With training in library science and history, I have long been interested in making sure African-American history is preserved for the youth.
Much of that history is missing from the record, or inaccurately remembered. It is important to find documents and information that are credible to tell the truth about what happened.
I discovered this as a young reference librarian at the University of Florida when a black student asked me for information on the African-American Pentecostal churches movement. I looked through the Library of Congress, the National Archives – all these reputable sources – and could not find much. I sent a letter to the Library of Congress and told them, “This is a hole in your history.”
That’s how my life’s work began. We started the Pentecostal project with a small grant and now there is a network of Pentecostal scholars. We have also studied church music, from slavery up to the present. The Pentecostals had guitars, tambourines, dancing in the church – considered wrong in other churches. And of course, they had speaking in tongues.
Today, in my encore, I’m still doing research. People send me bags of materials. Obituaries from a church in Chicago. Periodicals not seen before. I tell people, “When you give me things, I will put it where others can find it. It’s doing no good in your closet or under your bed.”
Because of my involvement with African-American history, I sat on a task force that set education mandates for schools, so that African-American history is taught to all students. I volunteer at the University of Florida’s Oral History Department, where we interview eyewitnesses to African-American history in the state of Florida. We started with the Rosewood Massacre of 1923 by interviewing family members and others as old as 100 years of age to make sure we got the accurate story recorded for all time.
I am also involved with the United Nations (UNESCO) group on the transatlantic slave trade to insure remembrance of international slavery.
I also spend a lot of time in the schools to help the students with reading and learning about their heritage.
I believe my impact has been to educate all persons, not just African-Americans, to bring forth facts that they would never have known and, with outreach, to spread this history to others via videos, books, tours, oral history and exhibits we have built.