“I went to this conference, and they asked us to put together six words as to why archives matter,” said Chaitra Powell, the African American collections and outreach archivist at the University Libraries’ Southern Historical Collection at the Wilson Special Collections Library. “I wish I was this brilliant, but one of my friends, she said ‘I was here; don’t forget me.’ That’s it. That’s the role of archives.”
Powell is one of several archivists at Carolina working to preserve documents essential to understanding the history of the American South. Her role holds the promise of including more diverse voices in archives and of helping communities preserve their rich histories.
Through community-driven archives — which rethink traditional, institution-based archives where an archivist decides what materials contain enough cultural and historical value to bring under the institution’s roof — Powell and her colleagues empower collectives of people to curate their own archives in their own voices.
Already, the Southern Historical Collection has cultivated these kinds of archives in partnership with the Historic Black Towns and Settlements Alliance, a collective of historically black towns in the South, helping members to preserve manuscripts, photographs, oral histories and artifacts in independent, self- sustaining archives.
This is story number 49 in the Carolina Stories 225th Anniversary Edition magazine.