University Receives Grant to Establish D.C. Africana Archives Project

Collaborative archival resource will document the culture, history and politics of black life in D.C.

January 6, 2014


William E. Fauntroy, the first African American delegate to represent Washington, D.C. in the House of Representatives, holds a sign on the steps of the Capitol building in support of a bill to establish a holiday commemorating Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

By Brittney Dunkins

The George Washington University has received nearly $496,000 in funding from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) to establish the D.C Africana Archives Project (DCAAP), a collaborative initiative to document African American and African diaspora culture, history and politics in D.C.

The 33-month grant was awarded to the Special Collections Research Center at the GW Libraries and the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences’ Africana Studies Program in December through CLIR’s Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives program.

It was the largest awarded among those received by 22 universities, colleges, museums, libraries, and non-profit organizations.

“We at the GW Libraries are thrilled to partner with leading archives across the city to document the African American experience in Washington, D.C.,” University Librarian and Vice Provost for Libraries Geneva Henry said. “This generous funding will enable us to provide research access to Washingtoniana collections from six institutions, while also integrating these materials into academic courses through a close collaboration with GW’s Africana Studies Program.”

The Special Collections Research Center at the GW Libraries and the Africana Studies Program will partner with the District of Columbia Archives, Howard University's Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, the Historical Society of Washington, D.C., the National Museum of American History's Archives Center  and the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library on the project.

Funding will be used to improve cataloging, arrangement and descriptions of more than 125 collections containing thousands of photographs, documents, audio recordings and films that chronicle the lives of D.C.’s black community. A centralized web database will be created to guide researchers, students and faculty through the collections.

“As resources for processing and cataloging backlogs of archival collections remain scarce, this grant provides an amazing opportunity for the partnering institutions to address significant portions of their collections,” University Archivist Bergis Jules said.

Mr. Jules and Director of the Africana Studies Program Jennifer James will oversee the implementation of the funding. Project development will begin in the coming months.

The diverse wealth of historical documents held by GW and DCAAP partners traces the history of black life in D.C., from records of slavery and servitude, to the unparalleled legacy of trumpeter and composer Dizzy Gillespie and the political prowess of Sharon Pratt Kelly, the first black female mayor of a major U.S. city.

The majority of GW’s DCAAP archival contribution is centered on famed civil rights activist Walter E. Fauntroy, a lead organizer of the 1963 March on Washington and D.C.’s first non-voting delegate to Congress.

“The range of documents in these collections is impressive, and many are exceedingly rare,” said Dr. James, who is also an associate professor of English at GW. “We are confident that increased access will generate surprising discoveries about black life in D.C. and lead to new and ground-breaking research.”

The funding will also be used to provide resources for community involvement, preservation workshops for small collecting institutions and the development of a model course on conducting archival research for high school students.

In addition, DCAAP will serve as an educational resource for students, faculty and researchers within the university community. Faculty in the Africana Studies Program will use the collections to develop interdisciplinary research projects, undergraduate courses and scholarly forums.

“We hope this grant will position GW as an intellectual center for this kind of work in the future,” Dr. James said.