Celebrating Black History Month: Hidden Gems

Yesterday we talked about some major projects, supported by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, documenting the contributions of African Americans to the American Story. While the history of Emancipation and the collected papers of Martin Luther King, Jr., are vital to understanding of our democracy, history, and culture, there are many other chapters:

The Oblate Sisters of Providence

The Oblate Sisters of Providence is the first successful Roman Catholic sisterhood in the world established by women of African descent. It was the work of a French-born Sulpician priest and four women, who were part of the Caribbean refugee colony which began arriving in Baltimore, Maryland in the late 18th century. The order founded the oldest continuously operating school for black Catholic children in the United States and is still educating children in Baltimore. A grant from the NHPRC helped the Oblate Sisters process and make available the historical photograph and scrapbook collection of approximately 16,000 photographs dating from the 1850s to 2003, including this touching image of orphans under their care.

Oblate Sisters of Providence

Early 20th century photograph from the St. Frances Academy School, courtesy Oblate Sisters of Providence

Lena Horne

Lena Horne (1917–2010) was an American singer, dancer, actress, and civil rights activist. In a recording preserved by Pacifica Radio Archives with NHPRC support, Horne discusses her life and career, civil rights, Billie Holiday, Joe Lewis, Humphrey Bogart, and other people in her life. You can listen at https://soundcloud.com/pacificaradioarchives/lena-horne-1966-interview

Lena Horne

Lena Horne publicity photo, c. 1950s

The Auburn Avenue Researcher Libraries

The Auburn Avenue Researcher Libraries in Atlanta received funds from the NHPRC to digitize and make Web-accessible eleven late 19th and mid-20th century manuscript collections that document the historical development of education for African Americans, primarily in the South, from the early 1860s to the early 1950s. One collection is the archives of Annie L. McPheeters, one of the first African American professional librarians in the Atlanta Public Library and an influential proponent of African American culture and history. Educated at Clark University in Atlanta, she earned a degree in English, with a minor in education in 1929. During the early part of her career, she served as city and county librarian at the Greenville Public Library, where she drove the bookmobile throughout the county’s rural areas, seeing first-hand the desire of many African Americans to learn and have access to books. In 1934 she took a job at the Auburn Branch of the Atlanta Public Library as an assistant librarian. She set out to remedy the branch’s problems of low library use by developing several initiatives, including the Adult Education Project, and launched the Negro History Collection. Two years later, she was promoted to full librarian, becoming one of the first African American professional librarians in the Atlanta Public Library. Her papers are housed in the Archives Division of the Auburn Avenue Research Library.

Grace Marilynn James, M.D.

Grace Marilynn James, M.D., (1923-1989) spent her life caring for the African American community of Louisville, Kentucky, who often had little access to regular health care. She was the first African American woman on the staff of Louisville Children’s Hospital and on the faculty at the University of Louisville School of Medicine, and served as a role model and advocate for African Americans considering a career in medicine. The National Library of Medicine includes Dr. James in their special online exhibition “Changing the Face of Medicine: Celebrating America’s Women Physicians.” The University of Louisville holds Dr. James’s papers, and they were processed through a grant from the NHPRC. A finding aid is available through the Kentucky Digital Library.

Dr. Grace James

Dr. Grace M. James, c. 1953, with a young patient. Photo courtesy David James, National Library of Medicine

Thomas “Blind Tom” Wiggins

Thomas “Blind Tom” Wiggins (1849 – 1908) was an African-American musical prodigy. Born into slavery, he began composing music at age five, and he was hired out at the age of eight years to concert promoter Perry Oliver, who toured him extensively in the US, performing as often as four times a day. He was called the “human mockingbird” and was said to be able to reproduce songs after hearing them a single time. During the 19th century, he was one of the best-known American performing pianists, performing at the White House for President Buchanan in 1860. Geneva Handy Southall began researching “Blind Tom” during her Ph.D. studies, and she later wrote three books: Blind Tom: the Post-Civil War Enslavement of a Black Musical Genius (1979), The Continuing Enslavement of Blind Tom: the Black Pianist-Composer (1983), and Blind Tom, the Black Pianist Composer: Continually Enslaved (1999). She spent more than 30 years researching Blind Tom’s life and music and also made the first recording of his music. She was inducted into the Black Musicians Hall of Fame in 1988 and was a former board member of the National Association of Negro Musicians. The NHPRC funded the preservation of Dr. Southall’s papers at Emory University. A documentary on “Blind Tom,” with contributions by Dr. Southall, is online at http://vimeo.com/56242237

Arabella Chapman

One of our favorite collections was truly hidden. The Arabella Chapman Project is a great example of how archives connect with the classroom to harness the power of the crowd and make historical records vibrant. It all started with an NHPRC grant to the Clements Library at the University of Michigan to create finding aids for over 1,600 “hidden” collections. Among the records were photograph albums which had originally belonged to Arabella Chapman (1859-1927), an African American woman from Albany, New York. The albums were assembled from 1878 to 1900 using portraits taken from the 1860s to the turn of the century. The photos include Arabella, her family, friends, and admirers, and copies of pictures of well-known public figures–including Lincoln, Douglass, and others.

Arabella Chapman

Arabella Chapman tintype, c. 1865. Clements Library, University of Michigan

During fall semester 2014, University of Michigan Professor Martha Jones’s African American Women’s History class embarked on a detailed examination of the albums to try to learn what they could about Arabella, her family and friends, and the role of photography in African American life in the late 19th century. Last spring, the students launched a website devoted to the Chapman albums. The Arabella Chapman Project includes scans of the album pages, genealogical information, maps, texts on the history of photograph albums, a portal for crowdsourcing more information, and more. They’ve published a series of questions and mysteries behind the images. And they’re using social media to reach out to a broader audience and to show how all black lives matter.

The Arabella Chapman Project is a fascinating approach to teaching history through historical records, and they are looking for your help. Recognize someone? Know something? Join the crowd in adding more layers to this piece of the American Story.

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Celebrating Black History Month

Every day, we celebrate the remarkable contributions of African Americans to the American Story. The National Archives contains millions of records related to the interactions of African Americans with the Federal government—from the Emancipation Proclamation to the millions of historical records ranging from the Census to military service.

The National Archives grant program, our National Historical Publications and Records Commission, extends the reach of the agency and connects to thousands of collections across the country at state and local governments, colleges and universities, historical societies, and other nonprofit organizations. Over the past 50 years, the NHPRC has awarded grants to projects to document black lives.

Among the earliest records are those dealing with slavery and the fight for freedom. The Frederick Douglass Papers, the Black Abolitionist Papers, the Race and Slavery Petitions project at the Digital Library on American Slavery, Freedmen and Southern Society, and the O.O. Howard (head of the Freedman’s Bureau and founder of Howard University) projects were all supported with major funding from the NHPRC, and other grants went to the preservation of court and chancery records which deal with landmark events such as the Dred Scott case at the Supreme Court of Missouri and manumission petitions now being digitized by the Maryland State Archives.

Freedman and southern society imageFreedman and Southern Society Project

Following emancipation, the quest for equal rights is documented in the early 20th century records such as Booker T. Washington Papers and a microfilm edition of the W.E.B. Dubois Papers to the latter decades with the papers of such civil rights leaders as Clarence Mitchell, Ted Berry, the archives of Mary McLeod Bethune and the National Council of Negro Women, and the Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr. Archives from the history of Boston Desegregation (some of which are now part of the National Archives DocsTeach site) to the preservation of film interviews from the landmark PBS series “Eyes on the Prize” are but some of the many collections of interest for students of American civil rights history.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at some “hidden” gems.

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Remembering Robin Chandler Duke

As the University Librarian at Duke one of my favorite duties was talking people into donating their personal collections to the University Library.  My staff had great intelligence about who we should go after to strengthen the collections, so I was always armed with rationale(s) for the fit at Duke.

The passing of Robin Chandler Duke on Saturday reminded of those encounters with donors.  Robin was the widow of Angier Biddle Duke, Chief of Protocol in the Kennedy White House and Ambassador to El Salvador, Spain, Denmark, and Morocco from the Truman through the Johnson Administrations.  And one of THE DUKES—the family of the founder of the university.

President of India, Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, shakes hands with First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy upon his departure from the White House, following a state dinner in his honor; President John F. Kennedy stands at center left. US Chief of Protocol, Angier Biddle Duke, stands at right (back to camera); Robin Chandler Duke (wife of Ambassador Duke) stands at far left. North Portico, White House, Washington, D.C. Robert Knudsen. White House Photographs. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston National Archives and Records Administration http://www.jfklibrary.org/Asset-Viewer/Archives/JFKWHP-KN-C28877.aspx

President of India, Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, shakes hands with First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy upon his departure from the White House, following a state dinner in his honor; President John F. Kennedy stands at center left. US Chief of Protocol, Angier Biddle Duke, stands at right (back to camera); Robin Chandler Duke (wife of Ambassador Duke) stands at far left. North Portico, White House, Washington, D.C. June 3, 1963.
Robert Knudsen. White House Photographs. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston. National Archives and Records Administration

We already had the Ambassador’s personal papers in our holdings, so Robin’s were a logical quest.

I remember my first visit to her apartment at River House in New York City, sitting in her sunroom overlooking the East River.  Grace, beauty, charm, wit, and intelligence are my memories of that first encounter.  She assumed, I think, that I was most interested in whatever of the Ambassador’s papers she still had, and was surprised about how much I knew about her own career.

Robin was a newspaper and television journalist, vice president for public relations at Pepsi-Cola, active in organizations supporting abortion rights and legal equality for women.  The best part of that first visit was seeing evidence of “documentation.”  She saved everything!  And her life and letters complemented her husband’s ambassadorial life, contributed to the burgeoning women’s studies collection, and her Pepsi years added to the strength of the one of the best advertising collections in the country.

That first visit led to a deed of gift and the beginning of a relationship that was punctuated by regular deliveries of boxes of her papers and photographs as she continued to sort through her collection.  Whenever I was in New York, I would stop for a quick visit to catch up.  And when I made the move to the New York Public Library, she was among the special guests invited to a reception hosted by another “Dukie,” Ellie Elliot.

A while ago I wrote about my afternoon with Lauren Bacall and now Robin Chandler Duke.  One lucky guy to have spent time with two extraordinary women!

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#ColorOurCollections

In celebration of the New York Academy of Medicine’s #ColorOurCollections campaign this week, many museums, libraries, and archives hopped on the adult coloring bandwagon and created coloring books to share on Twitter. We’ve been participating by posting various images throughout the week for people to color, from Rosie the Riveter to the Faulkner murals.

Now we have a coloring book as well! We’ve chosen some of our favorite patents from our holdings for you to color:

Coloring book image

The National Archives Coloring Book of Patents 2016

Or, browse our online catalog for more fascinating patents to color!

Share your coloring creations with us on Twitter using the hashtag #ColorOurCollections.

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Cabin Fever Remedies

Much of the Eastern Seaboard is bracing for a major snow/ice event this weekend. Are you prepared? Looking for indoor activities?

Even if you can’t make it out to the research rooms, you can still do something fun and good for the country from the comfort of your own home as you tag and transcribe records from the National Archives. Your tags and transcriptions will help make our catalog easier to search.

With snow on our minds, we’ve created a few winter-themed tagging missions on our Citizen Archivist Dashboard.

Agent's House

Agent’s House. Department of Commerce. Bureau of Fisheries. Division of Alaska Fisheries. 1913-7/1/1939. Series: Pribilof Islands Glass Plate Negatives, 1913 – 1921. National Archives Identifier: 23853701

And while you are on the Dashboard, take a look at the many other ways you can get involved. From tagging missions to transcribing documents, scanning photos to joining the conversation on History Hub, there is a way for everyone to participate and contribute.

Find something interesting? Share your contributions with us on Twitter @USNatArchives #ITaggedIt

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Launch and Learn: Our New History Hub Pilot Project

I am pleased to announce a new pilot project from the Office of Innovation at the National Archives called the “History Hub.” This new platform may be thought of as an external collaboration network, a place where subject matter experts from the National Archives can engage with researchers and the public, to share information, work more easily together, and find people based on their experience and interests. The platform offers discussion boards, blogs, profiles, and other interactive tools for communication and collaboration.

History Hub screenshot

We aim to use the History Hub to explore new ways of connecting with and serving customers interested in historical topics relating to our holdings. This project helps us to achieve NARA’s strategic goal to Connect with Customers, in particular, to expand public participation and our use of crowdsourcing tools. The project is also part of NARA’s Open Government Plan and supports the aim of achieving government transparency, as well as citizen participation and collaboration with the federal government. The History Hub provides us a platform for eventually working with other cultural organizations—such as the Smithsonian and the Library of Congress—to offer the public a one-stop shop for crowdsourcing information.

The History Hub is a limited six-month pilot project so that we can test the platform for its use and usefulness as a crowdsourcing platform. We will use the pilot period to benchmark level of effort on the part of NARA staff and to better understand public engagement metrics. We are developing a robust set of evaluation criteria to evaluate the pilot and ensure good use of NARA’s resources.

The History Hub project will include participation from staff subject matter experts who have both an interest and expertise in these topics. For the pilot, we are working on a narrow set of topics that have been identified as good test cases for this platform. For example, we know that the popularity and complexity of Native American research makes it a good candidate for discussion on this platform and NARA has an opportunity to collaborate with other federal resources, such as the Smithsonian, to better serve researchers.

History Hub screenshot

The idea for this project has been under discussion for several years, and I am excited about the potential for this pilot project, as it is a great opportunity to engage National Archives staff experts, the public, as well as colleagues at other institutions to further NARA’s mission and strategic goals.

But we really don’t know how the History Hub will actually be used.  We just know that all of our great plans for it will surely miss some of the new ways people will use the tool. That’s the nature of innovative projects, we need to launch and then learn from them.

Do you have research questions you’ve always wanted answered? Do you want advice on how to get started with genealogical research? Give it a try and ask a question at historyhub.archives.gov.

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Releasing All We Can, Protecting What We Must

The Presidential Rank Award Program was created to recognize “sustained extraordinary accomplishment” by career senior executives in the Federal Government.  In a highly competitive process, executives nominated by their agency heads are evaluated by citizen panels and designated by the President of the United States.  Recipients are deemed to be strong leaders, professionals, or scientists who achieve results and consistently demonstrate strength, integrity, industry, and a relentless commitment to excellence in public service.

I am so pleased, proud, and honored that Sheryl J. Shenberger, Director of our National Declassification Center has been named a Meritorious Executive Presidential Rank Award recipient—the first National Archives and Records Administration executive to be so recognized.

Sheryl Shenberger, Director of the National Declassification Center. Photo courtesy of the Gulf Times

Sheryl Shenberger, Director of the National Declassification Center. Photo courtesy of the Gulf Times

As the inaugural Director of the National Declassification Center, Sheryl is recognized as the Federal Government expert for executing the review, declassification, and release of permanent government records.  Her accomplishments are an example of our commitment to the Administration’s Open Government Initiative.  Her sustained leadership in coordination of the adjudication of multi-equity referrals as well as balancing transparency and openness with the protection of still-sensitive information is extremely important work.

Learn more about the National Declassification Center’s work at www.archives.gov/declassification/ndc

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Happy Holidays from AOTUS!

BWT HST receipt for fruitcake

Receipt for fruit cake, March 1918.
National Archives Identifier: 6233802 / Local Identifier: HST-BWT_5_3_03_01

This is a receipt for a fruit cake purchased by Bess Wallace at the Jones Store, a Kansas City, Missouri Department store, to send to her fiancé, Harry S. Truman, who was stationed in France with the United States Army 129th Field Artillery.

 

Aunt Sammy Radio Recipe

Fruit Cake recipe from Aunt Sammy’s Radio Recipes, Developed by The Bureau of Home Economics, 1927.  From the Records of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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Making Room for Those in Danger

The Refugee Act of 1980 is now on temporary display in the West Gallery of the National Archives Building. Photo by National Archives Photographer Jeffrey Reed.

The Refugee Act of 1980 is now on temporary display in the West Gallery of the National Archives Building. Photo by National Archives Photographer Jeffrey Reed.

At the end of the Vietnam War, hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese and Cambodians fled political chaos and physical danger in their homelands. Between 1975 and 1979, some 300,000 of these refugees were admitted to the United States through Presidential action. The law at the time restricted refugee admissions, and many members of Congress wanted to establish a more regular system of immigration and resettlement.

In the South China Sea, crewmen of the amphibious cargo ship USS Durham (LKA-114) take Vietnamese refugees aboard a small craft. The refugees will be transferred later by mechanized landing craft (LCM) to the freighter Transcolorado., 4/3/1975. General Records of the Department of the Navy, National Archives Identifier 558518

In the South China Sea, crewmen of the amphibious cargo ship USS Durham (LKA-114) take Vietnamese refugees aboard a small craft. The refugees will be transferred later by mechanized landing craft (LCM) to the freighter Transcolorado., 4/3/1975. General Records of the Department of the Navy, National Archives Identifier 558518

The Refugee Act of 1980 raised the annual ceiling for refugees to 50,000, created a process for reviewing and adjusting the refugee ceiling to meet emergencies, and required annual consultation between Congress and the President. The law changed the definition of “refugee” to a person with a “well-founded fear of persecution,” a standard established by United Nations conventions and protocols. It also funded a new Office of U.S. Coordinator for Refugee Affairs and an Office of Refugee Resettlement and built on already existing public-private partnerships that helped refugees settle and adjust to life in their new country.

A bill to amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to revise the procedures for the admission of refugees, to amend the Migration and Refugee Assistance Act of 1962 to establish a more uniform basis for the provision of assistance to refugees, and for other purposes, page one (Public Law 96-212—The Refugee Act of 1980), approved March 17, 1980 National Archives, General Records of the U.S. Government

A bill to amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to revise the procedures for the admission of refugees, to amend the Migration and Refugee Assistance Act of 1962 to establish a more uniform basis for the provision of assistance to refugees, and for other purposes, page one (Public Law 96-212—The Refugee Act of 1980), approved March 17, 1980
National Archives, General Records of the U.S. Government

Signature page of The Refugee Act of 1980, approved March 17, 1980 National Archives, General Records of the U.S. Government.

Signature page of The Refugee Act of 1980, approved March 17, 1980
National Archives, General Records of the U.S. Government.

View all pages of the Refugee Act of 1980 on the National Archives’ Flickr account: https://www.flickr.com/photos/usnationalarchives/sets/72157661462319371

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2015 Records of Achievement Award

Last week, A’Lelia Bundles, the Chair and President of the National Archives Foundation, and I presented the 2015 National Archives Foundation Records of Achievement Award to Taylor Branch, an American author and Pulitzer Prize winner. This award recognizes Branch’s lifelong work chronicling the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the history of the Civil Rights movement in his landmark series: America in the King Years.

Taylor Branch’s Pulitzer Prize–winning narrative of the Civil Rights Movement has helped shape our understanding of that turbulent time in our history. He conducted extensive research at several National Archives facilities including the Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson Presidential Libraries where he mined the notes of meetings, reviewed oral histories, and listened to countless hours of presidential recordings—all carefully collected, preserved, and made available by generations of National Archives staff.

The National Archives holds many records pertaining to Civil Rights, including March on Washington photographs, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. We even have Taylor’s own Freedom of Information lawsuit against the FBI!

Taylor Branch’s work demonstrates the power of the stories preserved in the National Archives. We house the tangible reminders of where we have been, how far we have come, and see every day how these reminders inspire others to discover other important stories to share with the world.

Our partners at the National Archives Foundation share our passion for educating our citizens about the important work of the National Archives in preserving our history and making it accessible to the people. The Records of Achievement Award is the Foundation’s highest honor, and each year, the award itself includes facsimiles of records from the National Archives collection that is of special significance to our honoree.

This year, in recognition of Taylor Branch’s groundbreaking research on the Civil Rights Movement, we presented two facsimiles of a document that he sought under a 1986 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the FBI, Branch v. Federal Bureau of Investigation, Civil Action No. 86-1643.

The FOIA request was for classified records that the FBI had compiled between 1962 and 1963 on Stanley Levison, a friend and advisor to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The first facsimile shows the heavily redacted page that was originally provided to Branch by the FBI. It is a 1962 memo from the FBI Director to the Attorney General concerning Dr. King.

1962 memo from the FBI Director to the Attorney General concerning Dr. King. This heavily redacted page was originally provided to Branch by the FBI.

1962 memo from the FBI Director to the Attorney General concerning Dr. King. This heavily redacted page was originally provided to Branch by the FBI.

This next facsimile shows the memo after it was recently declassified on September 18, 2015.

wr1-239287711

1962 memo from the FBI Director to the Attorney General concerning Dr. King, after it was declassified on September 18, 2015.

The facsimiles were accompanied by the Records of Achievement medallion, which is composed of bronze from the original document encasements which were removed from the Rotunda of the National Archives during the 2003 renovation.

We presented the award and the records to Taylor Branch as our tribute to his commitment to consulting primary sources as he continues to tell the stories of our nation’s history. Congratulations, Taylor.

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