Hampton Advances Amistad Research Center

May 17, 2004

Mary Ann Travis
Phone: (504) 865-5714

When the Amistad Research Center board talked, Lee Hampton listened. Named executive director last month, Hampton vigorously advocates for the center's importance.

amistadHe says, "The Amistad collection of documents, original manuscripts and photographs is perhaps the world's oldest, largest, most prestigious archive that chronicles African-American history."

The independent research center has been located in Tilton Hall on Tulane's campus since 1987 and welcomes anyone who can make use of its collection, which also includes oral histories, books, periodicals and works of art. Advancement is the name of the game for Hampton.

Ever since he came from Texas to attend Dillard University in New Orleans he's found ways to advance his own career and the institutions for which he has worked.

He received a graduate degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, served in the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam War and gained valuable financial experience in the for-profit sector at the Merrill Lynch brokerage firm.

In the 1990s, Hampton worked at Tulane as director of corporate relations. He then moved to positions as vice president of development in the University of North Carolina system and at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla.

"I always thought that I would like to have done these exciting things at an institution like the one from which I got my undergraduate degree, like Dillard, a historically black college," says Hampton.

Although it's not a college, Amistad is a scholarly institution, and Hampton has developed a strategy for it.

"I have a vision of a market-oriented advancement program." Hampton plans to seek partnerships and get the center more involved in collaborative efforts with Tulane University and other New Orleans institutions. Renea Henry, acquisitions archivist, says, "Hard-core researchers want to come here and put on their gloves and look at documents."

These researchers get their hands on material up-close and in-person, wearing gloves to protect papers so thin and old in some cases that they crumble at the slightest touch. The center plans to digitize more listings of its holdings to allow researchers worldwide to become more aware of the archives. Its holdings are also included in Voyager, the Tulane library online catalog.

Recent Amistad acquisitions are the papers of father-and-son duos, Ernest "Dutch" Morial and Marc Morial, both mayors of New Orleans, and Albert Dent and Tom Dent, who made educational and literary contributions to New Orleans. Albert Dent was a long-time president of Dillard University and Tom Dent was a poet, playwright and chronicler of the 1960s civil rights movement.

The center also has the papers of Fannie Lou Hamer, a Mississippi activist, and the papers of U.S. Congressman Bill Jefferson, along with much more. The Congressional Black Caucus Foundation has approached Amistad about a partnership that would lead to the center being a repository for the records of all black congresspersons.

"When history is being written, those scholars who are writing it have access to original sources at Amistad," says Hampton. "The story can be told accurately. There can be no mistaking when you're looking at letters, when you're looking at original notes." In addition to its extensive collection related to African-American history, the center also has records of other ethnic minorities, including Native Americans, Appalachian whites and Puerto Ricans.

Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000