Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Digital Diaspora Family Reunion

While working to compile the names and service records of Sandusky County, Ohio Civil War soldiers, I uncovered nearly two dozen African Americans, who served in the conflict. Some were born free; others escaped the bonds of slavery. From GAR membership rolls; the research project of Washington Courthouse High School students; cemetery records; and obituaries, I was able to piece together fragments of their lives. (You can read about them by following this link.) My great frustration was my inability to locate even one photograph!

I am hopeful that in the coming weeks, all that will change. This month Digital Diaspora Family Reunion goes live! The project is the brain child of New York documentary filmmaker Thomas Allen Harris. While working on Through a Lens Darkly, a documentary about professional African American photographers, Harris decided to explore broader themes. He has developed a web-based multi-media project, where individuals will be able to upload their family photos to a central archive. They will also have the opportunity to explore other family stories, make comments, and add data.

Using an “Antiques Roadshow” format, Harris held events in Georgia, Maryland, and other states, where he has already gathered and archived thousands of African American family photographs. He hopes that photographs lying hidden in shoeboxes and attics will be shared, allowing African Americans to explore the lives and history of their ancestors. Further, he believes that his initiative “will document moments in African American history that have been lost or overlooked - such as the inter-racial communities that flourished briefly but were later stamped out by Jim Crow laws and the Ku Klux Klan.”

Harris is correct in stating that “museums, historical societies, and archives have rarely preserved and interpreted the work of professional and amateur African American photographers.” One of the few African American photographs preserved at the Hayes Center is this cabinet card of Lizzie Breckenridge. Sadly, I have been unable to find much information on her. But I remain hopeful that through the Digital Diaspora Family Reunion, I will have the opportunity to learn more about the life of Lizzie Breckenridge and those of other African Americans who lived in Sandusky County. Most especially, I would like to see the faces of brave Civil War soldiers like Edwin Leonard who, along with his African American comrades of the 54th Massachusetts, launched the Union attack on Fort Wagner.

1 comment:

Reference Services said...

I am so glad to hear of this project! Most of the African American Civil War soldiers from Erie County,Ohio served in Co. I of the Massachusetts 54th, and we also have not located any photographs of the soldiers.
Great post!