Herman “Skip” Mason Jr.

A five-minute interview with Atlanta’s his historian
As Morehouse College’s archivist, Skip Mason often sees value in artifacts that others overlook. With an undergraduate degree from Morris Brown, a master’s degree from Clark Atlanta, and certification from the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library, Mason has worked for the Herndon Home museum, the King Library and Archives, and the Atlanta-Fulton Public Library System’s Special Collections. But Mason is hardly the stereotypical shy librarian. An ordained Christian Methodist Episcopal pastor, he was recently elected national president of Alpha Phi Alpha, the nation’s oldest and most influential black fraternity.
What’s been your most exciting “find” for Morehouse? My favorite is a collection of Western Union telegrams to and from Dr. Benjamin Mays [the college’s legendary former president]. Telegrams were the only way to send or receive a message quickly in those days. These are the texts and Tweets of the thirties and forties, and it’s been fascinating to go through them.

In the future, will people be digging through electronic files of texts and e-mails the way today’s historians look at journals and old newspapers? I hope not. Even in the age of digital technology, there are those of us who relish the actual touch and feel of paper. Among those who find our niche in collecting this kind of material, you’re going to see a bunch of us crawling into trash cans and Dumpsters, because many libraries and other institutions, unfortunately, are tossing books and magazines out.

Where did you get the nickname “Skip”? I was born at McLendon Hospital in Atlanta and named after my father, but my mother decided “Herman” sounded too rough and started calling me “Skipper.”

As an African American historian, what do you think of Black History Month? It’s still a necessary evil. Youngsters need to be exposed to black history, and it’s significant to have schools and teachers make a concerted effort to teach it. I do hope we’ve made progress in weaving the story of African Americans into all aspects of life, and the election of President Obama certainly has opened up black history to twelve months a year.

Photograph by Alex Martinez