The Archive in the Attic

Published:April 14, 2008 by Brendan Wolfe

Many of the images that we will use in Encyclopedia Virginia have been taken from large institutional archives, like those of the Library of Congress, Library of Virginia, Virginia Historical Society, etc. There is no question that the encyclopedia would not be possible without their support, and without the time and efforts of their archivists in helping us find fascinating pieces of visual history.

Nonetheless, there is something undeniably special about working on a much smaller scale, and sometimes it leads to images like the one here. The man on the right in the above photo is Joseph Lenoir Chambers, editor at the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot during Virginia’s struggle with school integration. Chambers was a leading critic of the anti-desegregation movement in the state, usually referred to as Massive Resistance.

When I began to look for images of Chambers, EV contributor and Chambers scholar Alexander Leidholdt suggested that Chambers’s daughter, Elisabeth Chambers Burgess, might be of some assistance. As far as Alex knew, she was in Norfolk with her husband, Charles, and that’s about all we had to go on.

After an extensive session with Google, and a bit of pouring through VFH’s internal mailing list, I made contact with Elisabeth. After learning about Encyclopedia Virginia, she mentioned a few different photographs of her father that might be useful for us, and made the encyclopedia a gracious loan of a few so that we could digitize and catalog them.

Elisabeth’s gracious help epitomizes the kind of spirit that can make a project like this come alive. It’s the Archive in the Attic—the bits of history that we all have, sealed in old moving boxes and photo albums, waiting for the chance to shed one more tiny ray of light on Virginia’s collective story.

Furthermore, it’s only with the help of the Archives in the Attic that Encyclopedia Virginia can achieve one of its less frequently stated goals: to become a first-stop showcase for the richest Virginia photographic and multimedia content available.

Oh, and that’s Elisabeth in the photo, of course. It’s my not-so-secret other reason for writing the post: it’s a breathtaking photo, and I wanted an excuse to show it.