“Revealing Her Story: Documenting African American Women Intellectuals” is a two-year project funded by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission to arrange and describe the personal papers of nine African American women writers, artists and musicians. Collections included in the project are the Pearl Cleage papers; additions to the Delilah Jackson papers; the Samella S. Lewis papers; the Almena Lomax papers; the May Miller papers; the Undine Smith Moore papers; the Geneva Southall papers; the Mildred Thompson papers; and the Sarah E. Wright papers. To read the press release announcing the project, click here.
My name is Jason Gutierrez. In addition to my work as a masters candidate in Film and Media Studies I am also a graduate assistant in MARBL working on the project, “Revealing Her Story: Documenting African American Women Intellectuals.” My first assignment with this project was the organization of Samella Lewis’ correspondence and personal papers. I had been regrettably unfamiliar of the work, both artistic and scholarly, of Dr. Lewis before I began on this project, so being able to delve into her letters and writings was a fantastic introduction to her many impressive accomplishments.
As the first African American woman to receive a PhD in art history and author of text books like African American Art and Artists, few have been as influential in the promotion of African American art as Dr. Lewis. Her correspondence includes letters with artists like Elizabeth Catlett, Jacob Lawrence, Richmond Barthé, and John Biggers, and documents her tireless work studying, lecturing, curating exhibits, and writing about the legacy of African American art, as well as its continued importance to contemporary art. Through her assistance in organizing events like the World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture, about which she wrote notes, memos, and agenda drafts that can be found in her personal papers, and founding institutions like the Museum of African American Art in Los Angeles, she has been an inspiration to younger generations of both artists and scholars interested in art from the African diaspora. The correspondence from both groups of people thanking her for her role as an artist, scholar, teacher, and activist stood out to me the most while working on this collection.
It’s still pretty early on in this project, and this was a great way to begin work on it, so I’m really excited to see what else we’ll discover.