The M(N)STRY: The Legacy of Black Arkives

legacy+brochure+final+(spreads)Etymology of Legacy: late 14c., legacie, “body of persons sent on a mission,” from Medieval Latin legatia, from Latin legatus“ambassador, envoy, deputy,” noun use of past participle of legare “send with a commission, appoint as deputy, appoint by a last will” (see legate).

Can the archive be our arsenal and the archivist our warrior in this current war on memory and information? As ambassadors of the black archive, what stories are we sending out and leaving behind? Going in October and last month to the Weeksville Center’s The Legacy Project and their events centered around black archival work and memory reinforced that for me. The Legacy Project is “a continuum of James Weeks’ self-determining actions.” James Weeks, a freedman, purchased land in Brooklyn during the pre-Civil War era and with that land created what became the second largest known independent Black community in the U.S. Under threat of being forgotten, “in 1968, a small group of community activists rediscovered these four dilapidated houses that were rare residential remnants of historic Weeksville. Its rediscovery led to the restoration of the Hunterfly Road Houses, and the formalization of the Society for the Preservation of Weeksville and Bedford-Stuyvesant History, later known as Weeksville Heritage Center.” “The Legacy Project will continue this evolution through activating WHC’s archives, building annual public programs, public training workshops, and an internship program for students of color” interested in archival work.

As someone who is interested in archives and libraries ( I do have my own mobile library, called J. Expressions, dedicated to showcasing and cultivating the work of the literary community in Southeast Queens), this project was right up my alley. The first event I attended was The Sustainability of Black Archives in October. This was great opportunity for me; many in communities of color don’t have a chance this  information in how to preserve important objects, like books, documents, photographs, digital files, sound recordings, film in ways that people will be able to access them and utilize them in the future. In the personal archiving workshop with Obden Mondesir and Joyce LeeAnn, we learned about various techniques to preserve materials, such as using mylar archival sleeves and archival boxes, wearing cotton gloves when handling materials (oil and dirt on hands can ruin them), proper temperature control, making copies and storing originals, and labeling items for future researching. They gave us some suggestions for websites to look for more information: NARA (National Archive and Record Administration), “AIC (American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works), Gaylord Archival, Hollinger Metal Edge and University Products. We also learned digital archival techniques, such as using iMemories, formats that do not degrade as quickly (PNG, PDF, TIFF), and again labeling/Metadata.

https3a2f2fcdn-evbuc-com2fimages2f356870252f2141432536972f12foriginalAfter the workshop, the event continued with a series of talks centered around the history of Weeksville, the work involved in preserving the space and its history, and the current archivists and interns who are working to keep this history alive. Witnessing this history through the archives stressed the importance of archives and stories for black communities, as they often help to fight certain stereotypes and misconceptions about black people. Many of us don’t think about thriving black communities that existed in America in the 19th century. Usually we are given, as writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie said, “the single story” of slavery, fugitive slaves, the south, plantations, and the civil war. But here this community existed and it could have easily been forgotten if it wasn’t for community members and activists believing this story needed to be told.

Speaking of stories, they themselves can be a form of storing information about the past. The first event ended with librarian and archivist, Megan Goins-Diouf, leading an interactive talk looking at literature and bibliographies as forms of archives and how digital mediums continue that legacy. For example, the information that is shared via tweets, threads and hashtags (eg. #BlackTheory). But the talk also included how us writing about or writing in our own words the information we have gathered is another way of remembering, which brings me to the next event I attended, The Archival Text, which explored how our own stories and bodies utilize and are archives as well. Joyce LeeAnn, who co-organized this project and is an archivist and writer, explores the use of archives in her own creative writing work. She published Somethymes Grief Goes for a Walk in response to the loss of one of her close friends. By creatively going through her archives of documents, audio and videos she had of her friend, she was able to get through the grief. https3a2f2fcdn-evbuc-com2fimages2f364610732f2141432536972f12foriginal

At The Archival Text we had a chance to listen to various writers and how they encountered and activated archives through their work. The workshop I attended, writer and researcher Akeema-Zane’s Speaking Memory from Bones: Improvisational Dig, gave us a chance to write what conjured up from our encounter with various materials, whether it was through smelling fragrances, listening to audio, watching video footage, looking at photographs or reading texts. I personally love doing ekphrastic writing, which is writing inspired by looking at visual art or objects, so this workshop resonated with me. Below is the soundtrack we listened to during it:

Here is a revised draft of what I wrote during the workshop:


What to do when your throat is sore?





Down my throat


Down my throat

Dissolving tombstones

Down my throat

Sweet syrup

fighting like a pirate

against scurvy

the way the sea cuts me

the way history cuts me

Sweet syrup

Drops down my throat

Vita/Amen     Sea       See

Healing sharpness

Mix it with a little honey, Honey!

Mama always said that was the cure.

She always said, let your throat soar!


Outer Noise

Drum beat             Stomping feet

Tongues on fire

Song of a motherless child

She who wanted no sugar in her coffee

and got some anyway


Create              voice

like a Calypso tune

like a Mighty Sparrow

singing Lion-O     in a chain gang

They want no sugar in their coffee

and got some anyway:

Got riots?

Who are these people?

In what different world        do they live?

Says the white investigator in his study of negroes

the nosiest computer             We know

We ask what is the Internet?

What is this @ sign?

What          is it about?

Is it to move around?

Is it to move towards?

Is it where it’s at?

Is it where it’s not?

Is it never arriving?

Is it always landing in d/ark?

Is it arkive? Is it ark hive?

Is it the energetic exchange? Is it all the energy we’ve ever had?

Where is our returns? Our credit? The Interest in the debt owed to us?

What is the Internet?

Is it sounds of distraction?

Taking us away     from concentration?

Is it black therapy?

Is it us always waiting to be cargo? for shipment?

Is it us as winged models?

Is it us surrounded by distortion of reflections?

Is it Africa on TV? Is it wild kingdom?

Is it black angel holding the photo of a poet?

Is it a mother holding a child and speaking of development?

Is it what I need? Is it a brain operation? Is it mind formation? Is it a mind overwhelmed?

Is it it’s not easy being green?

Is it us defining ourselves? divining ourselves?

Is it Translating Africa: a voyage through time and space?



Foreign streets        red shoes     again

Music          is dinner        tomorrow

Ann           a strange girl      says

sun           the color of            mango

Ann        a painter             likes Pete

Is waiting      for Pete          the great lady

retired      from the screen    hopes to feel

like shiny heads   anointed      cries

I wish                  I were            drunk Pete

I love                 your funny         walk

foreign               paper               part of my soul

I weep              my Maria        for what is gone

who                  understands        more

these                sweet days       of belief

the cry comes     back            the boy jumping up

in the air            almost flying     mama

is                        smiling                still


Part 2 of this post will be a recap of the Joyce LeeAnn and Akeema-Zane workshop, In the Middle of Things: The Poetics of Archival Praxis, at Pioneer Works!

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