Transcribing Civil Rights history

Through January, we’re publishing year-in-review highlights from FY2020. Download a full PDF of this year’s Annual Report to read more! This week’s theme has to do with building the future for Library collections. 

In August 2018, three years after civil rights icon and UVA professor Julian Bond died, and a year after the deadly “Unite the Right” rally focused national attention on racial inequities within the Charlottesville community, the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library and the Scholars’ Lab (coordinated by Laura Miller, with help from Brandon Walsh) joined with UVA’s Carter G. Woodson Institute of African-American and African Studies to give new scope to Bond’s eloquent expression of a generation’s struggle against racism. In a crowdsourced project, volunteers began transcribing Bond’s papers housed in the Library’s special collections — bringing to the world what had previously been available only in person. Beginning with Bond’s speeches, the transcribed material is being assembled in a digital scholarly edition of “The Essential Julian Bond.”

The project announcement called for volunteers to register and come to the Woodson Institute, the Scholars’ Lab, or two other off-Grounds transcribing centers. Those who could not come in person could participate remotely. During the noon hour, participants and the public were invited to view an exhibition of original Julian Bond materials in the Small Special Collections Library, coordinated by Krystal Appiah.

Speaking about the project a year later, Deborah McDowell, Alice Griffin Professor of English and director of the Woodson Institute, said participants in the inaugural event reported a “sense of deep fulfillment at being engaged with these materials; that they felt they were doing more than simply transcribing words from a page into a computer, but that they were actually engaged with this figure whose words, dating back in many cases decades before, still retain their relevance, their resonance, and their importance.”

Bond taught over 5,000 students in more than two decades at UVA, sharing unique insights into the history he helped make. As co-founder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in 1960, he mounted direct-action challenges to segregation and organized voter registration drives across the South; he won election to the Georgia Legislature where he served seven terms; he co-founded the Southern Poverty Law Center; and he served as chairman of the NAACP. At UVA he co-directed the “Explorations in Black Leadership” oral history video collection and led nine “Civil Rights South” seminars, taking participants to Atlanta, Birmingham, Selma, and other sites important in the history of the civil rights movement. In 2016, UVA’s College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences established the Julian Bond Professorship of Civil Rights and Social Justice.

McDowell expressed a hope that the first event was only the beginning of “an ongoing and mutually beneficial collaboration on digital humanities projects across the University.” According to Woodson Institute coordinator of the Citizen Justice Initiative, James Perla, by the end of the second annual Bond transcribe-a-thon in August 2019, 3,000 pages had been transcribed. Read more about the event. 

Julian Bond sits next to the Dalai Lama in a panel discussion

“Nobel Laureate Peace Conference,” 1998. University of Virginia Visual History Collection 

A young Julian Bond, with afro and suit and tie, stands behind a podium, speaking

“Julian Bond Delivering Speech,” 1974. University of Virginia Printing Services Photograph File and Index 1974-1977 (RG-5/7/2.821

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