HARRC Open House Gennesis Sanchez

On Wednesday, January 23rd 2019, the Historic African River Road Connections (HARRC) Collection celebrated its public debut. The event brought together community members and descendants of River Road communities; students of Public Anthropology, Public History, and Curation; and AU faculty and staff to view the special collection housed at the American University (AU) Library Archives.

The evening commenced with welcoming remarks from Anthropology Professor Adrienne Pine, and Leslie Nellis, the Associate Archivist. Nellis emphasized to the crowd that all interested parties are welcome to use the collections, regardless of any affiliation with AU, stating: “The ultimate goal of the Archive is to make them available and help engage scholarship in communities to engage with the materials.”

While a black-and-white 1960s documentary about Tobytown, MD played in the background, the room buzzed with excitement. Visitors studied archival materials around them and shared stories of their own interconnected experiences of Montgomery County. Guests were also able to tour the AU Archives and see firsthand the pristine storage conditions in which the collections are preserved. The display table included a selection of the wealth of documents that the growing HARRC Collection already boasts, including Macedonia Baptist Church records; Church service bulletins, financial ledgers, celebratory anniversary booklets, precious hymnals and family pictures.

Public Anthropology graduate students, Michael Quiroz and Delande C. Justinvil spoke to some of the guests. Cheryl Dove Harris and Barbara Smith graciously shared their thoughts in a short interview. Both women are from the historic black community of Scotland (in Potomac, MD) and community leaders in their own right. Smith revealed that while looking at the archival materials, she was surprised to see pictures of her husband’s grandfather. “I didn’t know they had pictures of him,” she confessed. When asked what she hoped people would learn from the HARRC collection, Harris quickly answered, “Truth. Facts. Because people make up things, but you have it on paper and writing, and that makes a difference.”

Students also spoke to Katie Nolan, a community member involved in the struggle for the Moses Cemetery in Bethesda M.D. She stressed the importance of the HARRC Collection’s contribution to preservation. “It's really easy for things to get lost, and little mementos that you don’t think are important, … years upon years later are the only way we know what life was like in a particular community.” Nolan added, “The more we know, the more we can take care of each other.”

Broad collaborations among students, community members, local activists and historians have not only contributed to the creation of the special collection but are also key to the curation of the upcoming July 2019 exhibit at the Katzen Art Center celebrating the rich past, present and future of the historic black communities of River Road.

Barbara Smith reading archival material at the HARRC Open House.

Barbara Smith reading archival material at the HARRC Open House.

Video Interview

In addition to being honored guests, Cheryl Dove Harris and Barbara Smith graciously shared their thoughts in a short interview.

Watch the Video