Jim Crow practices touched every aspect of southern life in the middle of the twentieth century. As surviving documentary evidence attests, archives and archivists in the South, particularly in the University of North Carolina system, were deeply implicated in upholding segregation. This article probes that dynamic relationship, stressing the courage of those African American scholars who challenged Jim Crow on quotidian and organizational bases. The history of segregation in archival repositories illuminates four themes. First, it underlines the agency and power wielded by archival professionals; the archives is never a neutral space. Second, it suggests how archival professionals conducted—or failed to conduct—outreach to attract users and to promote use. In this way they betrayed their professional mission by providing lesser forms of access and service to African Americans. Third, the story of Jim Crow archives shows the need for archivists to be held accountable in their record-collecting and recordkeeping practices; it also demonstrates the central importance of diversity in the profession, in the types of records retained, and in their content. Finally, it indicates the necessity of ensuring that a representative documentary trail remains for historians. In short, archivists affect the writing of history as much in the 2010s as they did in the 1950s. The legacy of Jim Crow's "strange career" in the archives represents a valuable lesson for archival professionals in their pursuit of social justice.
The Strange Career of Jim Crow Archives: Race, Space, and History in the Mid-Twentieth-Century American South
- Views Icon Views
- Share Icon Share
- Search Site
Alex Poole; The Strange Career of Jim Crow Archives: Race, Space, and History in the Mid-Twentieth-Century American South. The American Archivist 1 April 2014; 77 (1): 23–63. doi: https://doi.org/10.17723/aarc.77.1.g621m3701g821442
Download citation file: