Using Archives and Memory Work to Stop Racial Oppression

October 12, 2022

cell phone frame and the words Archives for Black Lives: A Liberated Archives Exhibition by Don't Shoot Portland at Knight Library

Portland police officers left four dead opossums at the entrance to Teressa Raiford’s family’s restaurant to scare away customers. It was 1981. Teressa was 11 years old.

Nearly three decades after the “opossum incident” Raiford founded Don't Shoot Portland (DSP), an arts, education, and community action planning organization that promotes social justice and civic participation to affect policy change because, as she said, “It’s not over. Black Lives still matter.” And racial oppression still happens.

Collaborating with UO Libraries and Portland art gallery curator Tiffany Harker from Holding Contemporary, Don’t Shoot Portland—led by Raiford along with her daughter Tai Carpenter, DSP board president—has launched its latest awareness-building effort: “Archives for Black Lives: A Liberated Archives Exhibition,” on view now through February 2023 in the University of Oregon’s Knight Library.

Centered on education, documentation, and the preservation of history, the exhibition explores how archival materials can help anyone interested in making positive change to expose racist systems and affect policy change to end racial oppression. QR codes throughout the exhibition refer viewers back to collections for those wanting to do their own research and liberate the UO's archives.

Danielle Mericle, curator of Visual Materials with UO Libraries' Special Collections and University Archives, shared that she has "learned so much from the collaborative partnership between UO Libraries, Don't Shoot Portland, and Holding Contemporary. It provides a great model for future endeavors to help ensure that our efforts are truly inclusive and better serve our campus and broader communities."

A free, online Plenary session called “Memory Work for Black Lives” is being held in conjunction with the exhibition on October 21–22. This two-day event aims to bring Black activists, community members, speakers, librarians, and archivists together to discuss the power of Black archival memory and community archives. Building on the community archiving work that Don’t Shoot Portland has done over the past decade, this event demonstrates how to digitally approach archiving historical memories and engages participants in conversations about the need for diversity in libraries and archives, how to create a personal archive, and the practice of documenting memory as an act of recovery, a labor of love, and a catalyst for change.

Registration is free and all are welcome. Sign up here.

About the Plenary and Exhibition Partners

Don’t Shoot Portland  is an arts and education organization that promotes social justice and civic participation. Their year-round programming allows them to advocate for community members facing racism and discrimination by providing legal representation and direct advocacy. Since 2016, Don’t Shoot Portland has hosted its own dialogues, community forums, and workshops focusing on history, archiving and social culture. The art proponent of our work acts as a communicative tool to facilitate discussions about race in America while providing educational assets to those most affected by discrimination in public policy.

HOLDING Contemporary, in Portland, Oregon, presents exhibitions and programs by visual artists across disciplines. Through a deliberate curatorial vision, an experimental business model, and community–driven projects, we position ourselves towards challenging the economic and social privilege of the art world.

UO Libraries Special Collections and University Archives is a renowned rare book and special collections repository at the University of Oregon, used by researchers in Eugene and around the world. Among its holdings are many collections that exemplify the history of systemic racism in Oregon and the United States, as well as collections that celebrate the resistance and struggle of those fighting against this oppression.  

UO Libraries installs several exhibitions each academic year as part of its mission to create welcoming, inclusive environments for all members of our diverse community and to actively support the student learning experience, enable the creation and stewardship of knowledge, and contribute to advancements in teaching, research, scholarship, and public service.

—By Kate Conley, UO Libraries Communications