The Dorothy Berry Collection of What Are Black Archives, 2023
by Dorothy Berry
Berry, Dorothy (1989-)
Linear Feet: Infinite
Folders: Keep Going
The word “archive/s” holds a strange power these days. It is at once the title of organizations that preserve, arrange and provide access to historical materials, those collections of materials themselves, a synonym for memory, and a high-falutin word to legitimize your group of stuff (as if it needed anyone’s legitimization!).
There has been a simmering battle between archivists, who are often underpaid, overworked, and undercited, and those who would sprinkle “archive” across every social media account and gallery opening. There are good reasons for this rancor, as archivists shout about labor concerns, ecological collapse, and the lack of preservation of contemporary digital history to no avail, and non-archivists who haven’t read archival theory don’t even give thanks in the acknowledgement section of their new monograph to the archivists who found all those resources.
There are also good reasons why some Black people in particular, whose histories are often only preserved in archives as footnotes to government policies and White peoples’ industry, have connected with an expansive idea of archives that allows for envisioning the past and future through memory and imagination.
The Dorothy Berry Collection of What Are Black Archives is an artificial collection developed by Dorothy Berry in the course of her career.
This collection has been minimally inventoried, at folder level, by Dorothy Berry. Broad contents are described alphabetically on occasion, but far from encyclopedically. The bulk of this collection remains unprocessed, both physically and emotionally. This collection is appraising and acquiring new material daily, hourly, by the minute, making this printed finding aid, potentially, an archive.
Series I: Black Archives are People
Folder 1 – Black Archivists, Professionals
Contains: Steven Booth, Brenda Banks, Thomas Battle, Tamar Evangelista-Dougherty, Mollie E. Dunlap, Steven G. Fullwood, Petrina Jackson, Karen Jefferson, Wilda Logan, CK Ming, Harold T. Pinkett, Ann Allen Shockley, Holly Smith, Stacie Williams, hundreds others
Folder 2 – Black Librarians Who Could’ve Been Archivists, and Who I Won’t Leave Out
Contains: Arna Bontemps, Mayme Agnew Clayton, Belle da Costa Greene, Vivian G. Harsh, Jean Blackwell Hutson, Doris E. Saunders, Anne Spencer, Arturo Schomburg, Samuel W. Starks, Marion Stokes, Dorothy Porter Wesley, Edward Christopher Williams, Pauline A. Young, hundreds others
Folder 3 – Black Archivists, Non-Professionals
Contains: Grandparents who make you listen to stories when you are too young to appreciate them, Church mothers with collections of bulletins and funeral programs, People who can identify everyone in the photo-albums, Parents with an encyclopedic knowledge of every R&B record played on the radio from 1984-1994, Flea Market shoppers who always purchase unlabeled, loose photographs of Black people, Everyone who passes on family papers because they know they’re important even if it’s not clear how, Cratediggers and their inheritors, thousands of others
Series II: Black Archives are Physical
Folder 1 – Black Archives, Institutions
Contains: Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, African American Museum and Library at Oakland, The Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, The Archives of African American Music and Culture, Black Archives of Mid-America, John Hope Franklin Research Center, Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection, Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection, Robert W. Woodruff Library Archives Research Centers, hundreds of others standing alone or as part of broader institutions
Folder 2 – Black Archives, Community
Contains: Community Centers, The Homes of Elders, Church Basements and Attics, Storage bins (non-climate controlled), Record Stores, File cabinets, Social media accounts, Closets of Dapper Clothes, more ephemeral spaces than you can imagine, thousands of others with various levels of preservation and organization but high levels of care
Folder 3 – Black Archives, Collections
Contains: L. S. Alexander Gumby collection of Negroiana, 1800-1981, Caroline Webb papers, circa 1865-1961, Randolph Linsly Simpson African-American Collection, African American Posters from the Elizabeth and James Abajian Collection of Afro-Americana, Jane Gaither Eustis collection of Afro Americana, 1861-1978 [bulk 1900-1930], Jo Tartt, Jr. collection of photographs, circa 1863-1988, thousands of others not necessarily by Black people but about Black People
Series III: Black Archives are Whatever You Want Them To Be
Folder 1 – Black Archives, Things People Have Told This Black Archivist Are
Contains: a Street, a Neighborhood, a House, a Hairstyle, a Dress, a Recipe, a Dessert, a Single video clip, a gallery opening, a pretty good DJ set, a Person Who Remembers, a Person Who is Remembered, a Person Who is Imagined but not Remembered, a Black person, all Black people
Folder 2 – Black Archives, Signifying
Contains: Desire to be remembered in the face of violent erasure, Right to control one’s own narrative from past to future, Rebellion against the story being told wrong, Conflict with institutional control, Anger at structural racism, Joy at community understanding, Relief at seeing yourself in the past and the future, Understanding the power of history, Honoring ancestors and elders, Imagination in spite of circumstances, hundreds of thousands of individual experiences