by Saleana Copeland, Robert F. Smith Intern
My name is Saleana Copeland, and it is with immense pleasure and pride that I introduce myself as the National Museum of African American History and Culture’s Robert F. Smith Intern for 2022. My love for history and the archives began in my youth as a library regular and was then solidified with my role as an Archival Assistant in high school. My passion for this profession is fueled by my belief that a scholar’s commitment to compassion and integrity is instrumental to the dissemination of holistic renditions of history. This is fully exemplified in the goals of an archivist, who seeks to preserve the works of impactful persons and organizations, making their legacies accessible to curious minds.
My matriculation as an undergraduate student and Clark Atlanta University has afforded me the opportunity to study and engage in a plethora of historical and archival capacities. This is exemplified with my work as a Spelman Independent Scholar (SIS), where my peers and I conducted oral history interviews with impactful black women elders in an effort to illuminate their contributions to society. Shortly after the completion of the course, I acted as a SIS intern, helping to transcribe interviews and compile student portfolios for future publication on the SIS web pages. The skills acquired through this experience were furthered by my work in the Spelman Social Justice Program. There, I became an inaugural Quarterman-Keller Scholar. As a QK scholar, my peers and I interviewed the families of Randy Quarterman and Sarah Eisner, the descendants of two families tied together by the transatlantic slave trade. The pair, who are working to realize reparations interpersonally and legally, had their stories recorded and documented by my fellow scholars and me for preservation in the AUC archive.
I concluded my B.A. in History with a thesis on the gendered study of blues divas in the larger historical narrative. This paper, entitled, Reclaiming the Ball and Chain: A Holistic Reckoning of the Blues Femme Identity, was, in part, a comparative study of the lyrics written by black women in contrast to songs written for them. It also examined the role of advertisement in the perpetuation of stereotypes that are common in popular media depictions of contemporary black divas. This work, in conjunction with my research on the oratorical tradition of the black preacher to politician pipeline, are two parts of an ongoing interest in the impact and efficacy of affirmative language within African-American history and culture.
It is in this spirit that I have been honored to join the Amistad Research Center. I believe that the ARC’s mission to preserve and illuminate marginalized history is essential to our understanding of the American Experience. I am especially excited for my role in expanding digital access to the oral history interviews of civil rights advocates in Mississippi. The interviews, which take place between 1978-1983, were conducted by Tom Dent, a New Orleans native and prolific African American writer. His work as a poet, essayist, playwright, teacher, and oral historian continues to inform the public of the Black American experience. In the oral histories that I will assist in processing, I fully intend to deepen my understanding of the civil rights struggle in Mississippi, the 1964 Freedom Summer, the Freedom Democratic Party, the works of Fannie Lou Hamer, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), and the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). The task at hand sincerely humbles me, and I wholeheartedly look forward to its challenges and triumphs!
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