UMD Libraries Serving to to Lead Mission to Digitize Data That Hyperlink Labor, Civil Rights Actions in American South

The University of Maryland Libraries and Georgia State University Library are launching a three-year project to digitize records of the labor movement’s links with the civil rights movement.

The “Workers Rights Advancement in the American South” project is funded by a grant of US $ 350,000 from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR). It provides online access to records of the Civil Rights Southeast Division of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), as well as records of the AFL, CIO, and AFL-CIO Civil Rights Department nationally.

The award is part of the CLIR “Digitization of Hidden Special Collections and Archives” program, which is made possible by funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

UMD’s contribution to the project is the exclusive collection of text materials, photographs and films documenting the national work of AFL-CIO from the 1940s to the turn of the millennium. One film, The Challenge, provides important context about the assassination of a local Florida civil rights leader, but has not been seen in at least 40 years due to its delicate condition.

This project will increase the number of documents in the collection from 27 to 54,000.

“These records are the most important records linking the national labor movement to the civil rights movement,” said Ben Blake, AFL-CIO archivist for social justice and labor at UMD libraries. “Nothing compares to this final collection.”

Blake noted that the digitization of the collection is happening as civil and labor rights come back to the fore in national consciousness. The AFL-CIO is the largest trade union federation in the United States and consists of 56 national and international unions. With 12.5 million members, the AFL-CIO is second only to the NAACP in Black membership.

“There is a rich history of civil rights advocacy for the labor movement, but for the most part it’s an untold story,” Blake said. “For example, the movement played a transformative role in combating the Ku Klux Klan in the south.”

The digitized collections are freely accessible in the digital collections of the UMD libraries and the GSU. and through the Civil Rights Digital Library, the Digital Public Library of America, and the Umbra Search Engine for African American History.

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