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300 people dead. A once-vibrant neighborhood burned to the ground. More than 1,000 homes and businesses destroyed. A city under martial law. And this wasn’t in some remote, war-torn land; this was the all-American city of Tulsa, Oklahoma.

The Tulsa race riot of 1921 is believed to be the single worst incident of racial violence in American history. And yet the details of that life-changing event might have been lost without the efforts of a diligent graduate student and the emergence of an archiving product from ProQuest.

Tulsa’s establishment succeeded in suppressing facts about the riot that would have caused it to be more broadly reported at the time. Instead, the event began to fade from memory until it became the topic of a 1946 graduate thesis. Loren L. Gill’s scholarly paper became the authoritative basis for all future research on the tragedy.

The bound master’s thesis was referenced and borrowed many times over the decades that followed. The copy not only began to show signs of wear, but sometimes “disappeared” for long periods of time. Concerned about both preservation and access, the library director at the University of Tulsa turned to ProQuest’s Digital Archiving and Access Program (DAAP). Now Gill’s master’s thesis has been digitized and its content safeguarded, while also making it available online, providing one of the few remaining early records of that devastating 18-hour period of rampage and ruin in Tulsa.

The Tulsa race riot is a heartbreaking reminder of the importance of archiving graduate work. Read more about preservation and access in the DAAP Tulsa whitepaper.

31 May 2013 | Posted by Shannon Janeczek

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