Smithsonian Institution Archives

Explore a select group of collection descriptions from the Archives & Manuscripts Catalog held by the Smithsonian Institution Archives pertaining to African American history and culture.


African Americans Highlights -- Smithsonian Institution Archives
Oral History and Videohistory
Collections Highlights

Photo citation: Smithsonian Institution Archives Record Unit 9545, Photographs

C. Alfred Anderson, Janet Harmon Bragg, and Lewis A. Jackson, aviators

Ella B. Howard Pearis, fourth generation resident of Anacostia in Washington, D.C.

Louis Purnell, Tuskegee Airman and museum technician

Photo citation: Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 371, Box 5, Folder October 1987, Negative 2002-32299

John R. Kinard, Director of the Anacostia Museum, 1979-1989

Smithsonian predoctoral fellow Michele Gates-Moresi conducted oral history interviews with curators at the National Museum of American History about the history of African-American exhibits at the Smithsonian Institution as part of her dissertation research.


Interviewee Highlights

Bernice Johnson Reagon (1942- ), noted composer, song leader in the 19th century Southwest Georgia choral tradition, and cultural historian. Reagon founded the group, Sweet Honey in the Rock, a Grammy Award-winning African American female a cappella ensemble with deep musical roots in the sacred music of the black church in 1973. Reagon served as a curator at the National Museum of American History at the Smithsonian in the 1980s. She was named a MacArthur Fellow in 1989, distinguished professor of history at American University, and Curator Emeritus at the National Museum of American History.

Easter Monday Oral History Interview

Photo citation: Smithsonian Institution Archives Record Unit 9615, Photographs

Delois Jackson interviewed by Jeffrey Hyson for the National Zoological Park, Easter Monday Interviews

Pamela M. Henson, of the Institutional History Division, Smithsonian Institution Archives, and Jeffrey Hyson, assistant professor at St. Joseph’s College, conducted interviews with twelve zoo visitors on Easter Monday about their families’ Easter Monday traditions and reminiscences of past Easter Monday visits to the National Zoo.

Louise Daniel Hutchinson (1928- ) directed the Research Center at the Anacostia Museum (AM) from 1974 to 1986. Hutchinson began her museum career in 1971 when she joined the staff of the National Portrait Gallery (NPG) to conduct researchon the William E. Harmon and Winold Reiss collections of portraits of African Americans. As an education specialist for the NPG, Hutchinson developed programs with the District of Columbia Public Schools and curriculum on the history of the District. In 1973, she moved to the National Park Service's site at the Frederick Douglass Home where she developed interpretive programs. In 1974, she returned to the Smithsonian to direct the Research Center at the AM. During her tenure, she conducted research in support of exhibits, developed an oral history program and the Anacostia Historical Society, and worked to establish collections and research expertise in African American history and culture at the AM.


Other Resources

The holdings described in the Archives and Manuscripts Catalog document the history of the Smithsonian Institution since its founding in 1846; and research in the fields of science, art, history, and museology. Materials include institutional records; papers of staff; records of scientific, historical, and museum organizations; and audio-visual material from research, exhibits, and the Institutional History Division's oral history and videohistory programs.


The Institutional History Division, Smithsonian Institution Archives began its Oral History Program in 1973. Program staff conduct interviews with current and retired Smithsonian staff and others who have made significant contributions to the Institution. The purpose of the program is to supplement the written documentation of the Archives records and manuscript collections, focusing on the history of the Institution, research by its scholars, and contributions of its staff.


The Smithsonian Videohistory Program, funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation from 1986 until 1992, used video in historical research. Videohistory uses the video camera as a historical research tool to record moving visual information. Video works best in historical research when recording people at work in environments, explaining artifacts, demonstrating process, or in group discussion. The experimental program recorded projects that reflected the Institution's concern with the conduct of contemporary science and technology.