In fall 2020, USC's Racial Justice and Equity Research Fund awarded a grant of up to $15,000 to Voices of South Carolina: Black Lives Matter, a project dedicated to collecting and archiving South Carolinian experiences in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd in May.
Through online submissions and social media, the team is reaching out to South Carolinians to gather experiences through stories, photographs and other materials. Once the group has a collection, it will begin the preservation process and make those materials available through a virtual exhibit.
“This is a really significant time, of course, in history — a critical moment in time,” Amie Freeman, scholarly communication librarian at the Digital Research Services Department, said. “And as librarians and as historians, we wanted to be able to preserve and showcase all the stories and all the people and, really, just all the moments that matter right now.”
The goal of the project is to make this content, which can be easily lost on the internet, available to other historians, researchers, students, policymakers and future generations who are interested in the subject, according to Freeman and Graham Duncan, head of collections and curator of manuscripts at the South Caroliniana Library. Additionally, Duncan said those individuals can use the preserved findings of Voices of South Carolina: Black Lives Matter to further study trends, create legislation or simply remember what happened.
“I think that we all can look around this and say, ‘Look, this is important,’” Duncan said. “This is important, not just for now, but it's important to make sure that people have the knowledge of this or documentation of this in the future.”
A large part of this project includes oral history and documenting, including, as the project highlights, the voices of individuals who were involved in protests, participated in behind-the-scenes work or created an organization in response to the killings of Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and others.
Andrea L’Hommedieu, director of the Department of Oral History in University Libraries, said she used her skills to help interview individuals who were willing to share their stories.
“We want to know what brought them out in May, and then later in the summer, and what were their experiences?” L’Hommedieu said. “What did they learn from it, or what did they experience on the ground when they were out protesting, and why it was important to do so? So, some of those questions really lift up people's voices, and let them be heard.”
In July, USC’s vice president for research, Prakash Nagarkatti, and vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion, Julian Williams, launched the Racial Justice and Equity Research Fund. Its purpose is to help “promote real and lasting racial justice in our local community, our state and our nation,” according to USC’s website. Voices of South Carolina: Black Lives Matter was one of the projects selected to receive up to $15,000 in funding in October.
This project will contribute to USC’s diversity and equity goals by providing a way to start a conversation that will lead to healing, according to Kimberly Simmons, the interim director at the Institute for African American Research.
“These are difficult conversations, but I think if we have them, they'll make us stronger in terms of a university community and family — the Carolina family,” Simmons said.
The group includes Freeman, Duncan, L’Hommedieu, Simmons and Stacy Winchester, research data librarian at Digital Research Services. So far, it has collected several oral histories and just began collecting other content like photos and videos. The group hopes to have materials together and published by the end of 2021 when the grant concludes, Freeman said.
“It's my job to make sure that the material survives,” Duncan said. “But I would hope that in doing this, that we in some way, leave the world in a better place than we found it as far as the ability for future generations to look into the past to find examples of how life was lived.”
If you have an experience you would like to share, more information can be found at Voices of South Carolina: Black Lives Matter’s website.