Introducing the HistoryMakers Digital Archive!

By Jamie B. RSS Tue, February 16, 2021

What do Guion Bluford, Angela Davis, Hank Aaron, Maya Angelou, Katherine G. Johnson, Eartha Kitt, Sonny Rollins, Gordon Parks, Ntozake Shange, and E. Lynn Harris all have in common? They are phenomenal Black people who have influenced the course of history and whose stories are preserved as part of The HistoryMakers.

Free Library cardholders now have access to oral history interviews with these ten amazing giants and over 2,500 other historically significant African Americans through our newest database, The HistoryMakers, made possible by a grant from the Knight Foundation.

The HistoryMakers Digital Archive is the nation's largest African American video oral history collection. It provides high-quality primary source content, with fully searchable transcripts, from thousands of people from a broad range of backgrounds and experiences whose stories are worthy of remembrance.

Since 2014, the Library of Congress has housed the HistoryMakers archive. Julieanna Richardson, The HistoryMakers founder and executive director, says

"The HistoryMakers represents the single largest archival project of its kind since the Works Progress Administration’s initiative to document the experiences of former slaves in the 1930s... With the Library of Congress serving as our permanent repository, we are assured of its preservation and safekeeping for generations to come."

You’ll need your Free Library library card number and PIN to access the HistoryMakers at home.

  1. Click on the databases link on our homepage.
  2. Find HistoryMakers in the A-Z database list under “H” to go to their website.
  3. Use the Non University Login field and type in "Free Library of Philadelphia"
  4. When prompted, enter your library card number in the Free Library of Philadelphia box.

The HistoryMakers interviews are long, approximately 3 hours, but they are broken down into easy to view 2-5 minute segments that you can watch in any order you want. Each interview includes a brief overview of the subject, a short biography, a table of contents, a fully-searchable transcript, and citation information.

I’m a plant parent, so I watched sections of the interview with Dr. Lafayette Frederick, (1923-2018,) a Black mycologist after whom the native Hawaiian species Cyrtandra Frederickii was named. In his interview, he recalls his childhood memories of Mississippi, his parents’ garden, seeing George Washington Carver at Tuskegee as an undergraduate, his research on Dutch Elm disease, and more. It was a really special experience to hear him tell his story in his own words and I’m so grateful to The HistoryMakers for preserving this important part of American history for all of us.

We invite you to explore this amazing archive today. Tell us what you find in the comments below!

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