ST. PAUL’S COLLEGE, BRUNSWICK COUNTY, VA Jerrye & Roy Klotz, MD, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
In 2016, the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) was the Smithsonian Institution’s 19th museum to open. Today, it is the country’s “largest and most comprehensive cultural destination devoted exclusively to exploring, documenting and showcasing the African American story and its impact on American and world history.”
The Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) aims to preserve history at all levels — including personal and regional history. NMAAHC has begun a nationwide mission to showcase grassroots historical preservation initiatives, which is intended to “give voice to the experiences and perspectives” of underserved communities.
For example, the closure of Saint Paul’s College, a small Historically Black College and University (HBCU) in Lawrenceville, Virginia, might have meant a loss of historical records and artifacts. The college shut down in 2013, but Bobby Conner, a local resident, didn’t want the history of the school to be lost, so he “led a mission” to save the school’s records and artifacts.
According to the Richmond-Times Dispatch, Conner began salvaging materials by “making frequent visits to the campus, hauling away records and artifacts in his Dodge Neon before anything happened to the buildings and the opportunity was gone forever.” Then, with the help of a team of volunteers, the remnants of the college were set up in a vacant bank building which opened in 2018 as the James Solomon Russell-Saint Paul’s College Museum and Archives. Then, in November 2021, NMAAHC recognized the local museum and is now helping it preserve and digitize the most important materials in the collection.
“I just never in my wildest dreams felt the Smithsonian would ever set foot in Brunswick County. I’m just excited,” Connor told a Dispatch reporter.
Robert F. Smith’s Supports the Digital Preservation of Black History
The Saint Paul College collection, along with other grassroots African American history preservation projects, will be featured in the museum’s Center for the Digitization and Curation of African American History. Robert F. Smith helped launch the center with a $20 million gift to expand the NMAAHC’s technological advances.
At the announcement of the preservation project, Smith said, “I am thrilled to bring the transformative power of technology to celebrate and conserve the African American experience in America.” He added that it was fitting that the museum should stand on the National Mall as a tribute to the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the March on Washington.
Learn about the center’s digital preservation initiatives, such as the Great Migration Home Movie Project which focuses on the daily lives of African American families.