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AfriGeneas Writers Forum

African-American Church Research Resources

Lee,

Thank you for reinforcing with your wonderful examples so many of the points made at the Southern Sources Symposium: the value of the Pauli Murray collection, the accessibility of digital archives such as ex-slave narratives at the LOC website, and the value of A-A archival materials at traditional state and regional archives.

Your description of trying to find a home for the wonderful collection from your great-grandfather reminds me that three of the symposium speakers specifically called for more resources for archives in historically black institutions: to preserve, process, catalog and make available what they already have, and for staff to adequately support the collection, and then for new acquisitions. One speaker told a horrific tale of finding 19th century manuscripts, including the diary of an AME bishop’s sojourn in Liberia, piled on a shelf in the public reading area at a historically black college; she told another researcher about them, but when he went to the library to see them, the documents could not be found.

John Hope Franklin spoke about how painful it was for him to choose not to donate his personal papers to a historically black institution – because of the lack of resources to care for the collection (although I do not know who he had looked at!).

However, getting past the doom and gloom, I have personally had a good experience working with the Wilberforce University Archives and Special Collections, at Wilberforce, Ohio, in 1996 while I was researching the history of a local AME church in Georgia. I did not actually have opportunity to go to Wilberforce in person, but I received assistance by mail from Ms. Jaqueline Brown and her staff. They were obviously short-staffed back then (it took eight months to fill a request for some copies of conference minutes), but they have an excellent collection of AME stuff. I hope to go there someday soon to continue my research.

By the way, for anyone planning to write a local AME Church history, ask the Church Historiographer to send you Dr. Dennis Dickerson’s truly excellent 34-page pamphlet, The Past is in Your Hands: Writing Local A.M.E. History.

For anyone interested in the current state of resources for researching African-American churches of any denomination, and including archival church music, the following link is essential reading:
http://www.amherst.edu/~aardoc/Journal_1.html

Then browse Amherst College’s website, “African-American Religion: A Documentary History Project,” edited by the undisputed dean of A-A religious history, Albert J. Raboteau:
http://www.amherst.edu/~aardoc/menu.html

Lee, I’m not sure who you talked to about your collection – was it Dr. Dickerson, the AME Church historiographer? He does have access to some kinds of church records, but he does not function as an archive. Actually, there is no official “AME Church Archive” – there are several collections that have AME materials, and Wilberforce is undoubtedly the best for published 19th century materials. Your great-grandfather’s papers sound exactly like the kind of material that the historians at the symposium were crying out for. Lee, I urge you to consider donating your collection to an institution that specializes in acquiring AME Church records and that can preserve them forever – Wilberforce would be my first choice, but you might consult with Dr. Dickerson about other potentially worthy recipients.

David


18 Dec 2002 :: 14 Nov 2008
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