African American History in the Archives: Part 2

Guest blogger: Mariecris.

Black History -Will no longer be taught in the context of slavery then freedom, of our arrival in the country before the Mayflower in Jamestown, Virginia in 1619. – Yes earlier than Mayflower dropping anchor at Plymouth Rock. -As you study history the best way to acquire knowledge is after a teacher tells you what happened on a given date, you ask the question why it happened.

The above quote was taken from E. Louis Overstreet’s speech notes he used when giving a speech to Romig Middle School, February 26th, 1986. Written in cursive on index cards, researchers can visit the Archives and view photocopies of those index cards as well as other materials in the E. Louis Overstreet papers.

E. Louis Overstreet was born in DeKalb, Mississippi on October 9th, 1941. Overstreet moved to Alaska in 1975 to work as a staff engineer for the Alyeska Pipeline Service Company.  From 1981-1986 he was an editorial columnist for the Anchorage Times.  E. Louis Overstreet was involved with the Anchorage community, serving as president of the Alaska Black Caucus, chairman of the Municipality of Anchorage Martin Luther King Tribute Committee; member of the Alaska Pacific University Board of Trustees, on the Common Sense for Alaska Board of Directors, and the University of Alaska, Anchorage Citizen Advisory Committee.  Materials in his papers document Overstreet’s work and his commitment to education, the community, and history.

I chose the above quote for a variety of reasons.  Having a quote from a speech given about Black history by E. Louis Overstreet, who wrote Black on a Background of White: a Chronicle of Afro-Americans‘  Involvement in America’s Last Frontier,felt like perfect way to kick off Black History Month. His speech notes provide insight into the message Overstreet was conveying to his Romig middle school audience.  Overstreet talks about the importance of learning and exploring history. He illustrates the multicultural nature of American history; that American history is a compilation of varying narratives.  In describing American history as multilayered, Overstreet asks his audience to broaden the scope of African American history beyond the “context of slavery then freedom” and to learn and document a more holistic history of African Americans. To do this himself, he published a book on the history of African Americans settlers, soldiers, community members, and politicians that helped build Alaska. Part of exploring and documenting Black history involves preserving and making historical materials available for researchers.  And it is for this reason that archival collections like the E. Louis Overstreet papers are important.  The records not only document his historical researches, but become a part of the fabric of Alaskan history too.