Celebrating Black History Month

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List of African-American employees of the National Archives, November 23, 1942. (Records of the National Archives)

Today Pieces of History kicks off a month-long celebration of Black History. 

The National Archives has millions of pages of records that document African American history—from blacks serving in the Revolutionary War to the election of Barack Obama as President of the United States.

But behind those stories are the stories of the many African American employees of the National Archives who have worked tirelessly over the years to make those and many more records available to the American public.

Like many government agencies, the National Archives has a checkered past when it comes to hiring and promoting African Americans.

In the early years of the 1930s and 1940s, black employees faced extreme prejudices and were mostly limited to more manual and unskilled behind the scene jobs.

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Leon D. Poyner’s ID card near the beginning of his career at the National Archives, February 3, 1941. (National Archives Identifier 12091409)

Very few African Americans held professional archivist positions, and those who were able to get those jobs were not promoted at the same pace as their white colleagues.

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Dr. Harold Pinkett, speaking at Conference on Research in the Administration of Public Policy, 1970.  (National Archives Identifier 23856319)

The Civil Rights era saw black employees begin to make greater gains in securing higher profile positions. Harold Pinkett was promoted to head a branch at the National Archives, and the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library selected J. C. James as the first black director of a Presidential library.

Over the course of Black History Month, the National Archives History Office will be exploring the stories of Harold Pinkett, Leon Poyner, James Walker, and other African Americans who have worked at the National Archives.

We will offer insight into their experiences working at the National Archives, and their important contributions to the history of our agency.

Visit Prologue to read more articles by National Archives staff and others who explore the depth and breadth of material in the National Archives related to African American history.

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