Ypsilanti Library Launches African American Oral History Archive

Monday, August 29, 2016

40 years ago, Historian and EMU Professor A.P. Marshall interviewed dozens of leaders in Ypsilanti’s African American community, seeking to preserve the stories and struggles of a generation who lived through the Great Depression, WWII, and the Civil Rights movement. As of today, the first one of these interviews is finally available online.

The Ypsilanti District Library (YDL), in partnership with the African American Cultural and Historical Museum of Washtenaw County (AACHM) and local historians Matt Siegfried and Laura Bien, will spend the next nine months digitizing a priceless collection of oral histories and making them available online at history.ypsilibrary.org.

"When listeners hear the powerful voices of Eugene Beatty and A.P. Marshall, they are transported to another place in time. You feel the immediate impact of history coming to life," said Bev Willis, a board member at AACHM. "Working with the library, we're able to provide the community with well-documented, relevant presentations of the local experience of Black Americans."

The website launched this weekend with an interview of Eugene Beatty, a track athlete who nearly made the U.S. Olympic team in 1932 and went on to become a school principal and leader of the Ypsilanti Schools. In addition to his interview recording, the online archive features a full transcript with annotations and photographs that go along with the subjects he discusses in the interview.

The archive will also feature interviews with former Ypsilanti Mayor George Goodman and Marguerite Eaglin, community activist and president of the local NAACP. The archive is expected to be completed by June 2017.

“Many of these interviews are telling stories you would not hear anywhere else. A.P. Marshall was able to get great interviews, partly because he knew the subjects so well” said Sarah Zawacki, who manages the Library’s Michigan-Ypsilanti Heritage Room. “By digitizing this history we’re helping preserve it, while also making it available to people all over the world who may be researching their family history or looking for primary sources about African American history.”

The project is funded by a $25,000 grant through the Michigan Humanities Council's Heritage Grant program. The Ypsilanti District Library was one of three grant recipients in Washtenaw County.

In addition to the digital archive, YDL and AACHM are partnering to offer a series of lectures and tours to educate the public about the area’s African American history. Events include:

Black Studies and the University: a presentation by Dr. Melvin Peters of EMU
Thursday, October 13, 6:30pm
Ypsilanti District Library
229 W. Michigan Ave.

Ypsilanti as an African American City: with historian Matt Siegfried
Thursday, October 20, 7pm
Ypsilanti District Library
5577 Whittaker Rd.

The African American Civil War Experience: bus tour hosted by AACHM
Saturday, October 22, 2-5pm
Meet at WCC Student Center
$20 cost. To register call Deborah Meadows at 734-819-8182.

Reconstruction and the Rise of Jim Crow: with historian Matt Siegfried
Monday, November 14, 6:30pm
Ypsilanti District Library
229 W. Michigan Ave.


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August 27, 2016

For more information contact:
Gillian Ream Gainsley
Communications Coordinator


About the Grant
The A.P. Marshall African American Oral History Archive is made possible by a grant from the Michigan Humanities Council, an affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Heritage Grants are intended to promote a deeper understanding of our past by empowering groups whose stories are often not told or remain unseen to share the history of Michigan from their perspective.

About the Ypsilanti District Library
As a community resource, the Ypsilanti District Library's mission is to enrich life, stimulate intellectual curiosity, foster literacy, and encourage an informed citizenry.

About the African American Cultural and Historical Museum of Washtenaw County
The AACHM is dedicated to collecting, preserving, and accurately interpreting the cultural and historical contributions of local Black families and residents.

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