For more than a century, Tuskegee University has collected photographs, negatives and other media pertaining to the history of African American life in Alabama and the South in general, covering dates from 1881 to the present. This grant project will include stabilizing, restoring, rehousing the University’s media collections which document Tuskegee’s history. The goal of this project is to make the photographic collections available for future researchers.
Tuskegee University has recruited, hired, and trained staff for this project and are well under way with completely their mission. In fact, they have already reached their goal of rehousing 5,000 photographs. Two capable and knowledgeable retirees from Tuskegee University, Lonice Middleton and Shirley Curry, having over 60 years of experience between them, have applied their considerable talents to gather, process, conserve and identify images so that researchers can easily access them in the future.
All photograph collections have been examined to determine which items may need stabilization or conservation; supplies and equipment have been purchased; the negative collection has been placed in cold storage; several collections have been cataloged and rehoused; finding aids were prepared for the photo collections; and photographs and negatives are being scanned to prevent any further loss. This work has incorporated further assistance from our scan technician, Roderick Wheeler, student workers and others in order for the preservation staff to continue working without interruption. Although not specified in the grant, the Tuskegee University Archives determined that processing and preserving the images without identification would not benefit our department. Therefore, processing and preservation moved at a slower rate than expected. Staff utilized a variety of sources (including year books, bulletins, funeral programs, etc.) located within the archives in order to identify individuals, buildings and events. Furthermore, due to the wide variety of photographic media and negatives, including polyester, nitrocellulose, cellulose acetate and glass plate negatives, different techniques were identified and utilized for preservation, repair and storage. Images and negatives were then coupled with existing archival collections for ease of identification.
Several scrapbooks and photograph collections have been rediscovered during this project: A scrapbook was discovered that documented Booker T. Washington’s travels in Mississippi from 1904-1908. The photos it contained were of significant value. The photos were removed, re-housed, and digitized. Also, photographs of the Tuskegee Airmen and the AAF airfield were discovered, repaired, and scanned. Other images identified and repaired included large format and panoramic prints of major events, conferences or sporting events. Many images previously unknown to the University were identified and scanned. These include images from individuals other than the official Tuskegee University photographers.
Selected project images were digitized for use on the www.alabamamosaic.org and www.hbculibraries.org sites. Tuskegee University is committed to digitizing all our images and providing sufficient metadata for the benefit of all that are interested in our University and its history. We anticipate building our own website in order to highlight these images, as well as a variety of items from within our archives.