Chicago startup giving back for Black History Month: SlaveryStories.org

by rob walsh
February 3, 2014

As tech entrepreneurs, we're pretty much always "heads-down" working on our product – planning, building, selling. Other ideas flitter into our brains all the time and we think, "Wow, I could do X and it would be really useful to someone", but then just as quickly as the idea appeared we let it go because it could distract us from building our company.

However, sometimes we notice a problem and have an idea for a solution that inspires us to actually do something, to "scratch your own itch" while benefitting others as well.

After seeing the film 12 Years A Slave, our team noticed that while the written memoir was in the public domain, it was hard to read the book online in a modern format. The story is discoverable online, but either in the form of a PDF scan, error-ridden plain text, or on webpages made in the late 90s. Of course, none of these formats is pleasurable for people to read.

We’re believers that beautiful things work better, and that beautiful things get used more. The real stories of slaves in America are an important source of knowledge about our country, and should be more widely used. We decided to try and make a beautiful version of these public-domain slave narratives so more people would read the words and listen to the voices of Americans who experienced slavery firsthand.

To commemorate Black History Month, my team at Scholastica has released a project called Slavery Stories. It's an online destination where people can read written memoirs of former American slaves and listen to recorded ones as well. Furthermore, it's an open source project that anyone can contribute to.

We’re hoping it can be a resource for people who are interested in learning about the history of slavery in the US, as well as a resource for teachers looking for free student-friendly teaching materials. Also, since the content was made to look great on desktop, tablets, and mobile browsers, it's our hope that these stories become more widely accessed through being available in a way that reflects how people currently consume media.

We'd love for you to check out the slaverystories.org and share it with your friends and colleagues. These touching stories make real a world that existed not too long ago – and we know that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

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