Archives Unbound: African American Studies

This is an interdisciplinary academic collection devoted to the study of the history, culture, and politics of Black Americans, covering the tumultuous period from 1900 to present day. Researchers can explore a breadth of experiences ranging from U.S. nation-building in Liberia to Freedom Riders, the Rastafari movement, and FBI surveillance. 

For specific information about a subject within the collection, select from the menu topics below:

  • Activism and Organizations

    African America, Communists, and the National Negro Congress, 1933-1947 - The National Negro Congress was established in 1936 to "secure the right of the Negro people to be free from Jim Crowism, segregation, discrimination, lynching, and mob violence" and "to promote the spirit of unity and cooperation between Negro and white people." It was conceived as a national coalition of church, labor, and civil rights organizations that would coordinate protest action in the face of deteriorating economic conditions for blacks. The National Negro Congress (NNC) was the culmination of the Communist Party's Depression-era effort to unite black and white workers and intellectuals in the fight for racial justice and marked the apex of Communist Party prestige in African American communities. This collection comprises of the voluminous working files of John P. Davis and successive executive secretaries of the National Negro Congress. Beginning with papers from 1933 that predate the formation of the National Negro Congress, the wide-ranging collection documents Davis’s involvement in the Negro Industrial League and includes the "Report Files" of Davis’s interest and work on the "Negro problem." 

    Black Economic Empowerment: The National Negro Business League - Booker T. Washington, founder of the National Negro Business League, believed that solutions to the problem of racial discrimination were primarily economic and that bringing African Americans into the middle class was the key. In 1900, he established the League “to promote the commercial and financial development of the Negro,” and headed it until his death.  The League included small African American business owners, doctors, farmers, craftsmen, and other professionals.  Its goal was to allow businesses to put economic development at the forefront of getting African-American equality in America. Booker T. Washington felt that there was a need for African Americans to build an economic network and allow that to be a catalyst for change and social improvement.

    Black Liberation Army and the Program of Armed Struggle - If one were to examine, African American history, one would be surprised to find a long history of militant armed struggle.  Slave rebellions, urban "guerilla" activities in the 1960s, rural defense leagues, were all part of a tapestry of black militancy.  An icon of black armed struggle, the Black Liberation Army, was a linchpin in understanding the development of the “armed rebellion” phenomenon in the late 1960s through early 1980s.  Composed largely of former Black Panthers (BPP), the Black Liberation Army's program was one of “armed struggle” and its stated goal was to “take up arms for the liberation and self-determination of black people in the United States.”

    Black Nationalism and the Revolutionary Action Movement: The Papers of Muhammad Ahmad (Max Stanford) - This collection of RAM records reproduces the writings and statements of the Revolutionary Action Movement (RAM) and its leaders. It also covers organizations that evolved from or were influenced by RAM and persons that had close ties to RAM. The most prominent organization that evolved from RAM was the African People’s Party. Organizations influenced by RAM include the Black Panther Party, League of Revolutionary Black Workers, Youth Organization for Black Unity, African Liberation Support Committee, and the Republic of New Africa. Individuals associated with RAM and documented in this collection include Robert F. Williams, Malcolm X, Amiri Baraka, General Gordon Baker Jr., Yuri Kochiyama, Donald Freeman, James and Grace Lee Boggs, Herman Ferguson, Askia Muhammad Toure (Rolland Snellings), and Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael).

    Liberation Movement in Africa and African America - This archive is based on the film title, Administrative Histories of the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidency, Science and Technology.

     Rastafari Ephemeral Publications from the Written Rastafari Archives Project - The Written Rastafari Archives Project (WRAP) involves an exclusive collection of the most well-known Rastafari ephemerals, newsletters, magazines, newspapers, booklets, statements, letters, articles, and assorted literature - written and published by several Rastafari Mansions, organizations, groups, and individuals over the past four decades. The provocative literary materials in this WRAP Collection provide a historical time stamp and current affairs commentary on the transitional period in the Rastafari Movement's development, a period extending from the early 1970s through to the present. It is a forty-year period during which the Rastafari Movement has been spreading across the Afro-Atlantic world in one form or another and becoming progressively globalized.

    Republic of New Afrika - The FBI believed the Republic of New Afrika to be a seditious group and conducted raids on its meetings, which led to violent confrontations, and the arrest and repeated imprisonment of RNA leaders. The group was a target of the COINTELPRO operation by the federal authorities but was also subject to diverse Red Squad activities of Michigan State Police and the Detroit Police Department, among other cities. This collection provides documentation collected by the FBI through intelligence activities, informants, surveillance, and cooperation with local police departments. These documents chronicle the activities of the Republic of New Afrika national and local leaders, power struggles within the organization, its growing militancy, and its affiliations with other Black militant organizations.

    Southern Negro Youth Congress and the Communist Party The Ralph J. Bunche Oral History Collection from the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center is a unique resource for the study of the era of the American civil rights movement. Included here are transcriptions of close to 700 interviews with those who made history in the struggles for voting rights, against discrimination in housing, for the desegregation of the schools, to expose racism in hiring, in defiance of police brutality, and to address poverty in the African American communities.

    Papers of Amiri Baraka, Poet Laureate of the Black Power Movement - Amiri Baraka is the author of over 40 books of essays, poems, drama, and music history and criticism, a poet icon and revolutionary political activist. As a young man in the 1960s, Baraka (then known as LeRoi Jones) galvanized a second Black Renaissance, the Black Arts movement. The ideological and political transformations of Amiri Baraka from a Beat poet in Greenwich Village into a militant political activist in Harlem and Newark were paradigmatic for the Black Revolt of the 1960s.

  • Civil Rights

    Bush Presidency and Development and Debate Over Civil Rights Policy and Legislation - This collection contains materials on civil rights, the development of civil rights policy, and the debate over civil rights legislation during the administration of President George H.W. Bush and his tenure as vice president.

    Civil Rights and Social Activism in Alabama: The Papers of John LeFlore, 1926-1976 and Records of the Non-Partisan Voters League, 1956-1987 - John L. LeFlore (1903–1976) was the most significant figure in the struggle for black equality in Mobile, Alabama, throughout southern Alabama and Mississippi, and along the Florida Gulf Coast. Materials in the collection document LeFlore's prolific work in both public and private life. LeFlore was the first African American appointed to the Housing Board and, with J. Gary Cooper was the first African American elected to the state legislature from Mobile since Reconstruction. / The Non-Partisan Voters League was organized in Mobile, Alabama. The exact date of its origin is unknown but it is believed to be before 1956, the year the attorney general of the state of Alabama and the state court system forced the NAACP to cease all operations in the state. The bulk of the materials date between 1961 and 1975.

    FBI File: Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. - The assassination on April 4, 1968, of Martin Luther King, Jr., president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, triggered a massive manhunt culminating in the arrest of James Earl Ray. The 44,000-page case file of the Federal Bureau of Investigation documents the bureau’s role in finding Ray and obtaining his conviction. The file also includes background information amassed by the FBI on Dr. King’s social activism. This archive is of particular interest to students of the civil rights movement and the continuing controversy surrounding Dr. King’s murder.

    Fight for Racial Justice and the Civil Rights Congress - The Civil Rights Congress (CRC) was a civil rights organization formed in 1946 by a merger of the International Labor Defense and the National Federation for Constitutional Liberties. It became known for involvement in civil rights cases such as the Trenton Six and justice for Isaiah Nixon. The CRC also held multiple high-profile protests in Washington DC and at the UN. Due to its Communist Party affiliations, the CRC was cited as subversive and communist by U.S. President Harry S. Truman's Attorney General Thomas Clark. This collection comprises the Legal Case and Communist Party files of the Civil Rights Congress, documenting the many issues and litigation in which the CRC was involved during its 10-year existence. These papers provide valuable insight into the activities of the Civil Rights Congress, most notably in cases involving civil rights and civil liberties issues, such as those of Willie McGee (Mississippi), Rosa Lee Ingram (Georgia), Paul Washington (Louisiana), Robert Wesley Wells (California), the Trenton Six (New Jersey), the Martinsville Seven (Virginia), and many others.

    Grassroots Civil Rights and Social Action: Council for Social Action - The General Council of the Congregational Christian Churches voted to create the Council for Social Action in 1934. The Council worked to focus on continuing Christian concern for service, international relations, citizenship, rural life, and legislative, industrial, and cultural relations. The records in this collection trace the Council’s active participation in social action, its engagement in race relations, Indian relations, opposition to the persecution of Jews in Nazi Germany, and the protection of the civil rights of war victims and Japanese Americans during the Second World War. The collection is sourced from the Congregational Library in Boston, Massachusetts.

    James Meredith, J. Edgar Hoover, and the Integration of the University of Mississippi - In the fall of 1962 the college town of Oxford, Mississippi, erupted in violence. At the center of the controversy stood James Meredith, an African American who was attempting to register at the all-white University of Mississippi, known as "Ole Miss." Meredith had the support of the federal government, which insisted that Mississippi honor the rights of all its citizens, regardless of race. Mississippi’s refusal led to a showdown between state and federal authorities and the storming of the campus by a segregationist mob. Two people died and dozens were injured. In the end, Ole Miss, the state of Mississippi, and the nation were forever changed.

    Ralph J. Bunche Oral Histories Collection on the Civil Rights Movement - The Ralph J. Bunche Oral History Collection from the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center is a unique resource for the study of the era of the American civil rights movement. Included here are transcriptions of close to 700 interviews with those who made history in the struggles for voting rights, against discrimination in housing, for the desegregation of the schools, to expose racism in hiring, in defiance of police brutality, and to address poverty in the African American communities.

    The Legal Battle for Civil Rights in Alabama: Vernon Z. Crawford Records, 1958-1978 Civil Rights Cases and Selections from the Blacksher, Menefee & Stein Records - This collection consists of selected portions of the records of attorney Vernon Z. Crawford (1919–1986) and the Blacksher, Menefee and Stein law firm whose work represents a significant contribution to the shape of the civil rights movement in 20th century Alabama. Documents include legal documentation, complaints, petitions, requests, depositions, handwritten notes, correspondence, exhibits (maps, plans of school buildings, population diagrams), and surveys relating to cases on the following: discriminatory juror selection, civil rights violations (police harassment and brutality), discrimination in employment, school desegregation, and minority vote dilution.

    War on Poverty: Office of Civil Rights, 1965-1968 - The collection contains correspondence, memoranda, reports, minutes of meetings, convention programs, and other records concerning the activities of Maurice Dawkins, Assistant Director for Civil Rights in the Office of Economic Opportunity. Reports, assessments, and background documents also include: Justice Department Task Force on Civil Rights, 1968; U.S. Commission on Civil Rights Report on Ghettoes, 1967; Poor People’s Campaign and OEO, 1968; civil rights and the anti-poverty war; application of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; Equal Employment Opportunities and the U.S. Civil Service Commission; OEO reports on Job Corps centers; U.S. Commission on Civil Rights hearings in Montgomery, Ala., for 1968; and 1967 Booz-Allen & Hamilton report on statewide education study in Mississippi. Files contain information regarding civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr; Roy Wilkins; Whitney Young; and Andrew Young.

    We Were Prepared for the Possibility of Death: Freedom Riders in the South, 1961 - The United States Supreme Court's decision in Boynton v. Virginia granted interstate travelers the legal right to disregard local segregation ordinances [i.e. outlawed racial segregation] regarding interstate transportation restaurants and waiting rooms in terminals. Five years before the Boynton ruling, the Interstate Commerce Commission had issued a ruling in Sarah Keys v. Carolina Coach Company that had explicitly denounced the Plessy v. Ferguson doctrine of separate but equal in interstate bus travel, but the ICC had failed to enforce its ruling, and thus Jim Crow travel laws remained in force throughout the South.  The Freedom Riders set out to challenge this status quo by riding various forms of public transportation in the South to challenge local laws or customs that enforced segregation. The Freedom Rides, and the violent reactions they provoked, bolstered the credibility of the American Civil Rights Movement and called national attention to the violent disregard for the law that was used to enforce segregation in the southern United States. Riders were arrested for trespassing, unlawful assembly, and violating state and local Jim Crow laws, along with other alleged offenses. The first Freedom Ride began on May 5, 1961. Led by CORE Director James Farmer, 13 riders (seven black, six white) left Washington, D.C., on Greyhound and Trailways buses. They planned to ride through Virginia, the Carolinas, Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi, ending with a rally in New Orleans, Louisiana. Only minor trouble was encountered in Virginia and North Carolina, but some of the Riders were arrested in Charlotte, North Carolina, and Winnsboro, South Carolina. But, mob violence in Birmingham, Alabama would attempt to end this first Freedom Ride. 

    U.S. Military Activities and Civil Rights: Integration of the University of Mississippi and the Use of Military Force, 1961-1963 - This collection is from the Records of the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Military Operations (ODCSOPS) relating to the use of Federal marshals, U.S. Troops, and the federalized National Guard in Oxford, Mississippi, 1962-1963, on the occasion of James Meredith’s enrollment at the University of Mississippi. The records cover events such as the riots of September 30 and Governor Barnett’s efforts to obstruct Federal marshals, as well as daily events on campus and Meredith’s progress under integration. The files detail the extensive Federal involvement, including preparations for the military operation, Executive Orders, after-action reports on the costs and lessons of Federal involvement, congressional correspondence on the military’s involvement, and effects on the media, public, and in particular, students and staff at Ole Miss.

    U.S. Military Activities and Civil Rights: The Little Rock Integration Crisis, 1957-1958 - This publication covers President Eisenhower's use of Federal troops and the Arkansas National Guard in the Little Rock integration crisis of 1957-1958. The operation is detailed from the planning for intervention before deployment, up to the withdrawal of troops at the end of the school year. Records include a journal of events, an Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations & Plans summary of the operation, a historical report prepared by the Office of the Chief of Military History, papers on Governor Faubus' actions concerning integration, press reports, and observations by Army officers on the reaction of the community, and congressional correspondence.

    U.S. Military Activities and Civil Rights: The Military Response to the March on Washington, 1963 - This collection reveals details of the Federal Government's plans to militarily intervene in the 1963 March on Washington (codenamed Operation "Steep Hill") in the event the march became disorderly. Army staff communications and memos tracked the plans of the March organizers throughout the summer, and the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Military Operations prepared contingency plans for cooperation with District of Columbia police for controlling the march. The records also include intelligence reports and estimates, congressional correspondence, press articles, and maps planning the route of the March and facilities needed. These records give an insight into the personalities and events at the March on Washington. Also, there is a small number of records relating to the plans to intervene in Alabama in 1963 over the issue of school integration.

  • Race Relations

    Federal Surveillance of African Americans, 1920-1984 - Between the early 1920s and early 1980s, the Justice Department and its Federal Bureau of Investigation engaged in widespread investigation of those deemed politically suspect. Prominent among the targets of this sometimes coordinated, sometimes independent surveillance were aliens, members of various protest groups, Socialists, Communists, pacifists, militant labor unionists, ethnic or racial nationalists, and outspoken opponents of the policies of the incumbent presidents.

    Franklin D. Roosevelt and Race Relations, 1933-1945 - This new series contains a collection of essential materials for the study of the early development of the Civil Rights Movement—concerned with the issues of Lynching, Segregation, Race riots, and Employment discrimination.  FDR assumed the presidency of a nation in which white supremacy was a significant cultural and political force. Many states denied or severely restricted voting rights to African Americans and used their political power to further diminish their status and to deny them the benefits and opportunities of society. There was constant pressure on FDR to support anti-lynching legislation. But civil rights were a stepchild of the New Deal. Bent on economic recovery and reform and having to work through powerful Southern congressmen, whose seniority placed them at the head of key congressional committees, the president hesitated to place civil rights on his agenda. FDR’s record on civil rights has been the subject of much controversy. This new collection from FDR’s Official File provides insight into his political style and presents an instructive example of how he balanced moral preference with political realities.

    Reconstruction, Jim Crow, and the Enforcement of Federal Law in the South, 1871-1884 - This collection on law and order documents the efforts of district attorneys from southern states to uphold federal laws in the states that fought in the Confederacy and lie east of the Mississippi River. This publication includes their correspondence with the attorney general as well all other letters received by the attorney general from the states in question during that period, including the correspondence of marshals, judges, convicts, and concerned or aggrieved citizens. This publication comprises the letters and enclosures contained in the source-chronological file for various states in the South. The correspondence covers a variety of subjects connected with legal matters: Reconstruction conflicts; civil rights; voting rights; internal revenue and customs; regulation of trade, commerce, and transportation; special classes of claims involving the United States; the defense and supervision of public officers; protection of the rights and property of the United States; and other subjects. The correspondence also covers such administrative matters as the submission of statistical reports, authorizations of expenditures, retention of assistant counsel, and the conduct of litigation.

    The Minority Voter, Election of 1936 and the Good Neighbor League - This collection is designed as a case study of minority involvement in a presidential election campaign, using the 1936 Democratic Campaign as a model. The 1936 election provides an excellent example partly because of the availability of manuscript material on the Good Neighbor League, a vital force in helping make minorities part of the Roosevelt coalition in 1936. Through recruitment and publicity, the League was one means Democrats used to attract minority voters to Roosevelt. Their activities show that bringing together such a coalition was not a chance occurrence, but a well-planned political move whose basic premise was the New Deal legislative program. Minorities proved by their participation that they would be a significant influence in elections to come.

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