Feature News

North Central archivist wants to hear from African-American voices

Feb 13, 2017

A desire to work with college-age students led Rebecca Skirvin, North Central’s archivist, to accept a position at the College’s Oesterle Library last year.

“I wanted to work more closely with students to get them into the real materials of history,” she says.

Skirvin is responsible for preserving, making available and determining the historical value of materials produced about the College. After working within the Archives this past year, she noticed a significant underrepresentation of African-American voices. She decided to change that.

“There is a great untold story of African-American alumni,” says Skirvin. “I want to try to make connections with that group of alumni to ensure their part of North Central’s story is preserved and accessible.”

As part of a project to view the College’s history through the eyes of its African-American community, Skirvin asked her student assistants to curate the exhibit “Black Academics, Activism and Art at North Central College: 1959-1974.”

First presented during the College’s Martin Luther King Jr. Week, the exhibit focuses on the experiences of African-American alumni from the civil rights movement in the late 1950s through the development of the Black Power Movement in the 1970s. Cocurated by student assistants Brandon Barnes ’17 and Cynthia Apantenco ’19, it includes documents from the Black Student Association, articles from The Chronicle and other archival materials produced by students actively involved with on-campus programs.

“Those stories were the starting points of integrating students of color into everyday life here on campus, including campus curriculum and the student organization we now know as the Black Student Association,” says Barnes.

[Photo above:  Brandon Barnes ’17 and College Archivist Rebecca Skirvin]

Stressing the importance of African-American voices and experiences, the exhibit includes the oral history of Judith Brown El-Amin ’69, an African-American alumna who attended North Central at the height of the civil rights and Black Power movements. Her story, viewed here, inspired the materials incorporated within the exhibit.

El-Amin’s is the first oral history recorded by Skirvin at North Central, and she has expressed interest in collecting more.

“We’re looking for oral histories that represent a variety of experiences at North Central,” says Skirvin.

“We’re definitely interested in getting more stories from our African-American alumni, but also stories from students whose experiences contribute something unique.”

The exhibit, located in the Oesterle Library reference room, will be on display through winter term 2017.

For more information regarding the College’s Archives or to reach Skirvin, visit library.noctrl.edu/archives.

By Stephanie Passialis ’17