February 28, 2014

Regarding Colbert I. King’s Feb. 22 op-ed column, “Black women’s history gets shipped out”:

There’s no better time than Black History Month to underscore the importance of the archives at the Mary McLeod Bethune Council House and no better way to demonstrate the National Park Service’s commitment to the preservation of these archives than to remove them from harm’s way. A survey by our museum professionals found this irreplaceable collection at high risk of damage or loss from fire, water and pests as the building has neither fire protection nor adequate temperature and humidity controls.

Collections are vulnerable. When Hurricane Sandy hit Ellis Island, artifacts and records were quickly moved to our state-of-the-art curatorial facility in Landover, the same place we will take the Bethune collection. Sixty percent of the Bethune archive has been there for nearly a decade. It’s the best place for the full archive to remain safe and accessible to researchers while we determine if the Council House can be fitted with necessary protective systems without damaging the historic building. 

The Bethune archives belong at the Bethune House, but not at the expense of losing them. If we cannot physically return the archives to the Council House, we will do so digitally, to ensure that the voices of these African American women inspire future generations.

Jonathan B. Jarvis, Washington

The writer is director of the National Park Service.