After spending two months sorting through piles of photographs, notebooks and letters and sending all of the documents off to be treated in oxygen-deprived vacuum chambers, Donna Morales Guerra has finally amassed a 100 cubic-foot collection of the papers of civil rights activists Claude Black and his wife, ZerNona Black.
The exhibit, titled â€œEncounters of Faith and Communityâ€ and now on display in Coates Library, features letters, flyers, articles and memorabilia from Blackâ€™s involvement in the Civil Rights Movement.
Located prominently on the libraryâ€™s third floor between Java City and the circulation desk, the exhibit also displays Trinityâ€™s connection to the community according to junior Grace Yu who works at the circulation desk no more than 10 feet from the collection.
â€œIt plays into the fact that Trinity is a liberal campus and acknowledges how far weâ€™ve come,â€ Â Yu said. â€œItâ€™s a personal history that resonates, especially with African Americans.â€
The idea to have Trinity be the host of the documents came from Carey H. Latimore IV, chair of the history department, when he became aware that the donor of the collection, Taj Matthews, was trying to find a place for the collection.
â€œCarey had some really great ideas about how his students and students at Trinity in general could benefit from using the collection in terms of learning about primary sources and analyzing primary sources because thatâ€™s not really an experience that a lot of students get to have, especially at the undergrad level,â€ said Amy Roberson, special collections librarian and university archivist.
In order to acquire the papers, it was important for Trinity to establish a close relationship with Matthews, who is also Claude and Zernonaâ€™s grandson. Latimoreâ€™s relationship with Claude Black played a large role in acquiring the papers.
â€œCreating a relationship with the potential donor is really important because there is some level of trust that has to be there between the donor and the archives, whether the archives is Trinity University or the Smithsonian. People are transferring their familyâ€™s materials out of their home, so the trust issue is very important,â€ Roberson said.
Guerra, who was hired by Trinity in February 2012 to serve as the project archivist for the Claude and ZerNona Black papers, has been busy digitalizing much of the collection since it arrived at Trinity. This part of the job is especially important for materials in the collection that are too fragile to handle.
â€œThatâ€™s a major step because that pretty much opens the collection to people who want to see whatâ€™s in there, and thatâ€™s how theyâ€™ll find out if thereâ€™s something they want to research in there in the collection. Access is the name of the game in archives. We get the stuff, and we donâ€™t want to just keep stuff here as a lifelong treasure. We want it to be used and handled as much as possible,â€ Guerra said.
Guerra said that a collection like this is unusual because of how well-documented everything is and how much it covers overall.
â€œFor the most part, we havenâ€™t really seen a collection of its size that is the collection of one person and their amassed materials throughout their life that kind of covers a whole range of a lifeâ€™s activity,â€ Guerra said. â€œThere generally arenâ€™t that many like this in the Southwest in general. In the Deep South, youâ€™ve got a lot of things, but starting from Texas west it gets a little bit spotty,â€ Guerra said.
Religion was a huge part of Claude Blackâ€™s life. Blackâ€™s work in civil rights was for him simply a branching-out of his faith.
â€œIt has parallels with some peopleâ€™s collections in that it shows civil rights approached through a ministry foundation. Reverend Black definitely wanted to be remembered as a minister first. Thatâ€™s why I called the exhibit â€˜Encounters of Faith and Communityâ€™ because the faith for him was the first thing; that I have definitely seen over and over,â€ Guerra said.
Roberson also finds the religion aspect of the Black collection to be quite fascinating.
â€œClaude Black was very interested in learning about other groups of people and other religions, and I think thatâ€™s evident in the collection from the types of magazines that he subscribed to. Thatâ€™s really interesting to me and possibly to people who want to understand how the mind of someone like this was thinking about Civil Rights in the world,â€ Roberson said.
Although Guerra cannot narrow her favorite thing about the collection down to one item, she did enjoy how Blackâ€™s personality really shines through in his writing.
â€œThe snippets of his sense of humor throughout the collection make me laugh out loud and give me a sense of him as a man moving through time and doing all of these things,â€ Guerra said.
Among some of the more interesting items in the collection are a signed letter from Lyndon B. Johnson and Claude Blackâ€™s Trinity student ID and notes from the urban studies classes he took here in the 1970s with the late Earl Lewis, with whom Black had a very close relationship.
Those interested in keeping up with the display can visit the libraryâ€™s special collections and archives blog at http://archivestrinity.blogspot.com.