If you haven’t seen this video of a retaining wall collapsing in North Central Baltimore, watch to the end. Significantly for us here at the BPRC, the collapse happened less than a block from the headquarters of the Afro-American Newspapers, a building that also house the archives of the Afro. Thankfully no one was injured in the attack. Although the workers in the Afro building felt a strong jolt, the building was not damaged.
Those of us who believe that the Afro’s modest building at 2519 North Charles Street houses an archival collection that is a national treasure, breathed a sigh of relief when we found out that the building was undamaged.
Much of the archival record of the Black Press has already been destroyed. Some of this destruction has been due to the culture of newspapers. Newspapermen and women often focused on today’s stories and tomorrow’s stories, not the stories and records of yesterday. Some of the records that seem so precious today, were simply thrown away in the past. Add to this perspective, the fact that newspaper collections are large and unwieldy and expensive to store and maintain. And then there is nature, the enemy of archives everywhere: floods, fires, leaks, humidity, and heat can all degrade or destroy fragile paper and photographs.
The Afro-American Newspapers Archives holds more than 2,000 linear feet of archival materials, including over a million images-some of them never seen by the public. This collection has been protected for more than a hundred years by the Murphy and Oliver families, longtime owners of the Afro.
Standing in the crowded rooms of the Afro Archives, it’s easy to be overcome by the knowledge that archives are meant to live longer than human beings. Our job is to be the protectors of collections that will share their knowledge with our descendants long after we are gone. May this be the Afro’s first century, but not its last.