Library of Congress Gets African-American Oral History Archive

The iconic library has acquired The HistoryMakers archive of iconic interviews detailing African-American life, history and culture.

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The Library of Congress as seen from the top of the U.S. Capitol Dec. 19, 2013, in Washington, D.C.

KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images

The Library of Congress is now the home of The HistoryMakers collection, which details the black experience in America, Librarian of Congress James H. Billington announced on Tuesday.

“The HistoryMakers archive provides invaluable first-person accounts of both well-known and unsung African-Americans, detailing their hopes, dreams and accomplishments—often in the face of adversity,” Billington said in a press release. “This culturally important collection is a rich and diverse resource for scholars, teachers, students and documentarians seeking a more complete record of our nation’s history and its people.”

Consisting of thousands of hours of content and including 14,000 analog tapes, 3,000 DVDs, 6,000 “born-digital” files, 70,000 paper documents and digital files, and more than 3,000 digital photographs, The HistoryMakers is just about the largest project of its type, founder and Executive Director Julieanna Richardson noted.

“The HistoryMakers represents the single largest archival project of its kind since the Works Progress Administration’s initiative to document the experiences of former slaves in the 1930s,” Richardson explained. “This relationship with the Library of Congress represents a momentous occasion for our organization. With the Library of Congress serving as our permanent repository, we are assured of its preservation and safekeeping for generations to come.”

The library was given the digital files with all of the analog tapes, consisting of approximately 2,600 videotaped interviews with black Americans in 39 states.

“The collection is one of the most well-documented and organized audiovisual collections that the Library of Congress has ever acquired,” Mike Mashon, head of the library’s Moving Image Section, said in the release. “It is also one of the first born-digital collections accepted into our nation’s repository.”

The HistoryMakers was launched in the summer of 1999 as a nonprofit research and educational institution, set on creating an archival collection of oral histories. Richardson and her team have been to almost 300 U.S. cities and towns and have traveled as far as Norway in hopes of capturing the missing stories of American history.

Read more at the Library of Congress.

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