Africana Collection Features Documents Related To Study Of African-American Culture, History
Photos of African American soldiers, slavery and emancipation documents, and comics depicting black superheroes are among the books, manuscripts and pieces of ephemera that make up the Africana Collection.
Housed at the Cushing Memorial Library & Archives at Texas A&M University, the Africana Studies Collection explores the African Diaspora and many facets of African-American culture, history and life. Rebecca Hankins, a Texas A&M professor and archivist at Cushing Library, has been building the collection since she joined the university in 2003.
Hankins said her curation has focused on alternative movements, such collections exploring the Black Panthers and Students for a Democratic Society, which she said are also important to recognize as part of the broader Civil Rights Movement.
Flyers, posters and documents that were handed out during protest movements are also among the items Hankins often looks to acquire for the collection.
“In some ways some of that material is always lost because no one thinks it’s important,” Hankins said. “There was a piece of ephemera that I bought that was from an organization of writers who got together and wanted to start writing on particular issues dealing with civil rights, and it just so happened that Toni Morrison was one of those individuals.”
Several items from the collection have been on display on the first floor of Cushing Library for Black History Month. Hankins said the theme for the display, “African Americans and the Vote,” relates to the theme for Black History Month set this year by the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), which is one of the country’s oldest black organizations.
“This is the year of the presidential election, so I think the association wanted to make sure that people understood the importance of voting and that people have struggled,” Hankins said. “Lives were lost in order to get that opportunity.”
Alejandro Gonzalez, an international studies senior, curated the Black History Month display. The documents, photographs and other items he pulled from the Africana Studies Collection reflect the history of segregation and the journey toward equal rights and African Americans’ right to vote.
The exhibit includes a copy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s ‘Letter from Birmingham City Jail’ – his landmark missive calling for direct, non-violent resistance in the fight against racism – a 1962 photograph of Congressman John Lewis and other members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee deep in prayer during a demonstration, and a pamphlet for a bus boycott on Jackson, Miss.
Gonzalez said some of the centerpieces of the display include an original printed program for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, where King made his now-famous “I Have A Dream” speech, and a photo of the crowd gathering for the march.
“Oftentimes when we’re talking about history we see the final aspect, and not how things are processed,” Hankins said. “For me, that’s important so people can see these are things we can replicate in our own lives. They didn’t start out as the momentous occasions that we celebrate now. They started out from individuals coming together and working to make sure we have some product, something to show people at the end.”
Materials from the Africana Studies Collection can be accessed year-round.