This spring I interned at Shorefront Legacy Center in Evanston, Illinois as part of my Graduate Engagement Opportunities (GEO) placement. Shorefront is an organization that collects, preserves and educates about Black history on Chicago’s suburban North Shore. I worked closely with Shorefront’s founder and director, Dino Robinson, to develop a project that would combine my interest in black women’s history with my desire to learn about archiving.
Dino and I decided that I would work on processing Doria Johnson’s papers. She had been a resident scholar at Shorefront in addition to working on her Ph.D. in History at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
While organizing her papers, I quickly learned more about Doria’s incredible work. Her great-great grandfather, Anthony Crawford, had been lynched in Abbeville, South Carolina in 1916. Crawford had been a wealthy businessman and landowner killed for arguing with a white store owner over the fair price of his cotton seed. After her great-great grandfather’s death, Doria’s family was forced to leave their homes and property. They fled North and settled in Evanston, Illinois. In an interview Doria said “my family didn’t leave the South—they were chased away from the South.”
Rooted in her family’s personal experience, Doria made shattering the silence around America’s history of racial violence her life’s work. She established a foundation in Anthony Crawford’s name and dedicated herself as a public historian and activist to advocating for international human rights and restorative justice. Doria served on the United States Senate Steering Committee for the Investigation of Lynching, successfully convincing the U.S. Senate in 2005 to issue an apology for their failure to pass timely federal anti-lynching legislation.
The Nelson Mandela Foundation called Doria a “change-agent.” Doria lectured extensively and curated exhibits both domestically and abroad. I was not surprised to learn, for instance, that Doria played a critical role in securing a place for Emmett TIll’s casket at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Doria’s scholarship built on her work as a public historian and activist. Her master’s thesis, “Shh- Big Momma and Dem’ Left Last Night: Shifting Violent Memories and the African American Chain Migration, Abbeville, South Carolina to Evanston, Illinois” examined the impact of racial violence on African Americans’ decision to leave the South and particularly focused on black women’s experiences thereafter. She continued this work on black women in her dissertation titled “I Am Not What You Think I Am: African American Women and Domestic Service Suburbs: Evanston, Illinois, 1910-1945."
On February 14, 2018, Doria passed away.
At Shorefront, Dino wanted to make sure that Doria’s work and legacy lived on. While her work will always have a place in Shorefront's archives, I created this website so that her memory and work can travel as far and wide as she did. Through this website, I especially hope others who did not know Doria will become acquainted with her work.
There's certainly more that can be added to this website. In the future, I could envision a digital archive where Doria's papers and related work could be made available for popular use.
In 2016, at the official centennial commemoration at the site of her great, great grandfather’s lynching in Abbeville, S.C., Doria said "We made history today. No longer can folks walk into government buildings in Abbeville without first encountering Grandpa Crawford." In other words, Doria had broken the silence and it could not be undone.
I hope that visitors to this website walk away inspired to carry on her work as a "change-agent" in order to break the silences around America's history of race.