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Life and Work with Arianne Edmonds

Today we’d like to introduce you to Arianne Edmonds.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Arianne. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
I chose this project, but it also chose me. When I was little, my grandfather, would point to a family photo — his dad’s 1904 graduating class. He would say, “One day, this is going to be very important to you.” I forgot about it for many years, until a trip back to Los Angeles after college.

I was a young professional thinking about an essay topic for my grad school application. I remembered the photo my grandfather had shown me and decided to do some research.

An online article led me to the Culver City Library, where I found books, articles, and essays about my great-great-grandfather, J.L. Edmonds, and his contribution to early Los Angeles life. I pulled these books off the shelves and sat in the library aisle reading. I was completely overwhelmed and shocked how much I didn’t know about my family and the city of LA.

I went to my dad, Paul Edmonds, to find out more. He said, “Remember when you were little, I told you we were going to work on a project together?” From out of a safe in his home office, he pulls out six bound books the size of encyclopedias. They were filled with issues of The Liberator newspaper, all published by my great great grandfather from 1900-1914.

“What are we going to do with all of this?” I asked him. He said, “We all have worked on preserving this story, now, it’s your turn.” At that moment, I realized I needed to share this part of Los Angeles history with my extended family and the rest of the world. I began studying, researching, working with institutions, and documenting my process. Along the way, I had help from many talented people. And now, I’m so glad to be sharing this story with you.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
This has been a VERY bumpy road for sure! I’m not a trained archivist or historian. A lot of what I’ve learned about how to preserve and care for my family’s archive has been though librarians at special collections departments across the country. They’ve been my historical Angeles, giving me tips and support throughout the years. I know Jefferson’s story is not only important to the Black Angelo community but the Los Angeles community at large, as well as national conversation around Black civil rights. The process of bringing our family story to life, into public history and part of our collective memory has been an exercise in faith and patience. I would encourage anyone who has a story to tell, to keep going and know that you’ll find your tribe along the way. You’ll find the community that will help champion your work!

Please tell us about J.L. Edmonds Project.
I’m a daughter of LA, a concept that I had to grow into over the years.
My family moved from Mississippi in the late 1880s and started one of LA’s early black newspapers, the Liberator. The paper champions for civil participation, woman’s rights, entrepreneurship, and home ownership among black Angelenos. Jefferson Lewis Edmonds, a former slave and founder & editor of the Liberator, used the paper to encourage Black families in the south to come to LA for a fresh start.

I’m the family historian and have worked alongside my dad to make sure the contributions our family has made to the city of LA have been recognized and honored. I’ve had the privilege of presenting my family research at the Schomburg Library: Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem, New York, The Digital Diaspora Family Reunion and the LA Learn Do Share, a Columbia University project and global storytelling conference. In 2017, my father, Paul Edmonds, and I secured a partnership with the Los Angeles Public Library to have The Liberator newspaper digitized and offered to the public for the first time in over a century.

Leading up to the launch of the digital archive, I’ve co-curated exhibitions about early Black Angeleno life through the lens of The Liberator in partnership with the Los Angeles Public Library, Deputy Mayor’s office at the Los Angeles City Hall: Department of Cultural Affair gallery space and California African American Museum.

All these amazing opportunities came after years of research and support from family and friends. I truly feel guided by my ancestors to tell these stories!

There’s a wealth of academic research that suggests that lack of mentors and networking opportunities for women has materially affected the number of women in leadership roles. Smart organizations and industry leaders are working to change this, but in the meantime, do you have any advice for finding a mentor and building a network?
I’ve always asked for one on one meetings with people I admired. I would make it clear that I’m available to help them on any projects they were currently juggling. I think it’s important to make yourself useful and open to learning. I’ve been very intentional about how I’ve built my community. I work along side people who are committed to service and the betterment of our City of Angeles.

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                        Image Credit:
Los Angeles Public Library

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