John Tolley, February 8, 2017

In 1976, as part of the Bicentennial celebrations, the United States government formally recognized and enshrined the month of February as African American History Month. Of the occasion, President Gerald Ford implored all Americans to "seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.?

Now, in an effort to further shine a light on the breadth of African American history, the University of Minnesota Libraries, in partnership with the Penumbra Theatre Company, has announced the launch of Umbra Search African American History.

Free to use and available online, the Umbra Search engine provides its growing user base with access to over 500,000 items from 1,000 various archives, museums and libraries. Those items run the gamut from photographs and works of art to newspaper articles and collections of oral history.

?Umbra Search builds a national corpus of African American works,? says director Cecily Marcus, speaking to the University of Minnesota News Service. ?By bringing together materials from all over the country, Umbra Search allows students and scholars to tell stories that have never been told before. Umbra Search partners have amazing collections, and now those materials can sit side by side with related content from a library on the other side of the country.?


Choreographer Alvin Ailey sits in the stands of a ballpark
A photograph of choreographer Alvin Ailey from the collection of the Black Archives of Mid-America.

The list of prominent partners who have digitized items in their collections includes several Big Ten universities, HBCUs and Ivy League schools. Kara Olidge, executive director of the Amistad Research Center at Tulane University, says that Umbra Search is becoming ?an invaluable resource for anyone who wants to learn more about African American history.?

Over the course of 2017, the #UmbraSearch365 social media campaign will be used to spread the word about the wealth of educational and historical materials made available. Daily updates will highlight important moments in black history along with items from the digitized collections.