Du Bois Project – Updates!

Hi all, it’s Alexandra again writing to update you from The Du Bois project here at Penn.


Since my last post, it’s been a busy and wonderful couple weeks! I love this work because I am constantly able to do different things each day and am experiencing so many areas of teaching, research, academics, and Philadelphia. In my last post, I talked a bit about the oral history component of the Du Bois project. Its goal is to record the life histories of older members of the city’s historic Black churches. Last week, I went on my first interview with the group, in which we spoke with Reverend Lillian Smith, the current Pastor of Tindley Temple on South Broad Street. She shared some very interesting insights, such as how she has seen the city change over the past decades and her personal experiences being a woman of color in leadership positions. This week, I have been working on transcribing the interview so that we can have the full text for our archives. Next, we will fact check and select the sections that we want to highlight for video clips to post on the website. For each person interviewed, we also create a booklet with excerpts from their narration, alongside personal photographs that they may provide. Check out some of the completed oral histories that are already on the website – click here!


I have also been able to experience some of Professor Amy Hillier’s (the director of the Du Bois project) other work and research, specifically her latest study on food access in Chester. Chester is considered a ‘food desert’ because the city does not contain a full grocery store, but instead only fast food, corner, and convenience stores. This fall, though, the food bank, Philabundance, will open a subsidized grocery store, Fare and Square, to help provide access to fresh produce and healthier food options. Professor Hillier’s project seeks to collect baseline data of Chester residents’ eating and shopping habits so that they can then compare this with data taken after the store opens. The project ultimately seeks to locate ways for improving community health and decreasing national health care costs by mapping and understanding where, how, and why people both shop for and make decisions about food. It has been a great experience to see the backend of research and the real nuts and bolts of working daily in the field. I think that I would someday love to do academic and social research, so I’m very  grateful for the chance to experience it now!


Last week, I also visited the African American museum here in Philly, on 7th and Arch streets, just outside of Chinatown. I had been wanting to go for over a year and really enjoyed the experience. I was able to connect with the exhibits on a much deeper level due to all I have learned here in the Du Bois project regarding African-American history in the late 1800′s and early 1900′s. I also loved their current traveling exhibit, a showcase of The Supremes, including their gowns and performance outfits. The exhibit juxtaposes negatively stereotypical media imagery of African-Americans from the 1940′s and 1950′s with the ways in which The Supremes remade this image and created the modern ‘diva.’ It includes newspaper clippings, videos, and an awesome soundtrack (You Can’t Hurry Love, Baby Love) playing in the background. The exhibit is open until mid-August, I believe, so you should go soon if you are interested!

The remaining two weeks (how did time go so quickly??) will be just as packed, too, and I’m very excited for them. On tap I have:

  • A visit to the Philadelphia Folklore Project, I’m planning to see their latest exhibit that pays tribute to the legacy of African-American dancers and drummers here in Philly who have paved the way for the city’s now vibrant community of Afro-descended rhythm and music traditions. 
  • A walking tour of the Seventh Ward (the heart of Black Philadelphia in 1900 that Du Bois studied in his work, The Philadelphia Negro).
  • An interview with artist, Samuel Joyner, to speak more about his political cartoons that I am using in my curriculum on race and racism today. I saw his work during my first week in the Temple University Urban Archives.
  • Some practice trying out the lesson plans that I have developed with groups of high school students.
  • A workshop hosted by the Penn library that will teach me the basics of Photoshop.
  • We have some real foodies in our team, so continued recipe-swapping and meal-sharing at lunch time! :)

Thank you for reading!!


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