A photo of strikers gathering in Charleston in 1969 (above) and a “STOP! READ! OBEY!” flyer calling for support during the Charleston Movement, circa 1960s are among the historical artifacts gathered by The Avery Center | Courtesy The Avery Research Center

The Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture at the College of Charleston is currently asking for submissions from the community for its Documenting the Arc project. Documenting the Arc explores those who got involved with or were moved by the Black Lives Matter movement between 2014 and 2020.

Funded by a grant from the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation and part of its “Broadening Narratives” initiative, Documenting the Arc is a continuation of work the Avery Center has done on the civil rights movements of the 60s and the 70s. The goal is to bridge the conversations between the past and those currently fighting for social justice in Charleston.

Documenting the Arc is a two part project. Part One is a collection of filmed interviews with local activists and organizers. Avery has reached out to people of all ages who advised or actively participated in demonstrations or organizing during the selected period, focusing most directly on the span of time between the killing of Walter Scott and the Mother Emanuel AME Church shooting. These interviews will turn into a documentary chronicling the Charleston activism community.

“This project highlights Black activism, and focuses on those who participated directly in the work. Through the interviews we have completed, we have been able to document the work of activists and obtained a better understanding of the workings of the organizations as well as the values and concerns of Black people in Charleston,” said Aaisha Haykal, manager of archival Services at the Avery Center.

However, they cannot interview everyone. That’s where Part Two comes in. 

Part Two of the initiative looks to create a collection of community works influenced by the modern Black civil rights movement. Photos, songs, poems, stories and any other kind of media that speaks to the moment is welcome to be submitted. The Avery Research Center is hoping to archive this collection and use it to inspire future research and interviewing initiatives. 

“There’s a lot of people that contributed in a lot of ways or just observed or had different perspectives,” said Erica Veal, project archivist and interpretation specialist for the Avery Center. “Whether they were educators, maybe incorporating some of the things that were going on into their classroom. Those are kind of the things we want to gather from the extended community.”

Travyon Martin Rally at the U.S. Customs House in 2013 | Photo by Erica Veal

“The Broadening Narratives program seeks to both highlight underrepresented stories of the region and ensure that the communities are full partners in how those narratives are told,” said Kerri Forrest, director of Lowcountry programs for the Donnelley Foundation. Documenting the Arc joins Seashore Farmers Lodge, previously reported on in City Paper, as the first major investments from this new program. “Both projects present new aspects of the African American experience in the Lowcountry that go beyond the dominant slavery narrative.”

Those interested in submitting works to Documenting the Arc will first fill out a community interest form, informing the Avery team on what kind of work you’re interested in sharing. Then someone from the team will reach out about collecting the donation. Those interested can submit as much as they’d like and submissions can be made anonymously if preferred. It is encouraged that submissions not identify or have information that could identify individuals who took part in protests.

“The project is compelling because of its unique approach to telling the history of the civil rights movement in the Lowcountry,” said Forrest. “Instead of starting in the long-ago past of Reconstruction, or the 1960s, by using the Black Lives Matter movement, this project is collecting and contextualizing civil rights history in progress.”

An entire outline of the submission process can be found at avery.cofc.edu/documenting-the-arc-community-portal. The Avery Center will be accepting submissions through June 30, 2022. There is plenty of time for anyone who created art inspired by the Black Lives Movement to share it with Avery, and potentially, with the future. 

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