My name is Helen and I’ve been interning at the Freedom Archives for the past couple of months. My time at the Freedom Archives has been filled with inquiry, stimulating conversations, and a ton of critical thinking. The greatest knowledge I have taken from the archives is learning how to rethink historical narratives. Here are some insights I gained about the importance of preserving oppressed histories.
There is a reason that we are taught about histories the way that we are. Accepted historical narratives, as presented in our schools, the media, and governmental establishments, eliminate the stories of oppressed people and those engaged in struggle. Usually, history is written in a way to justify the current social, political, and economic hegemonies, and is supportive of those in power. Recorded history creates narratives that decide what is normal and what is not normal, this then plays into larger historical trajectories. When discussing historical narratives one always needs to be critical about where the story is coming from, and where does this narrative want to take us?
The Freedom Archives challenge the dominant narrative of history as told by those in power, and seeks to uncover and share history that has always existed, yet is untold. The archive is intentionally unbalanced in what they choose to preserve, to create space for voices that are not usually heard. While mainstream narratives of history are said to be unbiased and are presented as fact, we know that values inherent in the narrator, frames telling the history. The Freedom Archives are honest about the perspectives they center and seek to look these values, culture, and politics to project this vision into the world for a better future. Values and ideals continue on; we are a part of longer trajectories and rich histories of resistance.
I find that what the Freedom Archives is doing is of extreme importance. They are preserving history, especially the history of social movements and the history of oppressed folks who often do not get their voices heard. Erasure of history is a form of violence as it is an effective form of repression. For those who are engaged in struggle today, to learn from struggles of the past is resistance. Often archival material is hard to access when it has become entrenched in elite institutions where you have to have a degree or money to access it. The Freedom Archives not only preserves this history but they make history accessible to the wider public.
Lessons found at the archives will help people today strengthen their political work. The archives are there for you to use in order to reinforce the legacies of resistance. I have learned that it is not only worthwhile to document and preserve your political efforts, but also to learn from history as to grow our critical thinking skills. Not only is the intellectual process important, it is emotionally fulfilling to engage these histories, for it shows us the possibilities of moving forward.
ps. The image can be found in the John Brown Anti-Klan Committee Collection, one of my favorites at the Freedom Archives.