By Jared D. Childress | OBSERVER Staff Writer
A mid-July deadline for the city’s effort to document nearly 150 years of Black history is quickly approaching.
The city is urging historically Black institutions and Black Sacramentans to submit their archives and/or recorded oral histories for inclusion in the African American Experience History Project.
The project is meant to be a comprehensive history of Black Sacramentans from 1839-1980. It will ultimately be published on the city’s historic preservation website and made available through the Center for Sacramento History.
Good candidates are local Black institutions with histories pre-dating 1980 and Black locals over 65 who’ve lived most of their lives in Sacramento. For those interested, please email by mid-July firstname.lastname@example.org.
The project is funded by a $50,000 grant received in 2021 by the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund. The thematic history project is a written report, oral interviews, and community programs.
Carson Anderson, who once served as the city’s historic preservation director, came out of retirement to consult on the project. He said the project is important because Black Sacramentans have played a key role in the city’s history but have gone undocumented.
“Right from the beginning Black folks were fighting to be recognized as equals and have our rights as human beings acknowledged,” Anderson said.
Anderson listed project findings such as St. Andrews AME Church being the oldest Black congregation on the West Coast and the Women’s Civic Improvement Club, which in the early 1900s provided housing for Black women refused accommodations by the YWCA.
“We’ve overcome those obstacles, which is the more exciting story,” Anderson said. “But the problem with Black history is that it’s seldom known.”
The project task force held an opening meeting June 28 at Valley Vision in Oak Park. The meeting drew 15 Black Sacramentans, including representatives from the Greater Sacramento NAACP, the California Black Chamber of Commerce, Visit Sacramento, 100 Black Men of Sacramento and congregation members of St. Andrews AME church.
Attendees discussed the Historic Context Statement, the thematic local Black history report to be finalized at the end of the month. Currently the 146-page document includes citations from historian Clarence Caesar, materials from St. Andrews AME Church, archival records from local newspapers and information from interviews conducted by the Sacramento State history department.
Anderson said the document will act as a “tool kit” to be used several ways, including as a resource for the state’s reparations task force; for teachers writing curricula; and for petitioning for historical landmark designation.
“It’s not just to produce a report that will sit on a shelf somewhere,” Anderson said at the meeting. “But [to] actually create a project that will live on and have components that are ongoing.”
An anticipated spinoff of the project is an oral history program based on StoryCorps. StoryCorps is a National Public Radio program that has collected more than 630,000 recordings of folks sharing their life story; these conversations are archived in the Library of Congress and online.
Shiloh Baptist church has already participated in this effort by recording interviews from congregation members over the age of 70. Anderson hopes to continue to expand this program by getting youth buy-in.
“We can get young people involved by encouraging them to sit down and interview their grandparents,” Anderson said. “They can record them telling their oral history on a cell phone.”
Another expected offshoot is providing ongoing genealogy services to Black Sacramentans. Anderson named the recent event “Your African American family roots,” which on June 10 drew about 35 who met with genealogists doing on-the-spot research on family history using the U.S. Census.
Anderson is the only Black city staff listed on the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund website, but his contract ended June 30. The project continues to be helmed by City Preservation Director Sean de Courcy and City Historic Preservation Planner Henry Feuss.
Anderson said the city hasn’t yet hired his successor, as there isn’t funding.
“Obviously there’s limitations,” Anderson said. “But we’re thinking about how we can build out by engaging the stakeholders in the community.”