The following is a guest post from Kate Stewart, formerly of the Library of Congress.
Describe what you did at the Library of Congress and the materials you worked with.
I was the archivist at the American Folklife Center for the Civil Rights History Project, a joint project with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. My main responsibility was to archive the oral histories from the project and make them accessible online, but I also processed and cataloged other collections in our department related to civil rights or African Americans. I helped conduct a nationwide survey database of oral histories related to the civil rights movement and contributed to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 exhibition.
Do you have a favorite item from the Library’s online collections?
Probably it would be the interview in the Civil Rights History Project with Joyce and Dorie Ladner. They are sisters who grew up in Mississippi and joined the movement there as teenagers and participated in a lot of famous events, including the March on Washington and SNCC’s Freedom Summer Project. Their stories are fascinating and their sisterly bond really shows in the interview–they finish each other’s sentences. It was one of the first interviews I saw for the project and it has stuck with me, years later.
Share a time when an item from the collections sparked your curiosity.
Some photos of a few civil rights events were found in the Alan Lomax collection, and I was invited to write a blog post on them. They were taken by Guy Carawan at a Sing for Freedom workshop in Mississippi and a SNCC conference at Tougaloo College in 1965. I went on a wild goose chase trying to find out more about these events and probably spent way too much time researching (an easy thing to do at the Library of Congress), but the post turned out to be my favorite that I have written. It was circulated around to former SNCC members, and they were able to identify everyone in the last photo, including Dorie Ladner.
Tell us about a memorable interaction with a K-12 teacher or student.
A few weeks ago I was on the reference desk and a 16-year-old boy came in and wanted materials on Celtic mythology. He was from Chicago (probably on a spring break trip) and had come to the library on his own and was very excited to be here. It is pretty rare that we get high school students coming in on their own to the reading room; usually they’re with their parents or a school group. I was really impressed that he took the initiative to navigate getting a researcher card, finding our reading room and starting his research all on his own–no easy task even for an adult!
What’s one thing you’d like to tell teachers about the materials that you worked with or the collections in general?
I’d like to encourage them to incorporate oral histories and interviews to teach recent history. It may be easier to analyze photographs and text, but I think listening to someone tell a personal story can be so much more memorable and engaging. These rich primary sources not only “bring history alive,” as they say, but can also give us a chance to slow down, listen deeply, and learn to empathize with people from other walks of life.