Out of the Box

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