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The first black computer symposium in America.

Hi, I’m a digitalPlumbing history buff and member of the African American Museums Association and Boston’s Museum of African American History.  Topics here may reflect what that means. I’ve been fortunate to be on the scene when blacks were first getting mounted on the Information Superhighway which is what the symposium of 1994 was about. But before that, blacks were making strides inventing software – BlackSoftware.  I filed a full report about the evolution of Blacksoftware and our work on growing onto the internet in a piece titled Black inventions along the internet.

I feel the story that follows predicted a Black Twitter and a Black Internet population would emerge. Hip Hop went mainstream before then.  It has been 21 years since  the first African American Computer Symposium was held.  And now the Black Internet is the measuring stick driving Empire and Scandal like TV show ratings through the roof.  Watch how the Black Internet of 2015 will deal with social justice, the inequalities and a boycott planned against spending for Santa Claus and Black Friday.  Its going to be interesting!


An Interactive Niagara Movement 

When the president (Clinton) emphasized in his State of the Union address that the “information highway” was paved with good intentions, he neglected to note the potential detours and dead-ends that could lead the have-nots of today to become the know-nots of tomorrow.

To forestall such a result, American Visions called for a national African-American Computer Culture Symposium (“Want Ad for a Revolution,” October/November 1993 magazine article ). Those readers who accepted our invitation and that of the Congressional interactive niagara movementBlack Caucus Foundation to brainstorm on how we should participate in the multimedia computer age included university presidents and administrators, executives responsible for major African-American collections and archives, religious leaders, entrepreneurs, technicians, activist, elected official, librarians, system operators, schoolteachers, independent film producers and foundation executives.

We braved ice, snow and the lowest temperatures record for Washington, D. C., in 100 years to attend the January 1994 Symposium.  And what an electrifying session it proved to be, resulting in a multifaceted commitment to participate in the coming multimedia computer age by any means necessary.

Keeping a steady place from the morning to night, participants reviewed emergent technologies, corporate players and government policies, as well as the demographic reality of our marginal cybernetic presence to date.  All of the Symposium’s speakers shared one trait: a depth of expertise and a burning commitment to change the way information science can be linked to problems’ solutions.  Written background materials included the detailed policy concerns American Visions magazine and the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, as well as descriptions of a broad range of interactive innovations for business, political organizing, distance teaching, entertainment, networking, travel and shopping.

The revelations of the Symposium were that just because something is complex, it need not be confusing, and that enlightened self-interest requires that we choose proactive planning over after-the-fact complaints.

It was agreed to establish a Symposium working committees to plan three days of workshops and industry demonstrations for a major national expo on computer culture. The following subject areas were proposed for sessions at the expo: (1) new technologies, (2) education, (3) labor market effects and opportunities, (4) business options and necessities, (5) cultural institutions, (6) entertainment and sports, (7) networks and bulletin boards, and (8) telecommunications governance, regulations and democracy. I welcome additional volunteers to identify speakers, panelists, demonstrations and handouts, as well as proposed goals and timetables for community action.

We who were the victims of the technology revolution in agriculture and who were ignored by the Industrial Revolution can not afford to be bypassed by the multimedia communication revolution inherent in the emerging information super highway. We must mobilize not just our personal energies, but those of any and all organizations and institutions in which we participate, to avoid our continuing characterization, lamented by W.E.B. Du Bois, as an “after though of modernity.”

We  must seize the time between now ( 1994 ) and the 21st century to prepare our children and ourselves not only to survive, but to prevail in the information age just as the Niagara Movement resolved to ensure the fuller social participation early in the 20th century.  The issues of access and inclusion are the same only now they’re dressed in new technological clothing.”

(c) 1994, American Visions magazine

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