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Preserving Black Legacies

From Our Neighborhood News, Fall 2023

Housed within the University of Chicago, the Black Metropolis Research Consortium is committed to increasing capacity at Chicago-area Black archives and to supporting projects that preserve and amplify Black histories and legacies. Those goals proved to be a perfect fit for a partnership with Northwestern’s Center for Civic Engagement.

“BMRC is interested in preserving the legacies of African Americans and ensuring that archives are building collections reflective of the communities they serve,” says board chair Stephen M. Adams. “But there are more artifacts and documents that need preserving than there are archives to hold them.” He adds that even when archives acquire these materials, they often lack the resources to organize and catalog them.

Fortuitously, Adams is also a librarian for graduate and postdoctoral initiatives at Northwestern’s Seeley G. Mudd Library. His campus conversations with Ruth Curry—a postdoctoral scholar who directs the Center for Civic Engagement’s graduate-student programming—led to an idea that would benefit both BMRC and Northwestern grad students. The resulting $36,000 Racial Equity and Community Partnership Grant placed doctoral students with BMRC-affiliated Black archives, providing the archives with much-needed assistance and the students with valuable experience.

“Through nine-month graduate assistant- ships at BMRC-affiliated museums, libraries, archives, and community arts organizations, doctoral students preserve, interpret, and activate Black historical collections while developing new competencies,” Curry says. “By creating opportunities for students to do work of intellectual and public value— side by side with archivists, artists, and community members—this program helps them develop essential civic and professional capacities, inspires new forms of scholarship, and supports career exploration. Meanwhile, by maintaining capacity-building, equity-minded partnerships with local organizations, the program supports the urgent, ongoing work of addressing the structural racism embedded in our institutions and repositories of knowledge.”

As Adams explains, “these graduate assistants get access to archivists across BMRC institutions who help them develop the skill sets needed to preserve African American cultural legacies and make them accessible. As BMRC board chair, I have enjoyed working on projects like this one that provide legacies with the preservation and amplification they deserve.”

TO LEARN MORE about BMRC, visit