Introducing the Virtual Black Romulus Cultural Heritage Center (VBRCHC), whose web address is: http://vbrchc.matrix.msu.edu
I must begin by stating that I was born and raised in Romulus, MI. I attended Cory Elementary, Romulus Middle School and Romulus High School. This project is a labor of love. It truly all began when I was an elementary school student at Cory Elementary. My mother took my siblings and me to the IGA Super Market. On the wall was a mural that represented the Black heritage in Romulus. I was shocked and amazed. As I continued my education in middle and high school, no one could decipher nor translate the mural into common lay person terms. I asked my elementary and middle school teachers about the information represented in the mural, but as people that were not from Romulus, they were ill equipped to address my questions. From that moment forward, I have been dedicated to presenting the history, heritage and legacy of African Americans to the development of Romulus, MI. Thus, my 2013-2014 Cultural Heritage Informatics (CHI) project is titled the “Virtual Black Romulus Cultural Heritage Map (VBRCHM).” The VBRCHM is the first step of a larger project, the Virtual Black Romulus Cultural Heritage Center (VBRCHC). This project is the manifestation of that childhood dream and passion. As its name implies, the VBRCHM is an on-line interactive map that will operate as a virtual cultural heritage tour of important historical and contemporary sites that are important to the history, culture and heritage of Romulus, Michigan’s African American community. The VBRCHM is designed to serve as a research and educational tool and resource for K-12 and undergraduate students, as well as for the community at-large. The map identifies and describes sites in Romulus, Michigan, that are important to the culture, history and heritage of the African-American community. The website will also eventually have video interviews, lectures, ‘tours’ and cultural performances (dance, poetry, songs and etc.) performed by African American residents of Romulus; as well as educational blogs. Eventually, the points of interest sites in Romulus will also be aggregated by time, type of events, biographies and various movement(s) of significance. As it stands, the web-site reflects the rudimentary development of Romulus, the Black role in that, as well as points of interest and biographies that shaped Black Romulus from 1900 until 1950.
Tools and Functionality
I have built the web-site using Mapbox for mapping and WordPress for content posting. WordPress is a great platform for this type of endeavor. WordPress is a free and open source blogging tool and a content management system based on PHP and MySQL, which runs on a web hosting service. Features include a plug-in architecture and a template system. WordPress is used by more than 18.9% of the top 10 million websites as of August 2013. WordPress is the most popular blogging system in use on the Web, at more than 60 million websites. Yet, because the VBRCHM is central to the VBRCHC, a Map rendering software is equally as important. Thus, I chose to use Mapbox. Mapbox is an online mapping provider, the highly customizable pre-rendered maps of which are used by Foursquare, Hipmunk, Uber Technologies and Evernote in their location-based services, as well as by news, retail and travel companies. Its creation was motivated by the limitations on map customization and aesthetics imposed by large online mapping providers. In the immediate future, I will personally conduct (and record) interviews, lectures and tours; as well take photographs related to the development and establishment of the African American Romulus community. For points of interest, the web-site has markers that can be clicked on to display information, as well as pictures and/or video for each site. As it stands, the web-site is extremely user friendly and simplified since K-12 students will be a significant population of users. In turn, users can easily and readily identify points of interest for the African American community of Romulus, MI. They can also access brief biographical sketches of important African Americans and their role in the development of the African American community of Romulus, MI. Educators can quickly reference and direct students to the web-site if they wish to incorporate localized Black history into their pedagogy.
Implications of Black Romulus for Future Research
The story of pre-WWII Romulus is unique and interesting. To understand Romulus is to understand the precursor mentality of the communities that produced the verve of the Civil Rights Movement. These communities, although unique, were filled with the spirit of the times. The African American Romulus community was shaped and geared by labor unionists and organizers, educators and the pre-existing rural group; as well as the fashion in which the community absorbed new migrants. They were people of the time to a large degree, who had a clear view of what they saw for their community. Romulus’ black community was able to seize opportunities commonly unavailable or mishandled by other communities. Detroit and its metropolitan area’s role as the “arsenal of democracy” during WWII helped Romulus to establish a strong tax base without patronage. This tax base provided for municipalities, amenities and school systems that were commonly denied to African American suburban communities, advantages that African American Romulus had permanent access to early on. This quality is key and unique.
Moving the Project Forward
Despite the useful VBRCH Map, the VBRCHC needs a couple more additions. First, photographs of the points of interest would greatly enhance the educational experience of students and community persons that access the web-site. In fact, photographs of those points of interest during the era as well as contemporary renderings would elucidate the impact of those points of interest on the development of Romulus. Second, the African American community in Romulus hosts the ‘Annual Jones Street Sub Reunion’ every summer. Interviews and photographs from the 2014 event would enhance the VBRCHC as well make clearer the connections between the past and present. Thus, it is advised that photographs for all points of interest, at least four interviews from elders who can recall Black Romulus of the 1940s, and photographs of the contemporary community celebrating at the ‘Annual Jones Street Sub Reunion’ be acquired and included in the VBRCHC by Labor Day 2014.