The African American museum and library at Oakland: an interview with curator and director Rick Moss.

Author:Zulu, Itibari M.

The following interview was conducted in September 2014 with the Chief Curator and Director Rick Moss, M.A. of the African American Museum & Library at Oakland (Oakland, California, USA)


IMZ: First all, thank you Rick for this interview, I know you have a host of duties as Chief Curator and Director of the African American Museum & Library at Oakland (AAMLO), a post I believe you've held since July 2001 (and I believe we were originally introduced when you were the Program Manager of History at the California African American Museum in Los Angeles, California when I was working at UCLA).

RM: Itibari thank you for inviting AAMLO to participate in this important survey. You are so correct. We first met years ago while I was working at the California African American Museum in Los Angeles. Time has time has flown. It is hard to believe that I have been at AAMLO longer than I was at CAAM. I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to work at both of these institutions.

IMZ: In reading the history of the African American Museum & Library at Oakland (AAMLO), the collection began as a private collection in 1946 which in 1964 became the East Bay Negro Historical Society, then via a name change it became the Northern California Center for Afro-American History & Life and finally in 1994 the collection was incorporated into the City of Oakland in 1994 as AAMO.

In the development of library history in the U.S. one may consider such history as unusual, but in 1926 the New York Public Library added the personal collection of the distinguished scholar and bibliophile Arturo Alfonso Schomburg (a man of African heritage) to the Division of Negro Literature, History and Prints of its 135th Street Branch Library with Schomburg as curator of the division from 1932 until his death in 1938 which was renamed in his honor in 1940, and in 1972 it was designated as one of the research libraries of The New York Public Library, now known as the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, one of the world's leading research facilities devoted to the preservation of materials on the life, history and culture of African world community which functions as the national research library as it provides free access to its vast non-circulating collections.

In this context, would you say AAMLO is following in the tradition of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture or is it even more specialized via its regional focus, i.e., Northern California and the West Coast of the U.S.?

RM: I absolutely agree with that statement. The tradition and distinction that was established by the New York Public Library with the founding of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture is definitely something to be admired, appreciated, and if ever the opportunity presents itself, replicated. Without question AAMLO is following in those footsteps. I can recall during the early 90's when the merger was being considered a focus group convened in Oakland to ponder exactly what kind of institution might result from the merger. I, Robert Haynes, Drs. Albert Broussard, Shirley Ann Moore and others were part of that group. I also seem to recall that Dr. Howard Dodson was there or at least had been invited. So, form the very beginning the Schomburg model was...

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