Images Live on Through Community Curation Project


Pamela Pickett sits at a table filled with scattered black and white photos in the Harold Washington Annex of the DuSable Museum. One photo is of her great grandfather and his Model T. Another photo was of her grandmother, with a fur stole and a large brim hat.

“Back then, social clubs were the thing,” she said as she showed the black and white photo of a family member who was part of a social club. There were even clippings from the Chicago Defender that referenced 32 years of Excellence, with a photo of a group of women and mentions of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.

Pickett participated in the still digitization at the DuSable as part of the National Museum of African American History and Culture’s Community Curation in Chicago, Ill. Part of the Robert Frederick Smith Fund, the free event allows people to digitize still and moving images.

Pickett said she tried to bring some of the older photos.

“They will hold up better if they’re digitized,” she said. “When I pass on my family will want to hold on to the flash drive rather than all those photos.”

People who had their images digitized received a USB Drive. There is a team of three people for the process: one to stage the photo and two to process it so it is captured in its highest quality. Then, the images are color corrected. Diplomas, as well as birth and death certificates, are being digitized.

Dr. Doretha Williams is the manager of the NMAAHC’s Robert F. Smith Fund. The fund has partnered with local institutions like the DuSable Museum and Carter G. Woodson Library to bring Community Curation to Chicago.

Williams said Community Curation is a way to “bring the Museum to the people” and let them see what they do in Washington, D.C. She said in Chicago there is a focus on the Great Migration, where blacks from the South migrated to Chicago.

“People are bringing in materials about businesses their ancestors founded,” Williams said.

Jane Turner White had an image of her fourth great grandmother, Mariah Livas, who arrived on a slave ship from Madagascar. She went on to live in Johnstown, Penn., where she owned a business.

“I was trying to bring in things that had some historical context. My grandmothers kept pictures. I didn’t want that history to be lost. I know where she came from,” White said.

White also brought in two 16mm movie reels from her childhood.

Inside a trailer in the Museum’s parking lot, staff from the NMAAHC digitize film. One of the films is from Herman Roberts who owned Robert’s Show Lounge and the 500 Club. Roberts booked acts that included Count Basie and Duke Ellington. The buildings are gone but the legacy remains through the moving images he preserved. There were boxes of film from the era.

Williams said people can donate their digital assets by signing a form so that images or recordings are available online at the NMAAHC.

“People like to do that and know their family history is being displayed at the Museum,” she said.

Williams said the Museum also reached out to churches and institutions, as well as the Black Greek Letter Organizations. She said it was important to focus on different aspects of black life.

“People want to think about their family history,” she said. “Seeing the importance of individual narratives within the collective narrative.”

The moving images digitization sessions move to Evanston Township High School, 1600 Dodge Ave., on Saturday, Sept. 21, with a kick-off event. It will take place from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, Sept 24-28.

Still images digitization sessions will move to Chicago State University on Tuesday, Sept. 24. It will take place from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Saturday, Sept. 28.

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