We all know history is important but how many of us preserve it? Every day, history is written anew but it is not preserved. It ends up in waste paper baskets and trash cans.
That history is the history recorded on letters, commencement programs, church pamphlets, report cards, funeral programs and photographs; i.e., the paper trail each of us leaves behind as we live our daily lives. This paper trail is evidence of how we live, of whom we interact with, where we go and what we do and, ultimately, how our ideas are shaped.
Archives turn this paper trail into history by preserving it and making it available to researchers. However, in order to be preserved, the paper trail has to find its way into the archives and, in order to do that, it has to be donated to the archives.
This February, The Black Archives History and Research Foundation of South Florida Inc. is celebrating its donors: the men and women who realize that history is more than what we read in text books, that history is written every day by regular people, that it needs to be preserved and that it can be adequately preserved only in the archives.
The Black Archives is a manuscript and photographic repository open to the public by appointment, in a community setting. Its mission is to collect, preserve and disseminate the history and culture of black South Florida from 1896 to the present. It does this by acquiring the paper and photographic collections of individuals and organizations from black South Florida.
The Black Archives collections document both the exceptional and the everyday activities of black South Florida life. Its community emphasis means that the opportunity to be a part of the historic record is extended to “regular people.” The focus is on individuals and families who arrived in black South Florida during the Jim Crow era and were limited in every phase of life by local, state and national customs and laws that designated black people as second-class citizens.
The past year has brought many donors to The Black Archives. Last April, Marva Pieze Duhart contacted The Black Archives about a large scrapbook stored in her closet. The scrapbook was created by Ms. Duhart’s uncle, Elliott John Pieze, a well-known news commentator, sports announcer, columnist and grand marshall of the Orange Blossom Classic parades during the 1930s and ’40s.
The overflowing scrapbook was titled Memories of Yesteryear – Scraps, Clippings, Photographs, by Elliott J. Pieze. On the title page was an original watercolor painting of the administration building of then Florida Agricultural and Mechanical College. Inside the scrapbook were copies of Pieze’s Miami Times columns, North West 3rd Avenue – Week by Week; ornate greeting cards from the 1930s constructed with gold tissue, lace and glitter; invitations to events sponsored by the many organizations Pieze was a member of, including FAMC Alumni, King of Clubs, Idle Hour Social Club, and The Aristocracy Club; a 1935 postcard from Nassau, Bahamas; photographs taken on Virginia Key Beach; and many other materials.
The scrapbook is full of love and laughter. The time and effort Pieze put into assembling it reflect a diligent and industrious mind. It tells the story of a creative, independent, self-sufficient and successful black community existing during the Jim Crow era.
Because Ms. Duhart donated the scrapbook to The Black Archives, it will be professionally preserved and provide evidence of a racially segregated yet thriving black metropolis for hundreds of years to come.
Ms. Duhart stated that, by donating the scrapbook to The Black Archives, she knew it would be “preserved for the generations to come through the expertise of an organization with the willingness to catalog, promote and conserve our Black heritage.”
Not everyone has a scrapbook to donate but there exist many other rich sources of information often relegated to the trash. Obituaries and funeral programs are an example. Since its inception 34 years ago, the Black Archives has collected obituaries and funeral programs from the black South Florida community. They are an important source of genealogical information and offer valuable information about the African Diaspora and African-American heritage.
Obituaries printed prior to 1980 are particularly valuable as it was not until recently that mainstream newspapers started publishing African-American obituaries. Because obituaries and funeral programs are written by African Americans about African Americans, they provide an authentic eyewitness account of the black experience in South Florida. What makes them particularly important is the fact that Miami was the first landing place for more people of African heritage than any other city in America.
The Black Archives Obituary and Funeral Program collection currently holds more than 1,400 funeral programs and obituaries. Many individuals donated to this collection and they all deserve congratulations for recognizing the importance of these documents to the history and heritage of black South Florida and for being proactive in their preservation.
The Black Archives also receives material from continuing donors. Marvin Ellis, educator and photographer, has been donating photographs to The Black Archives regularly for many years. (Note that it is important to provide captions or documentation with photographs when donating them to the archives.) Mr. Ellis writes captions for all the photographs he donates, such as location, names of people and date. The captions not only identify his photographs but also give them
context, thereby enhancing their research value and making them a richer source of history.
And Sylvan Plowright, boxer and educator, is preserving the history of his grassroots efforts to start a boxing academy for the youth of the Wynwood district by donating his organizational records, such as flyers and manuals.
Preserving history requires that we recognize history in the making. If you or someone you know has a paper trail that you think reflects the rich and diverse history of black South Florida, please contact The Black Archives at 305-696-2390 or firstname.lastname@example.org and help The Black Archives save history from the trash.
This feature was provided by The Black Archives, History and Research Foundation of South Florida.