Archives launches African American web exhibit

February 7, 2008

The Archives of the Episcopal Church has launched an electronic publication and online exhibit titled "The Church Awakens: African Americans and the Struggle for Justice." The multimedia exhibit, available here, covers the period of enslavement to the present, with emphasis on the Civil Rights era. As an educational resource for Church settings, the exhibit is designed to expand on the strength of reader input and future research.

This web-based project offers an examination of the compelling story of how African American Episcopalians struggled to claim their rightful place as full and equal members of the Church community. The exhibit brings together a narrative overview of that development with photographs, documents, videos, and previously unheard taped interviews with prominent American figures on matters of race. Figures such as Absalom Jones, George Bragg, Pauli Murray, Jonathan Daniels, and Charles Lawrence are featured along with Church organizations such as the American Church Institute, the Conference of Church Workers, and the Episcopal Society for Cultural and Racial Unity. Audio recordings include interviews with figures such as Langston Hughes and Jackie Robinson.

The exhibit arose from a 1993 commitment by the Board of the Archives of the Episcopal Church to focus the Archives' acquisitions and research services program on diversity, with an initial emphasis on the Afro-Anglican experience. The 1991 General Convention had called on the Church to conduct a wide-ranging examination of persistent institutional racism and patterns of forgetting that had overtaken the legacy of the post-Civil Rights period in Church and society. Working with a donor, the Rev. John Morris, who gave financial support to the exhibit, the Archives turned to emerging web technologies as a vehicle for making primary source materials permanently available to everyday Episcopalians and the public. The exhibit is a product of John Morris' desire to preserve a central lesson that the unified Christian community has within its grasp the capacity for extraordinary acts of justice and honor. Morris believed that such organized individual acts can renew the community and bring positive change to the larger society.

The Church Awakens exhibit is one component of the Afro-Anglican Archives of the Episcopal Church. These archives include the entire holdings of the Episcopal Freedman's Aid Commission, the Episcopal Society for Racial and Cultural Unity (ESCRU), the American Church Institute, including the Episcopal Black Colleges and Bishop Paine Divinity School, the General Convention Special Program, and numerous collections of personal papers including those of Theodore Holly, David Ferguson, Edward Demby, Tollie Caution, Walter Dennis, Thomas Logan, and Henri Stines. The Afro-Anglican Archives of The Episcopal Church has been brought together to celebrate both the Church's African American heritage, and to open a research door for the 75th General Convention's request in Resolution A123 that the dioceses study the economic and social benefits that the Church derived from the enslavement and its aftermath.

The Archives continues to add to this unfolding story and has constructed the online publication to be a growing digital repository of the Episcopal Church's African American narrative. Viewers are invited to share their comments on the exhibit or leave their personal reflections for permanent posting by using a comment form. Donors who would like to add documentary evidence to the exhibit or to the Afro-Anglican Archives of The Episcopal Church are encouraged to contact Director of Archives Mark J. Duffy at the Research Office, P.O. Box 2247, Austin, Texas 78768. The exhibit can be accessed from the Archives home page here.

The Archives of the Episcopal Church is the Church's historical repository and research center with offices in Austin and New York City.