Solving a Historical Puzzle with 5,000 Pieces
With more than 5,000 historic items dating back to the 18th century, UCF’s Carol Mundy Collection tells the story of the African-American experience through books, pamphlets, newspapers, posters, photographs and other rare ephemera. The collection, which is kept in the Special Collections & University Archives and displayed on the fifth floor of the John C. Hitt Library, has been the life’s work of one woman who pieced together her future with artifacts from the past.
It began with a centuries-old slip of paper. Browsing through a shabby book section in a Florida thrift store, Carol Mundy picked up a 1901 edition of The Complete Life of William McKinley and Story of His Assassination. As she carefully flipped through the tattered pages, she found a yellow letter wrapped in wax paper slipped into its spine. Its date: 1870.
The letter was addressed to the 10th Calvary Regiment or “Buffalo Soldiers,” one of the few segregated units in the U.S. Army at the time. Mundy, whose mother was an antique collector, immediately saw the value in the historic piece. The find would start a 25-year occupation.
Thanks to her job with Delta airlines that required frequent travel around the U.S., Mundy, with her daughter in tow, would rent a car in between her 10-hour shifts and search for Salvation Army stores and yard sales. Eventually, the hunt would extend to her personal time and vacations, too, much to her friends’ dismay. “For years my friends didn’t want to travel with me,” she says.
For every piece found, Mundy would research the history behind it and record it carefully. And she has gone to great lengths to document her collection. “I have called Portugal about the Middle Passage, I have called Temple University, I have called Canada to learn how to archive,” she says. “… Pay is not necessary, I just want the history to be told correctly.”
But no matter how much time or space it took up in her home, Mundy never saw her collection as a burden, but instead as her purpose in life. “It’s a legacy for my children and grandchildren that I was given to do on this earth,” she says.
Today, Mundy has entire storage units filled African-American artifacts, but many of her best pieces can be found at the UCF Library. Now part of the university’s special collections and archives, Mundy’s featured relics include film reels of Billie Holiday performing with Quincy Jones and Miles Davis, poll tax receipts, plantation inventories with slaves listed below the livestock and newspapers headlining speeches from Abraham Lincoln.
UCF Library archivist Barack (Suphi) Ogreten said the collection came to UCF in 2009 and the university special collections department is still working on processing all of Mundy’s finds. He anticipates that the finding aid — an electronic guide that will chronicle all of the items and their history, in addition to a short biography of Mundy — will be available in late 2014 or sometime in 2015.
Once the collection is processed, Ogreten said all documents will be available for the UCF community to be used for academic research in the special collection’s reading room in the library.
“Her collection means a lot to the university, because it has a lot of local Central Florida and statewide historical artifacts and information,” said Africana Studies Program Director Anthony Major.
With both local and national ties, Mundy’s civil rights collection is the one she admires most. Many pieces highlight Florida’s struggle to integrate. “One of the [pieces] in the civil rights collection is about St. Augustine and how they were trying to integrate the beaches,” Mundy said. “That was one of the hardest battles.”
While some of her collection is now part of the university, she continues to show her pieces of history to schools, Boys and Girls Clubs and is in contact with the Smithsonian Museum to have her collection shown there.
“My ultimate goal was to share it,” Mundy said. “You get addicted to history.”
For more information on The Carol Mundy Collection, visit africanamericanlegacy.com.