The Library of Congress is now the repository of Chicago-based TheHistoryMakers, founder/executive director Julieanna Richardson’s invaluable video archive of thousands of hours of interviews documenting the history, culture, struggles and achievements of African Americans.
“The collection is one of the most well-documented and organized audiovisual collections that the Library of Congress has ever acquired,” said Mike Mashon, head of the Library’s Moving Image Section.
“It is also one of the first born-digital collections accepted into our nation’s repository.”
The HistoryMakers’ collection contains 9,000 hours of interviews with 2,600 famous and unsung African Americans in more than 35 states– including President Obama recorded when he was a state senator.
In the collection are 14,000 analog tapes, 3,000 DVDs, 6,000 born-digital files, 70,000 paper documents and digital files and more than 30,000 digital photographs.
Richardson’s goal is to collect a total of 5,000 interviews, which will cost an estimated $30 million. Half that amount has been raised through corporate sponsorships
Finding history people didn’t know existed
In 1999, Richardson, a Harvard-educated lawyer and successful cable television executive was attending a conference at the National Civil Rights Musem in Memphis when she found herself staring at a picture of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “I was wondering where I could find information about the lives of African Americans who contributed to 20th century history.
“I asked people, ‘Does an archive exist and if it were created, would anyone be interested,’ reasonable questions, I thought,” she said. “I could see it, if no one else could.”
The HistoryMakers’ first taped interview was black radio executive Barry Mayo in 2000. Other well known personalities followed. When she encountered William Thompson, a WWII veteran of all-black Tuskegee Airmen, she realized The HistoryMakers was about more than celebrities.
“It was about finding history in places where people didn’t know history existed,” she said.
TheHistoryMakers also produces programming
Headquartered in a South Loop building she owns, Richardson’s production team has have traveled to more than 380 U.S. cities and towns, Norway and Mexico taping America’s missing stories.
In addition to its oral-history online archive, The HistoryMakers produces educational programs, public events and the annual Chicago-produced celebrity interview series, “An Evening With…” broadcast nationally on PBS.
Developed in collaboration with Carnegie Mellon University, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive has users in 51 countries across the globe from Afghanistan to Norway, Nigeria and China.
“With the Library of Congress serving as our permanent repository, we are assured of its preservation and safekeeping for generations to come,” Richardson said.
The collection will open to the public this fall.