Preserving the Present: 2015 Oral Histories Grant Helps Special Collections Document Caribbean Communities

The Caribbean Archive at the University of Miami Special Collections speaks loudly to what community can mean for universities and their libraries.

As one of the oldest archives on campus, its founding materials came from some of UM’s earliest supporters, their donations of rare and historical books and records driving some of the first archival efforts at the institution—then commonly called the “Pan American University.”

Today the archive is an important draw for scholars and researchers from around the world, with materials stretching back to the 1700s.


Ruby Romero-Issaev, director of Arts Ballet Theatre of Florida and daughter of the late Venezuelan composer Aldemaro Romero (left), participated in the Caribbean Diaspora Oral History Project sponsored by Florida Division of Culture. Her interview will available in UM Digital Collections in 2016.

“There has always been a focus on the Caribbean basin at the University of Miami, as it’s a region our faculty and leadership as well as our community have been invested in from the very beginning,” says Beatrice Skokan, manuscripts librarian at Special Collections who leads development and outreach for the Caribbean Archive.

“We have very old and rare maps, books, and correspondence, but we also collect materials that document modern life and families of the Caribbean basin,” Skokan explains. “We’re a resource on the Caribbean as well as the Caribbean diaspora that has led many from the region to South Florida.”

Yet it isn’t always the particularly rare or unique items that Skokan is seeking; she’s most interested in finding materials that are descriptive of the communities they represent. “It’s the everyday items, the recipes, albums, journals, and newspaper clippings that people hold onto as way of preserving their lives and experiences. Their stories help us document the diaspora experience as a part of Caribbean history.”

In 2015 the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs awarded Special Collections with a grant allowing the department to document the modern diaspora through a series of interviews with community members. The initiative, known as the Caribbean Diaspora Oral History Project, expands on the Libraries’ growing database of oral histories from across the Miami and South Florida region. “It combines our objectives with an age-old cultural tradition of the Caribbean basin, that of storytelling,” Skokan explains.

The project, which began recording in November 2015, so far includes artist Firelei Báez, Ron Bilbao (Florida Education Association), artist Edouard Duval-Carrié, Marlon Hill (The Miami Foundation), Gepsie Metellus (Sant La Haitian Neighborhood Center), Ruby Romero-Issaev (Arts Ballet Theatre of Florida), and Althea Silvera (Florida International University Special Collections).

The first seven interviews will soon be available online at UM Libraries Digital Collections. There visitors can also access past oral history projects of UM Libraries including the Haitian Diaspora Oral Histories and the Cuban Heritage Collection’s Luis J. Botifoll Oral History Project.

This project is sponsored in part by the Department of State, Division of Cultural Affairs, the Florida Council of Arts, and the State of Florida. If you are interested in learning more about this collection, please visit or call 305-284-3247.



Join Us for a Presentation of Life, Love, and a Hijacking: My Pan Am Memoir by Wendy Sue Knecht on January 19


University of Miami Special Collections cordially invites you to a presentation of the book

Life, Love, and a Hijacking: My Pan Am Memoir
by Wendy Sue Knecht

Tuesday, January 19, 2016
Reception 6:30 p.m. | Presentation to follow

Otto G. Richter Library, 8th Floor
University of Miami | 1300 Memorial Drive | Coral Gables, FL 33146

This event is free and open to the public. RSVP to or call 305-284-3247

As a “naïve, frizzy-haired college student” Wendy Sue Knecht joined Pan American World Airways in pursuit of a career filled with travel, adventure, and opportunity. Knecht will present her memoir Life, Love, and a Hijacking and share select readings from her book and a trailer for the film Neerja, based on the hijacking of Pan Am Flight 73. Life, Love, and a Hijacking recounts Knecht’s own arrival in Pakistan on Flight 73 hours before the hijacking, the event, its aftermath, and the tragic story of heroic flight purser Neerja Bhanot. Knecht’s reading is part of ongoing efforts by Special Collections and the Pan Am community to document and share the stories of people connected to the historic airline.

Please click map image below to enlarge. Contact us at 305-284-3247 or with questions about directions and parking.


DVD Picks: Celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr.

by Terri Robar, Learning & Research Services

On January 18, the country will celebrate the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. It is a time to reflect on the legacy of a man who galvanized a nation to change. The films listed here help to tell the story of the man and his dream.

The following films are a part of Richter Library’s DVD collection. In addition to the thousands of DVDs spanning comedy, drama, sci-fi, horror, documentary, and other genres, UM Libraries also houses film-related materials such as screenplays, soundtracks, musical scores, and original book titles. Search the catalog to browse music and print resources related to these films.

This program offers a comprehensive historical overview detailing the expansion of civil rights to include more people. From the past to the present, this eight part series takes the viewer through one of the most powerful forces in American history: the promise of civil rights for all.

Miss Jane Pittman is celebrating her 110th birthday. As the civil rights movement heats up, Miss Jane, a former slave, recounts her memories of the black experience from picking potatoes on a southern plantation to fetching water for soldiers in the Civil War to her views on the current and turbulent equal rights movement.

A look at the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 4, 1968 as well as his career. It examines the possibility that James Earl Ray was not the only shooter or totally innocent of the crime. It looks at the FBI’s surveillance of Dr. King and J. Edgar Hoover’s feelings about him.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s historical struggle to secure voting rights for all people. A dangerous and terrifying campaign that culminated with an epic march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1964.

A small, predominantly Jewish suburb in Illinois is forced to confront its deepest fears about American rights and freedoms when a Nazi organizer, Frank Collin, selects it as the location for his next rally. Based on actual events.

Screen version of the life of Malcolm X, who through his religious conversion to Islam, found the strength to rise up from a criminal past to become an influential civil rights leader.

In 1960s Mississippi, Skeeter, a southern society girl, returns from college determined to become a writer, but turns her friends’ lives, and a small Mississippi town, upside down when she decides to interview the black women who have spent their lives taking care of prominent southern families.

Episode of the Biography television program. This film provides insight into the legendary civil rights leader’s personal and public life using interviews and rare footage.

President Truman led the nation through the end of World War II, the beginning of the Cold War, the struggle for civil rights, and the creation of the United Nations.

Set in Mississippi in 1964, this is a fictionalized version of the case of the murder of three young civil rights workers, the FBI’s attempts to find the missing boys and the clash between the authorities and the locals in a Klan-dominated town.

The true story behind the landmark Supreme Court ruling known as Loving vs. Virginia, this film recounts the interracial couple who refused to accept a law that prohibited them from marrying.

King’s entire inspirational speech given in Washington, D.C. on August 28, 1963.

Join Us for a Presentation of George Merrick, Son of the South Wind by Arva Moore Parks on January 14

arvaParks-header_web-1000x323University of Miami Libraries cordially invite you to a presentation of the book

George Merrick, Son of the South Wind: Visionary Creator of Coral Gables
by Arva Moore Parks

Thursday January 14, 2016

Presentation 6 p.m. | Reception to follow
Otto G. Richter Library, 1st Flr
University of Miami | 1300 Memorial Drive | Coral Gables, FL 33146

RSVP to or call 305-284-4026

As UM kicks off the 90th anniversary celebrations in 2016, Miami historian and University trustee Arva Moore Parks will present her latest book on Coral Gables’ founder and UM visionary George Merrick. Parks’ presentation at the library, co-sponsored by Books & Books, is in conjunction with the official opening of The Pan American University: The Original Spirit of the U Lives On, an exhibition of historical materials from the Libraries’ unique and distinctive collections reflecting the University’s enduring connection to Latin America and the Caribbean.