Advocate Recovered (AR) is a  critical making digital recovery project designed by Dr. Julian C. Chambliss from the Department of English at Michigan State University. Originally conceived while he was a faculty member at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida, this project grew from a digital simulation examining the political life of the African-American community in Winter Park, Florida.

The goal of this project is to recover the contents of The Winter Park Advocate, an African-American newspaper published in Winter Park, Florida. For decades the history of the African-American experience after the Civil War in the United States has been an important focal point for historians. In 1951 C. Vann Woodward’s Origins of the New South, 1877-1913 forced historians to rethink traditional periodization about race and social relations in the South. Expanding on this ideological point in the 1990s, Edward L. Ayers’s The Promise of the New South: Life After Reconstruction suggested the mobility created by New South “modernization” triggered violent confrontations, fractured politics, and social upheaval. In recent year, scholars such as Robin D.G. KelleySteven Hahn, Manning Marable, and Pero Gaglo Dagbio have called our attention to the need to recognize how black thought and action have been central to defining the meaning and practice of freedom in the United States.

This project enhances our understanding of the historical debate from this crucial period by offering a window on the African-American experience in Florida from the perspective of African Americans.  Owned and operated by African Americans residing in Hannibal Square, the African-American district in Winter Park, The Advocate was a weekly that began publication in May 1889. The Winter Park Advocate provided a forum for community news that included social, political and economic concerns. Heavily reflecting the political landscape of the time, the paper was a strong voice for the Republican Party in a time of resurgent white rule. As such, the stories and opinions in the pages of  The Advocate represent a critical source documenting the transformation of Florida in the 1890s. Although most of The Advocate was thought to be destroyed, significant fragments can be found in the Winter Park Scrapbook (WPS) located in the Olin Library Archive and Special Collection at Rollins College.

As a digital humanities project that included undergraduate researchers, AR also demonstrates the impact of experiential learning through archival research.  AR engages in the postcolonial digital humanities approach articulated by scholars such as Adeline Koh who urge scholars to disrupt patterns of privilege replicated in digital humanities by incorporating minority voices.  It also aligns with the black digital humanities framework suggested by Dr. Kim Gallon as it strives to undercover how the boundary of race and citizenship were constructed after Reconstruction.  The Advocate is a window on a black enclave that fostered liberatory politics that shaped black activism in ways that persist to the present day.  

By transcribing these fragments, this project offers unique insights into the evolution of southern society after Reconstruction. Whether the rise of  Jim Crow segregation or black economic and social aspiration, this newspaper gives us a glimpse of African-American thought and action. This site allows students to engage with the past in a unique manner while creating a new resource for scholarship on the black experience.  

Julian C. Chambliss

Michigan State University

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