Celebrating With The History Makers At The Library Of Congress

Robert and Shirley James with HistoryMakers Interviewer, Denise Gines (L), who interviewed each of them.
Robert and Shirley James with HistoryMakers Interviewer, Denise Gines (L), who interviewed each of them.

Robert and Shirley James were among approximately 200 special guests to attend the historic and spectacular celebration weekend and announcement of the donation of The History- Makers’ Video Archival Collection to America’s Library of Congress. The Collection comprises 2,600 videotaped interviews with African-Americans in 29 states. The James’ were interviewed in 2007, and their oral history interviews, along with those of four other Savannahians, Cedric Smith and the late, Dr. Prince Jackson, John B. Clemmons, and Benjamin Tucker, are now permanently housed in the Library of Congress in the Nation’s Capitol.

James Billington, the Librarian of Congress, said, “The HistoryMakers archive provides invaluable first-person accounts of both well-known and unsung African Americans…This culturally important collection is a rich and diverse resource for scholars, teachers, students and documentarians seeking a more complete record of our nation’s history and its people.” HistoryMakers Founder and Executive Director, Julianna Richardson, said, “This relationship with the Library of Congress represents a momentous occasion for our organization. With the Library of Congress serving as our permanent repository, we are assured of its preservation and safekeeping for generations to come.” Richardson, who launched the HistoryMakers project in 2000, has a diverse background in theatre, television production, the cable television industry and law. She is a graduate of Brandeis University (Theatre Arts and American Studies) and received the Juris Doctorate from the Harvard Law School. The weekend of events began on Friday, November 7th with a day tour behind the scenes at the Library of Congress’ National Audio-Visual Conservation Center on the Packard Campus in Culpepper, VA, where the HistoryMakers’ video tapes are housed and being transmitted into digital formats. The Packard Campus is where the nation’s library acquires, preserves and provides access to the world’s largest and most comprehensive collection of films, television programs, radio broadcasts and sound recordings. During the evening, HistoryMakers and guests attended The HistoryMakers (Act II) Readers Theatre where the story of the organization was told through memory, reflection and song by those who helped with the creation and building of the HistoryMakers over its 14 year history.

On Saturday morning, the group was hosted at George Washington University for The HistoryMakers Education Symposium, “Digital Innovation Meets the Black Experience.” Panel members, including archivists, teachers, university librarians, high school students, and urban educational specialists, shared how The HistoryMakers Digital Archive resource has been successfully utilized in education programs, grades 5-12 and in higher education, to bring live African American history as a relevant teaching tool into the classroom. The “Back to School with HistoryMakers” component program has involved more than 400 HistoryMakers in 300 schools in 100 cities and 35 states over the past five (5) years.

The weekend culminated with the PBS-TV Celebrity Interview and taping of “An Evening with Gwen Ifill” at the Library of Congress in the Coolidge Auditorium. Ifill is moderator and managing editor of “Washington Week” and co-anchor & managing editor for “The PBS NEWSHOUR w/ Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff.” She was interviewed by NPR’s Michelle Norris. The program opened with formal introductions of the HistoryMakers in attendance, special presentations by History- Makers founder, Julianna Richardson and Dionne Warwick, and musical selections by Everett Greene, Howard University’s Vocal Jazz Ensemble, Afro Blue, and 13-year old vocalist and composer, Mae Ya Carter Ryan. Before the interview of Gwen Ifill, there was a hosted tour of the Library of Congress’ Historic Reading Room where HistoryMakers were able to view some of their interviews and the recently installed Civil Rights and Magna Carta exhibits. The evening ended with a Gala Dinner-Reception.

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