The University of Alabama
Project Narrative
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2. The significance of the project in relation to NHPRC's programs and goals

The primary source collections chosen for this project at both institutions document and describe African American history and social issues in the state of Alabama from the 1850s to the 1970s. The collections were examined, along with all related files, notes, and other documentation, to make sure that they would be suitable for the project and that the holding institutions had clear title to all the materials for the project.

At the University of Alabama, The Septimus D. Cabaniss Papers and the Shelby Iron Company Records were chosen because of their importance to the history of African Americans in Alabama and because of the richness of the information within them. The Cabaniss papers were a gift to The University of Alabama from Frances Roberts, a descendant of Cabaniss, in 1952, and the Shelby Iron Works Records were acquired in three stages: some were purchased in 1938; others were given to the University by the Shelby Iron Company in 1946 and 1953.

Septimus D. Cabaniss (1855-193?) was an attorney in Huntsville, Alabama, and his papers record the disposition and subsequent lives of emancipated slaves. The Shelby Iron Company Records include records of slaves rented from their owners before and during the Civil War, and other records of African American workers in the post-War period and into the early twentieth century. Other University of Alabama collections that are already processed which deal with Alabama's African American past include accounts of travelers, the papers of planters, and more specifically, the papers and records of African Americans themselves, such as the William B. Shirdan Papers, 1944-1947, consisting of the letters of an African American soldier to his family in Montgomery, Alabama, written while serving in Europe in World War II; the Brown Hill School, Loachapoka, Alabama, Trustees' Minutes, 1916-1924, which document the efforts of African Americans to educate their children in this Alabama town; and records of the Creole Social Club of Mobile, Alabama, 1878-1902.

The collections selected by Tuskegee for this project date from the early 1900s through the 1970s. They include the personal papers, photographs, and recordings of Virginia Foster Durr, a white Alabamian known for her advocacy of civil rights, and the papers of Charles Gomillion, the president of the Tuskegee Civic Association. Other selected collections are the records of The Tuskegee Civic Association and its involvement in many legal cases on voting rights; the records and internal correspondence of the Southern Courier, an independent African American newspaper that covered segregation, prejudice, politics, education, and the change from a rural to an industrial economy during the mid-1960s; surveys from The Tuskegee Crises Study in the 1960s; the records of the Southern Conference for Human Welfare and the Southern Conference Education Fund, both of which challenged segregation in the South; and the papers of Tuskegee coach Ross Owens who produced champion athletes under very restrictive conditions.

The Southern Courier Records, the Tuskegee Crises Study Records, the Southern Conference for Human Welfare and Southern Conference Education Fund Records, and the Virginia Foster Durr Papers were transferred to the Tuskegee University Archives from the Department of Records and Research or the Division of Behavioral Science between 1960 and 1970. They had been gifted to the university by their creators. The Tuskegee Civic Association Records and the Charles Gomillion Papers were donated in 1996 by the Gomillion family.

Other African-American collections held at Tuskegee include the presidential papers of Booker T. Washington, Robert R. Moton, Frederick Patterson, Luther H. Foster and Benjamin F. Payton, as well as the George Washington Carver Papers. There are also strong manuscript holdings in African American literature and folklore. Another important component of Tuskegee's holdings is The Lynching Records, a collection of newspapers clippings documenting lynchings of African Americans in the South.

The Tuskegee Archives dates back to 1908 when the Tuskegee Department of Records and Research was created. The present Tuskegee Archives was formed with a transfer of a large body of materials to the library in 1969 from the Department of Records and Research, and the Division of Behavioral Science. Working with limited resources, the Archives has become a primary source of information on African American life and history, particularly in Alabama, for researchers around the nation and the world.
[Detailed descriptions of the collections can be found in the Supplementary Materials section of this proposal.]

Students and faculty at one campus are regularly referred to the other, and vice versa, when looking for materials on African Americans. Sadly, these collections remain largely unprocessed or minimally processed, and therefore they are not readily available to the public. The value of these very important materials, therefore, has been severely diminished, and the efforts of the staff to cope with researchers' questions have been thwarted by the lack of opportunity to provide proper organization and to create finding aids. The organization of these collections and the availability of the resulting finding aids on the Web are expected to generate significant in-person and distance access to the information about, and the actual documents at, both institutions, and will be met with great appreciation from scholars, faculty and students alike. Materials in the collections have the potential to serve as resources for dissertations, articles, book chapters, scholarly monographs, documentaries, and media productions.

Extensive publicity at the local, state, regional and national levels at the conclusion of this project, and as other collections are organized, will bring well-deserved attention to the materials, and especially to NHPRC's role and support in this effort. Both libraries expect the volume of inquiries, in-depth research questions, and in-house and remote use of the finding aids to be significant. Since the materials are not easily accessible at present, it is difficult to estimate statistics on future use. Both libraries will be prepared, however, for a considerable increase in interest and use requests, especially at the conclusion of the project.

The project will introduce unique documents, papers, and other historical materials to the American public that have never been seen before, and will provide a wealth of information for researchers for years to come. Using national standards for describing the collections will also meet the objectives of the Commission, which seeks to maintain a common "language" for resources of this kind.

Finally, the project addresses the Commission's commitment to the importance of archival training for materials of this kind. The collaboration will allow for agreement on and establishment of accepted practices and standards for the organizing and processing of the collections, and will provide the opportunity for the University of Alabama Libraries to share their expertise with the staff of the Tuskegee Libraries and Archives, thereby equipping them with valuable skills for the future.