When we learn about past events in history classes, we learn names and places and facts. When we study the Civil Rights era, we learn about the prominent leaders of the time, the Supreme Court cases, the amendment to the constitution. And we can see the results of what was achieved during this time period in effect today. But as with all historical events, there is a distance. For many students, it feels long ago and far away. It's difficult to understand what it was like for someone to experience the reality of these events firsthand.
Professor Carmen Gillespie and I began this project in order to create a way for students to feel more connected to events often lost in the hazy mists of the broad term "history." It can be difficult to sympathize with what feels long ago and far away, so I hoped to somehow make the Civil Rights era more personal for Bucknellians.
So what could be a connection between the Civil Rights era and present day Bucknell students? What do they have in common? The answer: Bucknell. We decided to look into what was going on at the University during this time period. How were students attending Bucknell during these years reacting to the world-changing events happening around them? What were they doing to participate in the Civil Rights movement?
In order answer these questions, I enlisted the help of Special Collections/University Archives Curator Isabella O'Neill who helped me locate and scan countless University documents. We poured through old copies of the Bucknellian, articles from Bucknell's Alumnus magazine, and the meticulously kept records of Bucknell's Christian Association. I combed through posters and advertisements, photographs, Student Church pamphlets, the administration's correspondence, and news articles from the Sunbury Daily Item, the Bucknellian, as well as the Bucknell NAACP's newsletters and the Christian Association's newsletters.
Exploring my University's history in this way gave me a greater appreciation for the University archives, the Civil Rights movement, and for Bucknell in general. Reading the words and experiences of students who had lived and learned and studied in the same places that I have helped me forge a connection to the Civil Rights era that I wanted to share with other students.
The next question was how to present all this information and all these documents I had spent so much time researching in a way that would encourage this connection for other students. Professor Gillespie and I met with Diane Jakacki in Digital Humanities to discuss how best to present my findings. We settled on a platform called Omeka, where I could present the research in the form of online exhibits.
The Bucknell Civil Rights Project on Omeka is now a collection of Bucknell's records from the Civil Rights era. It provides documentation of civil rights issues at Bucknell, Bucknell's NAACP chapter and scholarship opportunities for black students, information on African American speakers that visited the University, materials on exchange programs Bucknell participated in with historically black universities, the University's ongoing attempt to increase diversity, and the difficulties that black students at a predominantly white university during this time period often faced. It gives a different insight into the Civil Rights era, a more specific insight-one that is less broad, but hopefully more relatable.