I invite you to help me celebrate The HistoryMakers‘ twentieth anniversary with twenty days and nights of panels, discussions and video performances and talks that span the gamut of the African-American experience from December 1st through December 20th (you can find the full schedule of events here). Twenty years ago, visionary attorney Julieanna Richardson looked around and saw that much of the public knowledge of the Black experience and the contributions of African Americans was extremely limited and in some instances, harmful to American society as a whole. So she set out to research, gather information and interviews and document and preserve achievements and history.
“America sat at a critically important crossroads,” said Ms Richardson, “where racist ideology was on the rise and documentation and preservation of 20th century African American life, history and culture risked being lost forever if action was not taken.” She noted that many key public figures were passing away without having their stories documented and preserved for the benefit of succeeding generations. Thus, The HistoryMakers was born.
The organization consists of several sections such as Medicine, Politics, Business, Law, Science, Theater and Entertainment. I serve as a co-chair of the EntertainmentMakers Advisory Committee along with Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the former President (and first African-American to hold that office) of the Oscars organization, AMPAS (Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences).
Today, The HistoryMakers, headquartered in Chicago, is a 501 (c)(3) organization and is the nation’s largest African American video oral history archive and depository. With education as its mission, its one-of-a-kind collection is housed permanently at the Library of Congress and provides an unprecedented and irreplaceable physical and online record of African American lives, accomplishments, and contributions through unique first-person testimony. To increase public understanding and awareness, The HistoryMakers is hosting a virtual convening of some of the nation’s top African American thought leadership. Hosted on YouTube and Facebook from December 1st through Sunday, December, 20th, The HistoryMakers 20@2020: 20 Days and 20 Nights is shining a light on the urgency of this mission as well as providing a first time, behind the scenes view of The HistoryMakers organization, its digital archives and educational initiatives and its iconic “An Evening With…” PBS-TV programs.
Participants include business leaders Ken Chenault, Ken Frazier and Clarence Otis; entrepreneur Daymond John, actor Danny Glover, poets Sonia Sanchez and Nikki Giovanni; activist Angela Davis; music legends Dionne Warwick and Denyce Graves; radio hosts Rickey Smiley and Karen Hunter; lawyers The Honorable Eric Holder, Anita Hill, and Sherrilyn Ifill; civic leaders and educators Johnnetta B. Cole and Ruth Simmons; political leaders Valerie Jarrett, U.S. Congressman James Clyburn and Maxine Waters and many others-all coming together to support this great cause.
“The challenges facing our country at this moment reinforce the need to preserve and elevate the truth about the African American experience,” continues Julieanna Richardson. “We must work together to massively digitize the personal collections of our HistoryMakers and other African American leaders. Otherwise, the continued distortion of the truth of African American contributions to our culture and democracy will continue. Our need is urgent, especially as the next generation of storytellers, changemakers, and stewards of our legacy are now taking the lead.”
HistoryMaker Howard Dodson, Director-Emeritus of Howard University Libraries and the former director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in NYC, added, “Our mainstream institutions have not approached preservation work equitably to be inclusive of the African American experience creating a heritage gap that is contributing to the divisions in America we are experiencing today. But even more important, there is also a funding gap to support and uplift this work. And that needs to change.”
Since its inception, and over the past twenty years of The HistoryMakers‘ existence, almost 3,400 video oral history interviews (11,000 hours) have been recorded in 413 cities and towns, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Norway. These narratives include the stories of Alonzo Pettie, the oldest living Black cowboy; statesman General Colin Powell; 211 of the nation’s top scientists; civic leader Vernon Jordan; and political leaders such as President Barack Obama (when he was an Illinois State Senator) and more.
Its website, accessed by millions worldwide, is cited in Wikipedia and used as a “go-to” reference tool. Its digital archive (username: email@example.com; password: THMDemo) has been licensed by almost 80 colleges, universities (Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford, Howard, Spelman, Morehouse, Ohio State, University of Oregon), K-12 schools, and public libraries (Chicago, New York, Cleveland, Houston, Los Angeles, etc.) for use by faculty, students and patrons. This has been particularly relevant in the COVID-19 era and the focus on online learning.
“The HistoryMakers archives now and well into the future will provide a more complete understanding of who we are as Americans, as well as where we have come from, and where we are going as a nation,” concludes Ms Richardson.
Below is a list of upcoming programs streaming at 11am each day through December 20th…
December 12th: Blacks in Healthcare: A Long and Storied Road
December 13th: Black Hollywood: Is it Well-Preserved?
December 14th: Blacks in Media: 1.0 Meets 2.0
December 15th: Blacks in Finance: A Rich History
December 16th: The History of Black Politics: A Long Road: The Black Political Tradition
December 17th: Telling HerStory: Saving Black Women’s History
December 18th: The Crisis of Black Archives
December 19th: Black Music: Let the Archives Sing
December 20th: The HistoryMakers Digital Archive: Innovative Uses
To learn more about 20@2020 and The HistoryMakers, visit their official site.
Header image caption: The HistoryMakers Founder & President Julieanna Richardson is interviewed for the first installment of The HistoryMakers 20@2020 series, entitled The HistoryMakers 20@2020 Then And Now.