It’s nice to be reminded of a hidden treasure. That was the mission of the Evening in the Archives, March 24, at the AFRO‘s Baltimore office on Charles Street, when supporters, subscribers, community leaders and friends and former employees dropped by for warm conversation and a stroll through history.
The first stop was the historic Clean Block Room.
No one born in Baltimore before 1970 can forget the white marble steps that demanded weekly scrubbing, daily during the summer and sometimes twice a day. No one can forget the painted tires that screamed, “We’re an AFRO Clean Block,.” So oohhs and aahhs were heard at the sight of historic articles and photos from those days.
Those who waited their turn for tours renewed acquaintances from schools and neighborhoods. Some had served on boards together or belonged to the same clubs or sororities. They were glad to see each other. And they were glad to visit the Archives together.
The Archives is a treasure, though not really that hidden because scholars and researchers turn often to the aged pages of Black history collected one week at a time over the past 121 years. Academic institutions and keepers of history rely heavily on what the original writers and photographers must have thought to be stories for the day – the simple reporting of an event, the explanation of a new policy or law, the addition of a back story.
Nationally-recognized filmmakers, television producers and authors have called upon the AFRO Archives for images and materials they can’t find anywhere else.
Informative tours that began with art along the hallways were conducted by Murphy family descendents CEO and publisher, Jake Oliver and Benjamin Phillips, AFRO president, telling their own personal stories about how it was to literally “grow up with the AFRO.” Guests were amazed at the shelves of unwieldy tomes that hold golden moments as well as painful details of the struggle of Black people in this country. The archivist, Ja-Zette Marshburn made sure to educate her guests not only on the important history the AFRO captured but also the AFRO’s own story.
The powerful and important photography, articles and ads of a bygone era lined the walls; the original technology used by AFRO staff was on display. The offices of famed sportswriter Sam Lacy and cartoonist Thomas Stockett were some of the highlights of the tour. One onlooker said, “You guys need a museum to showcase all of these treasures.” Another guest remarked, “I could just live here!” The tour ended with a look at some of the unique archival materials including signed photos and correspondence from Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. DuBois and the original manuscript of The Big Sea by the renowned Langston Hughes.