BlackPast.org (www.blackpast.org) began in January 2004 as an online reference center in African American history when Quintard Taylor, the Scott and Dorothy Bullitt Professor of American History at the University of Washington, Seattle, and his graduate assistant, George Tamblyn, placed on his faculty website various reference materials which described historical figures and events discussed in Taylor’s class lectures. Soon afterwards they added a bibliography, a timeline, and links to other internet sites that presented or discussed various aspects of the black historical experience.
In December 2004, Jamila Taylor became the third member of the website team when she agreed to redesign the site and incorporate a new architecture to make it easier to navigate and manage.
The following summer Taylor received an email from Anna Griffiths, a New Zealand high school student writing a paper on African American history. She posed ten questions about African Americans and in particular the civil rights movement in the 1960s. With that email Taylor realized that the ungated website was now availabe to visitors far beyond the University of Washington campus.
Later in the summer of 2005 Dr. Taylor received a U.S. State Department-sponsored invitation to visit the Russian cities of Yekaterinburg, Omsk, Tyumen, Ishim, and Surgut to give lectures at various universities and institutes. That 14 day tour was initiated by the discovery of the faculty website by students at Urals State University in Yekaterinburg, Siberia.
The contacts from New Zealand and the State Department indicated that the website had the enormous potential to extend the discussion of African American history beyond the University of Washington classrooms to a global audience. Our volunteer team, numbering five by October 1, 2005, expanded the website from a few vignettes into a comprehensive online encyclopedia. The timelines and bibliographies were enlarged and the staff now added new features including Major Speeches, Digital Archives, and Genealogy.
On January 1, 2006 the website team began to track visitors and hits through the webalizer program. That monitoring showed the website getting hundreds of visits and thousands of hits per day. With that knowledge a professional web design company, Grip Media of Portland, Oregon, was brought in to redesign and streamline the site. That redesign, crafted by Grip Media staffers Jerry Chrisman, Theresa Pridemore, and Elizabeth Boyd-Flynn among others, separated the online African American history reference sections from the University of Washington faculty website and placed those sections under an independent site called BlackPast.org. The "new" website, BlackPast.org, went live on February 1, 2007 with approximately 600 entries, 90 speeches, 80 full text primary documents, and seven major timelines.
BlackPast.org continues to grow. In 2007, BlackPast.org received 455,963 visits from more than 100 nations around the world. By 2008, the number of visits per year exceeded 1 million for the first time. In 2010, 2.7 million people visited the website. There are now over 500 contributors including academic historians from colleges and universities from across the nation as well as graduate and undergraduate students and independent historians from six continents. The contributors have written over 3,000 entries with new information being added each day.
Our volunteer team has grown as well and now numbers twelve. That team is national. Its members operate from Illinois, Missouri, North Dakota, and Washington.
Many of BlackPast.org’s encyclopedia entries describe well-known individuals such as Harriett Tubman, W.E.B. DuBois, and Barack Obama. The site also profiles little known but significant people in African American history such as Dr. Rebecca Davis Lee Crumpler, the first African American woman to receive a medical degree (The New England Female Medical College, 1864), Edward Bouchet, the first African American student to receive a Ph.D. (Physics, Yale, 1876), and Elijah Abel, the last 19th Century black priest in the Mormon Church.
BlackPast.org now features timelines, bibliographies, the full text of major speeches given between 1789 and the present day, primary documents such as court decisions, government reports, executive orders, and laws, all of which help describe the African American past. It has four gateway pages with links to 50 digital archive collections, 75 African American museums and research centers, 12 genealogical research websites, and over 500 other resource centers on the Internet.
With the addition of a new section called Global African History the extensive reference information we have already crafted for African American history and African American history in the West is now available for Africa as well as for people of African ancestry in Latin America, the Caribbean, Europe, and Asia. There is no similar coverage on the internet. BlackPast.org is not gated, nor is there a fee for usage. This online reference center is available 24-7 to anyone who has access to a computer with internet capabilities.
BlackPast.org is ranked in top 1% of websites on the internet (in the top 700,000 out of 13 million websites on the internet) as of January 2008; its seven major timelines that illustrate the history of persons of African ancestry from 5,000 B.C.E. to today are ranked #1 by Google.com, that is, these are the most used resources on the Internet in that category. In 2009, Canada, Australia, Great Britain, Brazil, and Germany ranked as the top five countries in visitors to the site after the United States.
With well over 10,000 pages of information, BlackPast.org is the most extensive online source on African American history currently available. It brings the resources of African American history into every classroom in the world and makes every computer, regardless of its location, a classroom in African American history.