Hampton University and WRL to partner on preserving African American history

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African American laborers near a coal wharf in Alexandria. (Courtesy U.S. National Archives)
African American laborers near a coal wharf in Alexandria. (Courtesy U.S. National Archives)

Hampton University needs your help.

Williamsburg Regional Library announced it is supporting a Hampton University project with the goal of preserving historical papers within the local African American community.

The aim of the project is to scan and digitally preserve private documents that highlight African American history within Hampton Roads.

Residents interested in participating in the project can attend two information sessions.  The first will be held Saturday at the James City County Library between 2 and 3:30 p.m.  The second session will take place between 1 and 2:30 p.m. on March 25 at the Williamsburg Library.

Two digitization sessions will take place in the coming months. During the digitization sessions, participants can bring their documents to be scanned. The first digitization sessions will take place May 20 at the Williamsburg Library, and the second is scheduled for June 3 at the James City County Library.

The project is being funded by a Common Heritage Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

“As historical sources, papers are more vulnerable to being discarded than material objects and photographs, particularly at the level of family,” states the grant proposal request. “As a whole, African Americans have not preserved papers with the same urgency or nostalgia as material objects like family Bibles, photographs, or furniture. There is an intellectual and documentary history to be told here.”

Hampton University faculty will organize, annotate, and upload the scanned and digitized documents to an online platform for preservation.  A follow-up program on Dec. 9 will share the project’s results with the community.

“Faculty at Hampton University were inspired to take on this project after a survey of existing African American historical documents and objects revealed that much of Williamsburg’s African American history is told locally through antebellum living history, social history photographs, local church history, and oral histories, while African American papers are largely absent from the existing collections and archives,” stated the library’s release.

For more information, call Hampton University at 757.728.6853 or email Dr. Maureen Elgersman Lee at maureen.elgersmanlee@hamptonu.edu.