TO SPEAK OUT...(AND SPEAK BACK)
Black Freedom Activists became historical figures because they spoke out, but historians who engage them learned that they also spoke back when historical production clashed with issues of authority, ownership, and intention over telling their stories. The Harambee City book acknowledges this tension in its preface, and insisted that civil rights historians had to incorporate oral history theories of shared authority and civil rights concepts like participatory democracy. This did not mean that activists crafted the narrative or the argument, but it did mean they could engage the text, challenge, excoriate it, or argue for changing it.
Sometimes I took these speak backs into consideration, and sometimes I did not - particularly when it countered historical evidence. However, a book by its very nature is a rigid space where once written effectively remains unchanged. The website acts to counter balance the rigidity of the text, providing constant and long term opportunity for telling and retelling CORE's story. It is a conversation space for new memories, counter arguments, or corrections that makes CORE's history an ever evolving narrative.
The site also tries to invert the idea that scholar expertise ranks above grassroots knowledge. Black Studies seeks to recover, empower, transform, and disseminate. By its nature, Black Studies must consider how professionalization can operate to mute the voices of vulnerable communities. Similarly, oral history asserts a comparative model that asks the interviewer to do more than just hear, but to actually listen.
This online digital collection adheres to the above philosophical perspectives. In doing so, I considered adding Hypothe.is in order to allow annotated commentary from myself and perhaps civil rights activists or other scholars who view the site. Viewers could see both my comment and that of the audience, which would facilitate a second level of learning or exchange and help them think about history as a fluid tension between document source, memory, and historical analysis. However, this consideration was set aside given the number of documents, the archival structure (document focus versus historian synthesis assertion), and the potential unwieldly nature of multi-layered conversations which could drown out the document/voice itself.
Instead, I simply included Omeka's commenting plug-in. Any person may question an image, recall a memory, or share their thoughts for each document. This is NOT an infallible process. On the one hand, the general public, researchers, students, and activists can share their ideas. On the other, the commenting plug-in has a moderator function which allows me to delete, approve, unapprove, flag, and unflag comments. At this juncture, the question of shared authority becomes once again unbalanced. To limit this imbalance, only extreme historically questionable accounts (i.e. I saw aliens kidnap Martin Luther King, Jr.), unrelated miscellany, or vulgar exchanges will be removed. I recognize that this method is not transparent, but it is open to question via the "contact us" portal until such time that I find a platform which matches the need of the Harambee digital archives.