'Black History in the Borderlands' delves into lesser-known stories of the Southwest

A black-and-white picture from the mid century depicting a group of young children listen to a woman giving directions for a ring toss game.

A scene from the 1968 NAACP carnival in Tucson, which can be found in the Jack Sheaffer photographic collection at the University of Arizona Libraries, Special Collections.

Courtesy University of Arizona Libraries, Special Collections

From historical records to photographs, dissertations, books and more, a repository of information following the lives of Black people in the Southwestern United States is cataloged in Black History in the Borderlands, a library guide compiled and made publicly available by the University of Arizona Libraries Special Collections.

The guide is the result of a collaboration between Special Collections and UArizona's Beyond Juneteenth Committee, which launched in 2022 to assist with programming and educational efforts around Juneteenth after it was named a federal holiday the previous year. While information found within the guide is housed by Special Collections, the work to identify and curate the resources into one guide was done by Zoe Harrison, a graduate student pursuing a Master of Arts in Library and Information Science in the School of Information.

"Growing up as a Black girl in Arizona, I did not really have this history easily available to me," Harrison said. "To be able to play that archivist, librarian and researcher role – it was really special for me to be able to make that information available to others."

With a goal in mind, along with guidance from Verónica Escudero-Reyes, head of Special Collections, and other library faculty and staff, Harrison delved into Special Collections archives to look for stories of Black people living in the borderlands and added to previous efforts to record history. Harrison started her work looking into the African American History Internship Project, in which the Arizona Historical Society, Pima Community College and interested community members collected photographs and oral histories, beginning in 1987, detailing the lives of Black Tucsonans.

"This partnership with Dr. Treya Allen of the Beyond Juneteenth committee allowed us to further our commitment to amplifying voices in the historical record in Special Collections and build on previous work," Escudero-Reyes said.

The Special Collections historical collection guide, which can be found online and includes both digital and print resources, now spans centuries of Black Southwestern history, and includes a wide range of primary source materials from the historical record that can aid researchers, students and educators alike.

"If you want to know anything about Black communities within the U.S. Southwest borderlands area, this guide is going to point you towards research databases, archival collections, photographs, videos, audio," Harrison said. "It's going to give you little bits about how Black communities were moving throughout this region over a wide span of time."

Black History in the Borderlands is not a static resource, and Harrison said she is excited every time a researcher or interested community member introduces her to a new piece of history.

"One thing that was really special to me was seeing a lot of student work within these collections," Harrison said. "A lot of the materials that are found within were created by students."

As work goes on to maintain this living record, Special Collections is compiling other library guides alongside community and university partners, covering the region's underrepresented communities.

"As a library, we see ourselves as not just a repository, but a learning lab and really amplifying voices that haven't been heard," said Harriett Green, University Libraries vice dean. "The guide, the work that Zoe and many other students have done in collaboration with the community, really exemplify the impact we hope to have as a library: being able to unearth these materials and these voices and expand how everybody learns."