Archiving Black Movements

Shifting Power and Exploring a Community-Centered Approach


  • Tracy S. Drake Reed College
  • Aisha Conner-Gaten Glendale Community College
  • Steven D. Booth Getty Research Institute



With the move towards both critical information literacy and community-centered archives, cultural heritage and information professionals have been called to further interrogate our role as collectors and catalogers of materials. We know that the preservation and description of objects, records, and ephemera ascribe historical meaning, are culturally bound, and impact understanding beyond our lifetime. In this heightened time of social injustice, Black librarians, archivists, and curators are collaborating with community and organizing groups to select and preserve materials related to uprisings in real-time. However, there is a disconnect from the records and items selected for the archives and materials valued by the organizers themselves. There is also a lack of published texts centering the approaches and materials of Black people organizing for their own communities as a part of the archival record with few exceptions. Knowing there is power in the archives, there must be careful consideration to the prioritization and representation of Black communities in their own words.

In the following conversations, we thought critically about the provenance and authority of records found on the internet and how archivists should consider materials created by organizers and those created by the community at large. We facilitated three interviews with activists and organizers whose work focuses on the liberation of Black lives globally to both frame and interrogate current archival practices. These interviews explored our archival approach, specifically centering the narratives of the people on the ground. Through these conversations, we discussed the state of organizing and creating digital content as well as how cultural heritage professionals should prioritize the histories of various movements for Black life globally. The interviewees included activists and organizers from the Illinois Chapter of the Black Panther Party (1968-1970s), Black Nashville Assembly, and formerly of Black Lives Matter (2013-present), and End SARS (Special Anti-Robbery Squad) movement (2020-present) in Nigeria.

In shaping this conversation, we considered these key questions:  What objects speak to your “work”? What content do you think will help future generations understand past and present movements around Black life? How can cultural heritage professionals determine what is created by BLM, BPP, etc. versus what is contributed by the community-at-large? What does Black liberation look like to you?

This article outlines and reimagines archival work as community-based, highly collaborative, and iterative for professionals outside of Black social and political movements. With a focus on intentionality around the communities impacted, individuals involved, and the movements at large, we framed what archival materials are important to Black organizers of our time. With their insight, cultural heritage and archival professionals can create deliberate processes to get direct feedback from the creators themselves for the archives. Overall, this article aims to introduce ways of thinking to decentralize power in archival collections and provide agency to organizers through their own historical record.

Pre-print first published online 8/5/2022

Author Biographies

Tracy S. Drake, Reed College

Tracy Drake is an archivist at Reed College, focused on acquiring, preserving, and providing access to the historical and cultural records of the college. As an information professional, Tracy strives to provide equitable access to the stories of the Black experience. She believes in confronting difficult topics in our collective historical record while encouraging community archival practice. A graduate of Eastern Illinois University with a BS in African American Studies, an MA in history from Roosevelt University, and an MS in Library and Information Science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. In 2018, she was chosen as a member of the American Library Association class of Emerging Leaders. Her scholarship and research focus on anti-racism in society and information. Tracy uses she/her/hers pronouns.

Aisha Conner-Gaten, Glendale Community College

Aisha Conner-Gaten, she/her/hers, is an information worker thriving in Los Angeles. She is an organizer of the POCinLIS Summit and Librarians of Color-Los Angeles group along with her incredible colleagues. Her work focuses on inclusive instructional design, antiracism in the library and pedagogy, and the role of librarians as social justice accomplices. When she is not at the reference desk, you can find her reading romance or playing tennis. You can follow her and her library quips on Twitter @Aisha_CG. 

Steven D. Booth, Getty Research Institute

Steven D. Booth (he/him) is an archivist, independent researcher, and co-founder of the Blackivists. He is currently the archivist/project manager of the Johnson Publishing Company Archive at the Getty Research Institute. He has been an active member of the Society of American Archivists (SAA) since 2008 and was named an SAA Fellow in 2022.