Historically Black newspapers are being turned into virtual exhibits with help from The Obsidian Collection. The nonprofit has partnered with tech giant Google to digitize every single article and photo from several Black newspapers, including The Chicago Defender and the Baltimore Afro American.
The Obsidian Collection already has a growing archive on microfilm from Black Legacy newspapers and Black photographers covering significant historical events, including the Great Migration, the Jim Crow Era, and the Civil Rights Movement. The project, however, is a major step in creating what is deemed to be the comprehensive digital collection of African American history.
Helmed by Obsidian Collection Archives’ Executive Director Angela Ford, the project already has eight digital exhibits online — including images of boxing legend Joe Louis at his Chicago home and Chicago’s first Black mayor Harold Washington.
“More than just digitizing it for researchers, I’m passionate about the next generation seeing how awesome we are and in changing the narrative permeating the American conversation right now about African Americans,” said Ford in a recent interview.
Shakir Karriem, whose photography is featured in the archives, said he didn’t believe it when a friend called to say she submitted his photos for the project. “I had no idea that this was going to blow up like this,” Karriem told the MSR in response to the attention he has received about his photos in the collection.
Ford hopes that kind of interest will be sparked across the world by making the legacy of Black newspapers and photographers accessible online.
“What happens is a lot of these archive collections speak in an echo chamber of libraries and archives where it just doesn’t get out to the laypeople,” said Ford. “What I love about Google Arts and Culture is you could be standing in line at the grocery store and viewing our archives. We’ll keep rotating them in and out and keep pushing them through social media. We want everyone to see us.”
All of the files from the collection can be viewed for free via Google’s Culture & Arts platform. Click here to view the growing collection.
Stephenetta Harmon is a Black beauty editor, curator, and digital media and communications expert who builds platforms to celebrate the power, impact, and business of Black beauty. She is the former EIC for Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder (2018-19) and current host of MSR Forefront, a digital roundtable series. She is the founder of Sadiaa Black Beauty Guide, the premier directory dedicated to Black-owned hair and beauty businesses. Find her at stephenetta.com.