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January 14, 2011

BMRC wins grant for black history

The Black Metropolis Research Consortium (BMRC), a nonprofit African American research organization hosted by the University of Chicago, received a grant for $499,500 to research and archive African American history in Chicago, beginning March 7.

Awarded by the Council on Liberty and Information Resources (CLIR), the “Hidden Collections” grant lasts 30 months and will assess the historical records collections of its member institution. The “Color Curtain” Processing Project will focus on gaps in African American history. The surveyed records will be accessible on the web and part of a larger database of original research.

The grant will also provide internships and research opportunities for students at the U of C and other member BMRC institutions. The project’s goals include processing these documents for researchers, recruiting undergraduates for archiving, and gathering around 200 collections, said Tamar Evangelistia-Dougherty, BMRC’s consulting archivist.

“I was a bit weary of hearing ‘Harlem’s the best.’ But Chicago also has a huge role in black and black arts. Chicago’s African American history has not been pushed publicly to the forefront,” said Evangelistia-Dougherty.

BMRC was founded by Danielle Adams, a former U of C Dean of Humanities, as one of the first and only American research consortiums for black history. The U of C, as the host institution, provides BMRC with office space and administrative and fiscal help.

Adam Green, a U of C history professor, is the principal investigator of “The ‘Color Curtain’ Processing Project” and a member of BMRC’s executive committee.

“African American history has been central to the U of C and Chicago in terms of demographics, longevity, consequences, or origins,” Green said.

The BMRC is a group of 14 Chicago organizations ranging from the U of C and Northwestern University to the Chicago public library system. The group has documented 150 local collections spanning from the founding of the city to the election of President Barack Obama, with focuses on the arts, public housing, social rights, and activism. These collections were unprocessed and unarchived until the BMRC’s initiative.

Collections in the “Color Curtain” Processing project include the Chicago Housing Authority Records, the Illinois Labor History Society Records, the Woodlawn Organization Records, and the Chicago Urban League Records.

Fourth-year and SG community and government liaison Allen Linton said he believed the grant gives students the opportunity to learn more about black history in Chicago. “Learning more about black culture contextualizes, broadens, and often complicates UChicago students’ perspectives when considering today’s challenges. A wider cultural perspective, in my opinion, gives students and faculty a more critical lens to assess the world around them,” said Linton in an e-mail.

“Black history is American history,” said Evangelistia-Dougherty.

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