In 1999, lawyer Julieanna L. Richardson founded the archive as a testament to the importance of preserving the contributions of the African diaspora to the nation. In 2014, the HistoryMakers Digital Archive became permanently housed at the Library of Congress. Since its founding, Richardson’s leadership has inspired the HistoryMakers to record and collect over a thousand interviews.
More than 3,400 videos of oral histories, 11,000 hours of interview, and previously unheard tales from both well-known and lesser-known African Americans who have made significant contributions to the world are included in the archive. While primarily focused on the United States, the archive contains some accounts from across the African diaspora, including the Caribbean and Latin America.
During Torkornoo and Fitzpatrick’s presentation, they highlighted the achievements of some of Wellesley’s own HistoryMakers. Adelaide L. Sanford ’50, former vice chancellor of the board of Regents University of the State of New York, is recognized as a trailblazer in education. Broadcast journalist Callie Crossley ’73 is famously known as the host of WGBH’s Under the Radar with Callie Crossley and her commentary on race, culture and politics. Dr. Vivian Pinn ’63, the first Black woman chair of the department of pathology at Howard University College of Medicine is recognized for her advocacy in promoting women’s health and increasing representation in medicine. She also serves as the founding director of the Office of Research on Women’s Health at the National Health Institute (NHI).
Fitzpatrick shared her insights on the significance of the archive, her aspirations for its future use and the circumstances that led to her involvement in the project, which recently granted the Wellesley faculty and students access to the HistoryMakers Archive.
The Wellesley News: What led to your involvement in the project?
Fitzpatrick: My passion for equitable, empowering, and emancipatory education infused with my sacred vocation to undo the perils of miseducation from within Western institutions and “right” the missing and misrepresented stories of Africa and African peoples, have led to my involvement with The HistoryMakers. Ultimately, my life’s work is to diversify, humanize, and harmonize the tone, texture, and complexion of the curriculum. In this instance and essence, to “right” the distorted history of the world using the power of orality and expansive pedagogies that center and amplify the dynamic voices, contributions, and lives of marginalized peoples, who have pioneered world civilization and the evolution of humanity.
The Wellesley News: What has your experience been collaborating with Izzy and others to spread awareness about the Archive?
Fitzpatrick: Exhilarating! My students, colleagues, and the staff at the College have been truly enthusiastic about the pedagogical importance of integrating The HistoryMakers into their lives and curriculum, which has been quite gratifying, transformative, and rewarding. I must say that Izzy plays a pivotal role in this collaborative effort. As Izzy’s professor and major advisor in Africana Studies, and her advisor for The HistoryMakers, I have had first-hand impressions of her exuberance and intellectual dedication to and activism for Black life, which deemed her an excellent candidate and choice for the Student Ambassadorship. Izzy and I share an unmatched synergy and infectious love for Blackness and equity, which have contributed significantly to what we have been able to achieve with The HistoryMakers on campus.
The Wellesley News: What has been the most enlightening discovery you made through the use of the Archive? Through promoting the Archive?
Fitzpatrick: It has been a little over a year since I’ve brought the Archive to the College and based on a recent usage report delivered at The HistoryMakers Higher Education Advisory Board Meeting, held in Alexandria, VA, Wellesley College ranks at number 6 — out of over 50 attending institutions. This says a lot! It reaffirms for me that we are serious about inclusive education and excellence at Wellesley and Black history is everybody’s history and preserve!
The Wellesley News: What are your aspirations for the future use of the Archive? Future additions?
Fitzpatrick: Last fall, I proposed two new courses to CCAP: AFR 205: Black Pedagogies and AFR 220: The History of Black Studies and Black Life at Wellesley where the Archive will be integrated into the syllabi. My desire is to also establish a HistoryMakers Chapter on campus to facilitate and increase awareness and discussion about the Black experience, Black history, and the revolutionary accomplishments of Black people within our community through active engagement with the Archive and an ongoing relationship with the parent body.
The Wellesley News: Do you have any unique ways for including the Archive into your teaching or course materials?
Fitzpatrick: As a professor of Africana Studies, I teach what I live and live what I teach. Who I am and what I do are inseparable. My teachings are informed by my inborn wisdom and lived experiences. As such, I encourage my students to engage life and education in color, to read and breathe between and beyond the lines, and always put the text in context. Course material comprises a rich selection of literary works, art, music, spoken word, and other media. I seldom teach from books. In this regard, the Archive’s core mission to preserve, celebrate, and elevate the Black experience using real-life video oral histories told by legendary African Americans and people of African descent has emboldened my pedagogy. To see and hear Black people tell our-stories in such an innovative way is invigorating!
Students actively search, study, and discuss the diverse content in the Archive based on the weekly themes of the course paired with their interests and course material. Towards the middle of the semester, each student formulates a thesis and research topic inspired by their meaningful work throughout the course and Archive, which all culminate into an oral presentation and written essay. In doing so, I seek to engender critical and creative thinking, empowering learning, and empowered beings.
Corrected on Feb. 24, 2023. A previous version of this story misspelled Izzy Torkornoo’s name. The News regrets this error.