In 2002, during a book party for Jill Jonnes’ South Bronx Rising: The Rise, Fall, and Resurrection of an American City, Dr. Peter Derrick, Archivist for The Bronx County Historical Society, and Dr. Mark Naison, Professor of History and African American Studies at Fordham University, discussed how there were few historical records regarding African-American life in the Bronx. Following this conversation, The Bronx African American History Project (BAAHP) was established to document the history of blacks in The Bronx. The BAAHP is a partnership between The Bronx County Historical Society and Fordham University’s Department of African and African American Studies. Both organizations want to assist towards improving access to historical resources pertaining to this major community in The Bronx, as well as to support publications on this subject. This is particularly important given the fact that there are now over a half million African Americans living in the borough.
Back in 2002, anyone doing research on the history of African Americans in The Bronx was faced with a scarcity of primary material on the subject. The basic building blocks of historical records (e.g.. oral histories, archival documents, church records, community newspapers, etc) were simplynot readily available. This lack ofprimary source material was reflected in the scarcity of books and articles about African Americans in the borough. This is a sharp contrast with the extensive literature about African Americans in Manhattan and Brooklyn.
From the start, the BAAHP was aimed at conducting oral histories pertaining to African Americans in The Bronx, as well as determining what records were available at organizations, churches, businesses, individuals. Led by Prof. Naison, the BAAHP team at Fordham University preceded from 2003 on to conduct oral histories, with a focus on black life in Morrisania, one of the oldest African-American communities in The Bronx. To date almost 200 oral histories have been completed by the BAAHP. Transcripts and summaries are available at The Bronx County Historical Society.
With respect to archival records, the BAAHP has been fortunate to accession several important collections. The papers of Rev. Wendell Fosters, the first black City Councilman for The Bronx as well as copies of one of the earliest African American newspapers in the brought, The Listener, which were donated to The Bronx Archives at the Historical Society. In addition, David Carp, a musicologist, donated a major collection of interviews and related materials regarding Latino jazz in New York. The records of the major civic organizations in the borough, The Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Collation, have also been donated. The NWBCCC has had much to do with improving life for African Americans and others during the past quarter century, through local community organizing. All of these collections are available to students and researchers at The Bronx County Historical Society. Lastly, the papers of Dennis Coleman, a civil rights leader and former State Senator, have been donated.
In order to locate other records pertaining to Bronx-based African Americans, The Bronx County Historical Society applied for and received a grant from the Metropolitan New York Library Council’s (METRO) Documentary Heritage Program (funded by the New York State Archives) in 2006 to conduct an archival survey of records documenting the true breadth and depth of African American life in The Bronx. This grant was awarded to the Historical Society, effective July 1, 2006 and was subsequently authorized for a second year beginning July 1, 2007. It has been directed by Dr. Peter Derrick, Archivist at The Bronx County Historical Society, and Dr. Brian Purnell, Professor of African American history at Fordham University and Research Director of the BAAHP. Work on the Bronx AfricanAmerican Archival Survey (BAAAS) has been done primarily by Project Archivist Megan A. Hibbitts. She has been assisted by former Assistant Project Archivist K. Morgan Powell and Project Assistant Concetta Gleason.
During the first year of the BAAAS, several detailed archival surveys have been completed. This website provides researchers with information regarding each survey.
The BAAHP hopes that this archival survey will benefit researchers interested in African Americans in The Bronx. If you have any questions about the project, please contact Megan Hibbitts at firstname.lastname@example.org or Peter Derrick at email@example.com.
The Bronx African American Archival Survey was made possible thanks to funding provided by the Metropolitan New York Library Council’s (METRO) Documentary Heritage Program, which is funded by the New York State Archives.
The Bronx African American Archival Survey is the result of a combined effort of archivists, scholars, and members of The Bronx African American community. Dr. Peter Derrick, Archivist for The Bronx County Historical Society, and Dr. Brian Purnell, Research Director of the BAAHP, conceived the project. Project Archivist Megan A. Hibbitts and Project Assistant Concetta Gleason worked closely together to conduct and produce the surveys. During the early stages, Assistant Project Archivist K. Morgan Powell, worked on the surveys. Taina Caragol, Project Coordinator for the METRO-MOMA Survey of Archives of Latino and Latin American Art, and Bill Saffady provided assistance in developing the survey form. The Survey’s Advisory Committee supported the project by offering suggestions of possible organizations. The members of the Advisory Committee include: Leroi Archible, Jesse Davidson, Dana Driskel, Bob Gumbs, Harriet McFeeters, Dr. Mark Naison, Jim Pruitt, Jeff Richardson, Ken Small, Dr. Lee Stuart, Lisa Payne Wansley, Daniel White, and Cheryl Simmons-Oliver.
The staff at The Bronx County Historical Society has been invaluable in their assistance and support towards completing this project. Staff members include: Executive Director Gary Hermalyn, Education Coordinator Anthony Greene, Curator and Poe Cottage Manager Kathleen A. McAuley, Secretary Teresa Moran, Membership and Projects Secretary Catherine Pellicano, Librarian Laura Tosi, and Assistant Librarian Mark Sgambettera. Wayne Taylor of Wonderwheel Productions worked closely with the survey team to develop the website.
The Bronx African American Archival Survey greatly appreciates the support provided by the institutions and individuals that were surveyed during this project. Without their support, this project would have not been possible.
Pictured above, left:
“Cedar Jack’s” Last Strand Clam Bar in the Melrose neighborhood of The Bronx, circa 1890. The African American proprietor, standing on the left, offered clams, clam chowder, and cigars. (Courtesy of The Bronx County Historical Society)
Pictured above, middle:
Students attending the senior prom of Morris High School, 1990. (Courtesy of the Morris High School Museum).
Pictured above, right:
African American and Latino dancers at a jazz venue in The Bronx, 1952. Jazz that contained cross-cultural influences between African Americans and Latinos was often performed in The Bronx. (Courtesy of the David Carp Collection, The Bronx County Historical Society).