By Katie Anderson
February 1st marks the start of Black History Month in the United States. Schools across the country will discuss historical figures such as Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglas in their efforts to free enslaved people and abolish slavery, and Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X in their work to achieve civil rights. However, Black History Month is more than the recognition of a few people, it is also about recognizing the ways in which Black and African communities have been able to thrive in the face of adversity. This is where the Black Elevation Map comes into play.
The Black Elevation Map, created by Black & Abroad, is an immersive digital experience that takes cultural data and visualizes it as a dynamic elevation map. Its search feature allows users to see data such as population, historical markers, Black-owned businesses, and social media activity. Additional data sets included in the map are twelve curated city guides and ten national guides, noting Black-owned wineries, notable start-up companies, and historical restaurants of the Civil Rights Movement. At its launch on February 1, 2022, the map contained over 30,000 unique points of interest and allowed users to add directly to the map themselves, emphasizing the importance of community engagement. The creators of the map focused on highlighting self-identified sources from the Black community instead of collecting data that identifies community members without their consent.
Historically, cartography has been used to marginalize and divide communities through discriminative modern urban planning and redlining. With a map like the Black Elevation Map, the Black community is reclaiming the cartographic landscape for themselves, providing a digital platform to share their stories and experiences.