April 23, 2018

Q & A with Katrina M. Sanders | Diversity 2016

Primary sources on American race relations in the mid–20th century speak to today’s dilemmas

ljx161201webdiversityslugbig2Early in 2017, Adam Matthew, a database vendor known for its collections of digitized historical primary sources, will release a new collection called Race Relations. The database will offer access to a trove of previously undigitized civil rights material from the Race Relations Department of the United Church Board for Homeland Ministries, 1943–70, an organization that was based at Fisk University in Nashville and whose records are now housed at the Amistad Center at Tulane University in New Orleans. Chianta Dorsey, an archivist at the Amistad Center, explains, “The formal program of the department began in 1943 as a forum to engage in a national discussion regarding numerous topics including racial and ethnic relationships, economics, education, government policy, housing and employment.”

Katrina M. Sanders, associate professor, educational policy and leadership at the
University of Iowa, who served on the advisory board that helped to create the new resource,
tells LJ why the material is important and what it means today.

What can readers expect to find in this collection?
Are there particular gems they should know about?

ljx161201webdiversityverma2Readers can expect to be surprised. This collection is truly unbelievable…rich with photographs and lectures from a variety of scholars that many—or most—users might not have associated with race-related efforts in the United States. The collection is reflective of the true genius that was [sociologist] Charles S. Johnson and his ability to marry his scholarly self with his visionary self. Patrons who explore the database will quickly ascertain that the dialog models and workshops that many scholars and activists utilize today in addressing tolerance and diversity issues were actually used in, and some might argue born from, Johnson’s work at Fisk.

As for particular gems, the Race Relations Institute programs and the essays on race and race relations by the anthropologists, sociologists, legal scholars, business executives, and ministers who attended the Institute are priceless.

It’s surprising that this material hasn’t been digitized as a whole before.
What does it mean for scholarship that these documents will be more widely available?

Scholars need data. For historians in particular, locating and accessing that data, in the form of archival documents, can be problematic. The digitization of this material provides researchers whose time and/or budgetary constraints might have prohibited them from traveling to New Orleans a chance to take advantage of the collection. Researchers can now focus on the data and their projects without having to…travel and pair their schedules with the archive’s operating hours.

It also means that we are likely to see more—and more robust—research on American race relations because there can now be an easier synthesis between the collection itself, which contains the diverse thoughts and opinions of those associated with the Race Relations Department and its Race Relations Institute, and scholars from a variety of disciplines and ­experiences.

The political and racial climate in this country seems to be in a state of upheaval.
What does the material in the collection have to say to our current situation?

[It] reminds us, sadly, that intolerance in this country is not new but that neither is the human spirit to address that racism, bigotry, and hate. The collection is a story of hope and perseverance. Because the Race Relations Institute itself was active from 1944 to 1969, we see different perspectives on how to make the American ideals that we all learn in the curriculum a reality for all.

We see a generation of people who were children when the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson decision legally established Jim Crow [laws] and who up until that time had encountered a more racially integrated South. By way of their scholarship, this generation tried to utilize the same legal system that produced Jim Crow to correct de jure segregation. We also see another generation that had only known a segregated South, the members of which believed less and less that the social sciences and dialog were the best ways to bring about legislative change, enter the Race Relations Institute and begin agitating in different ways. They questioned top-down and academic-based efforts and sought a more bottom-up approach.

This article was published in Library Journal's December 1, 2016 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

Henrietta Verma About Henrietta Verma

Henrietta Verma (hverma@mediasourceinc.com, @ettaverma) was formerly reviews editor at Library Journal. Etta, who is from Ireland, has also been a reference librarian and a library director and is the mom of two avid readers.

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