[News] Preserving a Radical Past - Ten Years of the Freedom Archives
news at freedomarchives.org
Mon Nov 9 14:24:08 EST 2009
Preserving a Radical Past
Ten Years of the Freedom Archives
By Dan Berger
our 10th This coming Wednesday, November 11th in SF
Tucked in San Franciscos Mission District lies a
treasure trove of social movement history and
is home to more than 8,000 hours of audio and
video, as well as countless papers and
publications from the last 50 years of peoples struggles.
The materials housed at the Freedom Archives
cover topics ranging from actor/singer/activist
Paul Robeson to Puerto Rico. The collection
emphasizes the struggles for Black liberation,
Native American sovereignty, Chicano liberation,
peace and social justice, and womens liberation.
It is home to rare publications and recordings of
these and other radical movements since the
1960s. Its focus is local, national, and global.
Particularly noteworthy is the collection of
radio programs and raw audio footage of
interviews and events from the 1970s about a variety of organizing endeavors.
The archives makes this material publicly
available, allowing the researcher and the
documentary producer, as well as the curious
activist, access to radical history that cannot
be found elsewhere. The basic collection is also searchable online.
Perhaps the strongest aspect of the collection is
the variety of materials it contains about prison
organizing. This emphasis should not be
surprising: The reporters whose programs are
housed there covered prisoner organizing and
political trials around the country throughout
the 1970s, and the archives also has a plethora
of prison-themed newspapers and flyers from the
heyday of prison organizing. These materials were
donated by dozens of activists in the Bay Area
and beyond, making the Freedom Archives home to
an impressive array of political ephemera.
Prison radicalism can also be found in the
creation of the Freedom Archives. Founder and
director Claude Marks began locating materials
and old friends to build this social movement
archive while he was finishing a four-year
sentence as a political prisoner for actions
taken in solidarity with the Puerto Rican
independence movement. His experience, along with
the continued activism of the archives other
founders and board of directors, means that the
archives emphasizes prison issues in the context
of struggles against repression and for justice.
Since the archives opened its doors in 1999, it
has continued to publicize the history of prison
organizing through audio and video documentaries.
It produced an hour-long audio documentary called
Prisons on Fire, about prisoner and Black Panther
field marshal George Jackson (killed in prison on
August 21, 1971) and about the Attica prisoner uprising in September 1971.
The archives has also produced a CD of poetry by
political prisoner Marilyn Buck and four
documentaries about prison struggles. These
documentaries have addressed women in prison
(Charisse Shumate: Fighting for Our Lives), oral
histories with political prisoners (Voices of 3
Political Prisoners: Nuh Washington, Jalil
Muntaqim, and David Gilbert) and prison activists
(Self-Respect, Self-Defense, and
Self-Determination: Mabel Williams and Kathleen
Cleaver, with Angela Davis), and contemporary
cases of political repression (Legacy of Torture:
The War Against the Black Liberation Movement).
Its next project is an hour-long DVD about the
FBIs Counterintelligence Program (COINTELPRO),
which tried and imprisoned hundreds of activists
in the 1960s and 1970sincluding several who remain incarcerated today.
The Freedom Archives is no passive outlet for
radical history; it played an active role in the
campaign to free the San Francisco 8, which
succeeded in forcing the state to drop the
charges against most of the defendants, all
former members of the Black Panther Party.
The archives resources cross media formats and
technological capacity: whereas using the space
in person provides access to reel-to-reel audio
from radio programs in the late 1960s and
throughout the 1970s, the archives also maintains
two email announcement listserves. One list
supplies news articles about prisons and
political prisoners, and the other discusses
general anti-imperialism topics. The archives
recently began a monthly podcast of its materials
as well. Its office is open by appointment.
Dan Berger lives in Philadelphia and writes about
prison organizing and political prisoners. He is
the author of Outlaws of America: The Weather
Underground and the Politics of Solidarity and
editor of a forthcoming book about U.S. social movements in the 1970s.
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
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