Statement on Black Lives and Archives

We, the board of the Society of Mississippi Archivists, condemn in no uncertain terms the systemic violence perpetrated by police officers in this country against the black community and specifically those actions which recently led to the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. As archivists, we work to provide access to history. As archivists in Mississippi, the historic material of which we are stewards is frequently disturbing. Often, it is related to the long violent history of government-sanctioned racism against Black Mississippians in our state, from slavery to lynching to Jim Crow. Our collections contain images of Tougaloo College students being attacked at a segregated Woolworth’s lunch counter in Jackson and images of the bodies of murdered Civil Rights workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner in Neshoba County. They contain correspondence, photographs, and speeches of segregationists like Governors Theodore Bilbo and Ross Barnett. It is deeply important to collect this history of Mississippi’s troubled past and to continue to ensure access to it. We are wholeheartedly committed to that endeavor. However, as archivists, we realize our place and privilege, many of us at institutions that were formerly segregated, and we acknowledge that archives in Mississippi (and this nation) have failed to provide equal representation and documentation to Black Americans and other communities of color. This is a failure we seek to remedy because the archival record is an essential tool in safeguarding the civil liberties of all. We have a lot of work to do to be trusted to preserve the work, words, and history of the lives of Black Americans. We also must be committed to inclusion in our own archives and stand with Black archivists and archival staff and student workers in our state. One day in the not so distant future, archivists will preserve and provide access to digital images related to the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor as well as video and social media posts of the protests that currently envelop this nation. Our way of advocating for Black people in our communities that continue to endure systemic racism is to actively collect and share their stories and to ensure that researchers and students have access to their voices.

We believe that Black Lives Matter.

The Board of the Society of Mississippi Archivists