Common Heritage


This exhibit will reflect on how the African American community has made change. Throughout the twentieth century, African American women and men gained incremental advances that collectively would transform the race’s agency, the self-determination to act independently and make their own free choices. African Americans, by creating their own organizations and institutions, developed ways to address their needs and aspirations that fostered the values of community, service, and mutual support.

At the center of this community were African American women. Whether engaged in professional or domestic work, or operating simply as members of working-class families aspiring for middle-class status, women played essential roles in the community-building process. African American women structured community life around a core of essential institutions: families, churches, education, clubs, hospitals, and health clinics, from which manifested the potential of social service reform activism. Recognizing these important communities is central to understanding the multiple and important roles of African Americans in the American story. These are stories of perseverance, resourcefulness, and resilience.

We black folk, our history and our present being, are a mirror of all the manifold experiences of America. What we want, what we represent, what we endure is what America is. If we black folk perish, America will perish.

Richard Wright, 1941

About This Project

African American narratives are sorely lacking and often misrepresented in the archival record. The archive is a traditionally privileged space that reinforces the hierarchical structures of society through its power to determine what is worthy of preservation and what is not. This power influences societal conceptions of identity and belonging. This privileging creates a cacophony of silenced voices that directly contributes to the marginalization of communities. Given the historical exclusion of narratives, there exists a need to address this silencing. Georgia College’s Russell Library, awarded with the Common Heritage Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to capture the underrepresented history of the Milledgeville African American community, seized the opportunity to acknowledge and redress the lack of diversity in our institutional holdings. This undertaking is imperative to ensure our collections reflect the diversity of our shared community. We thank the African American community for their partnership in this endeavor to reconstruct a more accurate understanding of the past.

To learn more about the Common Heritage project, click here.
To view the Common Heritage Collection on the Digital Library of Georgia, click here.