In April 2019, the Presbyterian Historical Society (PHS) highlighted four ongoing initiatives that expand its mission in new ways: the Religious News Service digitization project, LGBTQIA+ History collecting effort, Building Knowledge & Breaking Barriers project, and African American Leaders & Congregations collecting effort. For the remainder of the year, Pearl — PHS’s home for digitized and born-digital collections — grew in concert with, and in support of, these initiatives.
In August, PHS completed an National Endowment for the Humanities-funded project to scan 493 photographs and related documents created by the Religious News Service, a predecessor of today’s Religion News Service. The photographs — most with extensive captions — document the history of Protestant, Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Jewish groups in the United States during the 20th century, as well as the intersection of religion and politics, society, and culture in the U.S. and abroad. As Archives and Metadata Technician Allison Davis notes in her blog post about the project, many of the images are as charming or captivating as they are informative.
As a corollary to the RNS photographs are the digitized archives of the PC(USA) theologian Reinhold Niebuhr’s weekly columns, also published by the Religious News Service. The 1947 and 1948 pieces engage with contemporary social, cultural, and political issues, including race relations in the U.S., and immigration and refugee resettlement in post-WWII Europe.
The Pearl LGBTQIA+ history collection grew with the addition of recently conducted oral histories, photographs from recently acquired collections, and publications. Interviews with Barry Smith, historian at Chicago’s Lincoln Park Presbyterian Church Lincoln and an early participant in Presbyterians for Lesbian and Gay Concerns, as well as leaders from the Covenant Network and That All May Freely Serve, provide a firsthand account of the struggle for LGBTQIA+ rights in the church. Photographs from the personal papers of David Sindt document the gay rights movement and AIDS activism in the 1980s, while scanned publications shed light on the progressive Lincoln Park church.
PHS is collecting historic records and personal papers from African American leaders and congregations, in part to address the under-representation of African Americans in narratives of Presbyterian history. In June, Records Archivist David Staniunas and Public Services Associate Sonia Prescott traveled to Atlanta for the 45th National Black Presbyterian Caucus conference, where they interviewed Corine Lytle Cannon — the first African American woman to be hired for a production position at Cannon Mills and the mother of the Rev. Dr. Katie Cannon (1950-2018), the first African American woman ordained in the United Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). The Atlanta conversation with Ms. Cannon, now available in Pearl, complements existing conversations with African American Presbyterian leaders J. Oscar McCloud and Gayraud Wilmore. PHS also recently digitized the charter of First African Presbyterian Church, the nation’s oldest African American Presbyterian Church.
PHS continues to develop existing collections in Pearl beyond these four initiatives. Of note, over 80 items were added to the Audio collection, including a 1925 10” 78 rpm album of Navajo songs, and “Paul's Letter to American Christians,” an address by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to a COEMAR breakfast at the 1958 General Assembly. Additions to the Mission History collection include the American Presbyterian Congo Mission records (RG 432), the PCUS Korea Mission records, and the Mitchell Family papers. The Pieters in Korea (2004), a monographic study of a multi-generational missionary family in Korea, has been made available in its entirety, as has “Yankee Thai,” Dr. Edwin Charles Cort’s manuscript based on his mission work in Thailand.