One of the Library’s newest outreach programs to college students is the Archives, History, and Heritage Advanced Internship Program, which wrapped its first season this week. AHHA is a partnership between the Library and our hometown Howard University. It pairs students with Library staffers to work on projects that increase public access to the Library’s collections.
It’s modeled on the Library’s Junior Fellows Summer Internship program, and the student stipends for AAHA were provided by Craig and Diane Welburn, members of the Library’s James Madison Council. This year, we started with three students who worked 20 hours a week for three months.
Jacquelyn Chin worked on the Alvin Ailey Dance Foundation collection in the Music Division. Brittney Meadors worked on the Pete Welding Collection, as well as that of Bruce Jackson and Diane Christian, in the American Folklife Center. Keshad “Ife” Adeniyi worked on the papers of civil rights pioneer Ann Tanneyhill in the Manuscript Division.
“So much history of people of color is … lost, misplaced and not made accessible,” said Carla Hayden, Librarian of Congress, in a ceremony that concluded the program. Interns have the chance to “open up a treasure chest and be the person that is going to find that letter, that is going to find that film clip, that is going to find that recording … and make it accessible.”
Here, adding to the posts by his peers, Adeniyi writes of Tanneyhill’s passion for preserving her family’s story:
As a doctoral candidate in history at Howard University, my research is in the Civil War – more specifically, the experiences of fugitives fleeing southern plantations to Union occupied territory. They were labeled “contrabands.” I’m focusing on the nature of impressment and how it was used against black people as the Union Army’s need for both laborers and soldiers intensified as the war dragged on. This requires extensive work in the archives. It’s actually what led Professor Nikki Taylor – chair of the Howard’s department 0f history — to tell me about the university’s program with the Library.
In my daily work here at the Library, I am identifying, arranging, and describing the Ann Tanneyhill papers. These have had a tremendous impact on me. For four decades, Ms. Tanneyhill (1906-2001), worked at the National Urban League headquarters, dedicating her life to improving the material conditions of African Americans. She began working for the League in 1928, and for years worked as the director of vocational guidance. Employment was a critical issue for activists during this period of the Great Migration, when 6 million blacks left the South in search of a better life. She worked tirelessly to find and develop employment opportunities for young people attempting to traverse many of the hardships that awaited black people once they relocated.
As I’ve sifted through her life’s work, I’ve found myself connecting with her on both a professional and personal level.
Professionally, as an activist and an advocate, I’ve worked with young people of color who are caught up in the criminal justice system. In prisons, jails and detention centers, I’ve taught classes on race, state violence, identity and classism, particularly as they relate to life inside those facilities. Ms. Tanneyhill’s long career has been an inspiration for me to continue that work.
Personally, it’s her family history that intrigues me. Her great-grandfather escaped from slavery in Louisiana and made his way to freedom in Nova Scotia. His son, William Grandison, settled in Massachusetts and became the first black member of a printer’s union. I was moved by a photoengraving of him that I found in the papers. That she held onto his picture underscored how important family pride and connections were to her. This motif became more prevalent as I combed through her collection. She really had a keen interest in documenting and preserving her family’s history.
I found this to be admirable, particularly considering my own family’s history. I grew up in Los Angeles amid sometimes difficult circumstances. Once, we were evicted. We put nearly all of our belongings – pictures, family documents — into storage. Later, when we could no longer pay the storage facility, all was lost. So much of our family story was just gone.
Today, as I process Ms. Tanneyhill’s papers, her dedication reminds me of how hard it can be to keep a family history intact. It also reminds me of the many, many families like mine who have lost so much of our past.
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