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In The Life Archive with Schomburg and StoryCorps

Posted on Thursday, August 28th, 2014.

Okay, we’re going to just say it. StoryCorps loves libraries–a lot.

Why do we love them so? Well, for many reasons. Namely, we recognize the important role they play in communities across the country. Through our partnerships with IMLS and ALA, libraries nationwide have contributed countless interviews to the StoryCorps Archive because of their unique position in local communities. In return, through our Community Archive program, StoryCorps is committed to providing copies of interviews to various groups, organizations and repositories that can make the interviews accessible to the public.

It was in this spirit that a year ago, we announced a major Community Archive partnership with the New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.

The Schomburg Center is located in Harlem, New York.

The Schomburg Center is located in Harlem, New York.

The Schomburg houses one of the country’s most significant collections of materials–ranging from books to photographs to manuscripts–related to African-American and African Diasporic experiences. From outreach efforts, during our Griot Initiative, and preceding the rollout of OutLoud, StoryCorps collected a significant number of interviews with LGBTQ people of color. These stories will be placed in the In the Life Archive at the Schomburg, a project “created to aid in the preservation of cultural materials produced by and about SGL [Same Gender Loving]/LGBT black people.” We are proud to work alongside the Schomburg to preserve voices from a population often underrepresented in mainstream dialogue, popular culture and histories of both the African-American and the LGBTQ communities.

Under the leadership of the Steven Fullwood (Assistant Curator of the Schomburg’s Manuscripts, Archives, and Rare Books Division), Natiba Guy-Clement (Librarian, Moving Image and Recorded Sound Division), Shawn(ta) Smith (former StoryCorps archive coordinator), and Tamara Thompson (current StoryCorps Archivist), we have transferred 243 interviews to Schomburg with black or African-American participants who identify as LGBTQ. The collection is dedicated to Diana Lachatenere (former curator of the Manuscripts, Archives, and Rare Books Division) who was instrumental in securing the library’s support for the collection just prior to her retirement after 33 years of service.

“We see the archive as the beginning of a fruitful relationship with StoryCorps to continue to help broaden public discourse about black LGBTQ life and culture through varied demographics of class, culture, age and educational background, to name a few,” Fullwood says. “Our focus is to develop programming featuring the StoryCorps archive as a centerpiece to inform and inspire future conversations at the center, as well as with StoryCorps.”

Steven Fullwood presenting at a Black Gay Lesbian Archive event, (Photo credit: Donald Agarrat).

Steven Fullwood presenting at a Black Gay Lesbian Archive event, (Photo credit: Donald Agarrat).

The interviews come from all across the country, and describe a broad range of experiences. To get a small glimpse into the collection, read some stories from this amazing partnership:

    Christopher remembers that although he was born a female, he felt like a boy from a young age. He recounts the pain and confusion of going through puberty and finding solace in the organization Youth Pride where he finally found the words to describe how he felt. “I didn’t know the word transgendered until I went to Youth Pride. It was as if I was reborn. I was normal, I could be myself and it wasn’t a sin, I wasn’t something that could be shunned, I was just accepted.”
    Monica and Charity:

    Monica and Charity discuss their participation in SisterSong, a non-profit advocacy group. Monica recalls how she first became interested in doing social justice work while in college. “When I decided to come out in school officially, I experienced this turn of folks not really treating me the same way. And so I felt like I was exiled from the campus. At that point I said you know what? No one should have to feel that way about being who they are, and I think that’s what started my journey towards social justice work.”


    Tishana recalls coming out to her two young children. “They already knew that something was going on between me and my ex-husband, and I just sat them down and I was like, ‘I think I want to date women.’ My daughter was like, ‘You mean like lesbians?’ and I was like ‘Yeah.’ And my daughter was like, ‘Are we going to go get ice cream?’ It was no big deal to her. Then my son, he was 5, was like, ‘You don’t like boys anymore? I was like, ‘Boys are cool. You’re a cool kid.’ And he was like, ‘Do I have to leave too? Does that mean boys can’t come in the house anymore?’ And I said, ‘No you’re my baby. I just don’t want to marry any more guys.’ And he was like ‘We can’t get married?’ and I was like ‘No baby, we can’t get married anyway.’ He was fine after that. I guess he thought we were going to get married.'”


As we collect more stories through StoryCorps OutLoud, we will continue to contribute interviews to the Schomburg. The collection will soon be open to researchers, and we are aiming to co-host a program with the Schomburg this October for New York Archives Week.

One Response to “In The Life Archive with Schomburg and StoryCorps”

To preserve the StoryCorps mission and experience for our readers and participants, comments are subject to the StoryCorps Terms of Service. Comments may be held for moderation or removed if deemed offensive or off-topic. Please do not resubmit your comment if you don't see it right away, it will be approved as soon as possible. Thank you.

  • Congratulations to all involved. Oral history documentation is and continues to be so important across the generations. Especially now in the era of #Ferguson,#Eric Garner and the continuing odes to #SGL legends, Joseph Beam, Essex Hemphill and Marlon Riggs, this work is so poignant and value creating.

    Comment from Bill Doggett on September 7, 2014 at 12:21 am - Reply to this Comment

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