Emerging Dialogue: Being in Conversation with the Archive

TW: Some graphic imagery of violence on 52nd street from approx. 1970. 

The past couple of months I’ve had a series of engagements where I felt less like a researcher and more like someone who the archives are talking to.  

Researcher looking at archival material. They are standing and looking down at papers.
Myself at SCRC sifting through one of many boxes of materials. Image by Mustafa Ali-Smith.

I recently made a visit with the fellowship group to Temple University’s Special Collections Research Center.  I started the hunt for any hints of activity in the latter 20th century that could be considered Abolitionist (in my case, looking for any activity towards liberation, specifically working against the police state). The conversation began here, where all I had to work off of was a finding aid catalogue with no details. This required a dialogue between me and the google search bar, looking out for any hints of the who, what, where, when, and how that were behind the hundreds of community newsletters, zines, and newspapers listed in the Contemporary Culture Collection (CCC) records. For obscure titles it meant falling down a rabbit hole of ebay, other archives, sparse documentation, just looking for any whispers of what the content would be. I landed on a sizable list of publications and boxes that I requested for viewing.  Some picked out of guess work, others I was able to find some sparse information about. Onwards I went to the SCRC to get my hands dusty and launch a long search through the hundreds of documents. 

One document I found that spoke to me was The Black Manifesto Free News. It was a publication by the National Black Economic Development organization, based in Philadelphia. There isn’t a date on the cover but I deducted that it was probably published in 1970.

Image by the author

A poem called “The Imperfections of Revolution” emerged, detailing a “riot” that had occurred on 52nd Street. This especially resonated with me since I have been doing community archaeology work on the 2020 Uprisings, which included activity on the same blocks. 

Image of police brutality on 52nd street. The poem begins. Image by the author.
The poem continues on a second page. There is an image of a Black soldier in Vietnam, standing near a sign that reads: “You are committing the same ignominious crimes in South Vietnam that the KKK clique is perpetrating against your family at home.” Image by the author.

(An excerpt)

Revolution 

Revolution nods is 

Nodding 

Against a pee stained wall on 52nd street 

With a scag kit stuck in its mind, talking

About, “wait ‘til I get my shit together man,” 

And the sad folks keep on laughing 

And the music keep on dancing

And the rich folks have gone to the moon. 

The poem is accredited to Doc Long. A short bio later in the document explains that Doc Long was an ex-dean at the University of Pennsylvania. His appointment ended when he was falsely convicted of arson.  

Doc Long’s photo and bio in The Black Manifesto. Image by the author.

After some searching online, I learned his full name was Doughtry “Doc” Long. I stumbled upon a document titled “Free Doc Long” written by someone who was a student in 1972.  It details his accusation and trial, which the author was also a suspect in: “He needed to be freed because he was arrested for plotting to burn the Astroturf on Franklin Field during the Penn Relays in the spring of 1970.” The article goes on to detail the Penn Relays story, and shed light on Black student and police dynamics during this time, Doc’s trial, even some details on the interrogation process for the writer. 

We learn that Doc was acquitted. We also learn he was an accomplished poet, who unfortunately passed on January 2020. I am disappointed I can’t reach out to him to learn more about his work and who he was. Nonetheless, I was delighted to run into some of his early work and trace the Black student/faculty, West Philadelphia, and police dynamic at that time. Not to mention he has a bibliography I have yet to get to. 

This was one of a few conversations I plan on having with this newspaper alone, and Doc’s poem sparked a few different directions I am taking my research next (such as – what was the context around that “riot” in 1970?). Working with broad research questions, and trying to apply an idea and terminology (Abolition) to information that might not state this directly, I have had to be open to the conversation that archives might initiate first. 


Copyright 2021 by Malkia Okech. All rights reserved.

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Malkia Okech (she/her) is an abolitionist activist, futurist, and community archaeologist. She seeks to learn from history, act in the present, and imagine a future towards true safety and justice, free of capitalism and white supremacy. Okech is the Associate Producer for Black Spatial Relics, a Curator in the Philadelphia Black arts collective Bad Apple Commune, a Research Associate for Monument Lab, and a Digital Producer at the local creative agency Mighty Engine. For Okech, understanding layers of oppression and resistance in Philadelphia through memory and artifacts is key and can be composited into a guide for liberation.