Since 1892, The Afro-American Newspaper has
been a publication of record for Baltimore's
African-American community. The longest-running periodical
of its kind in the United States, the
family-owned newspaper covers both national and
international news from an African-American
Currently, most of the publication's archival
collection, which includes older print editions and
thousands of photographs, resides in stacks of boxes in the
"morgue" of its Baltimore headquarters,
located at 2519 N. Charles St.
How vast is the archive's historical wealth? A Johns
Hopkins-led effort wants to determine just
In order to preserve the newspaper's archival holdings
and make them accessible to the masses,
the Center for
Africana Studies and the Sheridan Libraries'
Center for Educational
embarked on the Diaspora Pathways Archival Access Project,
a student internship program funded by
a three-year grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
The program is one facet of the Center
for Africana Studies' larger Diaspora Pathways Initiative,
which also includes oral history projects and
academic courses, such as one on African-American/immigrant
relations that ran last year.
In November, the program selected five students from
Johns Hopkins, Goucher College and
Morgan State University as its initial cohort to uncover
and describe the contents of the paper's
archives. Their work began in January.
The objectives of the project are to identify
important unprocessed collections at the
newspaper, inventory and organize the collection, and
ultimately create an online database for
searching the material.
To accomplish the work, the students make regular
visits to the newspaper to sort through
boxes — organized by letter — that contain
thousands of folders filled with clippings, photographs and
manuscript materials that date back to the paper's
founding. The students organize the material and
also conduct conservation efforts, such as taking digital
photographs, and providing basic descriptions,
of each item and its location.
In their first week, the interns found such treasures
as photographs of civil rights activist
Daisy Bates, a photograph of Sudanese political leader El
Ferik Ibrahim Abboud walking with President
John F. Kennedy, and thousands of clippings chronicling the
everyday lives of black Baltimoreans
through announcements of births, deaths, weddings and
The students work under the supervision of Marilyn
Benaderet, the newspaper's archivist;
Debra Newman Ham, an archival expert at Morgan State
University; and Moira Hinderer, a
postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Educational Resources
and the Center for Africana Studies.
Hinderer, project manager, said that the newspaper's
collection, which is in remarkably good
condition, is both extensive and historically significant.
She said it's particularly rich in images and
stories that chronicle the civil rights movement.
The Afro-American Newspaper was founded by
former slave John H. Murphy Sr. after merging
his church publication, The Sunday School Helper,
with two other church publications, The Ledger and
The newspaper rose to national prominence under the
editorial control of Carl Murphy, who
served as its editor and publisher for 45 years. The
newspaper was circulated twice weekly in
Baltimore and had regional weekly editions in Washington,
Philadelphia, Richmond, Va., and Newark,
N.J. At one time, there were as many as 13 editions
circulated across the country. (Today there are
two, in Baltimore and Washington.)
Candice Dalrymple, director of the Center for
Educational Resources and an early champion of
the initiative, said that she was looking to identify a
repository in Baltimore that needed preservation,
particularly one that involved African-American history. In
2006, Dalrymple approached Ben Vinson,
director of the Center for Africana Studies, and the two
collaborated to find a collection with which
to work. They found it just down the street at The
Afro-American. The two later applied for the
"The opportunity for Hopkins to partner with a major
Baltimore City institution like
The Afro-American Newspapers and colleagues at
Morgan State University to uncover and describe nationally
significant historical records is perfectly aligned with
the objectives of our university since its
founding," said Dalrymple, associate dean of university
Johns Hopkins received inquiries from undergraduate
and graduate students from 10
institutions to participate in the internship program.
"Clearly, young scholars are eager to acquire the
skills to uncover, analyze and describe the
contents of these archives," she said. "Imagine the thrill
of uncovering original transcripts of the
1950s McCarthy hearings questioning Langston Hughes, who
was an Afro reporter at the time, or
uncovering Baltimore photos of Daisy Bates, the civil
rights activist and journalist, who advised the
Little Rock Nine through the Little Rock integration
crisis. There really is a visceral reaction to
touching and describing historical records of this
Vinson said the project enables the Center for
Africana Studies to partner with a community
treasure to arrive at new ways of looking at the
African-American past. He said the students will
undoubtedly uncover vital documents and images, many never
before seen by the public, for both
layperson and scholarly consumption.
In the future, he envisions a course or two focused on
The Afro archives.
"The newspaper's collection is an invaluable recording
of the past that has slipped from view,"
he said. "We are going to bring it to light."