SCLC archive 'game changer for researchers'

By Elaine Justice | Spirited Thinking | Feb. 20, 2013

Press photo, March against Fear and Injustice, Decatur, Ala., 1979
Press photo, March against Fear and Injustice, Decatur, Ala., 1979
Rappin future: Souvenir program, Rappin' for Our Future talent showcase, 1986

 Souvenir program, Rappin' for Our Future talent showcase, 1986

Photograph of tents in Resurrection City during the Poor People's Campaign in Washington, D.C., 1968
Photograph of tents in Resurrection City during the Poor People's Campaign in Washington, D.C., 1968
Photograph of protesters being arrested during the Charleston hospital workers strike in South Carolina, 1969

Photograph of protesters being arrested during the Charleston hospital workers strike in South Carolina, 1969

Flier, Pilgrimage to Washington for Voting Rights, Peace, Economic Justice, 1982

Flier, Pilgrimage to Washington for Voting Rights, Peace, Economic Justice, 1982

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Images from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference archive.

Opening events for "And the Struggle Continues: The Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s Fight for Social Change" on Friday, Feb. 22 at Woodruff Library include:

• a discussion and booksigning with SCLC's Dorothy Cotton at noon, and

• an opening celebration at 6 p.m. featuring remarks by SCLC leaders.


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Carol Anderson. Emory Photo/Video.

Ask Carol Anderson, associate professor of African American studies, about the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) archive housed at Emory’s Manuscript, Archives and Rare Book Library and its potential to generate new knowledge, and you’ll get an earful.

Anderson is one of the curators of a wide-ranging new exhibition on the SCLC archive set to open at Emory’s Robert W. Woodruff Library Feb. 21 (the archive itself opened to scholars and researchers last spring). She says the archive "touches on every facet of the struggle for equality."

"No matter where you go, you are able to touch a piece of American and international history," says Anderson of the archive’s vast files, which comprise more than 1,000 boxes of materials. Included are correspondence, reports, memos, notebooks and meeting minutes, as well as photographs, flyers, and audio and video recordings.

For example, "scholars who are trying to understand labor struggles can see the way SCLC intervened in issues such as the Charleston Hospital workers strike," she says.

"The work that SCLC was trying to do in dealing with millions of people who did not have access to quality health care or insurance is an issue we’re still dealing with today. You can see how SCLC was operating and devising strategy on this," she says.

For researchers working on legal topics such as the death penalty, there are records of SCLC getting involved “knee-deep in a death penalty case, dealing with a young man who had a very low IQ but was sentenced to die," says Anderson. "These records are invaluable to understanding the evolution of the issue."

For those who think that the black church is and always has been largely anti-gay, says Anderson, the SCLC’s record of engagement in the 1980s on issues of HIV/AIDS contradicts that narrative.

"What does this mean when you have the SCLC—Southern Christian Leadership Conference—waging this battle to provide quality healthcare, awareness and prevention education for the communities that are vulnerable to HIV/AIDS?" asks Anderson. "Obviously, this is a game changer for researchers."

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