In Their Own Voices celebrates the power of defining oneself while highlighting the lifework and legacies of Black women whose papers are held in the Schlesinger Library. The featured collections—including those of the graphic designer Louise E. Jefferson, the civil and women’s rights activist Pauli Murray, and the educator Rebecca Primus—offer a rich array of photographs, letters, diaries, published works, and audiovisual materials, giving viewers an opportunity to listen to, view, and read about the experiences of Black women in their private and public lives.
This exhibition illuminates how both famous and everyday Black women have sustained and (re)claimed themselves in their personal lives while pursuing their intellectual, creative, and professional goals. Exhibition materials trace their commitment to one another through the establishment of sisterhoods of friendship and belonging and illustrate how these women devoted themselves to educating and empowering their communities and fighting for civil and human rights for all.
An underlying narrative of the exhibition is about the way librarians and archivists advocated for these collections to become part of the Schlesinger’s archives and ensured long-term public access to them. In Their Own Voices spans generations, as storytellers from the community—including some from the Black Women Oral History Project and current students—continue the conversations evoked by these archives. In this exhibition, Black women create their own narratives as part of this powerful and ongoing archival lineage.