The Smithsonian Institution Archives (SIA) began its Oral History Program in 1973. The purpose of the program is to supplement the written documentation of the Archives' record and manuscript collections with an Oral History Collection, focusing on the history of the Institution, research by its scholars, and contributions of its staff. Program staff conduct interviews with current and retired Smithsonian staff and others who have made significant contributions to the Institution. There are also reminiscences and interviews recorded by researchers or students on topics related to the history of the Smithsonian or the holdings of the Smithsonian Institution Archives.
To celebrate the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) in September of 2016, the Institutional History program of Smithsonian Institution Archives conducted a series of oral history interviews with African Americans who made significant contributions to the Smithsonian over their careers.
These interviews discuss their contributions to the Smithsonian as African American volunteers, employees, and regents, their relationships to the rest of the Smithsonian, notable programs they developed, significant challenges, reminiscences of colleagues, and interaction with the public and staff.
The Smithsonian African American Contributions Oral History Interviews collection is comprised of 6 interview sessions, totaling approximately 7 hours of recordings and c. 340 pages of transcripts. The interviews were conducted in 2015-2017 by intern Olivia Sayah and historian Pamela M. Henson.
Jeannine Smith Clark (1928-2018) was born on October 5, 1928 in Washington, D.C. She received her BA and MA in African Studies from Howard University. She began her work with the Smithsonian in 1968 as a volunteer docent. She chaired the volunteer program of the Smithsonian Women's Committee in the late 1970s and early 1980s. In 1983 she was appointed to the Board of Regents, where she became the first chairwomen of the Cultural Education Committee in 1986. She was now a Emeritus Regent.
Shireen Dodson (1951- ) was born July 2, 1951 in New Jersey and moved to Washington, D.C. in the 1970s. She received her BS from Morgan State University and her juris doctorate from Seton Hall Law School. At the Smithsonian, she worked as the Assistant Director of the Accounting and Financial Services Office, SI Comptroller and with the African American Museum Project from 1980 to 2000. She is now at the United Nations.
Michael R. Barnes (1956- ) was born March 4th, 1956 in Washington, D.C. He began his career in 1977 at the Smithsonian in the Duplicating Branch of the Office of Printing and Printing Services. He has been working as a photographer for the Smithsonian since 2000. He is best known for his photography of the building of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, as well as of the Million Man March and the presidential inaugurations of George W. Bush and Barak Obama.
Shirley Ann Jackson (1946- ) grew up in Washington, D.C., before attending Massachusetts Institute of Technology for her B.S., M.S. and Ph.D. in theoretical physics and particle physics. After a career at Bell Labs, Rutgers University and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, she was named president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1999. She served on the Smithsonian Board of Regents from 2005 to 2017.