The statement below is our official statement on the recent uprisings and also the transcript of our first podcast episode. The audio is embedded below, but you can also listen to it and future episodes on our SoundCloud channel.
Hi, I’m Mariam Williams, and this is Research Revelations.
Research Revelations is a podcast presented by Chronicling Resistance, an initiative of the Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries — PACSCL for short — and today’s episode is a slight diversion from the content you’d normally hear.
My name is Mariam Williams, and I’ve been the project director for Chronicling Resistance since 2018. Chronicling Resistance engages archives in the Philadelphia region — including some outlying areas like Lehigh University, the University of Delaware, and Princeton — and local activists in an effort to uplift stories of resistance held in traditional archives and help preserve documentation of today’s resistance movements.
I wrote the introduction you’ll hear in the next episode on May 24, 2020, a date that today, June 15, as I script a forward to the intro, seems like years ago. It was before Philadelphians began rallying in the streets, joining millions of people across the world — during an ongoing global pandemic — to call for justice for Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and too many other black people who police or self-appointed white security forces have shot, strangled, beaten to death, or otherwise killed, and others who died under suspicious circumstances while in police custody. It was before the smoke billowing from police cars and buildings in Center City and West Philly signaled the urgent demand to recognize and value black life, before shattered glass from clothing, technology, pharmaceutical, and grocery stores across the city revealed the city’s — and country’s — grotesque reflection of white supremacy and economic inequality to itself.
It is shocking, humbling, and paralyzing for me to lead a project about resistance movements, the history of them, and the ongoing need for them in Philadelphia at a time like right now. Since applying for the position of project director, I have felt made for this job. A passion for community, history, and storytelling; familiarity with the tensions between communities and institutions; previous job experience creating programs to bridge the gap between academic research and activists on the ground who might use that research to further social justice — everything that was in my cover letter for the job is still true. But the circumstances of today are different.
I’ve had my eye on two cities since the last week of May. I’m a black woman living and working in Philadelphia but born and raised in Louisville, Ky., the city where police shot Breonna Taylor while serving a botched no-knock warrant, where David McAtee, the victim who fell to a National Guardsperson’s bullet during the protests, is a distant relative, and where the vast majority of my family and other people I love and care about still live. That personal history and blood kinship are perhaps why the similarities between Louisville’s 2020 uprising and the one its residents experienced in 1968 have stunned me. But as a public historian, my surprise felt incredibly silly.
Here in Philly, my surprise also felt incredibly useless, as did my role as a public historian. In the past, whenever I’ve seen photos from the 1960s, I’ve thought I had been born in the wrong era. I had pictured myself in the time period, afro big, marching, or sitting arms linked with protestors as we chanted and sang. I thought I might’ve been teaching with Black Panthers at a Free Breakfast program, or up until morning in a university dorm, revising a list of demands to begin a black studies program and hire more black faculty, or demands to lift the suspension or expulsion of any student who protested. I pictured myself raging, though not ready or willing to destroy physical symbols of centuries of oppression. I pictured myself angry but active in the ways we might traditionally think of activism.
When the revolution arrived again the last week of May 2020, I was on staycation from Chronicling Resistance. I was also inside, and that’s where I’ve stayed as protests and direct actions in both my cities continue. But my staycation is over, and I am still the project director of Chronicling Resistance, an initiative that has ambitious aims to begin to bridge gaps, name and address institutional harms, broaden Philadelphia libraries’ and archives’ cultural audiences, and offer new perspectives on local resistance narratives. And my role and this project have a function in the movement.
I know your inbox and news feeds have been overflowing lately with corporate and nonprofit statements of solidarity with the Movement 4 Black Lives, statements rejecting structural and interpersonal racism, and statements promoting or touting diversity and inclusion. Such a statement from Chronicling Resistance has been long coming because, in addition to all I said above about my personal feelings, the project statement could not be phony and could not be murky.
I want to be clear. From the project’s inception, the team behind Chronicling Resistance has been grappling with challenging issues like structural racism; the erasure of black, indigenous, and other people of color and their intersecting identities from the historical narrative; and the treatment of traditionally marginalized groups within the holdings and the physical space of libraries and archives. We conceived and have grown this project knowing that archives are often situated within institutions of power that historically have reinforced systemic oppression. The institutions and the team have made mistakes in the past, and we’ll make more. But we’re committed to highlighting the voices of black folks, indigenous folks, other people of color, queer folks, working class folks, people with disabilities, and other marginalized groups, and to partnering with them to tell and preserve their versions of now. We’re committed to nurturing archives, libraries, history, and civic engagement within Philadelphia. And we’re committed to following the lead of black and brown people as we engage in the rigorous work of examining our own power structures and dismantling white supremacy in our institutions.
Thank you for listening.
Podcast episode music:
Immersed by Kevin MacLeod
Celebration by Kevin MacLeod