The National Urban League & the Archive - Progression for the Future

“There should be a space for alternative realities, alternative ways of knowing, in the archive. There should be room for imagining a world in which justice not injustice triumphed.”

—Hazel V. Carby, The National Archives

The National Urban League has shown communities nationwide that their work will stop at nothing. Whether it is in the form of a partnership with others, answering the unique needs of a community through programming, or using technology to make their activism accessible to all, it will get done. The archive has the same power to execute a very similar form of activism.

Archival Justice (also referred to as “Archival Futurism”) speaks to how these repositories can be less conventional, to be more aligned in a sociocultural manner. Like museums, archives were built on a precedent that was not inclusive of non-white, western, and Eurocentric based histories. Over time, it has fallen short when properly recording, preserving, and disseminating cultural histories. While there is no one way (or quick way, if you will) of dismantling the systems of the archive, I believe there are some ways to kick start the process.

  1. Re-establish the archive as a place of being and knowing – What and who makes your collection(s)? How has it come to be that way? What is your MISSION as a public serving repository?
  2. Know your community – What are the demographics of the place you are serving? Who is and isn’t included as a history in your space and why?
  3. Be an example of “Alternative Realities” and “Alternative ways of Knowing” – Is your staff of different academic disciplines? Are they themselves from varying communities, or even from the community in which you want to serve?
  4.  It’s about THEM not YOU – Have you asked and encouraged a conversation with the community about what they expect from you and your work?
  5. Creating an objective influence of leadership – Are the individuals that oversee the repository willing to more socially and culturally relevant, and that be a driving force in the repository?

In all, for the archives to become more social than conventional, there must be reflection, accountability, responsibility, and most importantly a cultural competence.Those four powers have allowed, and can allow the National Urban League and the Archives to serve others in their best manner. Those four powers make activism possible.