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  • Writer's pictureKaila Thomas

Personal Update + Research in Birmingham (teaser)

Welcome back, or welcome for the first time, to A Grandfather's Legacy Project.


I created this website to serve as a home for my research and as a way to engage fellow historians, archivists, students, and activists with a history that represents and means so much. When the website went live, I was three months into a two year Masters program which limited my ability to dedicate myself to my research. Not being able to move forward with my research was disheartening and, at times, made me resent my Masters program for not being challenging enough and consuming so much of my life. Feeling a self-imposed pressure (motivation's evil fraternal twin), I brainstormed ways I could continue to work on this project and be a full time graduate student.


One long-term project I could work on was developing a community outreach strategy. Figuring out how to market myself and my work was less challenging than I anticipated. As a Gallery Assistant at Thacher Gallery and Intern at the Freedom Archives, I learned how to design and distribute postcards, brochures, and newsletters, research and identify an appropriate target audience. My first community outreach campaign targeted HBCUs, History Departments, and African American/Africana/African Diaspora/Black Studies Departments and Programs (undergraduate and graduate) across the country.


Putting myself out there to network at conferences and public events was daunting, but I figured out it's not so bad when complimentary cocktails are within reach. Maintaining relationships with my alma mater's History department and building new relationships with my current professors and classmates has also been a really gratifying and motivational experience in terms of getting feedback and having conversations about my goals for this project.


Having a social media presence has been another great way to connect with the public- specifically community archivists who are using these digital mediums to preserve a history close to their hearts. Making these connections has been particularly meaningful because I've been able to build confidence and garner support in my work within a niche community of public historians like me.


So I've been consistently busy and motivated the last couple years.


 

In December 2022, I completed my Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) program. I'm proud of the work I did and the connections I made at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. I'm thrilled to recommit myself to my research full time (for the time being). Making the decision to postpone my post-grad job search was difficult but I'm lucky to have a strong support system and the privileges that come with that.


Last week, I dove into my research head first. After five years of scouring the internet for anything related to my grandfather and the ABLF, I can say without exaggeration that I've found just about everything- digitized- there is. So I packed my bags and headed back to Virginia to meet up with my mom and take a roadtrip down to Birmingham, Alabama. This research trip wasn't just about the long days in the library. It gave me (and my mom) an opportunity to connect to my grandfather's past by immersing ourselves in the city. Seeing the state of disrepair of entire neighborhoods and signs of poverty and neglect in a city that's so rich in history gave context to the struggles my grandfather and the ABLF were confronting over 50 years ago.


Over the next few weeks, I will process over 700 pages of material scanned from microfilm in Birmingham, courtesy of Birmingham Public Library's Archives and Manuscripts Department. My next post will provide more insight into how I conducted my research in Birmingham and what I learned from this experience.


For now, here's a recap of the trip.




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