Often, the best work arises from close engagement with a primary source. As you read, you'll think of questions or begin to shape an argument. The hard part is to find a primary source that addresses the broad general area of interest. Here are some strategies for finding primary sources:
African American Biographical Database (1790-1950)
Biographical profiles & extended narratives of African-Americans from all walks of life. Many profiles include photographs & illustrations, and there is a rich collection of full-text African-American reference works.
"Focusing predominantly on Atlanta, Chicago, St. Louis, New York, and towns and cities in North Carolina this resource presents multiple aspects of the African American community through pamphlets, newspapers and periodicals, correspondence, official records, reports and in-depth oral histories, revealing the prevalent challenges of racism, discrimination and integration, and a unique African American culture and identity."
Primary sources devoted specifically to African American family history, including U.S Federal Census (African Americans only), Freedman's Bank Records, World War I Draft Cards, African American family history books, U.S. Colored Troops Records, vital records, church records, legal records, and more.
Brings together text reference, biographies, chronologies, sheet music, images, lyrics, liner notes, and discographies which chronicle the history and culture of the African American experience through music. The database will expand to include coverage of blues, jazz, spirituals, civil rights songs, slave songs, minstrelsy, rhythm and blues, gospel, and other forms of black American musical expression.
Full-text collection of African American newspapers printed across the U.S. during the 19th and 20th centuries.
African American Newspapers: The 19th Century (1827-1882)
Complete text of the major African-American newspapers published in the United States during the 19th century.
Online collection of academic and political journals, commercial magazines, institutional newsletters, organizations' bulletins, annual reports and other diverse periodicals.
African American Poetry Database (1750-1900)
Contains nearly 3,000 poems by African-American poets of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
Documents the history of African American music in an online music listening service. Contains a diverse range of genres such as jazz, blues, gospel, ragtime, folk songs, and narratives, among others.
American History & Culture Online (1500-1926)
Digital library of works written or published in the United States, as well as items printed elsewhere, that document the history of the Americas from 1492 to the mid-1800s. Based on Sabin's Bibliotheca Americana.
History database that contains 50,000 tracks that allows people to hear and feel the music from America's past. Will include songs by and about American Indians, miners, immigrants, slaves, children, pioneers, and cowboys. Included are the songs of Civil Rights, political campaigns, Prohibition, the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, anti-war protests and more.
Index to finding aids and other descriptive information about the holdings of manuscript and archival collections in libraries and research institutions throughout the world.
Presents topically-focused digital collections of historical documents, including the records of the Revolutionary Action Movement (RAM), the National Negro Business League, Federal Surveillance of African Americans, and more.
Primary sources from African Americans actively involved in the movement to end slavery in the United States between 1830 and 1865.
Black Drama (1850+)
Full text of plays written by dramatists from Africa, the Caribbean, and North America, and detailed information about productions, theaters, production companies, and other ephemera related to the plays.
The Black Liberation Army and the Program of Armed Struggle (BLA) was an underground, black nationalist-Marxist militant organization that operated from 1970 to 1981. Composed largely of former Black Panthers (BPP), the organization’s program was one of "armed struggle" and its stated goal was to "take up arms for the liberation and self-determination of black people in the United States." The BLA carried out a series of bombings, robberies (what participants termed "expropriations"), and prison breaks. Date range: 1970-1983
Black Nationalism and the Revolutionary Action Movement: The Papers of Muhammad Ahmad (Max Stanford) This collection of RAM records reproduces the writings and statements of the Revolutionary Action Movement (RAM) and its leaders. It also covers organizations that evolved from or were influenced by RAM and persons that had close ties to RAM. The most prominent organization that evolved from RAM was the African People’s Party. Organizations influenced by RAM include the Black Panther Party, League of Revolutionary Black Workers, Youth Organization for Black Unity, African Liberation Support Committee, and the Republic of New Africa. Individuals associated with RAM and documented in this collection include Robert F. Williams, Malcolm X, Amiri Baraka, General Gordon Baker Jr., Yuri Kochiyama, Donald Freeman, James and Grace Lee Boggs, Herman Ferguson, Askia Muhammad Toure (Rolland Snellings), and Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael). Date range: 1962-1999
Primary sources in PDF from Michigan State University Digital and Multimedia Center.
Full text of 760 stories and folktales by African, African American, and Caribbean authors.
Scholarly essays and access to articles in Black Studies journals. Combines the Schomburg Studies on the Black Experience, the International Index to Black Periodicals (IIBP), and the full-text of The Chicago Defender, an important Black newspaper with coverage from 1935 to 1975.
Full-text collection of published non-fiction works is included, as well as interviews, journal articles, letters, and other materials of leading African-Americans. Biographical essays by leading scholars and an annotated bibliography of the sources in the database are also featured.
Works of fiction, nonfiction and poetry by women from North America, Africa and the Caribbean.
Full text of fiction, poetry, essays, plays, and other materials by authors from the Caribbean archipelago.
Digitized collection of correspondence, speeches, articles, pamphlets, poetry and other items held at University of Massachusetts-Amherst.
Ethnic NewsWatch (1960+)
Interdisciplinary, bilingual (English and Spanish), full-text database of the newspapers, magazines and journals of the ethnic, minority, and native press.
Federal Response to Radicalism in the 1960s. Organized alphabetically by organization, this collection covers a wide range of viewpoints on political, social, cultural, and economic issues. It sheds light on internal organization, personnel, and activities of some of the most prominent American radical groups and their movements to change American government and society. Date range: 1956-1971.
Between the early 1920s and early 1980s, the Justice Department and its Federal Bureau of Investigation engaged in widespread investigation of those deemed politically suspect. Prominent among the targets of this sometimes coordinated, sometimes independent surveillance were aliens, members of various protest groups, Socialists, Communists, pacifists, militant labor unionists, ethnic or racial nationalists, and outspoken opponents of the policies of the incumbent presidents Between the early 1920s and early 1980s, the Justice Department and its Federal Bureau of Investigation engaged in widespread investigation of those deemed politically suspect. Prominent among the targets of this sometimes coordinated, sometimes independent surveillance were aliens, members of various protest groups, Socialists, Communists, pacifists, militant labor unionists, ethnic or racial nationalists, and outspoken opponents of the policies of the incumbent presidents. Date range: 1920-1984
Oral history interviews with more than 1,600 historically significant African Americans in fields such as the arts, business, education, entertainment, the law, the military, politics, religion, and science
James Meredith, J. Edgar Hoover, and the Integration of the University of Mississippi. In the fall of 1962 the college town of Oxford, Mississippi, erupted in violence. At the center of the controversy stood James Meredith, an African American who was attempting to register at the all-white University of Mississippi, known as "Ole Miss." Meredith had the support of the federal government, which insisted that Mississippi honor the rights of all its citizens, regardless of race. Mississippi’s refusal led to a showdown between state and federal authorities and the storming of the campus by a segregationist mob. Two people died and dozens were injured. In the end, Ole Miss, the state of Mississippi, and the nation were forever changed. Date range: 1961-1962
Digitized highlights of a wide-ranging collection of documents, photographs, and artifacts
The Negro Motorist Green Book was a travel guide that listed lodgings, tailors and other businesses that welcomed black patrons during Jim Crow. The guide, which was launched in 1936 and published for nearly 30 years."
Provides indexing, plus some full text, for English-language oral histories that are publicly available on the Web and that are held by repositories and archives around the world. Primarily covers 20th-century America, but there is some content for other times and places.
Provides online access to the finest reference resources in African American studies. At its core, AASC includes the new Encyclopedia of African American History 1619-1895; the forthcoming companion set, the Encyclopedia of African American History, 1896 to the Present; the second edition of Black Women in America; and the much-anticipated African American National Biography. Also includes the highly acclaimed Africana, a 5 volume history of the African and African American experience. In addition to these major reference works, AASC offers other key resources from Oxford's reference series, including the Concise Oxford Companion to African American Literature.
Primary source material from federal agencies, letters, papers, photographs, scrapbooks, financial records, and diaries are among the unique resources available in digital format for the first time. Module one consists of 37 collections of organizational records and personal papers, and the second module is comprised of 36 collections from federal government agencies.
Primary sources in PDF from Michigan State University Digital and Multimedia Center.
Contains letters, diaries, oral histories, posters, pamphlets, and rare audio and video materials documenting the key events, trends, and movements in 1960's America.
Smithsonian Global Sound is a virtual encyclopedia of the world's musical and aural traditions. It includes the published recordings owned by the non-profit Smithsonian Folkways Recordings label and the archival audio collections of the Folkways Records, Cook, Dyer-Bennet, Fast Folk, Monitor, Paredon and other labels. It also includes music recorded around the African continent by for the International Library of African Music (ILAM) at Rhodes University as well as material collected by recordists on the South Asian subcontinent from the Archive Research Centre for Ethnomusicology (ARCE), sponsored by the American Institute for Indian Studies.
Social Issues Primary Source Collections (19th Century+)
Primary source documents focusing on leading social issues for the environment; gender issues and sexuality; human and civil rights; and medicine, health, and bioethics.
Two Plantations Database comparing family life among enslaved people in Jamaica and Virginia
“A single multi-source data-set of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade.”
“We Were Prepared for the Possibility of Death:" Freedom Riders in the South, 1961 Freedom Riders were civil rights activists that rode interstate buses into the segregated South to test the United States Supreme Court decision in Boynton v. Virginia. Boynton had outlawed racial segregation in the restaurants and waiting rooms in terminals serving buses that crossed state lines. Five years prior to the Boynton ruling, the Interstate Commerce Commission had issued a ruling inSarah Keys v. Carolina Coach Company that had explicitly denounced the Plessy v. Fergusondoctrine of separate but equal in interstate bus travel, but the ICC had failed to enforce its own ruling, and thus Jim Crow travel laws remained in force throughout the South. Date range: 1961
Collection of full-text primary and secondary sources. To find material by and about African American women use the Search feature to limit results to texts, people, or movements.