by Alan Bacon of The National Museum of Roller Skating
Editor's Note: While visiting my daughter in Baltimore, we had an opportunity to meet Tasha Klusmann of NAARSA in Washington, D.C. We planned to meet her at the archive's scheduled public exhibit, but it was postponed. However, we were still able to meet and talk about roller skating history with her for over three hours. Klusmann and I look forward to continuing the dialogue.
Pictured: Items from NAARSA currently on display in Washington, D.C. as part of the exhibit: Then & Now ... Rolling Through Time. The images pictured are from the NRROA circa 1947 and 1949, submitted to NAARSA by William "Bill" Howland. The photo at the bottom is of William Howland and Beverly Ewing in 1947 at the Pla-Mor Roller Rink in Cleveland, Ohio.
The National African American Roller Skating Archive (NAARSA) was established in 2004 by Our Family Skate Association (OFSA) to establish a permanent collection documenting the extraordinary story of roller skating in the African American community. The primary repository for the collection is the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center (MSRC) on the campus of Howard University in Washington, D.C. The archive is proud to be a 'first person' account with most items coming directly from roller skaters themselves, according to the archive's Facebook page.
Pictured: Tasha Klusmann, President of the National African American Roller Skating Archive (NAARSA)
Klusmann went to Howard University looking for information on the African American roller skating experience, especially in the Washington, D.C. area. She realized the gaps and need for information, which prompted her to start collecting. Getting the history documented was a priority. As an agreement of their partnership, OFSA collects the artifacts and Howard University preserves the items since they are the expert in physically maintaining manuscripts.
The organization began informally in the 1990s to promote roller skating to families and children in the Washington, D.C. area. In 2010, Our Family Skate Association became official with Tasha Klusmann as the President, taking on the major project of establishing the archive. Klusmann coordinates the project's efforts with Howard University and StoryCorps.
Manuscripts make up the majority of the archive's collection, and includes items like photos, articles, flyers, and pamphlets with three-dimensional objects and an audio collection of skate stories. Many of the oral histories are African American roller skaters sharing their personal skate stories with Klusmann, which is an aspect of the archive. She partnered with StoryCorps, which is part of the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, to record and store interviews. She visited 13 cities and recorded 130 interviews. Some of those interviews can currently be accessed on the StoryCorps' website.
OFSA gathers their materials and promotes the archive by being in the community - word of mouth. They don't receive much response by just going on Facebook or some traditional media, says Klusmann. One example is information and documentation they received from a gentleman originally from Cleveland. Klusmann and her husband skated with him for 20 years. He heard the archive was started and invited them to lunch to share his skate story and keepsake items from the 1940s when he participated in contests; dance and speed, as well as in exhibitions.
"The stories he shared and his submission of the program and newsletters are a foundational part of the archive."
The emphasis of the archive is to gather and store, moreso than to exhibit to the public like a museum. In addition to preservation, the archive gives researches material to work with. They do exhibit a few times a year such as at Joi's Sk8-A-Thon and the Black Memorabilia Show. This year, they are exhibiting in Washington, D.C. in October in honor of National Roller Skating Month.
Pictured: Wheels of Fortune performance skate group at the Taste of the Town contest in Washington, D.C.'s convention center in August 1984.
Klusmann has a lifelong passion for roller skating. In the 1980s, she was a member of a competitive roller skating organization called Wheels of Fortune. There, she met her husband, Norbert Klusmann, who was the RSROA Coca Cola's Rock n' Roller contest winner in 1981. In 2004, her entire family traveled to Chicago star in the movie, Roll Bounce and offer information and technical support for the roles. This past Labor Day, she traveled to Atlanta, GA for the 25th anniversary of Joi's Sk8-A-Thon to exhibit the archive and of course, roller skate.
She emphasizes the need to continue passing down the tradition of skating to the next generation, a skate tradition that includes a strong sense of community and a national network among African American skaters. Skating is more than a night at the rink for these skaters.
"I'm learning to be a curator. The archive will grow to meet the demand."
Klusmann sees the possibility to have partnerships to maintain and exhibit skating fashion, which she says is important to the African American community. She is currently working on getting more of the 130 oral histories available for public access.