Feb. 12, Tennessean, Nancy DeVille
Andrea Blackman gets a firsthand look into Nashville’s storied past each time she walks into Nashville’s main library.
As division manager for the special collections division of the Nashville Public Library, she’s surrounded by poster-sized photographs of lunch counter sit-ins, hundreds of documents from the now-defunct Nashville Banner and maps dating back to the 1800s.
Under her leadership, the Nashville Public Library has launched four successful oral history projects including the Civil Rights, Veterans History, Nashville Business Leaders and the 2010 Flood Digital Project. Her work extends beyond the famed Civil Rights Room as the special collection division, which is on the library’s second floor, serves as a research center for historic Nashville materials.
Blackman recently received the Nashville Symphony’s 2013 Edwina Hefner Award, recognition that honors a member of the community whose work exemplifies the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. The award was presented during the symphony’s Let Freedom Sing! concert last month.
“I’m really humbled and grateful,” she said. “I really enjoy the education and outreach and putting the library on equal footing with every other cultural institution in the city.
“But there is still a lot of work for us to do.”
The Nashville Symphony’s Community Leadership Award was created in 2007 to recognize Edwina Hefner, an active volunteer with Let Freedom Sing! for 14 years, for her leadership and efforts throughout the Nashville community. The award recognizes individuals helping to make the world a better place through their leadership.
“With this award, we hope to shine the light on some of the unsung heroes in our own community that help to keep Dr. King’s legacy alive. Andrea Blackman epitomizes what it means to keep (King’s) dream alive,” said Blair Bodine, director of education and community engagement for the Nashville Symphony.
“She literally finds ways to make history relevant, engaging and educational for the next generation. Her passion for sharing the legacy of the civil rights movement and her contribution as an educator are truly motivating to all.”
Blackman joined the library system in 2003 to coordinate its nationally recognized Civil Rights Room and Collection. It was a new position and one she believed she could mold into her own.
With a background as an educator in Florida and Tennessee, Blackman uses her classroom experience to showcase the library’s special collections.
Donna Nicely, former director of the Nashville Public Library, says Blackman was ideal for the position because of her deep understanding of the purpose of the collection.
‘The right person’
“Andrea demonstrated a full understanding of the potential of the Civil Rights Room and what it could mean to the city,” Nicely said. “We knew there needed to be a special person to shepherd this whole idea forward, and Andrea was exactly the right person.”
Blackman spends ample time speaking to community groups and students on multicultural education, library services and oral history methodologies. Blackman and her staff have been aggressive at getting materials in schools and have created lesson plans and online tours for some schools that can’t make the field trip to the library.
“I wanted to make the (Civil Rights) room more visible in the community, and I’ve made that my goal,” she said. “I wanted get in the schools and for every student that was studying Tennessee history to know what Diane Nash did in Nashville and what Mayor Ben West said to her on the infamous day in 1960.
“The room is fabulous and the resources are wonderful, but if no one knows it’s here, it doesn’t serve anyone any good.”
Outside of work, the Antioch resident loves to read fiction and non-fiction, travel and spend time with her husband and 11-year-old son.
In the future, Blackman hopes to use the Civil Rights Room as a venue and voice for public programming surrounding current issues. The collection is much more than what visitors see in the room — it contains thousands of documents, minutes from student meetings, posters, oral histories and personal diaries.
“Some people look at the room as sacred ground. The leaders have come in and look at the photos and say, ‘Wow, this takes me back.’ For students, it brings history a little closer,” she said.
“Maybe the room will inspire another generation to become activists.”
Contact Nancy DeVille at 615-259-8304, email@example.com or follow on Twitter @devillenews.