Florida A&M University (FAMU) is home to the Meek-Eaton Black Archives Research Center and Museum, offering knowledge about pivotal moments in African-American history and several galleries.
According to FAMU’s website, the Florida Legislature authorized the creation of an archive in 1971 to “serve the state by collecting and preserving source material on and about African Americans from ancient to present times.”
This authorization was the foundation to what would later become known as the Meek-Eaton Black Archives Research Center and Museum. The center was founded in 1976 by FAMU history professor, Dr. James N. Eaton. The Black Archives was officially opened in the historic Carnegie Library on FAMU’s campus.
Joe Lang Kershaw, a Florida A&M College graduate, was the first African-American elected to serve in the Florida Legislature since Reconstruction. In 1971, he strategically moved 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 location of the Black Archives, was designated to Rep. Joe Lang Kershaw.
Pre-physical therapy student Jatia Littles, who is from Gainesville, currently works at the Black Archives as a tour guide. Littles said that the most compelling aspect during each tour is the room dedicated to the coined phrase “gator bait,” – a phrase she is too familiar with.
“The Ku Klux Klan would feed the little kids to gators like they were honestly bait,” Littles explained. “That’s also how we get the term black bird from the kids climbing in the tree to get away from the gators, and they would fall asleep in the tree. When the messenger would see them in the tree hanging they would call the little kids black bird.”
De’Vante Johnson, who is a criminal justice student, has been a tour guide instructor for three years in the Black Archives and said tours of the museum is approximately forty-five minutes.
“Usually tours are about forty-five minutes at the least, but I like to talk a little bit longer because I really like talking to the people. Personally, I stay in the Minstrel Show gallery room the longest because what you see in that room is current of what you see on the news today,” Johnson expressed.
There are several galleries featured in the Black Archives including a President’s room with past presidents of FAMU, an African-Americans in the military room, a room “formerly” known as the church gallery which shows the “Black Jesus,” an area dedicated to the Marching 100, a room which is catered to the origin of the phrase “gator bait,” the black hospital area, and the Minstrel Show gallery.
“Once there was this travel channel show called “Mysteries at the Museum,” who broadcasted that we recently had Harriet Tubman’s authentic 1760 flint stone crystal upstairs, and no one knew we had that. It is just good to come here because you never know what you will see,” Johnson continued.
Janyla Manley, a pre-occupational therapy student, has been a tour guide instructor with the Black Archives for two years, and encourages students to visit the Black Archives during anytime of the year and not just during February.
“I think students should come, not just for Black History Month, but any opportunity that they have time to visit,” Manley said. “We have new exhibits here and sometimes we switch them out, so the students should come besides the month of February.”
The Black Archives has free admission and is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday and from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday. If a group of eleven people or more visit, a tour guide instructor is available to assist around the museum.