Using data gleaned from semistructured interviews with seventeen community archives founders, volunteers, and staff at twelve sites, this paper examines the relations and roles of community archives and archivists in social justice activism. Our research uncovered four findings on the politics of community archives. First, community-based archivists identify as activists, advocates, or community organizers, and this identification shapes their understandings of community archives work and the missions of community archives. Second, community-based archives offer substantial critiques of neutrality in their ethical orientations and thus present new ethical foundations for practice. Third, by activating their collections, community archives play significant roles within contemporary social movements including struggles for racial justice and against gentrification. Finally, community archives are at the forefront of the profession in their engagements with activists. Community archives have much to contribute to practice and scholarship on activism, outreach, and public engagement with the past.
Building on the author’s experiences as the co-founder and a board member of the South Asian American Digital Archive (SAADA), this article posits that independent, community-based archives are crucial tools for fighting the symbolic annihilation of historically marginalized groups.