UW Professor’s Website Becomes Go-To Resource For African-American History
More than 10 years ago, a New Zealand high school student came across a University of Washington website. It was meant for an African-American studies course. That discovery — from the other side of the world — revealed a demand for black history beyond the college campus.
When Professor Quintard Taylor got an email from New Zealand, he realized he was onto something big.
“At first, I sort of bristled at the comparison to Wikipedia, but we actually want BlackPast to be a kind of Wikipedia for African-American and African history,” said Taylor.
BlackPast.org gets close to 4 million visitors a year, but traffic goes up dramatically during Black History Month – reaching a half-million users in February. An American History professor, Taylor says BlackPast captures part of a larger American story that was ignored until a half-century ago.
“Society did not recognize African American history — and let me say by extension, society didn’t recognize African American history as important because it didn’t recognize black people as important,” said Taylor.
There are thousands of crowd-sourced entries — all vetted — including the story behind Black History Month, which started out as Negro History Week in 1926. Taylor said the idea was for schoolteachers in the South to bring the message to the classrooms.
“Interestingly, there were pageants and plays that were staged by black churches and there were community centers that did this, and so the effort to keep black history alive was done sort of outside of the traditional institutions.”
African American history wouldn’t be institutionalized in most universities until the 1960s and ‘70s. That’s around the time Taylor himself started wondering about it, only he didn’t have the Internet. He hopes younger generations will be inspired to look at BlackPast, and someday, add their own history.