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Read, reflect, and remember

Cultural institutions in times of social unrest

In a recent webinar discussion, hosted by the Library of Congress National Book Festival Presents series, Dr Carla Hayden, the Librarian of Congress, and Dr Lonnie Bunch, the Secretary of the Smithsonian, talked about the role of cultural heritage institutions and history in helping Americans understand racial inequality in the present. They discussed the recent and ongoing Black Lives Matter protests, Dr Bunch’s book A Fool's Errand: Creating the National Museum of African American History and Culture in the Age of Bush, Obama, and Trump, the importance of history for gaining nuance and insight into the present and hopefully the future, and they shared several personal experiences of racism.

Drs Hayden and Bunch also discussed the collaboration between the Library of Congress and Smithsonian to mount the “Rosa Parks: In her own words” exhibition, which brings together papers, photographs, and objects, including a dress made by Mrs Parks, on loan from the Smithsonian. While the Library’s doors are closed due to the pandemic, you can visit the virtual exhibition at any time.

You can also connect with Rosa Parks through By the People and the Library’s main website. We launched the Rosa Parks Campaign in February and it completed in under two months. You can read these documents here. You can also transcribe and review the speeches, diaries and other writings of Mary Church Terrell, who co-founded the NAACP, and dedicated her life to fighting for social justice and racial parity. Terrell fought on many fronts—advocating for desegregation, voting rights, equal access to education and healthcare, and against lynching. The papers of the Blackwell family and Anna Dickinson also contain abolitionist texts. 

Read, reflect, and remember

Dr Bunch writes:

“One can tell a great deal about a country by what it remembers. By what graces the wall of its museums. And what monuments have privileged placement in parks or central traffic intersections. And what holidays and patriotic songs are the bane and balm to generations of school children. Yet one learns even more about a nation by what it forgets. What moments of evil, disappointment, and defeat are downplayed or eliminated from the national narratives.” – A Fool's Errand

Through your efforts on By the People, you are creating new pathways of discovery, and new opportunities for us all to remember the past and to try to understand the present. We thank you for your time and effort.

We often invite you to transcribe and review documents, but this week we suggest you take some time to just read a whole speech by Terrell or a letter or autobiographical note by Rosa Parks. These are not easy reads, nor should they be. These primary documents will allow you to engage deeply with the legacy of racism in America. What can the past tell us about the present? 


Victoria and the By the People team

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