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Collection Civil Rights History Project

About this Collection

On May 12, 2009, the U. S. Congress authorized a national initiative by passing The Civil Rights History Project Act of 2009 (Public Law 111-19). The law directed the Library of Congress (LOC) and the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) to conduct a national survey of existing oral history collections with relevance to the Civil Rights movement to obtain justice, freedom and equality for African Americans and to record and make widely accessible new interviews with people who participated in the struggle. The project was initiated in 2010 with the survey and with interviews beginning in 2011.

The activists interviewed for this project belong to a wide range of occupations, including lawyers, judges, doctors, farmers, journalists, professors, and musicians, among others. The video recordings of their recollections cover a wide range of topics within the freedom struggle, such as the influence of the labor movement, nonviolence and self-defense, religious faith, music, and the experiences of young activists. Actions and events discussed in the interviews include the Freedom Rides (1961), the Albany Movement (1961), the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom (1963), the Selma to Montgomery Rights March (1965), the Orangeburg Massacre (1968), the Poor People’s Campaign (1968), sit-ins, and voter registration drives in the South. The murder of fourteen year old Emmett Till in 1955, a horrific event that galvanized many young people into joining the freedom movement, looms large in the memories of many movement veterans.

Many interviewees were active in national organizations such as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), the Black Panther Party. Other interviewees were key members of specialized and local groups including the Medical Committee for Human Rights, the Deacons for Defense and Justice, the Cambridge (Maryland) Nonviolent Action Committee, and the Newark Community Union Project. A few interviews focus on Chicano activists who were influenced by the African American freedom struggle and their recollections of the occasional coalitions that developed between the black and brown power movements. Several interviews include men and women who were on the front lines of the struggle in places not well-known for their civil rights movement activity such as Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; Saint Augustine, Florida; and Bogalusa, Louisiana. The collection also includes the reflections of the children of grass-roots activists including Clara Luper, Robert Hicks, and Gayle Jenkins.

A number of organizations and individuals were responsible for the Project from inception to completion. Curation, preservation and access to the interviews was, and remains, a joint undertaking of the Library’s American Folklife Center and the NMAAHC. The American Folklore Society (AFS) oversaw the research team of four scholars who gathered the information for the CRHP National Survey Database of Civil Rights Collections; the database was developed by Washington State University’s Center for Digital Scholarship and Curation. The Southern Oral History Program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill coordinated the production of the interviews, the majority of which were conducted by leading historians on the topic of the long black freedom struggle and (with a few exceptions) were recorded in born-digital video format by Media Generation.

This site guides researchers to collections in several Library divisions that specifically focus on the movement as well as the broader topic of African American history and culture. The Civil Rights History Project Collection (AFC 2010/039) contains more than 1200 items consisting of born-digital video files, digitized videocassettes, digital photographs and full-text transcripts for all interviews. The interviews are also accessible through the Library's YouTube site and the NMAAHC website.