The Papers of Christopher Robert Reed, Roosevelt University Library

By: Katie Obriot (BMRC Processing Intern)

Processing the papers of Dr. Christopher R. Reed was a great privilege. It became clear as we worked on this collection that Reed’s work is not only close to him personally but also touches the lives of local people in Chicago. For example, the uncle of a librarian at Roosevelt University library is mentioned in one of Dr. Reed’s books. And this librarian has also had many conversations with Dr. Reed about his family history, and the history of Chicago. It is evident that Dr. Reed’s work is vital to the city of Chicago and I hope his collection will serve as a tribute to him, and a resource for researchers and community members.

For this collection, I really wanted to include Dr. Reed in the process. It is not often that you have the opportunity to arrange the papers of someone who is still alive and working. But when you do, you have the unique experience of gaining more insight and information from them. A privilege that is lost when institutions have decades of backlogs to tackle, or more often when records are donated after the subject’s death.

So, for this blog post, I asked Dr. Reed a series of questions about his collection and his work (I also encourage readers to post questions):

What compelled you to compile and donate your records? And what do you hope people will gain from your collection?

First, I wanted to share information with both academic and laypersons that I collected over the course of research into various repositories from the Library of Congress and the National Archives in Washington, D.C. to the Chautauqua County Museum in Westfield, N.Y. to the Chicago History Museum. Within my Papers are hard-to-find printed materials, such as a copy of the constitution of the Moorish American Science Temple, the first edition of veteran black journalist, Lu Palmer’s, the Black-X-Press newspaper, a facsimile of the 1936 black nationalist Compass newspaper that called for an all-black forty-ninth state within the USA, copies of federal pension records of members of Illinois’ only black Civil War regiment, the 29th, U.S.C.T., and copies of records from the Chicago branch of the NAACP.

Second, I wanted to explain how I interpreted history in my writings on the inner dynamics of life among African Americans in Chicago. In this vein I was inspired by the words of noted scholar, W.E.B. Du Bois, who wrote in The Souls of Black Folk (1903) the following. “We seldom study the condition of the Negro today honestly and carefully. It is so much easier to assume that we know it all or perhaps, having already reached conclusions in our own minds, we are loth to have them disturbed by facts.” My research over the nearly last forty years since I introduced the first course on black Chicago into a history curriculum (at Northern Illinois University) in 1973 has been an inquiry into “study[ing] the condition of the Negro today honestly and carefully.”

Third, being a graduate of Roosevelt University (B.A. and M.A.) as well as a beneficiary of the fine teaching that inspired independent and inquisitive thinking and use of effective research methods instilled in history majors, I reasoned that there was no better place to locate my works than in this institution. Moreover, I felt obligated to recognize nine past teachers in the dedication of my fifth book, The Depression Comes to the South Side, 1930-1933.

Do you have any favorite materials or subjects in the collection?

I found the federal pension files of the Civil War soldiers most fascinating. Although I reviewed only a fraction of the files of the members of the regiment as I searched out those with Chicago connections, either as residents or temporary sojourners only in the city for the purpose of escaping slavery by reaching Chicago during the war or enlisting in the army, the records I copied at the Archives provide invaluable information. Appendix A of Black Chicago’s First Century contains a summary of the information used in a preliminary longitudinal study I undertook while writing this book.

Is there anything in particular that you would like us to highlight in your collection?

In addition to the pension files, I think the Chicago NAACP records deserve re-review; I was especially impressed by a 1925 memorandum explaining how and why a major shift in black thinking had occurred by the 1920s. It tied into the New Negro thought that was notable for producing some of the major creative works in literature during the Harlem Renaissance. It read thus: “[The African American] now will work with whites or permit them to work with him; but he resents it when they work for him – he being their ward.  He wants to control to a large degree his own affairs.  .  . His racial conscience has been greatly developed.  Our trouble in Chicago has been that this has been taken too much into account” strange to us today. to racial egalitarians, this independence in black thinking acted as a detriment to amicable race relations. My work with the award-winning, 2010 PBS documentary, Du Sable to Obama, should be added to the collection. My writings on the first half of life in black Chicago were used to enhance the writing of the original script.

Can you tell us what you are currently working on and/or participating in?

My sixth book, “Knock At the Door of Opportunity”: Black Chicago in the Early Twentieth Century, 1901-1919, has been recently accepted for publication by the Southern Illinois University Press, so I am moving on to my seventh, entitled, Popular Thinking and Critical Thought in Early Black Chicago, 1893-1945.

Will you continue to donate your records?

Yes. I have a pile of E-mails ready as of today, along with the manuscript for “Knock at the Door of Opportunity”: Black Chicago in the Early Twentieth Century, 1901-1919.

What is your process in compiling and organizing your records for donation?

I will follow the cataloguing process in place as of this date by the BMRC as soon as I master the archivists’ methodology and classifications.

Do you have any advice for people thinking of donating their records?

Follow the archivists’ classifications in any solid prospectus.

Is there anything you would like to add about your collection, your work, or your life?

Consult the 2004 Roosevelt [Alumni] Review, the February 8, 2006 ’N’Digo newspaper write-up, and the digitized HistoryMakers interview.

Do you have any questions for us?

How do you classify materials via your series, subseries, etc.?

The method of “More Product Less Process” aims to create groupings (or series) within the original order of a collection. So, for example, if we find a box of correspondence (letters, invitations, copies of e-mail correspondence etc.), we will create a series entitled: “Correspondence” and in some cases we can create subseries of “Correspondence” if we find that there is correspondence with one particular person, or about a particular subject (e.g. business or personal).

For a more in depth answer, I will direct you to the BMRC Processing Manual that we use for this project:

Information on the way we arrange the collection into series and subseries can be found on pages 9-10, 13.