In 1976, James N. Eaton opened the Black Archives Research Center and Museum in the Carnegie Library at Florida A&M University.
As one of the largest black research libraries and museums in the country, it has more than 500,000 individual archival records.
But in the 1980s, the limited space at Carnegie library started to become overcrowded from the thousands of donated artifacts.
As a course of action, Eaton decided to run a campaign that gained sponsorship from various groups and individuals.
“When it was just Carnegie Library, we were completely overwhelmed with the amount of treasures in our collection. We just had to expand,” said E. Murell Dawson, curator and director of the museum and professor of history at FAMU.
Eaton’s campaign picked up when he gained support from U.S. Reps. Carrie Meek and Allen Boyd and U.S. Sens. Bob Graham and Connie Mack — all from Florida.
In 1998, they sponsored a bill for the expansion of the archives, which led to nearly $4 million in federal funding.
With the money received from the federal government, the state of Florida agreed to match the federal funds, giving the archives more than $7 million for renovations and remodeling.Construction of the four-story extension of the library began in 2003 and was completed in early 2004. With the creation of a larger museum, a computer lab, a media room and a gift shop, the facility was made to rival similar centers built in other regions.
The grand opening was a ribbon cutting ceremony at the 2004 spring commencement, where the archives was named the Southeastern Regional Black Archives Research Center and Museum.
Since the expansion opened on April 28, the facility has received a great response from both the school and the community.
“We were constantly bombarded with family reunion groups, summer camps and college orientation students this summer for visits and tours,” Dawson said.
Since the opening, the computer lab has not been completed. But the museum has received new exhibits such as the Tuskegee Airmen Collection, Tallahassee Bus Boycott Memorabilia Collection, and the Memorabilia Klan, Koons, and Komics Collection that brings in a large crowd daily.
“Looking at the KKK artwork, it really opened my eyes to see this information,” said Stacy-Ann Payne, 26, a senior business administration student.
“I’m from Jamaica, and we didn’t have KKK,” Payne said. “So I’ve only heard of people talking about them. But to actually see the display made me realize that the stories I hear are factual and devastating.”
Along with the racial and political artifacts, there is a black children’s culture section that houses collectables such as black coloring books, reading books, toys and dolls. There is also a puppet stage for educational fun and learning.
“I think it’s a necessity for us to have this here at FAMU because it’s a tool for us to measure our progression as a culture,” said Spencer D. Tyrus, a professor of African-American studies. “It also reminds us of where we been and what we have endured.”On June 20, the Florida Legislature approved renaming of the newly expanded portion of Carnegie Library to the Carrie Meek/James N. Eaton Sr. Southeastern Regional Black Archives Research Center and Museum.
Since the re-opening, the museum has had more than 150 visitors daily.
Future exhibits will open in January for Martin Luther King Jr. holiDay, February for Black History Month, and March for Women’s History Month.
The museum will also have a special FAMU homecoming exhibit. For more information, call the Black Archives at (850) 599-3020 or visit famu.edu/acad/archives.