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Editing Wikipedia, one African-American artist at a time

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The California African American Museum and Unforgetting L.A. team up to give African American artists a presence on the digital encyclopedia.

On a recent Sunday morning, a group of about a dozen people convened at the California African American Museum in L.A.'s Exposition Park. They didn't come to passively stroll through the exhibits though. They sat at tables, typing away on laptops, with printouts strewn around them. 

Sharon Kyle was trying to find information on a prominent African-American doll maker named Glenda Hooker, but Kyle noticed something. 

"I did a Google image search using the keywords: Glenda, Hooker, Dolls... None of it's coming up on Wikipedia," Kyle said. "And I know that she did this work for 30 years in the Los Angeles area."

Kyle and the other volunteers took part in what's called a Wikipedia edit-a-thon, organized by local Wikipedia master Stacey Allan. The seventh in a series of events that Allan calls Unforgetting L.A., the event at the museum provided participants with step-by-step instructions on how to get started editing Wikipedia. Denise McIver, the museum's research librarian, assisted with pulling articles from reliable databases and even the old-fashioned stacks in the adjoining library. 

"The goal for today is to train new people how to edit Wikipedia," Allan said. "And the second goal is to write new articles for people who aren't currently represented online." 

Marilyn Nix decided to spend her Sunday morning enriching the Internet too. She was astonished to see L.A.-based sculptor Fred Eversley left out of of the user-generated online encyclopedia. "He's really quite famous," she said. "It's amazing that Wikipedia has missed him."

According to Allan, Nix isn't the only one surprised to see what's been left out of Wikipedia. 

Take Evangeline Montgomery, for example. An accomplished artist and educator, Montgomery has an arts scholarship dedicated to her. But before the Unforgetting L.A. event, she had no Wikipedia page. 

"A lot of people know that Wikipedia has some issues," Allan said. "I think 75 percent of Wikipedia editors are under the age of 30. And I want to say only about 12 percent of them are female." 

By training new editors, Allan hopes the information on Wikipedia will become "more representative of the culture at large." 

Teka-Lark Fleming was another volunteer who made it to the event, but she didn't need help with the Wikipedia basics. A self proclaimed Wikipedia editor, Fleming runs a video blog and podcast called The Black Grrrl Show. She sees gaps in Wikipedia's coverage, especially when it comes to chronicling black L.A. 

"I think we need to have a more complex, broad view of black life in Los Angeles," Fleming said. "Beyond rap music — there's more to L.A. than that." 

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