In the U.S., the past few months have showcased the power of social activism in bringing awareness to injustices in the country. Social activism has a deep history in the States; one that is not limited to domestic issues. U.S.-based organizations and individual activists have frequently looked abroad to attempt to impact change in nations beyond our border. Africa has not been beyond this reach, particularly during the eras of decolonization and antiapartheid activism. The African Activist Archive, a project co-sponsored by the African Studies Center and MATRIX: The Center for Humane Arts, Letters and Social Sciences Online at Michigan State University, aims to capture these histories.
The African Activist Archive is an online archive of “50 years of activist organizing in the United States in solidarity with African struggled against colonialism, apartheid, and injustice.” The creators of African Activist Archive refer to this project as a “people’s archive”; this is a fair label for this initiative as the materials included not only focus on activist organizing by local organizations, but also due to the fact that a good chunk of these materials were donated by individual activists. In a piece entitled “Posters That Challenged Apartheid” posted to this site following Nelson Mandela’s death in December 2013, Christine Root and Richard Knight (both members of the Advisory Committee as well as being major activists in their own right) explained the depth of the African Activist collection, as well as its grassroots origins.
The African Activist Archive Project website contains more than 7,200 freely accessible documents, photographs, buttons, T-shirts, posters, and video and audio recordings from the African solidarity movement from the 1950s to the 1990s. We thank the more than 90 activists who have contributed materials to this collection. We have been adding about 1,200 items per year, and we are eager to hear from people who have kept materials from this struggle.
The collaborative nature of this archive, being gathered from individual activists and organizations, as well as being sourced from various archives around the world, captures a rich geographic and thematic focus. You can navigate the collection through a variety of categories, from the media type to the African nation referenced to the organization which produced the material (both inside and outside the US). Root and Knight provided a great sampling of the posters available on the site in their previous post, so below are a few examples of the other materials captured in the collection.
It’s hard to describe the width and breadth of this collection, let alone it’s potential utility for research. While I am a historian of South Africa and Africa more generally, I can only grasp a fraction of the potential that this archive holds for unlocking more stories of decolonization, the antiapartheid movement, and international social justice efforts. Each person who uses this site will discover something different. But taking the time to explore and discover in this rich resource will, undoubtedly, reap rewards. Users interested in delving into the anti-apartheid movement will find the Related Sites list interesting. This extensive list of digital initiatives, museum websites, films, and archives provides a great jumping off point for further exploration into these compelling histories. For those scholars and researchers who might want to go a step further than that, the Archives list offers further pathways for exploring the rich history of the global African activist networks.
Keep up with all of the latest from African Activist Archive on Facebook. If you have or know of anyone who has materials that would fit this unique archive, see the Collection Policy for more information.
As always, feel free to send me suggestions in the comments or via Twitter of sites you might like to see covered in future editions of The Digital Archive! We’ve been getting some good suggestions from readers that will be reviewed soon!