The HistoryMakers, headquartered in Chicago, is one of the nation’s most extensive African American video oral history archives. Established in 1999, they seek to record, preserve, and disseminate video oral history interviews to capture prominent African Americans’ accomplishments and achievements. Their one-of-a-kind collection is housed permanently at the Library of Congress. It provides an unprecedented and irreplaceable physical and online record of African American lives, accomplishments, and contributions through unique first-person testimony.
For over twenty years, The HistoryMakers have compiled almost 3,400 video oral history interviews. These narratives include the stories of Alonzo Pettie, the oldest living Black cowboy; statesman General Colin Powell; 211 of the nation’s top scientists; civic leader Vernon Jordan; and political leaders such as President Barack Obama and more. Millions worldwide access its website. Licensed by almost 80 colleges, universities, K-12 schools, and public libraries for use by faculty, students, and patrons, this database is imperative as the nation deals with COVID-19 and students are remote learning.
Knowledge of the Black Experience and contributions of African Americans is limited. The documentation and preservation of 20th Century African American life is critical. To bring awareness to this crisis, The HistoryMakers hosts a virtual convening of some of the country’s most prominent African Americans on their YouTube and Facebook channels from December 1-20, 2020. The HistoryMakers 20@20 is 20 days and nights that discuss the urgency of documenting our stories and provides a behind the scenes view of the HistoryMakersOrganization.
“The challenges facing our country at this moment reinforce the need to preserve and elevate the truth about the African American experience. We must work together to massively digitize the personal collections of our HistoryMakers and other African American leaders. Otherwise, the continued distortion of the truth of African American contributions to our culture and democracy will continue. Our need is urgent, especially as the next generation of storytellers, changemakers, and stewards of our legacy are now taking the lead,” says Julieanna Richardson, Founder, and President of The HistoryMakers.
Participants include business leaders Ken Chenault, Ken Frazier and Clarence Otis; entrepreneur Daymond John, actors Danny Glover, poets Sonia Sanchez and Nikki Giovanni; activist Angela Davis; music legends Dionne Warwick and Denyce Graves; radio hosts Rickey Smiley and Karen Hunter; lawyers The Honorable Eric Holder, Anita Hill, and Sherrilyn Ifill; civic leaders and educators Johnnetta B. Cole and Ruth Simmons; political leaders Valerie Jarrett, U.S. Congressman James Clyburn and Maxine Waters and others.
HistoryMaker Howard Dodson, Director-Emeritus of Howard University Libraries and the former director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in NYC, added: “Our mainstream institutions have not approached preservation work equitably to be inclusive of the African American experience creating a heritage gap that is contributing to the divisions in America we are experiencing today. However, even more important, there is also a funding gap to support and uplift this work. And that needs to change.”
The HistoryMakers archive provides a complete understanding of who we are as Americans. The archive shows us where we have come from and where we are going as a nation. To learn more about 20@2020 and The HistoryMakers, visit https://www.thehistorymakers.org/20at2020-events.
Danielle Sanders is a journalist and writer living in Chicago. Find her on social media @DanieSandersOfficial.