Book Focuses on 100 More "Uncrowned Queens"

Project model developed here has excited interest across the U.S.

Release Date: December 1, 2005 This content is archived.


Related Multimedia

Third volume of "Uncrowned Queens" celebrates centennial of Niagara Movement

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The Uncrowned Queens Institute for Research and Education on Women, Inc., has announced the publication of "Uncrowned Queens: African American Women Community Builders," Volume III, a commemorative publication celebrating the centennial of the Niagara Movement, a major step on the road to black militancy that had its roots in Western New York.

The book represents the remarkable development of the "Uncrowned Queens" Project, which originally set out to document the community-building work of African-American Women at the time of turn of the 19th century in connection with Buffalo's centennial celebration of the 1901 Pan American Exposition.

It was then, and continues to be, directed by Peggy Brooks-Bertram, Dr. P.H., Ph.D., and Barbara Nevergold, Ph.D.

Brooks-Bertram is a research associate in the Department of Social and Preventive Medicine, UB School of Public Health and Health Professions, and the Department of African American Studies, College of Arts and Sciences. Nevergold is coordinator of student personnel services at UB's Educational Opportunity Center.

In addition to collecting and documenting the lives and accomplishments of 300 notable, but largely unheralded African-American women in Western New York, the project to date also has established a model for the development of oral history projects that is now nationally recognized as a method of describing the cultural, economic and social histories of entire regions.

When it began, the project excited community interest and involvement. In short order, it grew beyond its Web site at into Volume I of "Uncrowned Queens," published in 2002, followed in 2003 by a second volume and this year by Volume III. Each volume includes 100 biographies for a total of 300 African-American women featured in the series to date.

The two original research papers included in Volume III take the project more deeply into the academic realm.

One paper, by Brooks-Bertram, is about historian Drusilla Dunjee Houston, a syndicated columnist and author of the 1917 poem "America's Uncrowned Queens," from which the institute and the book take their names. Brooks-Bertram is working on a biography of Houston to be published by the University of Oklahoma Press.

The second research paper, by Nevergold, investigates Buffalo's intriguing connection to the revolutionary Niagara Movement.

"This volume also represents our first bi-national effort, as it celebrates African-American women in Canadian border communities and their contributions to the preservation of African-Canadian history and culture," says Brooks-Bertram.

The women in Volume III are community leaders, culture workers, civil rights activists, health-care educators, political figures, social workers, and church leaders active from 1905 to 2005. The list of their accomplishments is astonishing, all the more so for being virtually unknown until now.

"In locating the women in these three volumes and establishing their achievements, we learned many tricks and found information in many places," says Brooks-Bertram.

"We searched what church records were available; college, university and community archives; took oral histories; perused commemorative publications, personal letters and recollections; reviewed organizational membership information, newsletters and whatever else we could find," Brooks-Bertram says.

"For instance, in old Buffalo newspapers like the turn-of-the-century Buffalo Courier, we learned about black women who by the late 1800s were publicly protesting school segregation," she says.

"This volume concentrates on many of our contemporaries and we're still collecting. We are in a race against time because there remain many women in their 80s and 90s with incredible stories to tell," she says.

The "Uncrowned Queens" project produced a model for historical documentation that has garnered interest in many other places beyond Buffalo.

Brooks-Bertram and Nevergold proposed an "Uncrowned Queens" project to the State of Oklahoma as part of the state's 2007 centennial celebration, which is the only out-of-state project included in the state centennial plan.

That project, they say, will be implemented in all of Oklahoma's 72 counties and, among other things, will bring to the fore stories of the black women pioneers who took part in the 1889 Oklahoma land rush when the state was still a U.S. territory. These women not only helped establish communities

associated with the All Black Town movement, but spurred black western migration, establishing schools, hospitals, libraries and museums along the way.

"The 'Uncrowned Queens' model can, and will, be used to discover and document the contributions of many other national, ethnic and racial groups," says Brooks-Bertram.

The authors have heard, for instance, from a woman who wanted to document the experiences of her grandmother, who was "exhibited" as a member of the exotic Eskimo culture at the Pan Am Exposition.

"The model we've developed encourages researchers to do what so many projects involving women have not done, which is to work from the bottom up," Brooks-Bertram says.

"If we want to understand the history of women we can't tell the stories of heroines alone," she says. "We need to hear the stories of all kinds of women involved in many endeavors at all points on the social and economic spectrum. If enough of these stories are gathered together, they can describe the history of an entire region."

Brooks-Bertram and Nevergold have partnered with WNED-AM 970 to produce a radio series based on the oral histories of African-American women in Western New York. Interest has been expressed by public radio stations around the country in launching similar projects in their own regions.

Brooks-Bertram says, "If the larger public ratio project goes forward, we will collect those oral histories from all over America into a national archive of women's stories that will be held here in the UB archives and made available to researchers."

Media Contact Information

Patricia Donovan has retired from University Communications. To contact UB's media relations staff, call 716-645-6969 or visit our list of current university media contacts. Sorry for the inconvenience.