City’s ‘African American Experience Project’ memorializes vital Sacramento history

African Americans have played an important role in Sacramento’s history, yet many of their contributions have gone undocumented and unrecognized – until now.

The African American Experience Project, the first of its kind in Sacramento, is chronicling the stories of Black residents, including the hardships they faced, the successes they achieved and the legacies they established. 

A collaboration between the City of Sacramento’s historic preservation office and California State University, Sacramento, the project is funded by a grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, with the goal of increasing awareness of Black history and cultural resources in Sacramento.

For more than a year, City preservation staff, Sac State students and historic consultants have worked to research African American history in Sacramento. This past summer, project organizers invited Black families to share their memories as well as artifacts, photos, newspaper clippings and other documents.

In recognition of Black History Month, City Express sat down with project co-director Carson Anderson, to get an update on the ongoing work, which will be archived at the Center for Sacramento History.

What is the significance of the AAE Project? 

Although some landmark listings of Black historical resources occurred previously, the AAE Project is the City’s first successful, grant-funded, community-partnership effort to develop an overview history of African Americans in Sacramento and to identify, at a citywide level, historical resources associated with African Americans. 

The project takes a systematic look at the larger historical context that explains the why/when/where of how the Black community took shape. That overview has enabled us to formulate a methodology for identifying significant African American historical resources that have powerful stories associated with them. That methodology for looking specifically at African American resources did not exist previously here in Sacramento.

The AAE Project also introduces a StoryCorps-inspired DIY oral history ingathering effort, including a DIY video on the Community Development Department’s project webpage and a link for uploading the oral histories. 

What is the project’s goal? 

African American contributions to our city’s history and to the larger complex — and the often, harrowing — history of African American existence in America, is often glossed over or deliberately hidden, because it challenges the notion of American exceptionalism.

Carson Anderson

It is the hope of the City’s preservation staff and the project partners that the Black community will fully embrace this first step at lifting up its history and will inspire the community to take ownership of and build upon these first steps. Another hoped for outcome includes providing data that could help bolster current initiatives undertaken by the State and the Mayor’s Office in studying the reparations question. 

It is further hoped that non-Black persons will embrace the history documented through the AAE Project and in so doing, help facilitate the dismantling of systemic racism. 

How can the public access the information being gathered? 

Physical copies of a draft-form overview history are being made available at public libraries, and electronic copies can be downloaded from the Community Development Department’s project webpage.

Ingathered oral histories will be accessible to the public through the project’s webpage, and permanent copies retained at the Center of Sacramento History—the County/City archival repository, which is open to the public.

Discussions are occurring with project partners, such as the Sojourner Truth African Heritage Museum, and the Sacramento History Museum, about developing future exhibitions and school curricula utilizing project research findings. 

What are the next steps for the project? 

Staff and historic consultants will be coaching students from the Sacramento State Public History, who will be completing a field reconnaissance survey of African American historical resources in Sacramento spring 2023.  We also will be promoting the DIY oral history ingathering effort. 

Additional community meetings will be held to invite feedback on the first draft overview history and then produce a second draft overview history, reflecting public feedback and containing additional research detail during spring 2023. 

How can people participate in this project?

Anyone who would like to get involved can visit the project webpage to learn more and view the first public draft of the overview history. People can:

  • Attend an upcoming community meeting to hear the discussions of community history. 
  • Record an oral history of a parent, grandparent or community elder. View the video and other instructions on the project webpage to learn how to do this.
  • Discuss important family photos, news clippings and honorary citations with by City staff and give permission for staff to make copies of them as part of the project archive.
When will this project conclude?

The AAE Project is expected to conclude this summer. However, the need for archives and stories will be ongoing.  

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