The Southwest Michigan Black Heritage Society

The Southwest Michigan Black Heritage Society

"The connection to yesterday"


The Engaging the Wisdom program, a component of the Racial Healing Initiative of the Southwest Michigan Black Heritage Society, is an interracial, intergenerational program that will explore new and creative ways for youth and elders to connect. Program goals are to (a) engage students in meaningful activities that will engender greater respect for elders in the community, (b) build bridges across generations and ethnicities, (c) involve students in oral history projects that will increase their knowledge of the history of the community.

As part of the Engaging the Wisdom project, the Southwest Michigan Black Heritage Society has collaborated in an oral history project with Dr. Bruce Mills and his English Seminar class, Building the Archive: Baldwin and His Legacy at Kalamazoo College.

History, as nearly no one seems to know, is not merely something to be read. And it does not refer merely, or even principally, to the past. On the contrary, the great force of history comes from the fact that we carry it within us, are unconsciously controlled by it in many ways, and history is literally present in all that we do. It could scarcely be otherwise, since it is to history that we owe our frames of reference, our identities, and our aspirations. (James Baldwin)

In February of 1960, James Baldwin delivered an address, "In Search of a Majority," at Stetson Chapel at Kalamazoo College which he later included in his collection of essays, Nobody Knows My Name. The Baldwin and His Legacy seminar approached Baldwin's visit and writings as a site of analysis. As an actual event, the occasion left a record (correspondence, publicity, newspaper accounts, published essay). Through a close reading of Baldwin and his milieu, the course invited students to engage critically in what we carry within us. To deepen their understanding of Baldwin and the period, they researched in the Kalamazoo College Archives and students were trained to conduct interviews of people involved in Kalamazoo community initiatives during the Civil Rights Era by the Southwest Michigan Black Heritage Society.

The following video, based on those interviews, was produced by seminar student, Julia Smucker, who has now graduated from Kalamazoo College with an English and French double major. She plans to teach English in France this fall through the TAPIF program, and eventually hopes to pursue her passion for documentary film making.