Monthly Archives: July 2014

“Making Louisville Home for Us All” oral history project

Fair housing is a key component in social justice. Philosopher John Rawls wrote that social justice is “the ability people have to realize their potential in the society where they live.” Fair housing refers to an end to the discriminatory systems that inhibit social justice in a locality and the remediation of those systems’ lasting effects. It promotes equity in housing policies and racial and economic diversity in all sections.

This (rather wordy) definition of fair housing was one of the last things I had to do for the Home for Us All: Fair Housing in Louisville-Jefferson County oral history collection. I was fortunate enough to be selected from a qualified pool of applicants to help get this collection uploaded to UofL’s Archives and Special Collections Digital Collections page and to create metadata for it. The most common definition of metadata is “data about data.” But metadata is essential for maximizing a digital collection’s usefulness. It informs the user of the type of information that the collection contains and where the collection came from. In addition, metadata provides a standardized framework for the material, which facilitates appropriate use and citation.

There were two distinct challenges to this project: the technical side and what I’ll call the philosophical side. The technical side required me to learn CONTENTdm digital collection management software in order to upload the interviews and transcripts (which were done in 2012 by Amber Duke and Nicole Cissell respectively) and create appropriate metadata for them. The philosophical side of the project required me to seriously improve my education about racism, institutionalized discrimination, and segregation in Louisville and beyond. CONTENTdm is a versatile software program used by over two thousand organizations worldwide (chiefly libraries). It is primarily used for digitizing and displaying manuscript collections, historical newspapers, and other ephemeral library collections.

In the case of the oral history collections at University of Louisville’s Archives and Special Collections, CONTENTdm is used in a way that its developers seem not to have intended. Each interview (an audio file which is streamed from the web) is joined to two other components­—an “introduction” page and a transcript. The function of creating these “compound objects” in CONTENTdm was ostensibly for digitizing multi-page documents like a yearbook, for example. However, because each part of the oral history’s complex object is totally different, each one required different metadata. The metadata for each piece is created separately in the CONTENTdm project client before being uploaded onto the web-based administration module. There, they are approved, indexed, and joined into a complex object which then receives its own metadata. In a sense, the metadata is created four times for each individual interview. In addition, all of the metadata created must adhere to a “shared vocabulary.” Each term describing the interview’s content must be pre-established in the Library of Congress subject headings. This ensures proper bibliographic control and promotes ease of use. It is a hairy process for a novice to learn, but after a few sessions, everything clicked and it felt totally natural.

The Anne Braden Institute for Social Justice Research is named after “a Louisville journalist, organizer, and educator who was among the earliest and most dedicated white allies of the southern civil rights movement.”[1] In 1954, an African American family (Andrew and Charlotte Wade and their young daughter) refused to be relegated to the “black part of town” and wanted one of the quality new suburban homes that were rapidly being built at that time. Since no realtor would sell to them, Anne and her husband Carl Braden acted as a front to purchase a home for the Wades. The first night in their new home, gunshots broke the front picture window and a large cross was burned in the Wade’s yard. After six weeks of steady harassment, the Wade home was dynamited by folks who refused to allow a black family to live in their neighborhood. The prejudice that caused realtors to refuse to sell the Wades a home in the suburbs was reinforced by the justice system– instead of focusing on the Wades’ right to their home, the Bradens were charged with sedition.[2]

Though the events of the Wade case occurred sixty years ago, the effects of segregationist housing policies remain. As entrenched as they seem, these practices of minority discrimination are only a couple of generations old. We live in a significant time ripe with possibilities for social change and awakenings.

To combat the lingering systems of inequality, the Anne Braden Institute was co-founded by the late J. Blaine Hudson, who was a longtime friend of the Bradens and former dean of the University of Louisville College of Arts and Sciences, and Cate Fosl, associate professor women’s and gender studies and Braden’s biographer. The Anne Braden Institute’s mission is “to bridge the gap between academic research and community activism for racial and social justice.”[3] This mission is fundamentally (or ideally) that of every public historian. Today, the ABI staff and interns host focus groups, lectures, and civil rights tours of Louisville. The Home for Us All Oral History Collection was just one small piece of the ABI’s outreach objective to educate the public about social injustices which still endure. In fact, a twenty year action plan was developed in conjunction with the project with the assistance of the Louisville Metro Human Relations Commission and the Metro Housing Council. Through research, outreach, and activism, the Anne Braden Institute hopes to promote racial and economic diversity in or neighborhoods and I proudly consider myself their ally. It was my pleasure to learn from them and to play a part in making this collection publicly accessible.        

  [1] http://anne-braden.org/who-was-anne-braden/ [2] “Making Louisville Home for Us All: A 20-Year Action Plan for Fair Housing” Louisville Metro Human Relations Commission, 21. [3] http://anne-braden.org