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Black Emporia: Interpretations and Connections Collection

Black Emporia: Interpretations and Connections Collection

In 2001, writing contributors Nellie Essex and Elizabeth Williams and consulting editor Carol Marshall published Black Emporia: The African American Experience through the Lives of Emporians, a book documenting the history of African Americans living in Emporia, Kansas. The idea for the book began with a conversation between Nellie Essex and Carol Marshall which evolved into a discussion regarding how many stories were being lost or had never been told about and by Emporia’s African American population. Elizabeth Williams was invited to join the project, and the next three years were spent tape recording oral histories, exploring photographs and family papers, gathering newspaper articles, funeral programs, and other materials, and listening to and enjoying the stories that were shared by the current generation of African Americans. The majority of the individuals described in the book were current residents of the city, some who had moved to the area in their lifetimes while others had several generations of family roots in the area. The majority of the book consists of stories gathered via oral histories with members of 12 families; the creators refer to these individuals as “The Storytellers.” Other features of the book include the transcript of a telephone interview with baseball legend and Kansas City, Missouri, resident Buck O’Neil, resources for additional information on the 1921 race riot in Tulsa, Oklahoma, maps of Emporia drawn by Nellie Essex and Elizabeth Williams, a list of 11 African American churches that were active in Emporia between 1890 and 2001, photographs and historical information about the quilt that was created by 4 of these churches in 1916 and 1930 and on which over 600 names of African American church members are embroidered.

Nellie, Carol, and Elizabeth decided to actively collect material that further documented these connections and that explored the history of African Americans beyond the boundaries of their first project; these items would be used to create an archival collection that would be donated to a public institution. Additional resources were gathered from Emporia and Lyon County, from places of significance in African American history across the state of Kansas such as the communities of Dunlap and Nicodemus and the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site in Topeka, and other sites across the nation as trips were taken to Missouri, Oklahoma, Illinois, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. Materials gathered or created included brochures and souvenirs, photographs, newspaper and magazine clippings, family histories and other genealogical information, taped recordings of speeches, conversations, and tours, programs, hymns, guidebooks, maps, and other memorabilia. In 2003, a guide for a walking tour through Stringtown was published. The tour begins and ends at Red Rocks, the historic home of William Allen White, and leads to 27 homes and businesses, each of which is related to the people and activities documented in Black Emporia: The African American Experience through the Lives of Emporians.