The Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture and the SNCC Legacy Project co-hosted a daylong program in Albany, GA on the campus of Albany State University on March 9, 2013 to help southwest Georgia residents identify and preserve items of historical and cultural significance tucked away in the attics, closets and basements of their homes. The event featured presentations, hands-on activities and preservation tips.
The Southwest Georgia Project for Community Education Inc. and a local host committee were program partners.
Free and open to the public, the event is the 11th in a series from the Smithsonian museum's signature program "Save Our African American Treasures: A National Collections Initiative of Discovery and Preservation."
A short video on the program is available on YouTube.
Participants could bring up to three personal items for a 15-minute, professional consultation with experts on how to care for them. Objects such as books, paper and textiles no larger than a shopping bag (furniture, carpets, firearms and paintings are excluded) were reviewed. Museum experts were particularly interested in evaluating items related to the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee's activities in southwest Georgia during the civil rights era of the 1960’s, including photographs, flyers, buttons, tickets, posters and other items from the period.
"We are extremely proud to bring 'Save Our African American Treasures' to southwest Georgia and of our partnership with Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee Legacy Project, Southwest Georgia Project for Community Education Inc. and Albany State University," said Lonnie Bunch, director of the museum. "We encourage people to become aware of the artifacts and recollections related to the civil rights activity that took place in southwest Georgia, to protect and to preserve them so the story of African Americans in this country can be told."
"It is a unique honor for Albany State University to serve as co-host for this most important 'Treasures' event," said Everette J. Freeman, president of ASU. "In attics, closets and hope chests throughout southwest Georgia, there will be discoveries and rediscoveries of artifacts that directly link the lives of ordinary citizens to America's civil rights journey. What an opportunity to share out past."
The "Treasures" program included the following activities throughout the day:
Civil Rights Panel Discussions: Two panels to discuss the legacy of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in southwest Georgia and the ongoing struggle for civil rights
Preservation Presentations: Informal basic preservation sessions provided information on preserving clothing and textiles, family photographs and papers.
Hands-on Preservation: In this hands-on activity, participants learn how to properly store letters, pack garments and prepare photographs for preservation storage and presentation.
"Save Our African American Treasures" is made possible with support from the Bank of America Charitable Foundation and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. The grants also support the pre-design and construction of the museum on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., scheduled to open in 2015. As a companion to the series, the museum has produced African American Treasures: A Preservation Guide, a 30-page guidebook that is distributed free to attendees to highlight the importance of proper preservation techniques. The guidebook is part of the "Treasures" kit. Also distributed will be white cotton gloves, archival tissue papers and archival document sleeves to help people keep their personal treasures safe.
The National Museum of African American History and Culture was established in 2003 by an Act of Congress, making it the 19th Smithsonian Institution museum. Scheduled for completion in 2015, it will be built on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., on a five-acre tract adjacent to the Washington Monument. Currently, during the pre-building phase, the museum is producing publications, hosting public programs and assembling collections. It is presenting exhibitions at other museums across the country and at its own gallery at the National Museum of American History. For more information about the museum, visit nmaahc.si.edu or call Smithsonian information at (202) 633-1000.
Final Report from SLP to Smithsonian:
TO: Lonnie Bunch, Director
Smithsonian Institution NMAAHC
FR: Courtland Cox, Chair
SNCC Legacy Project
RE: SOUTHWEST GEORGIA TREASURES PROJECT
The collaboration between the SI-NMAAHC and the SNCC Legacy Project (SLP) worked wonderfully. The Save Our Treasures event in Southwest Georgia (SWGA) was successful because it combined the expertise of the SI-NMAAHC Treasures Team with the local knowledge and understanding of the Southwest Georgia Host Committee and the SWGA institutions of history and culture. In addition, the roles of SWGA Project established in 1961, under the leadership of Charles and Shirley Sherrod, and the Albany State University, under the leadership of President Freeman, were critical to the success of the Treasures event.
The SLP had seven of its Board members attend the SWGA Treasures event and all of them were impressed. We are all quite fortunate to have you and Bernice Johnson-Reagon in the leadership of the collaboration of the SWGA Treasures Project. Please convey our deepest appreciation to John Franklin, Elaine Nichols, Tracey Enright, Esther Washington and all of the members of the SI-NMAAHC staff for all of their hard work. I do hope that the success of the SWGA Treasures Project will lead to further collaborations between the SI-NMAAHC and the SLP.
I am attaching a report from the SLP Board members of their observations.
SNCC LEGACY PROJECT OBSERVATION AT THE
SOUTHWEST GEORGIA SAVE OUR TREASURES EVENT
In 2010, the SNCC LEGACY PROJECT (SLP) surveyed the 1200 attendees of its 50th SNCC Anniversary, many of them veterans of the Civil Rights Movement, about their historic treasures. They were asked:
Did they have personal physical documents, artifacts or records from their organizing work?
If they had Movement materials, where had they stored them?
Had they given any thought to where these historical documents and artifacts would go in the future? And, had they made any arrangements?
With the concerns of the SLP in mind, Ms. Bernice Johnson Reagon, a member of the SI-NMAAHC Scholars Advisory Committee and a SLP Board member, requested that Director Lonnie Bunch host a meeting between the Museum’s Treasures Team and the SNCC Legacy Project (SLP) to discuss the SI outreach Program to the African American communities that focused attention on the importance of preserving personal and institutional artifacts. Director Lonnie Bunch did host a meeting with the members of the SI-Treasures Team and the SLP and it was agreed that the SI-NMAAHC would sponsor an adaptation of the regular Treasures Program format in two selected locations to assist the SLP in understanding what would be involved in reaching Movement communities with similar efforts.
The SLP recommended that Southwest Georgia be the initial site for the SI-Treasures Program because the Southwest Georgia (SWGA) Project had worked in the various SWGA counties from 1961 until the present and the Project organizing efforts were vital to the economic and political changes made in Southwest Georgia over the last fifty-two years. The prolonged efforts in SWGA had, in spite of adversity, secured the right to vote, supported African American farmers and land owners, integrated schools, and elected African Americans to political office.
SOUTHWEST GEORGIA TREASURES EVENT
Organizing the SWGA Treasurers Event
In order to maximize the impact of the upcoming program, the SLP requested that the SI-Treasures Team add a host committee to the organizing structures for the SWGA Treasures Program. The SLP also suggested that the SI-Treasures Team include local partners-organizations such as local institution of culture and history, museums, and Albany State University to the list of organizers for the Treasures event. The SI-Treasures Team and SLP agreed to some changes to the regular Treasures Event. Therefore, the SWGA Treasures Program would have in addition to the usual focus on documents and artifacts would include in the one-day Program the historic struggles of the Africa-American community.
After being registered by the SI-Treasures Team, everyone proceeded to the venue for the opening session and the two panels on the history of the SWGA Movement. President Everett Freeman welcomed everyone to Albany State University. Next a member of Albany’s City Commission brought greetings and John Franklin spoke on behalf of the SI-NMAAHC. An impressive entrance of the Albany Freedom Singers, led by Rutha Harris, singing freedom songs, concluded the opening session. Many young children accompanied the Albany Freedom Singers into the room.
This panel included students, from the 1960’s, who were the first to enter formerly all white facilities, and workers who were the first to integrate places of employment including political office. Maisha Moses, a SLP Board member, Founder of the Young People’s Project (YPP) and the daughter of Bob Moses, describes her thoughts about the panel. She says, “The stories are invaluable. Precious. We need more opportunities to gather and hear and tell the stories. It’s one thing to document and record the stories and words, sounds, and images so they can be preserved and shared broadly. It’s another thing to be together in time and space to honor and hold up what is sacred, to celebrate humanity, to testify, to bear witness, to heal, to listen. Both, I think are necessary.”
The second panel was represented by churches and families who opened their doors to organizers from out of the region who came in to work full time on ending racial segregation within the communities and within the lives of African Americans who suffered the brunt of that system. The initial integration occurred in homes and churches that housed out of town volunteers and mass meetings. Ann Chinn, the organizer of the Passage Ceremonies and Port Markers Project, stated, “The SWGA gathering completes a picture that previously has only been outlines of people and places. The melding of powerful individual stories, the crucial inclusion of young people at Albany State University in attending the narrative sessions … provided a tangible sense of the Southwest Georgia Project, its continuing mission and history.”
SI Treasures Presentations
The two SI Treasures presentations on the preservation of photographs, papers, clothing and textiles were quite impressive. While the preservation information was technical, it was presented in a very interesting way. The audience, including SLP Board members, was made painfully aware of the many ways that their precious documents, photographs, and artifacts are not being properly stored and could be destroyed by time and chemical reactions. Fortunately, the presenters were able to suggest solutions to avoid the deterioration of the treasurers that we might have in our possession. There is certainly much to learn in the preservation of documents and artifacts.
The mass meeting began with the children who prayed before they entered the church. Bernice Johnson Reagon describes the mass meeting as follows, “We entered the meeting with singing in the congregational style into which I was born and where I found my singing voice. After the opening prayer meeting, the pastor, Rev. H.C. Boyd came to the pulpit and welcomes us to the sacred house that became a home to the Albany Movement. Rev. Sherrod came to the pulpit with scripture and moved us through reports from the various SWGA counties beginning with Baker County.
We closed with singing by the Albany Freedom Singers and We Shall Overcome.” Ms. Reagon continues, “As I left Shiloh, I looked down and the sidewalk had footsteps embedded and I wondered what they were and then it hit me; during the SWGA Movement, marchers daily gathered at Shiloh and after the meeting we walked out the door, turned to the left and left again to Washington all the way to the courthouse and sometimes jail. Now there were footsteps on the sidewalk, at the end of the block at Washington was the Charles Sherrod Memorial Park, honoring the SNCC organizer who came with Cordell Reagon and stayed."
Visit to New Communities
On Sunday, we boarded the bus and went out to the New Communities Land, a former plantation that had been renovated shortly before the owner died and it was now the organizations land and they were growing pecan trees as well as oranges. As we stopped for lunch in what was the plantation home, Shirley Sherrod talked in-depth about her work and the range of her work since her beginning in the Movement of the Sixties. She said that she made the decision not to leave SWGA when her father was murdered by a white farmer who was never arrested for the crime. The work, of the Shirley and Charles Sherrod, has greatly impacted SWGA.
The SI-NMAAHC Treasures Program is doing valuable work. Many in the African-American community, including civil rights veterans, have not taken the time to preserve their history. And as a result, many of the lessons learned cannot be told to the next generations. In addition to the documents, textiles, and artifacts, the voices of the many, who are usually unsung, must be added to the valued treasures of the SI-NMAAHC. The SLP would encourage the continuation of the panels of local people and oral history sessions in future SI-Treasures events. Finally, the involvement of a host committee from the community might be a helpful asset.
Other Save Our Treasures programs have been held in:
|Fort Lauderdale, FL||New York, NY|
|Albany, GA||Atlanta, GA|
|Charleston, SC||Chicago, IL|
|Dallas, TX||Detroit, MI|
|Houston, TX||Indianola, MS|
|Los Angeles, CA||St. Helena, SC|
|Topeka, KS||Washington, DC|
Photos from March 9, 2013 at Albany State University: