Recently, I bought a book called Conversations with Octavia Butler edited by Consuela Francis. It’s a book that consits of interviews with Octavia Butler that span from 1980 to 2006 shortly before her death (and if you don’t know who Octavia Bulter is, I HIGHLY recommend reading up on her). I’m a little less than forty pages in and I’m already amazed. I could go on and on about how perspective she was and how many of the issues that came up in her interviews resonate just as much now as they did then. Instead, I’ll focus on a recurrent theme that showed up these interviews–how terrible her early writing was by her own admission, but how she didn’t give up even in the face of criticism. That truly resonates with me at this point in my life. I happen to think my personal writing is pretty boring at best and atrocious at worst, but instead of being undaunted, I gave up, believing I have no voice and therefore nothing to say. In short, I caved to insecurity.
But recent events made me reflect on all that. The second week in August, I took a week-long course about administering and developing African-American archival collections at the California Rare Book School in Los Angeles. It truly was a blast! I learned a lot about my role as a memory worker and got to meet and connect with wonderful people who were doing the same work I was. I left with a strengthened network of peers and a clear perspective of the skills I wanted to cultivate and improve. On a side note, we went on a field trip to visit the Huntington Library and I caught a glimpse of Butler’s papers which are housed there. I don’t think I’ve ever been so fascinated by an author’s life, nor had I ever had to work harder to not go full fangirl in a professional setting. Actually I spent most of the week trying (and mostly failing) not to have too many geeky moments. I’d never been to California before and those mountains, hills, and that gorgeous weather were something to behold. It probably wasn’t my best attempt at getting people to take me seriously, but oh well. It was still a great experience.
Through my colleagues, I learned that a fellow archivist advised us to to write more–and not just scholarly materials, but our own experiences. We were also told to encourage each other. I was inspired to start writing again and to not give up this time around. My voice would only emerge if I write more even if my writing was terrible to start. That night, I wrote down the bones of this post in my notebook. I didn’t exactly like it, but I was now determined to push through it to become a better writer for my sake and to contribute to my profession in some way.
I’ve always been believed that I was unremarkable with no real voice in my writing. I want to change all that. As an archivist and memory worker, my experiences are valuable and I need to stop doubting myself. My colleagues encouraged me to keep writing until my voice emerges and that’s what I’ll do. Someone posted on either Facebook or Twitter about how people give up learning new things…because they aren’t good at them to start. I’ve been guilty of that many, many times in my life, and writing is just one example. I worry, worry, worry about whether my writing is funny enough, is professional enough, intelligent enough, interesting enough to the point where it’s straight up paralyzing and I believe it shows in my previous blog posts.
I thought about the consequences of my endless fretting about my writing being good enough. I’ll never accomplish the things I really want to both personally and professionally and will essentially be stuck in neutral. I want to fight through my insecurity and start on the path toward growth.
It’s time to resurrect this blog.
I really didn’t know much about the history of African Americans in the Mountain West and the Pacific Northwest. Of course, I knew black people lived out west, but I’d never really considered the lives they lived and the challenges they faced in the late 1800s to the early 1900s, the concerns they had for the black community, nor had I really the effects of the Civil Rights movement upon those states. My overall interest in the subject was sparked when a friend showed me Chronicling America.
Chronicling America is a joint project between the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Library of Congress that provides information about historic newspapers from 1789 to 1924, but the true treasure and my favorite thing are the searchable, digitized newspapers. Aside from date, you can also filter the newspapers by state, ethnicity, and language. On a whim, I selected Washington —> African American, and to my surprise, there were four results, including the Seattle Republican, the first successful black newspaper in Seattle. It was published by Horace R. Cayton, Sr, who was born into slavery (according to Wikipedia he was the son of a slave and a white plantation owner’s daughter which is…interesting. I’d like to know more), attained an education from a black college and later migrated to Seattle. There, he became a successful publisher and earned a very comfortable living for his family with the newspaper. He preached assimilation and saw the west as a land of opportunity. He was also heavily involved in community affairs.
Horace Cayton, Sr. Image is in the Public Domain
According the article Horace Cayton: Reflections on an Unfulfilled Sociological Career (which detailed the life of Cayton’s son, Horace Cayton, Jr.) the family lived in a wealthy white neighborhood and employed a full-time Japanese servant. They hosted Booker T. Washington at their home. Sadly, however, this wasn’t to last as the family lost their fortune in the changing economic and racial landscape of Seattle. It seems that things were fine when the Cayton’s were one of a few black families; it wasn’t so fine, when the Great Migration brought a huge influx blacks from the South. Unsurprisingly, tensions between blacks and whites flared. Cayton’s newspaper failed to attract readers from the expanding black demographic and lost its white readership, which subsequently led to its failure. While things were undoubtedly different in the northwest versus the south, racism was still very much alive and well even if it wasn’t as vicious.
Later on, I showed a co-worker who is a native of Montana, the website and after more searching, we found a black newspaper out of Butte, Montana (his hometown) called The New Age which began in 1902. It was aimed at the 250-odd African Americans who lived there at the time. My co-worker had fun finding familar street names while we both marvelled at the fact that this newspaper once existed for the short time that it did.
I didn’t have to look far to find gems in this newspaper. In the very first issue published in 1902, the editors, John W. Duncan and Chris Dorsey, utterly condemn Senator Benjamin Tillman of South Carolina, a white supremacist, for his abusive language towards blacks. Referring to voter suppression and, here is a direct quote from Tillman that was used in the newspaper as an example of his virulent racism: “When we get ready to put a n*****’s face in the sand, we put his body there too!”
Duncan and Dorsey, in turn, had a strongly worded response. Presented without comment (mostly because I think it’s so awesome).
“There are, of course, thousands of black men in the South who are superior intellectually and morally to Tillman, and a little of the ‘Negro Domination,’ which he so greatly fears, if it could send him and men like him to the rear, would advance every material interest of the South.”
The newspaper printed for nine months from 1902 to 1903 before Dorsey left Montana for Honolulu, Hawaii to study law. Then, the New Age ultimately folded when the number of African-Americans in Butte declined.
If you haven’t already explored the website, do so! I don’t think I even need to explain what a treasure trove old newspapers are–especially the newspapers that catered to a minority population. Also, take advantage of the newspaper databases in your local library.
I’ve come across other great articles and encyclopedia entries about Horace Cayton and another about black cowboys. Feel free to recommend other articles or books about African-Americans in the moutain west or the Pacific Northwest. I’ll add any books to my ever-growing “to read” list on Goodreads.
The Lesser-Known History of African-American Cowboys
Horace R. Cayton, Sr., Autobiographical Writings
Cayton, Horace Roscoe (1859-1940)
Next short essay: I plan on getting my hands on a book about the history of Atlanta for research for my novel. I’ll write-up a reflection after reading it!
I started my first professional, entry level archives job six months ago and already I feel like I’ve learned a lot since then–not just about being an archivist, but the field at large. While I was in the endless pit of despair of unemployment and having a crappy job, I wasn’t really keeping up with the field as I should’ve, but that changed as soon as I got this job. I subscribed to every archives blog I could, started this blog to document what I was learning and to gain confidence with my writing, joined professional organizations, and devoured every opporunity I got for continuing education. Essentually, I formed my own Personal Learning Network.
I’ve processed four small collections to finish up a grant project and I’m currently working on the largest collection I’ve processed on my own–the personal papers of a local actor.While all of the collections I’ve processed have been interesting, this one is probably the most fun because I’ve gotten a little background insight on the entertainment industry. I’m also assisting in processing another enormous collection of personal papers of a sociologist; many times I’ve wondered how he had time to do everything he did. He was an active member of many professional organizations, he was a full-time professor, and he did consultation for a number of different organizations and institutions. It’s a little exhausting just thinking about it.
In addition to processing, I also have upcoming opportunities to grow other skills including acquitions and supervision. I’ve written two blog posts so far for the center (that I hope to repost here if I can get permission). I will also get to go to a conference in Washington D.C. this July! Networking opportunity, ahoy!
…Which reminds me that I need to get my business cards ready.
It’s been a great six months so far. I’m finally getting to put the things I’ve learned in graduate school and from volunteering into action at a wonderful instititution. I’m reveling in my newbie-ness right now and taking it all in.
- I’m trying to avoid long gaps between postings again, so I need to put myself back on a schedule
- Get back to my genealogical research. It’s been crazy lately so I’m getting back on track
- Refine what I hope to achieve with this blog.
I apologize for the long gap between postings. A lot has happened over the past few weeks and I’m just now getting in a place of being able to blog and write again.
Back in October, I got the painful news that my Father had passed away. Shortly before that, I told him I wanted to do research on the family’s history and he gave me the names of family members such as great-grandparents and great-great aunts who either died when I was very young or whom I never got to meet. It would be the last conversation I had with my father–a realization that haunts me. I took leave of my job and traveled from Louisiana back to my hometown in Georgia. Sadly as is the case with many families I know, it usually takes a death in the family to bring people together and I’m no exception. I got to reconnect with family I haven’t seen in many years. My father knew everybody in our small town and so his passing hit everybody hard.
I told them about my project and I got more names. A good chunk of my family members use nicknames (that are completely unrelated to their given names) to the point where some family members were surprised to hear people’s government names–mine included. Too soon it was time to go back home. I was homesick as soon as I got on the bus. My roots run deep in Georgia and I’d never really appreciated that before.
Everyone is excited to see what I’ll find as I investigate our family tree more closely and I’m more determined than ever to get started researching. In preparation, I ordered a book entitled Finding a Place Called Home: A Guide to African-American Genealogy and Historical Identity by Dr. Dee Parmer Woodtor from Amazon. I discovered it at the front desk at work one day and skimmed through it. I found some great information and resources so I had to have it for myself. It arrived this past Saturday, so I’ll be formulating my plan of action in the coming days.
Historical notes, scope and content notes, novel, blog posts, etc. I’m doing a lot of writing!
Although I know I’m far from the only one, I am my own worst critic when it comes to writing. Unfortunately in my case, it’s crippling my creative spirit! Had a nice Facebook chat with some friends who finally told me that having a crappy first draft is okay. Just get the idea down. Well, maybe it’ll finally sink in! Time to commit myself to writing the first chapter of my novel without caring how good it is.
Next family research blog post should be up either Friday or Saturday.
To my five readers, I apologize for taking so long to update. I always underestimate the adjustment that comes with a transition even in the best of circumstances. A lot has happened in the month that I’ve been working including what I would consider a fateful encounter.
My institution recently hosted a reception for an event and while I was there, I got a chance to talk to an older lady (who told me I looked 15…I’m 27, but that’s another story). Long before I ever thought about becoming an archivist, I appreciated conversations with people from older generations. So much perspective, so much wisdom. Anyway, she charged me to research my own family history.
It’s something I’ve been wanting to do for a while, so why not start now? I started writing out all the names of all my ancestors that I knew of–parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, what have you. There is so much I don’t know. On my father’s side, I can’t even tell you the names of my great-grandparents. That’s insane and something I’m looking to change.
I formulated a rough plan of action to start my research. As I mentioned before, I wrote down all the names I knew. Second step was to call my family members to get some more names and locations from them before continuing. The third step will be locating institutions and resources that will have genealogical records.
To be honest, I’m not sure what my endgame will be here. I could just research this for myself, or I can make into something bigger to give to family members, such as a book.
As an African American I know I have more resources available to me than previous black genealogical researchers, but there still could be some challenges. That said I hope I don’t hit any major road blocks.
Meanwhile, I’ll be blogging about research as I go. Feel free to leave comments and any advice!
At orientation for my MLIS program, the archives professor basically told us that if we aren’t willing to move out of state, we’d have a difficult time finding a job. The region was already saturated with graduates from our school (she wasn’t lying either). Though I had no intention of staying, I ended up blessed to find an entry level position in-state that I absolutely adore so far. Once I realized how difficult it was to find an archives job in the first place, I began to examine the job market a little more closely. Honestly I’m just rehashing a topic that’s been written about in-depth by people more capable than me, but I did this largely for my own benefit.
First, I started with advocate blogs such as You Ought To Be Ashamed (which is sadly no longer being updated) and Annoyed Librarian. Somehow I’d gotten all the way through graduate school without reading either one of these blogs. I sincerely have no idea how that happened. But again, maybe it was for the best because I would’ve collapsed into a pool of “what have I done?’ if I’d known.
The bad job postings shamed on YOTBA stuck out to me because I came across very similar ones. In fact, I almost fell out over one job posting I saw. I won’t copy/paste it, but let’s just say it was long on responsibilities (which included working with children) and needed skills, but very short on pay. Come to find out, the fact that they even posted the salary put them ahead of some of the other awful job postings exhibited on YOTBA. Yes, I’ve learned to eyeball the phrase “salary commensurate with experience.” I consider myself very fortunate in another sense too. My institution values the work of the archivists and we get paid a living wage.
I mostly looked at archivies postings in archives gig and through my graduate program’s listserv. However I also found some interesting options on Glassdoor. Side story on that one: I got an email with a title that went something like “7 Low Stress Jobs Hiring Now!” Of course archivist was listed, however they mentioned that you needed a Bachelors in archival or library science. I rarely see reputable archives job postings that don’t require a Master’s in Library and Information Science, but I won’t quibble about that now because that really is a whole other argument. Anyway, I checked out the open jobs they listed, and to my surpirse, they had a decent amount of options listed.
I took a deeper look at at job postings and the familar issues sprouted up. Entry level positions are pretty spotty and uh, good luck if you wanted a job in the south in a state not named Texas. There’s also a few of the SCWE lines too.
So yeah, there are too many archives graduates and too few entry level archives jobs. I’ve seen people blame the lie of the upcoming librarian shortage being peddled by LIS programs across the country. I definitely believe that’s part of it. I know I initially believed it wouldn’t be difficult finding a job. I even had a goal for myself to have a job lined up coming out of grad school (haha!) Not sure when reality set in, but eventually I realized the truth.
On a side note, I checked out the archivists’ Occupational Employment Statistics on the Bureau of Labor Statistics page. That was an interesting read too. It gives a nice summary of the geographic spread of archives jobs as well as median wages. For example we learn that working as an archivist for the Federal Executive Branch nets the highest pay with the median income being $83,030. I’m betting that’s an administrative position and certainly not entry level. And no doubt these stats are skewed by the truly awful jobs like the ones shamed on YOTBA. Even so, the stats shown are more respectable that you’d probably expect. We just shouldn’t expect to get rich as archivists.
If any aspiring archvist comes across this post, I’d say keep this information in mind. It doesn’t have to be discouraging. I see it more as knowing what you’re getting into. Avoid going into too much debt for an MLIS because the wages just aren’t there to be paying that down initially. Keep an open mind. There may be some information jobs out there that are under the radar that don’t get talked about as much in library science programs. And get to know the archivists and staff at local museums who may have some connections. Depending on the situation, volunteering in archives can provide valuable experience as well (volunteers in archives is controversial, but alas). Networking can get you places.
All and all, I’m glad I ended up sticking with archives, but there’s also some stuff I probably should’ve known going in. Any and all comments are welcome from your experience in your chosen industry. I know archivist are most certainly not the only ones facing a tough job market.
So I was processing this collection earlier and came across an article from the 1940s about how Atlanta had the most black businesses of any area of the country.
I was born and raised in a rural area of Georgia and so Atlanta was a fantasy land for me. It was the place that all the rappers and singers talked about in their songs, it had big buildings–all the things that I thought were so cool. Let’s not get into how happy field trips to Atlanta made me as a child. When I found out there was a university directly in downtown Atlanta, I was sold. I applied and was accepted. I loved being in the city.
It was only when I attended Georgia State that I started truly grasping Atlanta as the black mecca and how special a place it was. There was culture, there was opportunity. But it wasn’t until I was eight hours away working at my first professional job that I realized I don’t actually know how Atlanta got that way. It was something I took for granted.
I already have a very long queue of books to read, but I’m on the lookout for some good books and resources on Atlanta history to learn how it got to be the black mecca.
Of course, suggestions are always welcome!
Well, I’d put it a notch below water/electricity. We recently moved and our internet service won’t get transfer over until tomorrow. We’ve been without home internet for four days and my productivity took a nosedive!
Next blog post is coming on Thursday.