Murell Dawson: The woman behind the Black Archives


For several decades, the Meek-Eaton Black Archives Research Center and Museum, more simply known as the Black Archives, has been keeping a little secret behind her doors.

Historically situated on the campus of FAMU, the museum features archival documents, aged artifacts and precious collections — all pertaining to African American culture and history. Students, faculty and the surrounding Tallahassee community are well versed about the museum’s purpose, but just how familiar are they with the woman who has decades of history with the archives? 

Murell Dawson began her undergraduate career at FAMU on a scholarship in the late ’70s. In four years she graduated with a degree in print journalism, and a minor in history. Later, she acquired a master’s degree in history but focused specifically on museums and archives.

Following her return to Tallahassee in the late 1990s, the Dawson era of the Black Archives would begin. She was tasked with organizing print records under the direction of James Eaton, who founded the archives in 1976, and loved every minute of it.  

“From my experience, the museum has always been, I call it mama’s favorite child,” Dawson said. “Seventy-five percent of our services, our collections, and our attention has always been people coming to see the artifacts.”

Dawson served as the museum’s interim director for a little over a decade and during that time, the museum underwent a plethora of improvements and accomplishments. These include the installation of several historical markers both on and off of campus, as well as the addition of the expansion facility which opened to the public in 2006. Dawson said that her supervisory role during the expansion was a big charge, but it was her “greatest gift.”

“Getting the building built, that was one beast. Getting it properly furnished and equipped, that was another beast. Opening it up to the public, wow. I was so happy that that happened,” Dawson said.

This expansion heightened the facility by three stories, in addition to the original and oldest brick building on campus, Carnegie Library. It also enabled the museum to become a regional research facility.

Former work-study student at the Black Archives, Matthew Bell, regards Dawspm as a “mother” figure.. “Dr. Dawson stayed behind me on my schoolwork. She gave me the opportunity to find myself as an individual. She’s a good person, she cares a lot for her students. She’s like a mom to me,” Bell said. 

Chelsey Brown, also a former student of  Dawson’s, said that she acquired a wealth of knowledge from her time at the archives. “I learned history from working there and doing various tasks for Dr. Dawson. I learned about each exhibit in the museum from being a tour guide, and learned how to do research,” she said.

Dawson now dedicates her time to research for the archives. She is looking to advance alongside the technological age and digitalize the museum’s collections.

 “One of the main things I’m looking and hoping to acquire is what they call a digital archivist, who will help us upload all of these things onto the world wide web and people will have access to them,” Dawson said.