Harold Pinkett: An Archivist and Scholar

The National Archives History Office continues to celebrate Black History Month with stories of former employees. Today’s post comes from Kaitlin Errickson.

Dr. Harold Pinkett established many firsts for African Americans at both the National Archives and in the field of archival studies. His career was impressive and exceptional, and bridged the archival and historical communities.

Harold Pinkett was born on April 7, 1914, in Salisbury, Maryland. He attended Morgan College (now Morgan State University), where he graduated summa cum laude in 1935, and three years later he earned his M.A. in history from the University of Pennsylvania.

After one year of teaching Latin in Baltimore, he became a professor of history at Livingstone College in Salisbury, NC.

In 1942, Pinkett moved to Washington DC, where he became an archivist at the National Archives. He was the first African American to hold such a position in any American archival institution.

His outstanding career at the National Archives included more than 35 years of service specializing in agricultural records. He wrote many of the original inventories of the Department of Agriculture records that were transferred to the National Archives Building in the 1930s.

For many years Pinkett was one of only a handful of Black professionals at the National Archives. During his time at the National Archives, Pinkett held many important positions, serving as the Chief of the Agricultural and General Services Branch, Appraisal Specialist in the Senior Records Division, Deputy Director of the Records Appraisal Division, and Chief of the Legislative and Natural Resources Records Branch.

Conference on the Archives of United States Foreign Relations. Pictured from left to right are Dr. Morris Rieger, Dr. Harold Pinkett, and John A. DeNovo, June 1969. (National Archives Identifier 23855987)

Pinkett’s archival career was briefly interrupted when he joined the U.S. Army in World War II, serving in Maryland, Massachusetts, France, Belgium, Philippines, and Japan.

He also made time to earn his doctorate from American University in 1953.

Over the years, he wrote roughly 50 articles on forestry and agricultural history, administrative and governmental history, African American history, regional and local history, and Federal record keeping.

He also wrote an award-winning biography of Gifford Pinchot, a noteworthy forest conservationist.

While working at the Archives, Pinkett also spent time as an adjunct professor at Howard and American Universities teaching history and archival studies. He served on the editorial board of the Journal of Negro History, a quarterly journal on African American history, for eight years and was elected as an officer to numerous historical societies and advisory boards.

Presentation of the Commendable Service Award to Dr. Harold Pinkett by Dr. James B. Rhoads, Archivist of the United States, 1970. (National Archives Identifier 23856283)

His archival achievements include being a Fellow of the Society of American Archivists (SAA) in 1962, editor of the American Archivist from 1968 to 1971, and member of the SAA Council from 1971 to 1972.

He was the first African American to hold any of these positions in the SAA.

Harold Pinkett died on March 13, 2001. His dedication and hard work has greatly affected not only the National Archives but everyone who had the opportunity to work with him. He paved the way for African Americans in archival studies not only by establishing his presence in his field also but by highlighting the importance of African American history.

To honor Pinkett and his work, the SAA established the Harold T. Pinkett Student of Color Award to be given to graduate students of color interested in becoming archivists.

For more information, read, “Dr. Harold Pinkett, Our First African American Archivist” by Alan Walker, and Pinkett’s 1985 oral history interview with Rod Ross. 

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