On a visit to the historic campus of Florida A&M University, a tour of the Meek-Eaton Black Archives, Research Center, and Museum, had us fully immersed in the history, culture, and contributions of African descendants living in the Southeastern United States.
“Our collection tells the story of FAMU, but also the African Diaspora. Professor James Eaton had the vision to educate the public about Black history during his tenure at the university, and since 1976 it has been the premier repository of the Black experience in the region,” Darius J. Young, Ph.D., Associate Professor of History, Quality Enhancement Plan Director, and Interim Museum Director, told BLACK ENTERPRISE.
Visit Tallahassee invited BLACK ENTERPRISE on an engaging walk-through of the facility, housed within the first Carnegie Library built on a Black land-grant college campus. It is here, in one of only 10 Black archives in the United States, that you can see Black history come alive right before your eyes. The white brick-and-mortar building was inviting.
In the words of Dr. James N. Eaton, founder and first director of the Black Archives, “African-American History is the History of America.”
Since its founding in 1976, “the museum is the more frontward facing part of MEBA, but the archives is a laboratory for our students in disciplines like, History, African American Studies, English, and Journalism,” Young explained.
In every room, visitors can feel the essence of the Black experience that spans thousands of years. While focusing on specific periods in time, the incredible archives showcases memorabilia of collections, including the Black Church Collection, African American Dance Collection, Negro Schools in Florida Photographic Collection, and many more.
In the African Art Gallery, the walls are adorned with hand-crafted folk art, traditional African masks, and sculptures. The Old South collection follows the journey of slaves from the African Diaspora to America with hundreds of maps, newspapers, and artifacts of the slave trade and plantation life.
“One of the archives’ most treasured collections is the Montague Collection. Donated by a FAMU alumni, the collection highlights the work of Black creators and visionaries. The incredible inventory boasts letters from Booker T. Washington, signed postcards from Mary McLeod Bethune, and a rare chalk drawing by George Washington Carver. From the artistry of the Harlem Renaissance to the resilience of the civil rights movement, the Montague collection is one of the many gems awaiting visitors to the Black Archives,” according to Visit Tallahassee.
The future of the Black Archives is especially hopeful this summer, according to Young, who has served as interim director since May 2021.
“This summer, we hope to launch our internship program as a part of our relationship with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture to begin digitizing our collections,” Young said.
The Union Bank Museum, Florida’s oldest surviving bank building, hosts special exhibits from the Meek-Eaton archives. It was built by slave labor in 1841 and has been standing ever since. The Museum features exhibitions of Buffalo Soldiers, notable Black Floridians, and scenes from Florida’s civil rights experience.
“We are hoping to do an exhibition on Black activism in the state of Florida for our Union Bank site,” said Young.
The Black Archives recently received a significant gift from Olympic commissioned painter, Steve R. Allen. The artist donated six paintings to the Museum last semester as a part of his multimillion-dollar art donation to several HBCUs.
While the legacy of Eaton’s hard work lives on, Young gives a nod to an individual who is responsible for the majority of the center’s archival holdings.
“Most of that credit belongs to Dr. E. Murrell Dawson who archived the majority of our collections, but has trained so many students on how to conduct archival/primary based research and now dozens of her students have earned Ph.D.’s in related fields and are professors, researchers, and authors in their respective fields,” Young said.
To learn more about the Museum series, go here.