Black History Month Tribute: Dr. Walter B. Hill Jr., Archivist, Historian, and Father

Today’s Black History Tribute was written by Alexis Hill, Assistant Registrar in the Exhibits Division at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland

Dr. Walter B. Hill Jr., scholar, historian, and senior archivist, opened a lot of doors to the records on African-American history during his 30-year career at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). He praised NARA as “a special place for me in my professional life and my work is a testimony to the institution that allowed me to navigate the rich history of Americans, in particular African Americans.” During his tenue at the National Archives, Dr. Hill mentored many up-and-coming archivists and introduced the world to the holdings at NARA that related to black history.

Photo courtesy of the author.
Walter Hill discussing a document to D.C. area politicians.  Photograph courtesy of the author.

Dr. Hill was born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri. He received his BA in History from the College of Wooster in 1971 and his MA in US History from Northern Illinois University in 1973. He received his Ph. D. in United States History in 1988, from the University of Maryland under the guidance of historian Ira Berlin. Walter Hill also taught at St. Louis University, Howard University, and the University of Maryland.

Photo courtesy of the author.
Photograph courtesy of the author.

Dr. Hill began his archival career at the National Archives in 1978, where he worked in several offices, including the Office of the Archivist of the United States National Historical Publication and Records Administration, Office of the National Archives Library and Printed Archives Division, Reference Service Branch, and the Office of Textual Research Services. Hill spent his tenue at NARA looking through the vast amount of records relating to African-American history. Through his research and knowledge of the subject area, he compiled this information into articles, reference papers, and essays.

Photo courtesy of the author.
Photograph courtesy of the author.

Not only was Dr. Hill dedicated to his work and colleagues within the National Archives, he was also involved with other projects relating to black history. He was the film consultant for the 1989 movie Glory and the Chief Historian of the African-American Civil War Memorial Foundation. In September of 2003, Dr. Hill gave an interview for History Makers, where he reflected on his life and career. His involvement in many organizations helped expose the vast amount of federal records on African-American history and brought the National Archives into the spotlight.

Photo courtesy of the author.
Walter Hill with Historian John Hope Franklin.  Photograph courtesy of the author.

Since his passing in July 2008, Dr. Walter B. Hill, Jr. is still remembered and honored by his colleagues at both the National Archives and the many historical organizations he was involved in. In February 2009, at the annual Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) luncheon, Hill was honored for his dedication to the organization. Current and former NARA colleagues decided to reserve a table in his memory and it has been reserved for them at every luncheon since then.  

As his daughter, I could not be anymore proud of my late father’s accomplishments. I still hear stories about him from many of his colleagues and close friends. He walked the halls of the National Archives for 30 years and he truly opened many doors to archival records on African-American history.

5 thoughts on “Black History Month Tribute: Dr. Walter B. Hill Jr., Archivist, Historian, and Father

  1. When I joined the Library and Printed Archives, your Dad was one of two archivists on my staff. I’m indebted to him for introducing me to Lonnie Bunch, founding director — as you know — of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.

  2. When researching the contribution of the “Harlem Hell-Fighters” in WWI I had the good fortune of conferencing with Dr. Hill at the National Archives (2001). He was instrumental in unearthing official battle summaries and strategic reports on the 369th Regiment, 93rd Division. As my grandfather participated in that engagement, I am eternally grateful to Dr. Hill for sharing his professional expertise.

  3. He was one of my favorite professors at Howard and I think about him often–after class he would walk me to the shuttle stop across the Yard and was a great mentor and served as my on campus dad. He even invited me to Thanksgiving my first year of college because my family was in California. I was sad when I wrote to sent him an update on my life and invite him to my graduation, and discovered he had passed, but I’m grateful I got to know him. He wrote one of my recommendations when I transferred and I still cherish the words he wrote about me. He was a truly great man.

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