This year was a productive year as we reached ten years preserving local African American history. In this time, we have acquired over 500 collections consisting of 345 manuscript collections and 165 oral histories. This year alone, our 10-year anniversary, we received 120 collections. We also improved the research experience by consolidating 94 African American collections that were spread throughout HPL’s Special Collections. We created digital access to our finding aids, which allow researchers to explore our collection descriptions online at ArchivesSpace. We also improved our digital presence with a redesigned website that provides an easier way to search and view images and documents. The new site is known as The Houston Public Library Digital Archive and currently there are over 400 funeral programs, 43 collections, & 73 oral histories that are available to view. We are working to make 10,000 completed scans available to the public as soon as possible.
As the donations poured in this year in record numbers, many valuable documents and photographs have been entrusted to us. Some notable collection were the Elbert Howze Photographs, Robert Hayes Sr. Collection, Greater First Baptist Church Collection, and Booker T. Washington High School Memorabilia, to name a few. Additional materials were added to the Willie Lee Gay, Harambee Club, The Links Inc. and Dirden Family Collections. Since we started the funeral program initiative, we have collected 6 linear feet of programs and are on track to meet our goal of collecting 5,000 programs in 5 years. Please keep donating! Finally, in collaboration with Harrison Guy, we created the Charles Law LGBTQ Community Archives, which is named after Mr. Law who was a leader in the local LGBTQ community.
Partnerships and Community Engagement
We are very thankful for the support we receive from our community organizations. Our partnerships include organizations such as, University of Houston African American Studies Department and the Center for Public History, Texas Southern University (SWATH Conference and annual student project) UH Downtown (student projects), Rice University (Scholar in Residence program with Center for Engaged Research and Collaborative Learning, the Black Alumni Association-Aruba, and Harvey Memories Project), Sam Houston State University History Department, Prairie View A&M University, the Houston History Alliance, Rutherford Yates Museum, and the Houston Area Archives Bazaar.
We hosted several student groups from UH Downtown and Prairie View University for a behind the scenes look at the fundamentals of archiving. Several individuals and groups from Rice University and Phillips 66 volunteered. Once again, thank you to our volunteers and partners. We look forward to continuing the journey together.
In celebration of our anniversary, the exhibition, We Shall Not Be Moved: Recent Acquisitions from the Gregory Collection opened to complete the series of previous exhibits Shall We Gather (2010) and It Shall Be Done (2015).
Preserving local history provides much to a forgetful society, while simultaneously empowering communities to write their own narrative. Without records, the stories and the passion they ignite are potentially lost to urban renewal or to the migration that led to the abandonment of countless Black communities. While much of the history of Black Houston is scattered among churches, community organizations, universities, and private residences, this exhibition represents the life and experiences of the everyday person who has worked and contributed to its success.
We Shall Not Be Moved highlights the collection’s depth and development while it brings together a selection of recent acquisitions from various collection that have rarely been shown.
The exhibit is open until April 11, 2020.
Ten years ago, on November 14, 2009, we re-opened the doors to the historic Gregory Elementary School armed with a new mission to share the vibrant history of Black Houston with our beloved city. The once abandoned shell of this city’s first school for free Black children was resuscitated and renewed, making ready the path to bring the mission of preservation to our communities.
Looking over the past 10 years we have a lot to be thankful for and proud about: We’ve provided excellent service to our Houston community. We’ve promoted and preserved the rich history of African Americans in Houston and in the nation through outstanding programming, exhibitions, our Scholar-in- Residence program and, of course, the collection of these stories through our archives.
The work that we do here at the Gregory School would not be possible without the members of our community who value history: those who so strongly believe in its importance that they put that belief into action and entrust us with their records. We celebrated our donors at an appreciation brunch, but this recognition pales in comparison to what they’ve given to us and this city. We took a moment to pause and reflect on our accomplishments on November 14, 2019, knowing that there is more work to be done.
Our anniversary symposium, “State of Black Houston”, brought together artists, educators, doctors, business leaders, and activists to examine where we are and the direction of our future. One of the take-aways from the symposium is just how committed our community partners are to giving back to this community and this city. A tremendous thank you to all our many partners who have collaborated with us over these 10 years. We are grateful for your time, your talents and your vision. A special thanks to our Community Liaison, Erika Thompson, who organized the two-day event. Erika, your passion for our community shines and I thank you for all you did to make our symposium a success.
I would also like to acknowledge our Friends Group. This group of dedicated individuals has come together with the singular purpose of helping to make us the BEST we can be.
To the Gregory School staff: Emmalee, Erika, Ingrid, LaCecia, Miguell, Sheena, Tracey, Valerie, and our honorary member, Christina - know that every little thing you do, WE do, matters. #weshallnotbemoved