Behind the Veil: Documenting African American Life in the Jim Crow South interviews, photographs, and project records, circa 1864-2011, bulk 1990-1999 87 Linear Feet — 122 boxes; 4 oversize folders
Materials in the Behind the Veil project collection date from about 1864 to 2011, with the bulk dating from the 1990s; earlier dates represent original image content rather than the reproduction date. The core component of the collection comprises over 1200 oral histories conducted by Behind the Veil interviewers with African Americans in cities, towns, and rural locations in Georgia; Arkansas; Michigan; Alabama; North Carolina; Los Angeles, California; Mississippi; Tennessee; Kentucky; Louisiana; Virginia; South Carolina, and Florida. The majority of the interviews were conducted during summers between 1993 to 1995, with additional interviews added from 1995 to 2004. These interviews, originally recorded by Behind the Veil staff and volunteers on audiocassettes, have been digitized; in addition, all other project records and images are currently being digitized and will be made available as they are ingested into the Duke Digital Repository.
A second core component consists of over 2100 historical and contemporary photographic images in the form of black-and-white and color slides, photographic prints, and negatives. These form several large groups: donated historical materials imaged at interview locations by BTV staff; contemporary photographs taken by staff as they gave interviews and explored local communities; and photographs of BTV staff at work, BTV offices, and project events and training. Historic images in slide format include many photographs of African American individuals and families dating from the 1880s to the mid-20th century; they also include images of documents such as news clippings, military papers, political ephemera, school diplomas, and brief publications. The images are described in more detail in their listings in this collection guide.
The remainder of the collection consists of project administrative records. These files - in paper and electronic format - include National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) grant information; correspondence; staffing records; meeting notes and minutes; outreach; files on publication and exhibit projects; and information on classes, seminars, and training given for students and project staff.
The Behind the Veil collection not only focuses on the experiences of individuals, but also reflects the importance of black institutions as the backbone of black communities. The interviews, documents and photographs reflect the crucial role that black churches, fraternal societies, women's clubs, and political organizations played in African American community life. The testimony of educators and students from historically black colleges, agricultural schools and institutes enrich conventional beliefs about black agency in segregated schools.
Although the focus of the interviews was on the Jim Crow era, the life history format of most interviews led informants to comment on events after segregation. Information about civil rights struggles in the 1960s, African American participation in desegregation within local communities, and post-1965 activism and community work are also included in many Behind the Veil interviews. The interviews in this collection also raise crucial questions about the shape of memory and the creation of narratives that can inform not only research in oral history but also literature and anthropology. Research into black religion can be enriched by the voices of Behind the Veil. Studies that examine oppression and resistance could be informed by the rich documentary record of labor and social culture that the collection presents. The Behind the Veil collection illuminates innumerable topics, time periods, and research interests.