An In Depth look into The HistoryMakers Digital Archive

Each month, the DePaul University Library delves deep into our collections to feature resources recommended by our Library Liaisons. This month, Heather Hummons, Liaison to the African and Black Diaspora Studies Program, recommends The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. HistoryMakers is a collection of oral history recordings following the lives of influential African American figures (including some DePaul alumni and faculty!) and African-American-led groups and movements. We briefly highlighted the source in October 2020 on Researching African American History with New Library Resources and due to such a positive response we are providing a more in-depth look for those who expressed interest in learning more.

HistoryMakers’ Standee. Photo from HistoryMakers Event at Chicago Public Library Harold Washington Library, February 2, 2017. Photographer Heather Hummons.
HistoryMakers’ Standee. Photo from HistoryMakers Event at Chicago Public Library Harold Washington Library, February 2, 2017. Photographer Heather Hummons.

Established in 1999, HistoryMakers is a non-profit institution that, over the past two decades, has compiled a digital archive of interviews that catalogue African American histories, stories, and memories dating back to the 1890s. With almost 150,000 stories from over 2,600 historically significant speakers, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive is truly one of the most unique and important resources in support of DePaul’s African and Black Diaspora Studies Program. With notable appearances of poet Nikki Giovanni, politician and activist John Lewis, (then) Senator Barack Obama, activist Patricia Hill, and many more, this archive provides access to personalized stories and narratives of figures who changed the course of history.

There have been attempts to record oral histories of the African American experience before, but not on this scale or of this time period. As noted on the HistoryMakers website, there was an attempt by the Federal Writers’ Project in the 1930s to compile the stories of former slaves (known as the WPA Slave Narrative Collection), but many have been critical of this project’s methods and results. HistoryMakers strives to provide accessible, authentic, and rich content for its users, giving youth the ability to listen to their role models and develop a better understanding of African American History. 

Searching “DePaul” will bring up oral histories from former DePaul professors David Coar and Barbara Ransby as well as many stories from former students about the opportunities they found while at DePaul. And for each clip, there is a link below the video for the speaker’s page, where patrons can see every clip from every interview. The HistoryMakers Digital Archive is accessible through our A-Z Databases & Resources page on the library website. With an easily navigable user interface, the ability to search and sort by category, age, name, and state, it’s easy to get lost in these stories for hours. 

HistoryMakers in Attendance. Photo from HistoryMakers Event at Chicago Public Library Harold Washington Library, February 2, 2017. Photographer Heather Hummons.
HistoryMakers in Attendance. Photo from HistoryMakers Event at Chicago Public Library Harold Washington Library, February 2, 2017. Photographer Heather Hummons.

Here are a few more detailed examples of our community members found within the HistoryMakers database:

Barbara Sizemore, former Dean of the School of Education, was an educator and academic administrator. Sizemore was one of the first African American women to become a principal of a Chicago Public School and the first African American woman to lead a major city public school system as the superintendent of the DC’s public school system. In one of the excerpts from her interview in the database, Sizemore discusses her time at DePaul as “one of the most rewarding experiences” in her lifetime. Sizemore goes on to explain that through DePaul she was able to more directly connect with the community and was supported by the institution in the outreach she established in the Chicago Public Schools. 

College of Law Alum, the Hon. Benjamin Hooks, served as the first Black criminal court judge in Tennessee and the first African-American appointed to the Federal Trade Commision. Hooks is well-known for his tenure as the executive director of the NAACP from 1977-1992 and forever remains a civil rights leadership icon to the Black Community. In his interview with HistoryMakers, Hooks discusses the reputation of DePaul in the legal community for “having more judges on the bench in Chicago” than its other local law school competitors and rates his alma-mater as a “tremendously good school.” 

College of Law Alum, the Hon. Earl Strayhorn served as an artillery officer with the Tuskegee Airmen in WWII. As a judge, Strayhorn presided over the 1st Municipal Division, Cook county court’s largest unit. In his interview with HistoryMakers, Strayhorn explains the demographics of his incoming class as consisting of “seventy-nine students, two women, four blacks and all the rest returning war veterans like I was, married with families” and reminisces about his time at DePaul as “the most exhilarating educational experience” that he and his fellow veteran classmates had ever gone through. Additionally, when asked about any professors that stood out during his time at DePaul University College of Law, Stayhorn names four specific faculty members; Professor Arthur Anderson for his Contract Law course, Professor Dan Ward for his Criminal Law course, Professor Max Rapacz (Rapasse) for his Property Law course, and Professor Dane Taft for his Constitutional Law course.

School of Music Alum, Regina Harris Baiocchi is a music composer, poet and author. Graduating with her MM in 1995, Harris-Baiocchi works have been performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Detroit Symphony Orchestra, US Army Band, and some artists renowned internationally. Performances include concerts in Paris, Rome, and Bari, Italy, as part of Festival Incontri Musicali di Musica Sacra, and in Turkey and Unna, Germany at the Women Composers’ Library. Embodying the Vincentian mission and values in her work, Harris-Baiocchi founded Haiku Festival to celebrate children and promote literacy. 

In Harris-Baiocchi’s interview with HistoryMakers, she discusses the creation of Gbeldahoven: No One’s Child (1996)” as her primary reason for pursuing her second master’s degree at DePaul. As Harris-Baiocchi elaborates, she believed writing her composition in “the context of an academic environment” would provide her the structure and “discipline” she needed to complete the piece.

We hope you will explore the HistoryMakers database, consider incorporating its contents into your curriculum or use its extensive collection of oral history interviews when seeking primary resources in the future. If you have questions about this resource please contact Heather Hummons, Library Liaison to African and Black Diaspora Studies Program at hhummons@depaul.edu

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