Last Updated on April 8, 2022, 12:45 pm ET
On March 30, nearly 300 librarians and archivists attended the virtual screening and panel discussion of Hidden in Full View, a short documentary film about the investigation of the 1931 lynching of Matthew Williams in Salisbury, Maryland. Filmmaker and historian Charles L. Chavis, Jr., is leading efforts to research the lynching of Williams and Salisbury’s Black communities, and to connect past harm with the systematic racial violence that persists today. This work led Salisbury Mayor Jake Day to establish a Truth, Racial Unity, Transformation & Healing (TRUTH) Advisory Committee; the TRUTH Advisory Committee will advise the mayor “on forming partnerships with cultural and historic institutions to establish a digital Archive for Racial and Cultural Healing” (ARCH). At the screening, Chavis and Shanie Shields, Chipman Foundation president, announced that the physical home for the Salisbury ARCH would be at the Charles H. Chipman Cultural Center. Shields, a longtime activist in the Salisbury community, explained that the Chipman Center is located at the site of Matthew Williams’s church, which is the only remaining physical structure of the historic Black neighborhood in Salisbury, known as Georgetown.
ARL, along with five other library, archives, and history associations, screened Hidden in Full View one day after President Biden signed the Emmett Till Antilynching Act into law after more than 200 failed Congressional attempts over the past century. The film and panel discussion provided a chance for a broad library and archives audience to consider the role of memory institutions in documenting the experience of racial violence. The Chipman ARCH is a demonstration of how scholars and archivists can partner with communities to create documentary evidence to advance healing and justice. By replicating the ARCH model in other states and regions, the US Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation Movement sees an opportunity to address what panelists referred to as “archival silences”—arrangement, description, and retention of records from the perspective of the powerful, creating downstream gaps in the historical and cultural record. “For a long time, historically Black colleges and universities were the only institutions collecting Black history,” said Lopez Matthews, archival administrator for the District of Columbia. He reminded the audience of that leadership, and the importance of supporting their continued capacity to collect Black history based on that deep expertise.
Mayor Day called for “thoughtful, dedicated members of our community to analyze the impact of injustices of the past that undoubtedly linger in our present, and propose ways to heal, resolve, respond, transform and unite as a diverse community moving forward together.” This call to action converges with local and national political momentum for truth and reparations in the United States. Representative Barbara Lee (D-CA) is the lead sponsor for H. Con. Res. 19, calling for a US Commission on Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation. She was also part of this year’s congressional delegation to the United Nations (UN) on the 2022 International Day of Remembrance of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. In her UN remarks, Representative Lee said, “The United States must address the multidimensional legacies of slavery through an unprecedented commitment to racial equity, justice, and inclusion within our borders and throughout our global affairs. We have demonstrated our commitment nationally through a government-wide approach to addressing systemic inequity.”
ARL would like to see the federal government approach include the passage of H. Con. Res. 19, and/or executive action to create a US Truth Commission, and to see scholars, librarians, and archivists partner with affected communities to create future ARCH instances. “This is about memory,” said Elaine Westbrooks, Hidden in Full View event panelist and vice provost for libraries and university librarian at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “What our society chooses to remember, and what we choose to forget, is critical.”