Written by: LaShawn Oglesby
Many Americans of African descent do not know much, if anything, about their history dating back to slavery, and getting that information is hard to find and sometimes costly. However, one organization is working to get that information to the public for free.
The Mary Turner Project (MTP) is in partnership with the VSU archives department. They have slave-census records from more than 120 counties and need the help of volunteers to get them digitized. All are welcome to be a part of this historic movement.
Dr. Mark George is the MTP Coordinator. He is also an adjunct professor of Women’s and Gender Studies and teaches various courses: race, gender, sexuality, class and masculinity studies.
According to Dr. George, the MTP has completed 40 percent of the slave-census records so far.
The MTP is trying to grow the project by reaching out to other states and schools so they can get involved and hopefully take over their own states and areas. Right now the project has more than 30 collaborative project volunteers from Valdosta all the way to Oregon, and even a soldier in Afghanistan.
Volunteers can be recruited through the MTP webpage (www.maryturner.org/MTP). Afterwards they are given a list of counties that have not been digitized, and the volunteer can select which county records they want to digitize. They also have the option to do only part of the records or all of them. The records are then converted into Microsoft Excel documents.
The MTP wants to get these digitized documents up on a “web-based, searchable database for the public,” their website says.
This isn’t the MTP’s first project. They have told the story for which their group is named after in over 15 regional events. They have had panel discussions, one just as recently as April 1.
The MTP takes donations and has received over $1,000. They have petitioned to get a state park in honor of Mary Turner. They also want to get word out about the entire history of Valdosta.
“Two of the four men who were essential in setting up Valdosta were slave owners,” Dr. George said. “We live in a state where black people are taxed for very racist historical sites.”
Those sites include many streets named after slave owners and other historical figures that were racist. These streets, such as Ashley Street and Gordon Street, were named after a slave owner and Ku Klux Klan leader respectively.
On May 17, the MTP will host a commemoration, which they have been doing for years, in honor of Mary Turner and other victims of 1918.
“There will be 100 or 200 people in attendance,” Dr. George said. “It’s a powerful testament of what people can do when they come together.”
Students can find more information on the MTP’s history, accomplishments and current projects on their website.