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Published on June 19, 2024
San Antonio Joins Smithsonian Initiative to Digitize Black Family Histories in Community Curation ProjectSource: Wikipedia/Frank Schulenburg, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The San Antonio African American Community Archive and Museum (SAAACAM) in collaboration with the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, is forging ahead with an ambitious project, the Community Curation Project. According to the San Antonio Report, San Antonio has become the latest city to join this initiative, following six others that have contributed to the digital archiving of Black family histories.

At the event which marked the project's launch at St. Philip's College, Mayor Ron Nirenberg emphasized its importance, saying, "Because the history of our country is locked within the families that share it, and we’ve got to get those families to share their history and preserve it for generations to come." Gathered community leaders, including Bexar County Court at Law 12 Judge Yolanda Huff and DreamWeek founder Shokare Nakpodia, shared the sentiment, with Nakpodia remarking on the archiving of Black community histories as "celebrating African American genius."

The endeavor, being a concerted non-extractive process, allows families to retain their physical memorabilia while their digital counterparts get added to the expanding collection accessible online. Project facilitator Doretha Williams explained the notion of a non-extractive process means that families get to keep their precious mementos. In addition, participants who bring a USB drive will be given a digital copy of their items. Vehicle-equipped digitization stations will be one of the tools used to assist San Antonio's Black population in preserving their archival materials.

Deborah Omowale Jarmon, SAAACAM's executive director, relayed the systemic significance of such an enterprise to the San Antonio community. SAAACAM, which is set to move into the Kress Building downtown, aims at stimulating a more inclusive, truthful rendition of history through an African American lens. Omowale Jarmon told the San Antonio Report, "Our stories are connected far more than we know, and what I like to say is we’re telling history through an African American lens. There is no way I could tell my story without telling your story. … I believe that history allows us to build community when it is told holistically, completely, inclusively, truthfully.”

The project isn't scheduled to wrap until 2027, but anticipation is already simmering for the anticipated influx of historical content, ready to reshape the narrative and acknowledgment of African American history and life in San Antonio. The upcoming Smithsonian exhibit The Bias Inside Us, opening on October 19th, adds a prelude to the rich trove of historical accounts that residents and the world will soon access. With the digital transformation of personal archives, these stories will no longer linger in the shadows but find a prominent display on the National Museum of African American History and Culture’s website.