Berkshire NAACP, Pittsfield, MA
This summer, I had the opportunity to join the Berkshire NAACP as a Social Justice Research Intern. Working with a small team of researchers, archivists, historians and architects, I researched the history of Black homeownership and rental housing in Pittsfield from 1900 to 1980 with a focus on those living on the Westside. Personally, I had studied a fair amount about housing discrimination in my academic career, but this was my first time doing such an in-depth case study of a specific area.
Within the early weeks of my internship, I worked on creating an annotated bibliography of literature pertaining to redlining and more general racial discrimination in housing lending practices, the uses of city zoning plans, environmental racism, historical GIS (geographic information systems) uses in urban study, U.S. suburbanization, and urban renewal. Then, I studied primary source archives of the city and newspapers in order to create a general historical timeline of major housing events on the Westside, both in terms of public housing and the ventures of private, local funding institutions. Additionally, I had conducted a search of historical newspapers tracking zoning changes from the period of 1929-1980 in Pittsfield and worked through some of the available census data with my fellow intern on the team. And all of this was done with aid of the geographic information system and map making software, oral history interviews, surveys, and checks and balances with the city directory order to chronicle the lives and movements of all Black residents living in Pittsfield during this period.
Through the process of creating a narrative for various families, drawing out timelines, and working closely with people from this community, it became clearer to me where the sources of historical discrimination and/or oppression may have begun. In doing this work, I was also able to explore and recommit myself to the field of public policy and nonprofit work and specifically explore the field of housing policy which I’ve found incredibly interesting and personally rewarding. Furthermore, I was able to hone several practical skills in historical and economic research, communicate my findings succinctly, and make meaningful connections with those on my team.
Overall, I have been able to gather a number of personal and professional insights that I hope to carry with me into the future. Thus, I would like to sincerely thank Frances Jones-Sneed, Ph.D., professor emeritus of history and political science at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, for inviting me onto this amazing project and encouraging me to follow the research path that would best help me learn and engage. I would also like to thank the Class of 1972 and the ’68 Center for Career Exploration whose support and guidance helped make this internship possible.