African American people have played a vital role in the history of Virginia. They have worked, fought, and participated in
the commonwealth's growth; they have shared its successes and suffered its failures. And yet slavery, caste, and segregation
also have forced them to live apart and to create for themselves a separate history. To understand the history of African
Americans in Virginia, therefore, one must recognize that they have been both a part of and apart from the developments
affecting the majority white population. African American history has been governed by interconnected but separate themes
and given meaning by related but separate institutions.
No better examples of this relationship can be found than those that survive in the vast manuscript collections of the Virginia
Historical Society. Throughout much of its history, the Society collected manuscripts with the intent of illuminating the lives
of the leading families of the commonwealth. As these collections were processed, they were cataloged and described in a
way that provided remarkable detail about white, mainly elite Virginians and their culture. Yet lying just beneath the surface
was a wealth of information about African Americans. By looking at these collections in a different way, our staff realized
that they could provide new perspectives into Virginia's past and give us a necessary and enriching addition to that history.
In 1995, through a generous grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Historical Society published the
first edition of our Guide to African-American Manuscripts in the Collection of the Virginia Historical Society. The volume
found an immediate and appreciative audience among scholars, students, and family researchers. Users examining the guide
recognized the depth and breadth of information, long hidden and obscure, that was now being made available. As we had
hoped, the guide stimulated much new, superlative research into the African American experience in Virginia.
Over the intervening years, the Historical Society's staff have uncovered even more African American materials in our
holdings. Through the re-examinations of collections in our holdings required by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation
Automation Project, combined with an exciting influx of collections new to the Society's Manuscripts Division, we realized
that a new and greatly revised edition of the out-of-print original guide was warranted. Director for Development
and Public Relations Pamela R. Seay spearheaded the effort to fund a new edition, and again, grant monies from the National
Endowment for the Humanities proved crucial to enabling the compilation and publication. Additional support for publication
was provided by a generous grant from the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and Public Policy as part of its African-American
Building on the original efforts of compiler Frances Holly Hodges and the sound counsel of our two previous consultants -- Susan
A. Riggs of the Special Collections Department at Swem Library of the College of William and Mary and Ervin L. Jordan, Jr., of
the Special Collections Department of the University of Virginia Library -- Outreach Educator Harold M. Marsh, Jr., spent the
summer of 2000 compiling a new set of entries for the guide. Director for Manuscripts and Archives E. Lee Shepard
again served as project director. He revised the existing entries from the first edition, edited and compiled additional new entries,
and prepared a new index to the volume. Johnnie S. Taggart of the Manuscripts Division updated the list of African American
Family Records found in the appendix to this volume. Director for Library Services Frances S. Pollard and Director for Museum Services James C. Kelly contributed to the Introduction. Ann C. de Witt of the Publications Department
performed important service by locating and preparing illustrations, and by formatting the volume for publication. As always,
Director for Publications and Scholarship Nelson D. Lankford carefully copyedited the full text.
We are pleased to note additional support from The Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, which has enabled us to process new collections with significant African American content and update this online version of our guide. To facilitate that updating process, and to allow for periodic updates in the future, we have stripped entry numbers from this version of the guide, while retaining its alphabetical arrangement by collection name. Users, however, may still download a PDF version of the second edition of the guide.
Shortly after its publication, the first edition of the Guide to African-American Manuscripts in the Collection of the Virginia
Historical Society garnered praise from the scholarly community and earned a first place finding aids award from the Mid-Atlantic
Regional Archives Conference. The real test of its success, however, has been its usefulness. And to that we have had testimony
from numerous patrons.
Charles F. Bryan, Jr.
President and CEO
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