With a nod to a popular 1930s radio serial we ask, “who knows what lurks in the heart of the Tuskegee University archive?” Alas, the answer is “we don’t know.”
Tuskegee University is located in Tuskegee, Alabama, and is one of the most important historically black colleges and universities in the U.S. The university is best known as the academic home of George Washington Carver and his pioneering research, while the town is well known as the location of the Tuskegee Airmen of World War II. Both Carver and the Tuskegee Airmen personified important moments in U.S. history as the country gradually and grudgingly began to accept Black Americans into the “mainstream” of U.S. life. Carver clearly demonstrated intellectual capabilities far beyond the crude stereotypes of Blacks commonly communicated in contemporary media, including radio. The Tuskegee Airmen similarly communicated that Black Americans were able and willing to serve the U.S. in military positions other than cooks and manual labor.
The Tuskegee archives may hold significant recordings by and about Carver and the Airmen. At the present time, however, the archivists simply don’t know what they have. They haven’t had the time, human resources, or financial support they need to process the hundreds of audio recordings they hold. As states increasingly withdraw support for higher education, the fate of culturally significant archives such as those at Tuskegee University are at great risk. The loss of the few moments in which the voices of significant Black Americans both were broadcast over radio and recorded will be a significant loss.
The Radio Preservation Task Force is honored to assist the Tuskegee Archives by drawing attention to both its potential wealth of archival sources and its difficulties in preserving those broadcasts.