'Seeing yourself in the archives,' a look inside the Black Collections

Published Feb. 01, 2022
Updated March 2, 2022

On Thursday, Jan. 20 the ASU Library hosted its first Community Conversation of 2022, featuring Jessica Salow, Assistant Archivist of Black Collections at the ASU Library and Christina Ngo, Director of Social Embeddedness. Over 70 attendees attended the inspiring conversation about the expansion of the Community-Driven Archives to include more stories and history of Black life in Arizona. 

Building a collection

As a history alum from ASU, Jessica had a passion for preserving history but did not feel represented within the archival record and was not aware of ASU’s archival collections. Now as the leader of a new collection, Jessica will help shape the documentation and preservation of stories from under-represented communities as well as encourage the use of archival collections for researchers and communities around the ASU campuses. 

During the program, Jessica shared, “I really want to be able to see myself within the archival record, because there's not very much that is associated with Black life, specifically in Arizona, but technically, sometimes around the country and the world, there is a hard time of Black folks trying to find records that pertain to either their community or their family.”

The Black Collection at ASU Library was newly created in 2021 to address inequity and erasure of marginalized communities in Arizona archives and is supported by the LIFT Initiative which stands for Listen, Invest, Facilitate, Teach to enhance diversity, growth, and opportunities for Black undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, and staff. Latinx, Black, Asian American, Pacific Islander and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) communities currently make up over 42% of Arizona's population but each of these communities are only represented in 0-2% of known archival collections. The Black Collection at ASU Library aims to document the lives of Black Arizonans and works to offer resources, like toolkits and free archival materials, to community members.

In a recent ASU News article about the collection, Jessica discussed some of the first materials to be a part of the Black Collection that features J. Eugene Grigsby Jr., one of ASU's first Black professors. 

Working with local partners like the Black Family Genealogy Group in Phoenix and Palabras Bilingual Bookstore, Jessica will continue to work with community members on their own preservation journeys, whether in the ASU Library or empowering them to create their own archive.

“Everybody deserves to have their stories documented, and you know, doesn't necessarily have to be within an institutional archive. If that's what you know, you choose, but within your own family history, within your own community history, you need to have representation, and that is important to all people,” said Jessica. 

What does the future hold for Black Collections at ASU?

Jessica's hope is to build a robust oral history collection and digital collection, offer access to these platforms, and encourage students, faculty, and community members to visit the ASU Library’s Wurzburger Reading Room to experience these documents, photographs, and archival materials. 

“I want Black collections to be a really great collection that the Black community of Phoenix and Arizona specifically are proud of. This collection isn't just about what I want to collect, it's about what the community wants. And I need and want that community feedback from folks.”

To learn more about the Black Collection at the ASU Library and how you can get involved, contact Jessica at jessica.salow@asu.edu

Watch the Community Conversation below on the ASU Library’s YouTube Channel.