‘We Choose Freedom’: Documenting African American Presence in the Dominican Republic is a digital archives that recovers, preserves and makes available treasured records of the past. It contains a collection of rare and delicate archival documents pertaining to African Americans that arrived in 1824 from different ports along the Eastern United States to Samaná, Dominican Republic. The documents include books of baptisms, marriage certificates, as well as notes of church meetings, collective decisions and other random papers from Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal and St. Peter's Evangelical Churches in Samaná that document the lives of this Afro diasporic community ranging from 1909-1970.
For decades, it was believed that the majority of these materials had been permanently lost after a fire in 1946 that devastated the town of Samaná destroying all of the buildings in the community except for the former African Methodist Episcopal Church. Fortunately, many of the documents were found in a suitcase in the home of the pastor many years after.
The CUNY Dominican Studies Institute Library and ISER Caribe received a Seminar on the Acquisition of Latin American Library Materials (SALALM) Award for Institutional Collaborative Initiatives that provided initial funding for digitization of the documents that were in precarious conditions for the lack of care. After digitizing the documents, the originals were rehoused in archival boxes using archival sleeve covers and acid free file folders for preservation purposes. Additional financial support was provided by the CUNY Center for the Humanities.
After the digitization of the documents, the City College Digital Scholarship Services staff created a JSTOR Forum collection enhancing the metadata in order for the materials to be widely discoverable and accessible to scholars, researchers and community members. This collection provides families with a glimpse into the lives of their close ancestors to learn and understand the history and life of residents in Samaná. It is also part of a larger virtual repository that will allow these stories to be shared in observance and celebration of the upcoming 200-year anniversary in 2024 of the community’s migration to freedom.
This collaborative digitization project brought together the following team: CUNY Dominican Studies Institute: Chief Librarian and Professor Sarah Aponte, Librarian Jhensen Ortiz, Research Associate Sophia Monegro; ISER Caribe and LaGuardia Community College: Associate Professor of Anthropology Dr. Ryan Mann-Hamilton and CUNY Research Scholars Program Edyel Alarcon and Akiana Smith; City College Digital Scholarship Services: Associate Professor and Digital Scholarship Librarian Dr. Ching-Jung Chen, Digital Collections Librarian Hiroko Suda, and Digital Scholarship Manager Dr. Scott Koski.
By Prof. Sarah Aponte and Librarian Jhensen Ortiz