— By Elizabeth Sanderson
I came to archive at Shorefront under the suggestion of Benn Joseph, the professor at my archiving class at Dominican University. Dino Robinson, Shorefront’s founder, was very approachable and informative and I greatly enjoy working for him. His personal knowledge of the growing collection continues to amaze me. What he began as a personal investigation into his own history and genealogy, Shorefront has built into a substantial resource of the experiences and history of African Americans on Chicago’s North Shore. The greatest benefit of this experience for me has been grasping the enormity of the work required to build an archive from scratch.
There are two rows of metal shelves that hold the archival materials. One row for each the processed and unprocessed materials. The processed archives are organized on one level by subject content and additionally by material type. According to Dino, the collection has increased by 50% over the last year. The BMRC did the initial set up for the finding aid for the archives. The BMRC work is the standard for the archive.
I was allowed to choose where I wanted to begin. To start, I spent time perusing the collection, and then created labels for many of the processed boxes using a preexisting template. Once the part of the processed collection that was ready to be labeled had been dealt with, and I had a better sense of what was needed, I decided to complete the processing and create a finding aid for the Melvin Smith collection. Ultimately, processing any archive is about allowing the information to bring a system into focus that makes sense of the information. Determining what is valuable or even useful is impossible without understanding the scope of the information.
This collection consists of 14 boxes. The bulk of the collection is the records of the CCC (Concerned Citizens Commitment) Newsette, which operated from 1971 through 1985. Melvin Smith-an activist for community and education-wrote the CCC publication, as a nonprofit voice for the African American community in at first, Evanston and Skokie, and later expanded to Waukegan and Zion. Smith also retained the ledgers for the CCC as well as his former newspaper, the Evanston Newsette. Several boxes contain photographic materials, of which there are three types: original photographs, screen stats for printing purposes, and mockups of all publications.
It took me awhile to get a handle on the scope of content
When I began processing the collection, a pristine complete set of the publications had already been completely processed. Some of the mockups were paper clipped to additional copies of the newsletters and organized into envelopes. I separated the mockups from the copies of the Newsette and organized them chronologically. This way, the mockups could perhaps be set aside as restricted access in order to preserve the integrity of the documents as originals. The pristine copies could also be set aside and the secondary copies could be use for research purposes.
The collection was large and the processing was slow going. It took me awhile to get a handle on the scope of content to figure out how to organize it. The CCC Newsette issues and their related materials were the easiest, because of their subtype and chronological characterization.
I couldn’t have asked for a better collection to process. There are a fair amount of photographs. Much of Smith’s source materials were of interest historically, especially as an Evanston resident. The most moving aspect was the overarching story of Melvin Smith’s life. Smith stood as a voice against injustice. He was also a man of commitment, diligently reaching out into the community and serving the people the news. There are investigative files about corruption of Evanston policemen and councilmen. And internationally known incidents, like the attempt to deport former Northwestern University professor Dennis Brutus back to South Africa. There are also folders full of correspondence that demonstrate the care and genuine effort Smith invested into the people who surrounded him. He was careful to respond to everyone who wrote him, and served as a mentor and advocate for all those-family and not-within his sphere of influence. The documents for the AHOC highlight Smith’s passion for what is the abiding mission of Shorefront, honoring history by creating a forum in which it can be preserved. Watching this information come into focus has been and incredible experience for me.