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Banking on KC – Dr. Carmaletta Williams

Banking on KC – Dr. Carmaletta Williams

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Kelly Scanlon:

Welcome to Banking on KC. I'm your host Kelly Scanlon, thank you for joining us. Rejoining us on this episode is Dr. Carmaletta Williams, the executive director of the Black Archives of Mid-America in Kansas City. She's going to be giving us an update on some of the new programs and initiatives the Black Archives has underway. Welcome to the show, Dr. Williams.

Dr. Carmaletta Williams:

Well, thank you, Kelly. Thanks for inviting me.

Kelly Scanlon:

When we chatted almost exactly this time last year, as a matter of fact, you gave us an overview of the mission of the Black Archives and the work that goes on at the museum. For our listeners who may have missed that episode, before we start talking about your new initiatives, tell us a little bit about the museum and its mission.

Dr. Carmaletta Williams:

The Black Archives is 46 years old. It was started by Horace Michael Peterson III. Horace started collecting buttons and brochures and storing them in the trunk of his car from the time he was in middle school. He would tell his friends that he was going to open a Black museum. They would laugh at him of course, tell him that wasn't going to work, he was never going to make any money, but he stayed committed to that. The mission of the Black Archives is all based on Horace's dreams to collect, preserve, share and educate people about the history of African-Americans in the Midwest, in the country, in the world, but focusing on Kansas City.

Kelly Scanlon:

Yes, and it does have a national reputation and I know that you work with partners all across the country. One of the programs that you were hoping to start when I talked to you last is the genealogy lab, but at that time, the museum, like all of us, was operating under COVID restrictions. You were also searching for computers that could run the genealogy software. Now I understand though that you have it up and running and it's open to the public. Why did you work so hard to create the genealogy lab, Dr. Williams?

Dr. Carmaletta Williams:

Well, because it's important to know the history of African-American people. Depending on who wrote the books, who published them, who bought them, the history of Black folk has been cloaked and had to be discovered and uncovered. That was our mission, was to educate people and to collect and preserve, so that's what we did. People were calling us literally every day asking if we could help them find some family information, and we couldn't. We didn't have the equipment, we didn't have the personnel, we didn't have the software. Thank you, Country Club Bank, for the donation of computers, so we have computers in that section. We partnered with Midwest Genealogy and they have told us what software programs we should buy. But we also today have a relationship with a church that told us about familysearch.org.

Dr. Carmaletta Williams:

We've been really fortunate in moving this forward, but it's important that people understand where they came from, what their roots are, because we all have them. Without that foundation then it makes it a little hard to build a life, to build a self-identity, and certainly a racial identity.

Kelly Scanlon:

Well, and it's right in line with the museum's mission.

Dr. Carmaletta Williams:

Much of what we do here is dictated by what our community asks for and what they want. People routinely come in and give us boxes of their keepsakes, their artifacts, their documents, because they think it's important that those things be preserved. Same thing with the inquiries from our community, the questions they ask guide us in what people think are important to them. We try to act on those and honor their requests. Today, right before I came on to this podcast with you, I had a gentleman downstairs who was a Marine and brought us some books about Blacks in military service. It's wide, broad spectrum of things that we need to address and we need to support, and that's what we're trying to do.

Kelly Scanlon:

It's interesting that the community actually helps to determine what is going to be preserved, and in that sense, it really is a museum that belongs to all.

Dr. Carmaletta Williams:

We consider ourself the community's partner. We look for community partners, and Country Club Bank has been a wonderful one, but also we want the community to know that we partner with them and we are here to help them with their needs and their desires and how they self identify.

Kelly Scanlon:

Let's go back and dive into the details about the genealogy lab. Do you need an appointment to come in and use the lab?

Dr. Carmaletta Williams:

You don't need an appointment, but it would be better if you had one because we have limited staff. Midwest Genealogy has said that they would come and do some community training, have a session where people who are really interested can come in and work through the software and get to their desired goals. If you know what you're looking for, please come here. You're welcome, it's available. You just walk in, but it would be better if you called and made an appointment. It's 816-221-1600.

Kelly Scanlon:

How do I get started? You said if there's something in particular that you want to know about, you're welcome to come on in, but let's just say I just have a healthy curiosity about my ancestors or one or two distant relatives that I maybe have heard about but really don't know anything about. If I don't really know how to trace genealogy, what do I do?

Dr. Carmaletta Williams:

Well, bring in what you know. There's always a ground somewhere. If you know your parents' name, then you can find their birth certificates and find your grandparents' names. You can also find if they served in the military. There is a narrative census that I have found extremely valuable and it'll tell you who lived in the house, how much education they had, whether they were literate or not, what they did for a living, and who their neighbors were. That gives you so much information to build off of. If you have more information, bring it and that'll get you to other sources that'll verify what it is you want to know or give you information.

Dr. Carmaletta Williams:

People who've come in have just been doing basic research, who am I, where did I come from? One of my board members actually found out that her mother had two brothers the board member didn't know about. They are finding information that they didn't know and that's always enriching when you're looking at who you are and where you came from.

Kelly Scanlon:

This was one of the big things that you were really trying to get off the ground over the last several months, but you have some other interesting new features as well. I believe you have a women's pro basketball hall of fame that you're working on right now.

Dr. Carmaletta Williams:

We do. Women's professional basketball started in Kansas City, Missouri by a man named Lightning Mitchell.

Kelly Scanlon:

I had no idea.

Dr. Carmaletta Williams:

I know, I didn't know it either. He came in, I didn't know him, and he told me that. I told him that I'm running a museum, I need proof, so he opened up his briefcases and he had proof, including a letter from the NBA that says, "What a wonderful idea. Please keep us apprised of your progress." Then a woman who worked for Lightning in that league went to work for the NBA, and the next thing you know, there's a WNBA.

Dr. Carmaletta Williams:

Lightning said that he just wanted those women to be honored. He actually paid for all of the exhibits in that room except for the floor. When it was finished, I'm like, "It needs another touch," so we put in a basketball floor. It's a wonderful space. It shows the history of the league. There were eight teams, one of them was owned by a Black woman. Some of the players, we had a soft opening pre-COVID, and they came and signed a basketball. We have that basketball. The story is there in that hall of fame. Lightning wanted them honored and that's what we're doing there.

Dr. Carmaletta Williams:

It's also a very cozy space, and we envisioned that as a place where people could come, and we have a coffee shop right next to it, get something to drink and then work on their laptops or their phones and be comfortable and quiet.

Kelly Scanlon:

What time period did it start?

Dr. Carmaletta Williams:

Well, most of these women are alive and well and still working, so it's not that long ago. In fact, Kansas City's own Sarah Campbell was one of the stars of that league. She was a standout at Central High School and played in Mizzou. She's alive and well and doing well, and she's not very old. This is not a long ago history, this is recent history.

Kelly Scanlon:

That's also very important too, as you pointed out in the last interview we did. By the way, for any of you listening today that did not catch that first interview, go back out to the Country Club Bank website and you'll find all the past archives of the shows, and be sure to listen to the one that we did last year, it'll give you a lot more background about the things you'll find there at the museum and how many of the things that we see today are tied into what the museum is now preserving and is becoming a part of the history itself. Be sure to look that episode up.

Kelly Scanlon:

Another thing that you have, you've got some new exhibits as well. Tell us about those.

Dr. Carmaletta Williams:

We have a rotating temporary gallery. Starting July 5th, we're going to have a show called People. There are two local artists and they will be exhibiting their work here for a month, and we would love for people to come and see them.

Kelly Scanlon:

Tell us a little bit more about what People will be about.

Dr. Carmaletta Williams:

One of the artists is Black and the other is Hispanic. They have painted pictures of their realities in their culture, and so it's really a mixed viewing of what you will see, but it's powerful, it's artistic, and it's something that you will want to see. It's only going to be here a month, so please come in July and see this exhibit.

Kelly Scanlon:

Will you need advanced tickets for that or any kind of advanced registration, or is that something that you can come and be admitted to just right there at the door?

Dr. Carmaletta Williams:

We haven't scheduled it yet, but we will have an opening reception that will be limited to people who request that, but other than that, we'll be open 10:00 to 5:00 Monday through Friday.

Kelly Scanlon:

So you can just come on by.

Dr. Carmaletta Williams:

Well, I want to encourage people to come here. We have a new coffee shop and we have a few breakfast items and we have lunch. We close at 2:00, we open at 7:30 in the morning. Come in and get some coffee, get something to drink and enjoy that space. Then right next to that is our gift shop, and we feature mostly local artists. We wanted to have a place where they could display and sell their art, and it has been very active and well welcomed by the community. People love that space and we love having it here. It's just right on the north side of the building, has its own entry. Come in to the coffee shop and the gift shop and the basketball hall of fame is in that space too. We call that our West Wing.

Kelly Scanlon:

What do you ultimately hope the Black Archives achieves, Dr. Williams?

Dr. Carmaletta Williams:

I hope for it to be sustainable. We are trying here, I've got a great staff staff here, to make sure that this is an active place so that young folks will want to come and interact with what we have and that other people won't be bored. This won't be an I've already seen it kind of space, that there's always something new and exciting going on here.

Dr. Carmaletta Williams:

I also want it to be financially stable, so we're working on that. We're non-profit but I tell people that that doesn't mean that we can operate without money. We want our community to know that we are a part of the community, we are a partner to the community and we want to partner with them. Everyone is welcome here at the Black Archives, there's something for all kinds of people. One of our student workers here today said that he didn't recognize until recently how much work we were doing on women. He said, "And Dr. Carm emphasizes the work on women." I said, "Because so much of our history has been hidden." We're trying to uncover those things. We're broadening our reach and we want to know that the Black Archives of Mid-America in Kansas City is here for everyone.

Kelly Scanlon:

Well, we thank you for the work that you are doing. Tell us where you're located.

Dr. Carmaletta Williams:

1722 East 17th Terrace, Kansas City, Missouri. We're in the 18th and Vine historic district. We're actually on 17th Terrace and Highland, and we share a parking lot with the Urban Youth Academy and with a community center. Parking is free, admission to the exhibits is free, so please come down and visit us. Thank you, you make my heart sing, talking about our place. We have invested a lot into opening up the archives to all people and to keeping it active and I appreciate you recognizing that, Kelly. Thank you.

Kelly Scanlon:

Well, there are so many gems in Kansas City and this is one of them. Thanks to Country Club Bank, they help to shine a spotlight on a lot of organizations like yours. As you say though, you don't just make one trip. There's plenty to see there and a lot of new things always in the rotation. Thank you again for everything that you do. We appreciate you being on the show today.

Dr. Carmaletta Williams:

Thank you, take care now.

Joe Close:

This is Joe Close, president of Country Club Bank. Thank you to Dr. Carmaletta Williams for being our guest on this episode of Banking on KC. Country Club Bank is honored to play a role in helping Dr. Williams and her team with the launch of the genealogy lab at the Black Archives of Mid-America in Kansas City. We all stand on the shoulders of those who came before us, and knowing and understanding our past can open the door to our future, as individuals and as a community. Yet, tracing ancestry is not easy for African-Americans, so we were fortunate to have such an important resource here in Kansas City. Thank you, Dr. Williams, for your advocacy and hard work to bring the genealogy lab to fruition. Thanks for tuning in this week. We're banking on you, Kansas City. Country Club Bank, member FDIC.