In February 1999, the Youngstown Alumnae chapter of Delta Sigma Theta sorority celebrated Black History Month with a project commemorating the achievements of the local African American community. The women in this group took upon themselves the responsibility to continue the oral history tradition by creating an audio-visual presentation documenting the history of African Americans in the Mahoning Valley. The presentation, entitled Remembering Our Past and Moving Forward, premiered on Saturday, March 27, 1999, at the “Give the Children a Chance, Inc.” offices in Youngstown.
One part of this presentation was a series of posterboards of different sizes, each containing photographs, news clippings, and biographies prepared for the presentation, as well as other ephemera relating to thirty-nine African Americans who have made contributions both locally and nationally, spanning the mid-nineteenth century to the present. Local groups and institutions of pertinence, such as the McGuffy Centre, were also highlighted. This collection was graciously loaned to the Archives & Special Collections of Youngstown State University’s Maag Library in 2008 to be digitized and made publicly available online.
The biographies compiled by the Delta Heritage Project form a community portrait when viewed as a whole. We can see the story of a group of people who fought with determination and dignity to attain the equality upon which the United States of America was founded. Given our nation’s troubled history, this struggle naturally could be expected to appear as a common thread throughout such a collection as this. In a more general sense, however, we see people who lived their lives. In total, the Delta Heritage Project is a picture of human life, complex and multi-faceted, set against the backdrop of our city.
On an individual level, these aspects reveal themselves to be diverse, as well. In archival practice, records such as those that make up this collection are arranged thematically into specific categories, called series. For the Delta Heritage Project, the biographies were processed by the series “Persons by Occupation,” with several different occupations (such as “business” and “media”) serving as subseries. The process of defining a person in this manner can be a difficult judgment to make. The breadth of experiences of many of the individuals profiled by the Delta Heritage Project is that more boldy underscored when posed with the singular question, “What is this person’s occupation?” For instance, Herb Washington appears in the subseries “Business” as the owner of twenty-one local McDonald’s restaurants and the Steelhounds hockey team; however, he was also a professional baseball player and has long been involved in politics, from protesting the lack of black officials and faculty as a student athlete to serving on the board of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and the Youngstown Chamber of Commerce. Dr. Ron Daniels is placed in the “Arts and Letters” subseries for his vast scholarship, but he is also the executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights–and even ran for President of the United States in 1992 as a third-party candidate. When reading through the biographies created by the project, it becomes clear that community service alone could be rightly applied as a category for most of the people being commemorated. In addition to being lawyers and laborers, businessmen and broadcasters, however, they were also soldiers, protestors, scholars, volunteeers, actvists, athletes, role models, and more.
The materials preserved in the Delta Heritage Project Collection offer inspiration and information that is candid and close-to-home. In this collection, one sees that individual lives are truly the basis for “community.”
Additional resources of pertinence available through Maag Library and the YSU Archives include:
The following links are to articles from the Jambar Digital Newspaper Archive (Courtesy of the Youngstown State University Archives).
The following links are to oral histories dealing with African-American migration to Youngstown. (Courtesy of the Oral History Department at Youngstown State University).