Historical document archival sparks controversy

November 18, 2010 4:37:20 PM PST
Texas Southern University is preparing to permanently preserve the papers and archives of two trailblazing lawmakers, Barbara Jordan and Mickey Leland. But for some it's just not happening fast enough. The digital age is making academic research available by making archives available on the Internet. TSU is now sitting on two huge collections -- the Jordan and Leland archives. But they're still not yet accessible on the web. That has one group asking why.

Barbara Jordan was a pioneer in the legislature and in Congress. The 18th District is still called the Barbara Jordan District. Mickey Leland followed in her footsteps and held that office until his death in an airplane crash in Africa 21 years ago.

Their legacies are preserved in their papers and archives, both housed at TSU. But the question has been raised -- why can't the public view them?

Lenwood Johnson with the Freedman's Town Association said, "After 21 years, those papers need to be available to anybody in this world who wants to look at the work of those two individuals -- Barbara Jordan and Mickey Leland."

TSU may have the Leland/Jordan papers and artifacts, but until a year and a half ago, there was no money budgeted to archive and catalogue them. There are thousands of items, from papers and pictures to charred items retrieved from Leland's plane wreckage.

Now state and federal money totaling $350,000 has been given to the university, split between the two collections. Archivists and staff have been hired and equipment has been purchased, according to TSU. Gradually the collections are being compiled to go digital.

"I think it's been slow and steady movement," said Jew Don Boney, Jr. Assoc. Director of the Leland Center. "It's just a much bigger task than probably non-academics, non-archival people really recognize."

It will take more money to get the collections up and running and accessible on the web, but more papers will be added in the meantime. A request has been made for the security files of Mickey Leland.

Boney said, "He had people watching him, because he was actually doing some really significant, important work."

Boney says the collection should be up on the web within two years. Those waiting for it are pushing for a quicker deadline.


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