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Hey, mom and pops, look what I made!! (Ok, well, look what I and a bunch of other people made). American Experience is launching an app based on my project!
Watch Map History With Us! on PBS. See more from American Experience.
In August, after moving to Boston, Massachusetts from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, I started working for American Experience on the Abolitionist Map of America project -- an interactive map also featured on the brand new American Experience: Mapping History iPhone app. I grew up in Monticello, Mississippi, and I have always been fascinated by the history of the Civil Rights Movement -- how the efforts of a few individuals who recognized that it was time for change and progress led to one of the most significant social advancements in the history of this country. And I was thrilled to be working on this project, bringing awareness of the often forgotten heroes from the first Civil Rights movement in American history -- the abolitionist movement.
The work of abolitionists took place at sites all over the country — from churches to barns and schools and offices, and from the smallest villages to the largest cities. To date, the Abolitionist Map of America features 1,000 unique historical photographs, archival materials and video clips pinned to locations from Maine to Colorado, contributed by over 100 partners and fans of American Experience. Our partners range from historical societies and public libraries, to museums, university special collections, and civic organizations. All have contributed to the project by digitizing, uploading and describing their unique treasures related to the abolitionist movement and have pinned them to our map.
Before I started the job, a couple of excellent interns at American Experience had begun researching locations that were significant to the movement. After we had identified over 500 sites that we wanted featured on the map, I began the outreach phase of the project. Every day I would call about ten organizations and explain the project and identify some of their materials that we thought would be great contributions to the map. One of my most memorable experiences was one morning when I got a phone call from a classroom full of high school students in Iowa who wanted to create some videos featuring abolitionist sites in their local community. I will also never forget the time I called a potential partner who immediately responded that "Getting a call from American Experience is like a Beatles fan getting a phone call from Paul McCartney!"
When the map launched on the American Experience website, I created and sent instructional guides to partners as we continued to build new relationships with more organizations. This really was my favorite part of the project -- developing personal ties with so many like-minded institutions who have helped us make the map a success. It was also a wonderful experience working with partners in our walking tour cities -- Charleston, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, and Boston -- to identify the most significant abolitionist-related locations in their cities. As we created the tours and as I worked with our partners across the United States, I loved how my very broad knowledge of the movement expanded to learning about so many individuals, events, and places that were central to the abolition of slavery. Every time I walk through downtown Boston now, and almost every time I visit a new place, I make connections with how the abolitionist movement left its mark there.
The day the American Experience app launched I cannot describe how awesome it was to see the Abolitionist Map of America live on my iPhone! Since then, we have continued to work with our partners as the map keeps growing every day. And the map and app are still very much a living, ongoing project -- I come in to work every day to see what new pins have been added to the map. Our partners and users continue to pin images that I did not think existed, and they are pinning locations that I knew about but could not find in my own research.
Download the American Experience: Mapping History app today to explore what abolitionist history exists in your neighborhood. And we want your help mapping history, too! Pin your own photos and videos on the website, and together we can reveal the story of the abolitionist movement across North America.
Casey is Special Projects Assistant for AMERICAN EXPERIENCE