In 1916, Rachel H. Flowers (1900-1988) became the first African American student to enroll at Messiah Bible School and Missionary Training Home. Known today as Messiah University, Flowers only became known to the institution in 2010. For much of the college’s history, she was misidentified for another Black student who attended in the 1920s. Prior to my research, very little was known about Flowers beyond her name, city of birth, and speculation surrounding her life post-graduation. Following nearly a decade of research, this digital exhibition displays her biography through an interactive essay, oral histories, photographs, and sound.
As a digital humanist and historian, I chose to create a digital project that elevates and honors Flowers’ life and activism. Slippage in the archive blurred her biography due to the misnaming of one Black woman for another. Although Flowers was long present in the archive, this mistake had the power of removing her from history. Many times, scholars, I included, use this language of loss, discovery, and recovery when writing narratives of “hidden” unwritten figures. But many of these figures were never lost, waiting to be discovered by a researcher. They existed and lived, with or without our attention. This digital project is an act of remembering and justice, telling a pioneering Black woman’s history initially “lost” in an archive. It is an act of radical collaboration, working with her family who entrust me to preserve her history. Lastly, it is a commitment to digital history, blending methodologies to uplift Flowers’ biography.
Presenter: Christina Thomas (John Hopkins University)