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Bringing History Back

NEW ORLEANS DATA NEWS WEEKLY — Xavier University’s library archives team had a rare treat. They displayed photos of unidentified individuals dating almost 30 years back.

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By La’Shance Perry

The University Center was filled to capacity with alumni and students eager to participate in homecoming activities. Set up in the middle of all the commotion, Xavier University’s library archives team had a rare treat. They displayed photos of unidentified individuals dating almost 30 years back.

This special collection consisted of images from photographers taken over the years, the earliest photograph in the collection dates back to 1921, and the collection has pre-Katrina images up until 2000. The first university photographer was Arthur P. Bedou and is best known for his work as a personal photographer to Booker T. Washington, where he documented campus life at the Tuskegee Institute. The collection currently contains 150 photographs of Bedou’s and 400 photographs of his time at Xavier. The archives hold almost 8,000 photos in total.

The university’s archive collection was founded in 1987 by Lester Sullivan who was the Senior Archivist at the Amistad Research Center and had come to Xavier’s campus in search of sheet music written by a slave and published in New Orleans in the year of 1880. This was first time a slave had anything published in their name, and therefore had ownership of.

In 2017, Xavier University Associate Archivist, Irwin Lachoff, and Head of Collection Resources, Nancy Hampton, founded the Xavier University Archives Photographs Collection Exhibit. During the 2017 homecoming activities, this exhibit displayed photos collected over the years of unidentified people that had attended the university. Alumni that had attended were asked to identify peers from 30 to 40 photos over the course of two days. The projected amount of people they thought would be identified was 10 that year, more than 80 people had been identified.

“It turned out to be a great success,” Lachoff said. “Everybody was very excited. Not only were the alumni excited about identifying their classmates, but, talking about them and reminiscing.”

This year the exhibit continued and was called “Remembering and Reminiscing.” The photos on display were of images taken 20 to 30 years ago. After studying these photos, Lachoff determined that the images were taken some time in the 60s or 70s based off the clothing and hairstyles in the photos. The images also depicted images of the football team Xavier University had until 1960.

“The photographs reflect Xavier at a simpler time. There are a lot of photographs of the barn or the gymnasium where a lot of basketball games, convocation, and graduation ceremonies took place. “The yard is larger, I think, years ago at Xavier. [Here] you can see, gatherings of groups like sororities and fraternities,” said Nancy Hampton, Head of Collection Resources at Xavier’s library.

This year over 100 alumni were identified from the photos displayed. Though alumni loved it, many felt that the exhibit should have more prominence in the events that showcase the institution’s history and legacy. “[I believe] the exhibit should definitely be promoted via the channels homecoming events are promoted,” said alumna, Risa Hall.

The archives have now started to digitalize their collection and adding it to its website for the community to see. To date, 2400 photographs have already been added to the university library website, and about 50 percent of the collection has been arranged. In the future, current students will get to tell the story and moments that shape the history of the institution and the community.

“Keep track of what you’re taking pictures of and who’s in those pictures, and why that day was significant, why you took pictures on that day,” Hampton said. “Everything is important. You don’t have to wait for a time to pass to get the information about the history of that time. You can start now collecting the information about what you’re doing and you’re creating history and living through it now,” she said.

This article originally appeared in the New Orleans Data News Weekly

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