Documenting African American History

From Minnesota Alumni Magazine Spring 2017

s2017_documentingafricanamericanhistory_inline300 Learning the depth and breadth of African American history got easier with the January launch of Umbra Search African American History, a partnership between the University of Minnesota Libraries and St. Paul-based Penumbra Theatre Company. offers free access to hundreds of thousands of videos, photographs, oral histories, maps, handwritten letters, and other items from more than 1,000 U.S. archives, libraries, and museums, including Yale, Temple, and Howard Universities and the Smithsonian Institute.

Umbra Search pays homage to the Umbra Society of the early 1960s, a renegade group of Black writers and poets who helped create the Black Arts Movement.

“No library is able to digitize all of its holdings, but by bringing together materials from all over the country; Umbra Search allows students and scholars to tell stories that have never been told before,” says director Cecily Marcus.

The photograph above is one of thousands available at It shows founding members of the Niagara Movement, a black civil rights organization established in 1905, superimposed over an image of Niagara Falls. The organization was named for the “mighty current” of change it wanted to effect.


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