BlackPast.org is a web-based reference center that is dedicated primarily to the understanding of African-American history and the history of people of African ancestry. In 2011 the American Library Association's Reference and User Services Association included it in its list of the 25 Best Free Reference Websites of the Year. According to Blackpast.org, the website has a global audience of about two million visitors per year from over 100 nations. In 2009, Canada, Australia, Great Britain, Brazil, and Germany ranked as the top five countries in visitors to the site after the United States. A 2008 website review described it as easily navigable and well organized but also as containing omissions among some features and as a work in progress. By 2009, the organization was selected by New York Public Library reference librarians as one of the top 25 hybrid print and electronic resources for the year.
BlackPast.org was founded in January 2004 by Dr. Quintard Taylor, the Scott and Dorothy Bullitt Professor of American History at the University of Washington. The initial website, designed by his teaching assistant George Tamblyn, was intended primarily as a research aid for those students and mainly featured short vignettes of significant people, places and events in African-American history. Under the direction of Dr. Taylor's daughter Jamila, the website was redesigned the following year to incorporate a new architecture and improved navigation features using Dreamweaver, creating the basis for a resource that would serve a larger research audience. In Spring 2005, Dr. Taylor received an email from a New Zealand researcher who had accessed the site. This was followed by correspondence from Russian students who had viewed the site. This led to a U.S. State Department-sponsored tour of Russian universities by Dr. Taylor.
When it became evident that the site was being used outside of the campus community, additional features were added including a bibliography, timeline, links to related websites, major speeches, digital archives and genealogy sections. With the addition of a Bullitt research assistant and a high school intern, the website staff had grown to five by the end of its second year. In 2006, the website received its first funding when University of Washington History Department Chair John Findlay and the school's Office of Minority Affairs Director Nancy "Rusty" Barceló each agreed to provide $10,000 for website expansion. The seed money was used to hire Grip Media of Portland, Oregon, to design a professional web presence for BlackPast.org. That year, the number of visits received by the site exceeded 150,000, and it recorded 4.4 million hits.
On February 1, 2007, the new Drupal-based website was launched with a small ceremony in the University of Washington History Department. The site opened with approximately 600 entries, 100 speeches, 80 full text primary documents and seven major timelines. New sections that were added included New Perspectives, which featured accounts and descriptions of important but little-known events in African-American history. In 2007, the site surpassed the 455,000 mark in annual visits with over 12.7 million hits.
More than 600 volunteer historians, scholars and university students have contributed historical entries since the site's inception. In November 2007, BlackPast.org was formed as a non-profit corporation under the laws of the State of Washington. Board members at time of formation were George Tamblyn, Jamila Taylor and Dr. Taylor. On March 28, 2008, with a staff of 10, BlackPast.org was officially recognized as a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation. Also that year, the organization received a $10,000 grant from Humanities Washington for project work including photo copyright acquisition.
In 2009, the organization was selected by New York Public Library reference librarians as one of the top 25 hybrid print and electronic resources for the library's Best of Reference list, "an annual list of books, websites, and electronic resources selected by a committee of librarians for their usefulness in branch reference collections." The following year, BlackPast.org was selected by the Library of Congress (LOC) to become part of the LOC's web archiving projectt a commitment with the International Internet Preservation Consortium to record a "rich body of Internet content from around the world." (See also National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program.) That project is currently in the cataloging phase, and the BlackPast.org content will be available sometime in 2011.
Since its inception, all content has been reviewed for accuracy and relevance by Dr. Taylor and a team of copyeditors prior to publication. Taylor said in a 2008 interview, "The site is the biggest thing I've ever done as far as its reach and impact," adding: "I've received e-mails from China, Nigeria, South Africa and from the Netherlands. Where we think we have a self-interest in African American history, it's pleasing to me that folks in Russia and Mexico want to know the story. That is what drives me to continue on with this important work of unraveling the history of the African American people."