The Creation of the Black ArchivesFlorida Representative Joe Lang Kershaw (D-Miami) (1911-1999), a FAMCEE graduate is shown here on the floor of the Florida House of Representatives chamber.
The Honorable Joe Lang Kershaw (D-Miami), a Florida A&M College graduate, was the first African American elected to serve in the Florida Legislature since Reconstruction. He rendered 14 years of service (1968-1982). In 1971, he maneuvered Florida Statute 241.477 through the Legislature, which led to the creation of the Black Archives. In recognition of his efforts, a special room on the first floor of Carnegie Library, the home of the Black Archives, was designated as the Rep. Joe Lang Kershaw FAMUANA Room.
Florida State Senator Arthenia L. Joyner (D-Tampa), is shown here debating on the floor of the Florida Senate.
Florida State Senator Arthenia L. Joyner (D-Tampa) earned a bachelor’s degree in political science and a juris doctor degree from Florida A&M University. While attending FAMU, she was arrested twice during protests to desegregate Tallahassee movie theatres. She also participated in the first civil rights demonstrations in Tampa, and was arrested in Washington, D.C. for her participation in civil rights activities. In 1969, she served as a legal assistant to the Honorable Joe Lang Kershaw, the first African-American member of the Florida Legislature since Reconstruction and lead sponsor of the bill that created the Black Archives. Joyner has practiced law for more than 45 years. She was first elected to the Florida House of Representatives in 2000 and later to the Florida Senate in 2006. Today, she serves as the Florida Senate Democratic Leader for 2014-2016, making her the first black woman and the second woman ever to hold the position.
The Founding of the Black Archives
Dr. James N. Eaton (1930-2004), founder and first director of the Black Archives, pictured in historic Carnegie Library posed behind an antique lectern used by famous guests visiting the campus of Florida A&M University. These special visitors included leaders such as Booker T. Washington, Mary McLeod Bethune, James Weldon Johnson, and Thurgood Marshall.
James Nathaniel Eaton, Sr., earned both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Fisk University in Nashville, Tenn. Afterward, he worked as a history professor at Miles College in Fairfield, Ala., and a patrolman and assistant principal in Richmond, Va. before accepting a position as professor of history at Florida A&M University in 1958.
Between 1969 and 1977, Dr. Eaton served as chairman of FAMU’s Department of History, Geography and African-American Studies. In 1975, he was named founding archivist, curator and director of what is now the Southeastern Regional Black Archives Research Center and Museum. For the next three decades, he helped amass a collection of memorabilia and printed records that now comprise one of the region’s largest collections of first-source material relating to the history, culture and contributions of people of African decent living in the United States. The diverse collection was built on the premise of his personal motto that “African-American History is the History of America.”
Dr. Eaton is nationally and internationally known for his work and expertise in the areas of American, African-American, Southern, and Russian history. He was selected “Most Outstanding Teacher of the Year” 25 times in his 45 years of teaching at FAMU. Anyone who attended his class or listened to one of his lectures was considered “Eatonized.” In 1978, Dr. Eaton was named FAMU’s first “Distinguished Professor.”
Eaton was a key player in having the historic Carnegie Library placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. The campus and surrounding community of FAMU was designated a National Historic District in 1998.
In 1981, Dr. Eaton, with a group of dedicated community members, co-founded the Friends of the Black Archives, a non-profit volunteer group dedicated to the promotion and preservation of African-American history. It was founded to support and incite greater interest in the center and its public services. In 1983, the James N. Eaton, Sr. Endowment was established to render further support to the museum and archives.
The noted archivist, curator, educator, and historian was the recipient of hundreds of accolades and awards. Some of his most prestigious honors include being named “Professor of the Year” in 1991 by Florida’s Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE). In 1997, Florida Memorial College bestowed upon him the Doctorate of Humane Letters. After nearly five decades of dedicated scholarship and public service Dr. Eaton announced his retirement in 2003. That same year, the university bestowed upon him the title of Professor Emeritus. Additionally in 2003, in recognition of his dedication in the areas of education, American, African-American and world history, a bill was introduced in the Florida Legislature that proposed naming the new Southeastern Regional Black Archives Research Center and Museum expansion facility the Meek-Eaton Building in the honor of Eaton and his close friend and colleague, U.S. Congresswoman Carrie P. Meek (retired), who helped secure funds for the new facility.
The Expansion of the Black Archives
U.S. Congresswoman Carrie P. Meek (D-Florida), a six-term U.S. Congresswoman (retired) and 1946 FAMCEE graduate, was a vanguard in securing funds to expand the Black Archives facility. In 2006, the Florida Legislature co-named the new facility in her honor.
U.S. Congresswoman Carrie Pittman Meek (retired) has enjoyed an historic trailblazing career as a public servant, college administrator and educator. She first made history in 1978, when she was elected to the Florida House of Representatives. In 1982, she became the first African-American woman elected to the Florida State Senate. After 14 years in the Florida Legislature, Meek was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1992. She was the first African-American lawmaker elected to represent Florida in Congress since Reconstruction. Meek was a strong advocate for underserved populations. She retired from Congress in 2003, and was succeeded by her son, Sen. Kendrick Meek. She returned to Dade County where she dedicates her time and service to the Carrie P. Meek Foundation, a non-profit corporation. In 2006, the Carrie Meek - James N. Eaton, Sr. Southeastern Regional Black Archives Research Center and Museum, located on FAMU's campus, was co-named in her honor.
The Donation of Carnegie Library
Andrew Carnegie (1835 – 1919), business mogul, philanthropist, industrialist and the founder of the Carnegie Steel Company (U.S. Steel).
In 1906, Andrew Carnegie donated $10,000 to build a new library for the Florida State College for Colored Students (present-day Florida A&M University). The new two-story, brick facility officially opened to the public in 1908. It was the first Carnegie Library built on a black land-grant college campus. The facility boasted modern amenities such as electricity, indoor plumbing and water supplied by the city. In later years, the Library served as an art gallery, religious center, and in 1976, became the founding home of the Black Archives Research Center and Museum, which also in 1976, was listed on the National Register of Historic Place.