The Civil Rights Digital Library, a comprehensive civil rights Web site and portal hosted by the University of Georgia, saw an enormous spike in the number of hits during the week of Jan. 19 when the nation celebrated the inauguration of President Barack Obama and the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., holiday.
The library is at http://crdl.usg.edu/voci/go/crdl/home.
Among CRDL's many video selections, users could watch a prophetic 1971 clip of civil rights activist Andrew Young predicting the election of an African American president in his lifetime, a 1962 clip of African American students turned away from the public library in Albany, Ga., and a 1960 clip of African American first-grade girls integrating an elementary school cheered on by African Americans in New Orleans.
"More than two hours of the video content is related to Martin Luther King, Jr., much of it never seen before," said Dr. P. Toby Graham, director, Digital Library of Georgia, University of Georgia, and CRDL project co-director. "Many people know the 1963 'I Have a Dream' speech, but we also have film of Dr. King speaking in the Southern churches where the civil rights movement was born, going to prison for the cause, reacting to news of President Kennedy's assassination in 1963, and speaking to the press on the occasion of his Nobel Peace Prize in 1964."
In addition to 450 news clips, the digital library has 100 content partners from around the country and 146 digitized collections. Most offer original documentation of the period, such as oral histories, letters, diaries, FBI files, and photographs. A partnership with the online New Georgia Encyclopedia, for instance, provides articles on events and individuals associated with the civil rights movement in Georgia, supplemented by images and multi-media files. One of the project's objectives is to make the navigational features both educational and functional, Graham said. For example, CRDL's map interface lets users click on a city to learn about civil rights activities specific to that place. It also features a timeline that users can click on for civil rights events that happened in a certain period.
The Institute of Museum and Library Services awarded the University of Georgia a National Leadership Grant to create the digital library in 2005.
The project was selected in part because it provides a portal for many of the nation's civil rights collections, resulting in much greater public access and the ability to search across many collections as if they were a single collection. It also harvests metadata from the collections, which are physically scattered throughout the country, and has contributed significantly to audio-visual metadata standards.
The CRDL initiative includes a special site for teachers called "Freedom on Film," relating civil rights stories from nine Georgia towns and cities, along with related news film, discussion questions, lesson plans, and related readings. Freedom on Film is undergoing development by University of Georgia faculty and students, along with scholars from other institutions.
The CRDL will continue to grow through its partnerships with allied organizations across the U.S., Graham said.
"We recognize that there are institutions like museums, libraries, and archives that are collecting and digitizing materials related to the civil rights movement. For potential partners, there are many advantages to participating in the CRDL. The Web site provides an additional means for the public to access their material. On the CRDL site, each partner has its own page with contact information and information about the collection. When users search their items, they are linked out to the partner's repository."
Rhodes College Crossroads to Freedom
One of CRDL's partners, Rhodes College in Memphis, Tenn., contributes valuable content to the national portal while building a different type of civil rights digital library. Rhodes College uses its Memphis-centric digital library created by student teams to encourage a community conversation about the impact of this historical era on Memphis today.
"Without the students, Crossroads wouldn't exist," said Suzanne Bonefas, Ph.D., Rhodes College director of special projects and principal investigator of Crossroads to Freedom. "It has been hard for our citizens to move beyond the 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. in Memphis. By involving students, people are willing to talk about these painful issues. We want Crossroads to be a small part of salving the wound."
The Rhodes College Web site now contains 1,200 photographs, letters, and other documents relating to the civil rights movement in Memphis and the Mid-South. It also features more than 70 oral histories, mostly of older people. Students interviewed the mayors of Memphis and Shelby County, members of the Tennessee National Guard who were called to duty after Dr. King's assassination, and black and white musicians who talk about how playing music together changed after the assassination.
So far, 40 students at Rhodes College have worked on this project, usually in paid positions or internships that help fulfill the college's "beyond the gates" requirement. In the summer, the project is staffed by a large team of students from Rhodes and Fisk University, an HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and University), Bonefas said. Local high school students are also team members and are mentored by the college students.
"One student would come in every Monday morning with one or two names of people to interview whom she'd met on Sunday at church. Local congregations have been a rich source of stories about the era," Bonefas said. Each team consists of 15 students with one student acting as the project manager. The students are responsible for identifying people, conducting the video interviews, sending the tape for transcription, editing the transcript, and cataloging it. The students also developed a workflow for processing materials and quality control systems, with the goal of having students do the bulk of the project management.