Mellon Scholars Program 2021 Interns: Chasia Elzina Jeffries

My name is Chasia (pronounced ka-SIGH-ya) Elzina Jeffries, and I was born and raised in Los Angeles, California. I am the oldest of three daughters and the great-great-great-granddaughter of enslaved Black women, who fought, taught, advocated, and told stories in order for me to be in the position I am in today. This May, I graduated from the University of Southern California with a B.A. in Law, History, and Culture and a minor in Gender and Social Justice. There I was a Mellon Mays Undergraduate Program Fellow and was awarded the Discovery Scholar Distinction for my senior honors thesis titled “We Been Knew: An Ode to Black Women Bearing Witness and History through Poetry.” My thesis examined the position of Black women in the archive and the potential of Black women’s poetry as an alternative mode of historical “fact-finding.” I applied for the Library Company of Philadelphia’s Program in African American History Mellon Scholars Intern Program at the encouragement of my Mellon Mays coordinator because of my interests in archival theory, Black feminist theory, and Black history, literature, and intellectualism and because of my passion for and commitment to sharing the narratives, experiences, and perspectives of Black women.

I’ve enjoyed my time with the Library Company of Philadelphia, even virtually and across time zones. It has been an amazing opportunity to meet and learn from some phenomenal scholars and to interact with archival documents and resources I didn’t know existed before arriving, namely, the Friendship Albums. I’ve been exploring these highly requested (and thankfully digitized) documents for the past month, along with secondary scholarship surrounding Black women’s narratives. As a result, I’ve produced a research project titled,” Look Mourning Mothers: Exploring Community and Other Mothering in Black Women’s Friendship Albums.”

2021 Mellon Scholars Program Intern Chasia Elzina Jeffries

In this project, I look at the Friendship Albums as a product of the German album amicorum, later becoming the Victorian autograph albums. These were practices of educated (actively in school) elite white men and slowly became practices of elite white women. Therefore, Black women entering this practice and choosing the medium of the Album, though with important distinctions, could be an attempt to resist and critique societal understandings of Black women. Additionally, these albums all feature poetry mourning the loss of mothers and children. In focusing on these poems, I argue that in addition to the expectation of “social uplift” that may have been placed on the producers of the Albums, Friendship Albums provided a means of “emotional uplift.” In mourning, not only the loss of the child, but the loss of motherhood, these Albums were not mere products of a period of sentimentalism as has been argued, but intentionally curated community tools. There are also so many other threads I found in the Albums that I would love to pursue later.

In the fall, I’ll be studying at UC Irvine concurrently in their J.D. & Ph.D. in Culture & Theory Programs. As of right now, I hope to become a civil & human rights lawyer, serving and advocating for marginalized communities and victims of violence. I’m also very interested in continuing to conduct academic research that highlights the perspectives and experiences of Black women. I ultimately hope to be a published poet and serve as a university professor, running a pro-bono legal clinic through the university.