Racialized Archives, Local Histories, and Black Women’s Genealogies in Champaign-Urbana
In this talk, Dr. Vanessa Rouillon introduces her research on the early twentieth-century rhetorical and racial uplift work conducted in Bethel AME Church, an African American congregation in Champaign, Illinois. In particular, she examines the domestic archives that are kept under the control of local black families and that document a history of religious, civic, and educational engagements, amid overwhelmingly white locations.
Because archives are culturally situated and function rhetorically, she argues that local archival practices and historical memories produced in “alternative” and segregated locations have specific rhetorical (and survival) functions, which affirm citizenship, demonstrate literacy character, and establish racial agency. Dr. Rouillon examines how Bethel congregants studied, maintained, and circulated their own texts to articulate early twentieth century black rhetorics. She focuses on Bethel senior women, some who passed away not long ago. These women engaged in racial uplift via the rhetorical functions of historical documentation and archival habits, practiced locally and privately in their homes. From seemingly feminized professions—nurses, teachers, high school principals, and community center directors—these women managed to subvert official meanings and create new, local ones. Furthermore, these women, historians sans credentials, actively participated in memory projects, and willingly offered their recollections to researchers interested in understanding what it meant to be a black citizen then.
Racialized Archives, Local Histories, and Black Women’s Genealogies in Champaign-Urbana was presented by Dr. Vanessa Rouillon on March 29th, 2017. A recording of the event is available here. Her talk was co-sponsored by the University of Illinois Archives as part of the Sesquicentennial celebrations.
Vanessa Rouillon is an assistant professor at James Madison University, and graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with a doctoral degree in English and a Specialization in Writing Studies.