By ABIGAIL ADCOX, Virginia Gazette
WILLIAMSBURG, Va. (AP) – A recent project aims to document the history of the black community in the greater Williamsburg area through a new online archive.
The Local Black Histories Project, organized by the Village Initiative, launched a website last month with oral histories of local residents, films, photos and more, which tell first-hand accounts of the experiences and lives of the black community.
The Village Initiative, a grassroots organization that advocates for equity in Williamsburg-James City County public schools, first kicked off the project in 2019 with a series of community forums discussing the history of inclusion. educational.
“It was something I wanted to do and it touched on things I had been thinking about since I was a kid,” said Jacqueline Bridgeforth Williams, Founder and Executive Director of The Village Initiative. “We started talking about change and how we could make things better for our students in the community. We knew that history played an important role.
According to Williams, the online platform was created with the goal of sharing resources with the wider community and working with local educators to incorporate them into their classroom materials.
Williams said they are continuing discussions with local schools on how they could work together on the road.
“They are our heroes and we are the survivors. That’s what drives us to do the job, to tell all the stories, to tell them from their perspective from our perspective, ”said Williams. “Oral history has always been important because there was a time when we weren’t allowed to read and write, but that didn’t stop us from sharing our family stories orally. “
The project is overseen by a community advisory board of 16 members of the descendant black community, which helps guide the project’s research priorities, how they present them, the collection of oral histories and more.
William & Mary is also a partner in the project which provided funding through an interdisciplinary scholarship from the W. Taylor Reveley III faculty. As part of the partnership, an interdisciplinary research team, comprising three faculty directors: Omiyęmi (Artisia) Green, Amy Quark and Monika Gosin, is supporting the project.
Quark, associate professor of sociology, said more than 40 students have been involved in the project over the past two years, interviewing residents for oral histories, transcribing interviews and more.
“The website really showcases these primary sources that more and more K-12 teachers like to engage their students in first-hand data analysis,” Quark said. “We are putting these primary sources in the hands of teachers so that they can use them.”
On the website, they also have several virtual exhibits, including “Race, Resistance and the Establishment of Public Schools in Williamsburg, Virginia,” which features information on the first black member of the Williamsburg school board and more.
In the exhibit, a quote from Alexander Lee from his 1991 oral history is incorporated, speaking of his upbringing in Williamsburg.
“We didn’t have high schools. We had to leave for high school… to Hampton, Petersburg or Richmond. The beautiful thing is that those who were lucky enough to go to school came back and helped and taught others, ”said Lee.
The website also contains individual oral histories categorized from A to Z based on last name, which are continuously enriched.
“We continue to develop new exhibits for the website, which includes interactive maps from the turn of the 20th century in Williamsburg, and we continue to collect more oral histories,” Quark said.
In total, Williams said hundreds of people have helped or participated in the project over the past two years.
“It pays a beautiful tribute to our ancestors and does that job and remembers them and creates something that is based on the legacy that will nurture generations to come,” said Williams.
To learn more about the project, you can visit their website at: sites.google.com/email.wm.edu/localblackhistories/home.
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