By Andrew Begley
Archives Specialist, National Archives at Boston; Co-Chair, Digital Commonwealth Outreach and Education Committee
Over the last five to ten years, a number of archives and libraries in the Boston area have digitized rich collections of materials related to school desegregation and busing in the city of Boston. Collections at the Boston City Archives, UMass Boston, Northeastern University, Suffolk University, Boston College, and the Massachusetts State Library contextualize Boston’s 1970’s busing crisis and provide insight into the roles played by community organizations and local, state, and federal agencies. Northeastern University, which was instrumental in coordinating these digitization initiatives, provides a great entry point for exploring these records on its Beyond Busing: Boston School Desegregation Archival Resources site.
Until recently, one major collection that was not available digitally was the U.S. District Court case file for Morgan v. Hennigan. Held at the National Archives at Boston, this collection consists of 54 cubic feet of documents filed in the class action lawsuit brought in 1972 by the parents of African American children in Boston, alleging that the Boston School Committee violated the 14th Amendment of the U. S. Constitution by a deliberate policy of racial segregation in the Boston Public Schools.
Several years ago, National Archives staff reached out to Digital Commonwealth about utilizing its member digitization services to tackle the digitization of the Morgan v. Hennigan case file. While Digital Commonwealth was enthusiastic about the project, the sheer size of the collection posed some additional challenges. Harvard Library Imaging Services agreed to partner with Digital Commonwealth and the National Archives on the project, offering their new high-speed document scanning services to quickly and safely handle the digitization of the physical records. The result of the project would make the digitized records available through Digital Commonwealth, Harvard Library’s online collection, and the National Archives online catalog.
As with any large-scale digitization project, there were many steps in ensuring the successful completion of the project. Staff and volunteers at the National Archives worked on document prep and metadata creation. Security protocols were established to ensure the safe transportation and storage of the records offsite (after a few trips transporting records to Widener Library, I can now say that I’ve parked my car in Harvard Yard). Staff at Harvard Imaging Services created scanning workflows for the project, seamlessly combining high volume digitization on their conveyer belt style scanner with separate workflows for oversized and bound materials. Once scanning was complete, Harvard staff worked with the Boston Public Library and Digital Commonwealth on harvesting metadata and making the records available through the Digital Commonwealth site.
The digitized images went live on the Digital Commonwealth site earlier this month (they can be viewed here), and I wanted to take this opportunity to say thank you to everyone that made this collaboration possible: Alfie Paul, Denise Henderson and the staff and volunteers at the National Archives in Waltham; Bill Comstock and everyone at Harvard Library Imaging Services; and Tom Blake and the metadata staff at the Boston Public Library. The Morgan v. Hennigan case file should complement and provide further context for the records on busing and desegregation digitized by other institutions throughout the Boston area, and hopefully this project will serve as a model for additional collaborative digitization projects in the future.