UMD Libraries Host Panel on Researching African American History in Newspapers

By Eva Booth
For the Diamondback

On Thursday, the University of Maryland Libraries hosted a symposium, discussing research into how newspapers have historically reported the African-American experience.

226 people attended the meeting, which was hosted by the Historic Maryland Newspapers Project. Panelists Maya Davis and Timothy N. Pinnick discussed their research on African Americans in the newspapers.

“While I agree with the somewhat cliché claim that newspapers are the first draft of history, I have discovered through my own research that historical journals are an essential resource for discovering voices before. ignored or forgotten, ”Doug McElrath, one of the symposium hosts, mentioned.

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Davis, director of the Riversdale House Museum, described how from an early age she found newspapers to be a useful tool in understanding history. She began using journals in her research while in college, which prepared her for work on the Slavery Legacy Studies program in the Maryland State Archive.

The project digitizes and interprets Maryland newspaper coverage of slaves. The research not only documented well-known black leaders such as Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman, but also revealed lesser-known stories, such as James Collins Johnson’s escape from slavery in Maryland at Princeton University. .

“It’s so wonderful that we have now been able to go from paper to imagery,” said Davis. “We’re discovering more and it shows and highlights the importance and value of digitization, transcription and accessibility. “

The research process is not without its challenges, Davis said.

“For figures like Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass, the documents were taken out of the newspapers, meaning they were taken at some point by someone who recognized their value,” Davis said. “We are able to see evidence of square cutouts of entire pages missing.”

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Pinnick, author of “Finding and Using African American Journals,” focused on finding black journals and how they document genealogy.

Pinnick used African American newspapers to understand the community at the time. He used community or social columns to view important life milestones like weddings, birthdays, and birth announcements, including his father’s birth announcement.

“Here is my daddy. Wow. Who would have known that I would have found in the Chicago Defender, February 24, 1923, an entry that marked the coming of my father to the world, ”said Pinnick. “I just sat in my chair that day at the library when I found this and it was really cool and I’m so happy I got to share this with my dad.”

Pinnick pointed out that the majority of the articles are not available online, so libraries and repositories are extremely important for obtaining information such as the birth announcement of Pinnick’s father.

“Journals are essential to successful research, make no mistake about it,” Pinnick said.

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