The nation’s largest African American video oral history archive is hosting a virtual convening to address the “crisis” of key public figures passing away without having their stories documented and preserved for the benefit of succeeding generations.

In what is described as “a race against time,” The HistoryMakers assembled some of the nation’s “top African American thought leadership” to increase public understanding and awareness. Hosted on YouTube and Facebook, “The HistoryMakers [email protected]: 20 Days and 20 Nights” began Dec. 1 and runs through Dec. 20.

Julieanna Richardson (Courtesy photo)

“The challenges facing our country at this moment reinforce the need to preserve and elevate the truth about the African American experience,” said Julieanna Richardson, founder and President of The HistoryMakers.

“We must work together to massively digitize the personal collections of our HistoryMakers and other African American leaders. Otherwise, the continued distortion of the truth of African American contributions to our culture and democracy will continue. Our need is urgent, especially as the next generation of storytellers, changemakers, and stewards of our legacy are now taking the lead.”

For The HistoryMakers, 2020 is its 20th anniversary year.

The Chicago-based nonprofit – with education as its mission – boasts a one-of-a-kind collection housed at the Library of Congress. The collection provides an online record of African-American lives, accomplishments and contributions through first-person testimony. It features nearly 3,400 video oral history interviews (11,000 hours) recorded in 413 cities and towns, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Norway.

Participants in “The HistoryMakers [email protected]: 20 Days and 20 Nights” include:

  • Business leaders Ken Chenault, Ken Frazier and Clarence Otis;
  • Entrepreneur Daymond John;
  • Actor Danny Glover;
  • Poets Sonia Sanchez and Nikki Giovanni;
  • Activist Angela Davis;
  • Music legends Dionne Warwick and Denyce Graves;
  • Radio hosts Rickey Smiley and Karen Hunter;
  • Lawyers Eric Holder, Anita Hill and Sherrilyn Ifill;
  • Civic leaders and educators Johnnetta B. Cole and Ruth Simmons; and
  • Political leaders Valerie Jarrett, U.S. Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina and U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters of California.

The online presentation provides the first, behind-the-scenes view of The HistoryMakers organization, its digital archive and educational initiatives and its now iconic “An Evening With…” PBS-TV programs.

Howard Dodson, director-emeritus of Howard University Libraries.

HistoryMaker Howard Dodson, director-emeritus of Howard University Libraries and the former director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in NYC, said, “… mainstream institutions have not approached preservation work equitably to be inclusive of the African American experience creating a heritage gap that is contributing to the divisions in America we are experiencing today.

“But even more important, there is also a funding gap to support and uplift this work. And that needs to change.”

(To learn more about [email protected] and The HistoryMakers, visit