This blog post is the third in a series that features the Connecting Communities Digital Initiative (CCDI) Junior Fellows from the Library’s 2023 Junior Fellows program. These posts highlight each fellow and the projects they developed. CCDI funded six interns in this year’s virtual 10-week program. CCDI is part of the Library’s Mellon-funded Of the People: Widening the Path initiative.
This summer, CCDI’s Junior Fellows created guides that examine Library collections and demonstrate how to use those collections to develop creative projects such as zines, textiles, and collages. They explored topics that ranged from Black and Asian American activism, to the LGBTQ+ Latinx movement, to community-based collaborations, to art and expressive culture, including Asian textiles and African American hair history. As part of their work, they interviewed Library staff and other users to discuss their research topics and to learn more about the Library’s collections.
This guest post, written by Samiah Sudler-Brooks, a 2023 CCDI Junior Fellow, introduces her project, “The Journey to Our Rights: African American Activism from the 1900s-Present Day.” Samiah is a student at Howard University majoring in Political Science and minoring in International Affairs.
You can read her guide here.
How my idea got started
When I started my search, I was overwhelmed with all the possible Library materials I could research. I juggled many ideas, such as mass incarceration rates in the United States, to the history of African Americans from slavery to the present day.
Before I started narrowing down what I was ultimately interested in, I searched through the web archives and digital collections of “The NAACP: A Century In The Fight For Freedom, “Black Lives Matter (BLM),” “The Civil Rights Act of 1964: A Long Struggle of Freedom” and other materials in the Library’s collections to get inspiration. I felt utterly lost in where I was going, but I noticed my colleagues were on the same path. As I started to talk about my interests, my project mentor helped me put the pieces together.
Having multiple conversations with CCDI’s project mentors, my cohort, and Library staff filled me with excitement and helped me find a topic I was passionate about. I finally narrowed my project idea to African American activism from the 1900s to today. I was excited to expand my knowledge on a subject I’m passionate about and hadn’t studied in my K-12 education.
How I Chose My Audience
I brainstormed and continued researching activist organizations’ protests and what they supported through their efforts. These included the 1989 Silent March on Washington with the NAACP and the George Floyd protests with #BlackLivesMatter in 2020.
I needed to determine what audience I would attract to view my research. I wanted to appeal to the African American community with my topic of African American history. I thought about what I was taught and learned in K-12 and the minimal information I was given about Black history – even when Black History Month was recognized each February. In my K-12 education, I attended a small, predominately white, all-girl private Catholic school which provided minimal information on Black History, even during Black History Month.
Every year, different teachers would educate students on the same historical figures with the same lessons. K-12 teachers would start with known leaders in Black history – Martin Luther King, Jr., then Ruby Bridges, and finally, Rosa Parks at the end of the month. There’s no question that these notable civil rights activists greatly impacted African Americans, but they are also the same people my peers and I learned about every Black History Month. My goal with my research is to highlight a few of the many lesser-known activists and share their history with K-12 learners.
Education on a wide range of topics is essential, and I believe all students should be educated on Black history at a young age. I want to challenge the education system already instilled in America today, and it would be beneficial for K-12 students to have access to the information I discovered during my research.
The best way to cater my guide to the K-12 audience is through poetry and collages. I chose these two forms of artistic expression because collages allow students to put pieces of protest photos together, add annotations, and even draw to show depictions of what they have learned. I also chose blackout poetry for students to see what stuck out to them in civil rights speeches and try to form it into their poems. K-12 learners can make blackout poetry, haikus, or collages of protest events like the March on Washington.
Researching and Interviewing
Researching was a crucial part of coming up with a creative topic. The Library has many collections, but I often struggled to find information on African American organizations such as the Black Panther Party and Congress of Racial Equality. These organizations may not be as popular as the NAACP and the Black Lives Matter organizations I discussed in my guide, so they were challenging to find and research, especially some of the founders I wanted to highlight. For example, Black Panther Party “Honorable member” Stokely Carmichael changed his name to Kwame Ture, making it difficult to find information about him.
Another struggle I experienced involved finding the organization’s founder to research. For instance, the NAACP has many notable founders. W.E.B Du Bois is commonly known, but I wanted to touch on a woman founder, Ida B. Wells. There was less information available about Wells in the digital collections, leading me to choose Du Bois over Wells.
Some strategies I used to overcome these issues included using the “Ask a Librarian” feature on loc.gov, which helped me find most of my information. The staff was a huge help in targeting all areas of the organizations and people I researched. Even though I endured the challenges of researching K-12 education design methods and methods of communicating to the audience, interviews with Library staff helped me tremendously with how to cater to K-12 students, determine what activities would be most intriguing to them, and figure out how to split and upgrade sections to offer different approaches for different ages. I also learned how to help K-12 students find more collection materials and resources about the organizations I researched.
I interviewed two Library staff members from the Prints and Photographs Division, who focused on protest and activism photos, and the Assistant Head of the Digital Content Management team, who directed me to the Protest Against Racism Archives. I am overjoyed with how helpful and supportive they were. They invested time and effort in helping me with my project and what I wanted to create, and I even received an invite to return to the Library of Congress to look at some collections once my internship was over. The community of support was fantastic, and even if I faced some struggles, the staff was there every step to guide me to a resolution.
I hope my audience will be able to use my guide to educate themselves and ultimately appreciate the information on African American activism. I am incredibly thankful to the Library staff I interviewed, the CCDI team, my project mentor, and my colleagues for a fantastic summer. The 1900s to the present day only provides a small fraction of African American activism and history and much more information must be explored on this topic. African American history is American history, and I hope K-12 educators and students can use this guide to learn more about African American Studies.
Check out Samiah’s guide here!
CCDI is part of the Library’s Of the People: Widening the Path program with support from the Mellon Foundation. This four-year program provides financial and technical support to individuals, institutions and organizations to create imaginative projects using the Library’s digital collections and centering one or more of the following groups: Black, Indigenous, Hispanic/Latinx, Asian American and Pacific Islander, and other communities of color from any of the 50 U.S. states, the District of Columbia, and its territories and commonwealths (Puerto Rico, Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, American Samoa, U.S. Virgin Islands). Learn more about CCDI here.