With a post on Oscar Mack not long ago, I’m reminded how much the intersection around digital humanities and black history for my work in Florida was generative. One project often built on another to create a fuller picture of the black experience. Reflecting back now, 2013 was a pivotal year. I conducted the Oscar Mack project in my African American History class during the spring semester. I came out of the project with a sense of things left undone and honestly… failure.
At the time, I did my end of the semester diagnostic and decided a few things. First, learning outcome were met and that was good. Students in my modern African-American history class were able to move from a single newspaper headline talking about a lynching, to telling a story about who, what, where, how and why. Second, from a scholarly perspective, a lot of questions were left unanswered. Where was his body? Who killed him? What other incidents of antiblack violence where lurking under the surface?
Plenty of gray and at some level my sense of failure was based on the reality that the resources (in every sense of the word) to do more were clear to me. I came to the end of the semester with a sense that I need to build some structures to document the black experience. I turned to the Samuel Proctor Oral History Program at the University of Florida. Working with them, we were able to do some oral histories in the summer. While I think there was an intent to use these to learn about Mack, in organized the actual interview talking with people about region through their community lens was enough. What do we know about Hannibal Square on the ground? What is the relationship to Eatonville? Talking to black residents and getting their stories into the archive was meaningful (I hoped). Many things have changed since 2013, but the basic idea of using the process of building an archive as a benchmark was a solid choice. These archival documents can serve as the foundation for a more holistic narrative of the black experience in Central Florida. There was I came to realize a nuanced black social world I needed to document. Now you know where the “BLACK SOCIAL WORLD” name comes from. No straight lines, but you get places.