At the Social History Center there’s always something interesting going on. Hannah and I have settled into the routine of the daily workday with the conservation team, which includes our supervisor Bradley, and Janene, Alta, and Fatima. There are also two interns from Reunion Island working with us named Simon and Mylene. Our mornings usually are spent between frequent tea/biscuit/socialization breaks and working really hard, which I think is a pretty good balance. This week, Hannah and I have spent a lot of time with the Lynn Carneson Collection, which was recently donated and is still being accessioned and cataloged.
Lynn Carneson was the daughter of Fred Carneson and Sarah Carneson, who were both white freedom fighters during the apartheid era. Fred owned a left-wing newspaper which published that went against the National Party’s government at the time. Both Sarah and Fred spent time in prison during Lynn and her younger brother and sister’s upbringings. This collection is interesting because it spans a lifetime of collected photos, notes, cards, and letters to and from members of the family.
This collection is my favorite thing that I have worked with because it is so complete in the story it tells. While I work, I have been able to read the letters and imagine what it would be like to be in prison, to have parents in prison, and to continue daily life throughout it all. Through reading these letters, I feel like I have seen the family grow up. In the letters, Lynn goes from high school, to studying at university, to getting a job as a schoolteacher in England, and meeting the man she eventually marries. There are just so many moments of daily life that are kept in the letters that make me feel connected to Lynn and her family, which is what I love about it.
The historical influence of this collection is also profound. Included is a copy of the freedom charter that was printed just after it was written in Kliptown, Soweto in 1955. Fred attended the conference and was a part of the Treason Trial for the signing of the charter. The family saved the final draft of the charter that he kept after the conference, and that’s only one of the thousands of pieces of paper!
Bradley said that this collection is important because we see the face of the ANC and Nelson Mandela as ending apartheid, but we don’t always acknowledge the fact that whites had the power to make the change. He said that the white anti-apartheid freedom fighters are a very important component in how we got to be where we are today, which is why this collection is important and why it needs to be displayed in museums around the world. I think he’s right.