Documents recovered from former African American Cultural Center reflect neglect


Hannah Auten

The former house for Bruce D. Nesbitt African American Cultural Center has been torn down and will be replaced with a new building at the same location. which is expected to open in 2018.

By Cori Lippert, Staff Writer

Construction on the new African American Cultural Center is underway, but students are still working through the contents of the old demolished building.

Nathan Stephens, the director of the new African American Cultural Center, said in an email that students were helping with the cleanup of the old building when they made the discovery.

Kurtis Ture, graduate student in Education and co-organizer of Black Students for Revolution, is one of the students who discovered documents in the basement of the old cultural center, which was condemned due to asbestos.

“I would have to say they were left down there because of institutional neglect of black student lives in history,” Ture said. “I think nobody in the administration, whether it be a white administrator or many of the black administrators or senior staff, it seemed like they didn’t feel like the recovery of those items were important.”

Ture said radio broadcasts, the minutes and agendas of past black student organizations, photos and other materials were left in the basement.

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Black Students for Revolution is volunteering time to help enter the files into the University archives system. Ture said due to a lack of funding in the archives department, Black Students for Revolution volunteered to archive the materials themselves.

Black Students for Revolution has been working with Anna Trammell in the archives department to make the records available for the public.

Trammell said she works closely with student organizations and encourages them to archive their files and photos to help preserve the history of the University.

“Students are the reason that we are here, so we do spend a lot of time in the archives focusing on faculty papers are departmental records,” Trammell said “But the history of student life and student culture on campus tells a very different story, and it really enriches the story of the history of the University of Illinois.”

Trammell said researchers from Project 500, the University’s effort to attract more African -American students, often ask questions about the archives. She said she has already discovered documents relating to Project 500 from the basement that the archives didn’t have access to before.

Ture said he feels excited but cautious about the new cultural center. He said black students and black student activists have not been consulted on the construction of the new cultural center.

Ture believes the lack of communication is due to black students’ critical view of the University’s history and uses Project 500 as an example.

“The University didn’t uphold its agreement or its mission to bring in 500 black students for academic years,” Ture said. “That is why we only have around 5 percent of the student body, only 5 percent being black students. The reason that number remains so low is the University doesn’t see this mission as its core mission, including African-Americans in recruiting them and creating an environment here on campus.”

Ture said he wants the administration to give more funding to the African American Cultural Center and the Department of African American Studies and allow more black student body voices to be heard.

Trammell said the University archives have records that tend to focus on a certain type of student.

“So, making sure that we are telling the story of black students on campus, Asian -American students on campus, LGBT students on campus, that is something that we are really trying to increase our holdings in that area, making sure that we are correcting some of the archival silences that have been created over the years,” she said.

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