By Christopher Harter, Director of Library and Reference Services, Amistad Research Center
“Working for Freedom: Documenting Civil Rights Organizations” is a collaborative project between Emory University's Manuscript, Archives and Rare Book Library, The Auburn Avenue Research Library on African American Culture and History, The Amistad Research Center at Tulane University, and The Robert W. Woodruff Library of Atlanta University Center to uncover and make available previously hidden collections documenting the Civil Rights Movement in Atlanta and New Orleans. The project is administered by the Council on Library and Information Resources with funds from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Each organization regularly contributes blog posts about their progress.
The Andrew Young Oral History Collection, found within the papers of New Orleans writer and oral historian Tom Dent at the Amistad Research Center, encompasses 50 individual interviews conducted from 1980 to 1985 as part of Dent’s work on the autobiography of his childhood friend, Andrew Young. As early as 1979, Dent was working on the autobiography, though he wasn’t officially hired as a consultant until 1981-1982, and he continued to work on the book until 1986. Dent traveled to Atlanta, Georgia, to conduct a series of interviews with Young before beginning to research Young’s early days in New Orleans and civil rights era history for the draft of the book, with the working title “An Easy Burden.”
Though the Tom Dent papers were not processed as part of the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) grant, this part of Dent’s papers are intertwined with Amistad’s CLIR Hidden Collections Project, as well as those of our collaborative partners – the Auburn Avenue Research Library (currently processing the Andrew J. Young papers) and Emory University’s Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library (currently processing the Southern Christian Leadership Conference records). These interviews have been “hidden” until recently within Dent’s papers and now are available for use with an accessible inventory and subject listing online in the Center’s finding aid database.
The Young interviews provide a first hand account of the events, leadership, and various campaigns of the Civil Rights Movement, as well as Young’s childhood, work in the National Council of Churches, as a Congressman from Georgia, and United Nations Ambassador. The interviews provide numerous portraits of the SCLC leadership and civil rights workers, including: Hosea Williams, Ralph Abernathy, Wyatt Walker, Fannie Lou Hamer, Randolph Blackwell, Dorothy Cotton, Stan Levison, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The events and campaigns of the Civil Rights Movement are detailed for St. Augustine (Florida), Albany (Georgia), Selma (Alabama), the Voting Rights Campaign, the Chicago Movement, and the Meredith March. Young provides detailed accounts of the FBI’s harassment of Martin Luther King and SCLC staff, the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis in 1968, and comments on the factors that produced the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Additional topics within the interviews include the Poor People’s Campaign, the Vietnam Peace Movement, Young’s Congressional campaign and work as the UN Ambassador to Africa. Additional interviews within the oral history collection include interviews with Young’s wife, Jean Childs Young, Dorothy Cotton, and Stoney Cooks.