During the last week of May, a group of approximately ten students from Furman University visited the archives. Furman University is located in Greenville, South Carolina and the students were on a tour of California in which they were taking an in-depth look at a number of social movements including the free speech movement, anti-immigration resistance and movements in opposition to the SOPA and PIPA Internet legislation. In addition to the Freedom Archives, the students were able to visit archives and view materials at Stanford and UC Berkeley while also interviewing a number of movement folks in the Bay Area. Although the students were clearly enjoying all aspects of their trip to the West Coast, their enthusiasm really came alive at the archives.
Most of the students on the trip were studying economics, communications or history at Furman and none of them had any substantial experience working in archives or in engaging radical politics. However the hands on nature of the Freedom Archives allowed students to instantly connect with history as opposed to simply viewing it from afar. The students all selected cassette tapes relating to various topics that had yet to be entered into the archives which ideally would overlap their assigned movements or at the least their personal interests. The students listened to these tapes and then annotated them in accordance with the standards of the archives. Overall the students did a good job with their task of listening and annotating. Many remarked that they learned something new and some mentioned that the tapes inspired them to seek further information. All of the students were excited with their ability to actually listen to the resources and play an active role in their entry into the archives’ database. At this point, all of the student’s work has been entered and topics included opposition to Proposition 187, tapes focusing on the efforts and accomplishments of Dolores Huerta and tapes which detail the testimony of former CIA agents on the School of the Americas and covert operations around the world.
Perhaps the most exciting part of the Furman students’ visit was the opportunity to show the students the COINTELPRO documentary and engage in a political conversation. Most of the students had little exposure to the content of the documentary before seeing it and obviously had a number of interesting questions and comments at its conclusion. The fact that Claude had personal experience with COINTELPRO gave the students an important first-hand context throughout the discussion. Many of the students expressed disbelief that these types of things had actually happened which presented a number of teachable moments concerning the repression of political movements by the United States’ government. It also provided interesting background as the students continued to learn and think about their chosen movements and those movement’s successes and challenges. It is these conversations which are so important to nurturing and revitalizing radical political thought and youth mobilization and challenging the normative narrative of United States history.
In sum, the Freedom Archives was extremely happy to host the students from Furman. They provided a useful service to the archives and hopefully were able to expand their own perspectives and interests at the same time. We look forward to be able to continue interacting with young people and providing a safe space to discuss and engage radical politics and oral history.