[News] Preserving a Radical Past - Ten Years of the Freedom Archives

Anti-Imperialist News 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 Francisco’s Mission District lies a 
treasure trove of social movement history and 
culture. The 
<http://www.freedomarchives.org/>Freedom Archives 
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 people’s 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 women’s 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 
FBI’s 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.

Freedom Archives
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110

415 863-9977

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