Ernie “The Express” Davis

Today’s blog was written by Kevin L. Bradley, Archives Technician in the Motion Picture, Sound, and Video Division at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland

In 1961, Ernie Davis became the first African American to win the Heisman Trophy. He was an intelligent and talented athlete from Syracuse University. Born on December 19, 1939 in Elmira, New York, Davis was a standout high school athlete at the Elmira Free Academy.

Davis faced many challenges and celebrated many successes during his collegiate years at Syracuse University. As a student-athlete, he had to balance issues of racism, sportsmanship, and academics. In 1960, Davis played in the Cotton Bowl Classic against the Texas Longhorns in Dallas, Texas. He and the other African-American players had to endure ugly racial slurs, as well as having objects thrown at them from the Longhorn fans and players. Despite the distractions of the game, Davis ran for one touchdown and caught a record-setting 87-yard touchdown pass, as well as intercepted a pass that led to a 3rd Orangeman touchdown. Syracuse defeated Texas 23-14 and Davis became the Cotton Bowl Classic MVP.

ST-274-1-61 5 December 1961 President Kennedy meets Heisman Trophy winner Ernest Davis at the Waldorf Astoria, New York City. The President was attending the National Foundation (Football) Hall of Fame Dinner. Photograph by Cecil Stoughton, in the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.

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President Kennedy meets Heisman Trophy winner Ernest Davis at the Waldorf Astoria, New York City. The President was attending the National Foundation (Football) Hall of Fame Dinner.
Photograph by Cecil Stoughton, in the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.

Davis was awarded the Heisman Trophy in 1962, which was presented by the New York Athletic Club. After winning the Heisman Trophy, Davis had the honor to meet one of his biggest fans, President John F. Kennedy at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City.

ST-274-2-61 5 December 1961 President Kennedy meets Heisman Trophy winner, Ernest Davis at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City. The President was attending the National Foundation (Football) Hall of Fame Dinner. Others unidentified. Photograph by Cecil Stoughton, in the JOhn F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston

ST-274-2-61 5 December 1961
President Kennedy meets Heisman Trophy winner, Ernest Davis at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City. The President was attending the National Foundation (Football) Hall of Fame Dinner. Others unidentified.
Photograph by Cecil Stoughton, in the JOhn F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston

In 1962, Ernie Davis was drafted by the Cleveland Browns, who acquired the pick from the Washington Redskins. Unfortunately, he never played a game in the National Football League (NFL). Shortly after he was drafted, Davis was diagnosed with a highly toxic form of leukemia. Ernie Davis died on May 18, 1963, he was only 23.

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“When It Was So Rough that You Couldn’t Make It”: Voting Rights in the Early 1960s

Today’s blog was written by Stacey Chandler, Textual Reference Archivist at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library

Part I: Mapping the Barriers

A basic law protecting the right to vote “without distinction of race, color, or previous condition of servitude” has been part of the American story for almost 150 years. The law evolved through the decades, but for much of its history, one thing remained the same: the Federal government had no real way to make the states obey it. That changed with the passage of the Civil Rights Acts of 1957 and 1960, when new rules gave the U. S. Department of Justice (DOJ) the power to sue counties and states that denied voting rights to eligible black citizens. In 1961, the Kennedy Administration decided to test these new rules in the American South, where activists were battling what civil rights leader Aaron E. Henry called a “structureless system,” in which “only those people that the system wanted registered, got registered.”

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Voter registration statistics for counties in Mississippi, January 1960. [BMPP-024-005-p0027]

Some civil rights advocates disagreed with the Administration’s heavy focus on voting rights, pointing out the array of injustices black Americans faced: black students still segregated in schools; black customers refused service in diners, hotels, and public transit; black homebuyers denied loans and housing; civil rights protestors attacked and killed. Thurgood Marshall expressed concern that “the Attorney General determined that the solution would be in the field of public elections…in the meantime, Negroes were being killed and denied their rights.” But journalist Simeon Booker bluntly explained the administration’s reasoning, remembering what “one of the Kennedys” told him: “A man has first got to become President before he can help Negroes, and Negroes can’t help a man become President, unless it is voting for him at an election.”

Meanwhile, Aaron E. Henry was working for grassroots change as Director of the Mississippi State Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Henry was skeptical that the DOJ would really help black voters: “We had been studied so damn many times by agents from the federal government. …We know nothing’s going to happen because we’ve been through this ritual time and time again.” But, Henry noted, many local activists concluded “we’re not going to give you the opportunity to say that you didn’t do anything because we didn’t cooperate with you.” Soon, black communities across the South were collaborating with small teams of traveling DOJ lawyers, speaking out as witnesses and giving tips for investigation. The decision to help with these cases could often be a dangerous one, as Henry described in a 1961 letter to the President.

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Aaron E. Henry describes voter discrimination in Mississippi and the harassment endured by a witness for one of the government’s cases. [JFKWHSFHW-004-034-p0011]

Back in his Washington office, DOJ Civil Rights Division Chief Burke Marshall stuck pins in a huge wall map to track every voter discrimination case his lawyers were working on. Marshall’s map, now part of the JFK Library archives, highlights not only the labor of those lawyers, but the experiences of black Southerners in the early 1960s. The handwritten notations along the bottom of the map – “1971(a)” and “1971(b)” – point to sections of voting rights law, revealing the real-life struggle behind each pin.

Green pins mark counties where lawyers filed “1971(a)” cases. In U. S. voting rights law, Section 1971(a) guaranteed all eligible citizens the right to vote, but black citizens who tried to register in these counties reported that unfair local rules kept them from the polls.  States and counties accused of 1971(a) violations used a range of tactics to disenfranchise people, from high poll taxes and literacy test standards to complicated identification procedures and limited operating hours. Purple pins mark the counties where lawyers were still investigating these rule-based violations.

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Close-up image of Burke Marshall’s map of voter discrimination cases in Mississippi. [BMPP-061-015]

Red pins show where lawyers filed “1971(b) cases.” In these counties, black voters described facing threats or violence when trying to register, which Section 1971(b) specifically outlaws. In some counties, harassment was limited to economic reprisal: landlords punishing would-be voters with eviction, or shop-owners boycotting suppliers who had tried to register. Other counties saw reports of physical violence against black voters and their supporters, including arson, assault, and murder. Blue pins mark intimidation cases still under investigation.

These investigations were often far-reaching, and included not only local witnesses, but local archives, too. A new “records demand” rule from the 1960 Civil Rights Act helped lawyers look for proof of discrimination in a county’s own voting records; the yellow pins mark the counties where lawyers were researching in those records. For one case alone, lawyers studied 36,000 voter registration forms obtained through records demands. At one time, Burke Marshall estimated, there were roughly 125 pins in the map, marking ongoing trials, investigations, and records demands in over 100 Southern counties.

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Schedule of DoJ lawyers traveling through Mississippi to photograph voting records and try discrimination cases. [BMPP-005-008-p0071]

Confronted with the barriers of unfair rules and the very real threat of dying for the cause, black Southerners continued trying to register, encouraging others to register, and advocating for social and legislative change. Through projects like Freedom Vote, the Voter Education Project, and local registration drives, Aaron Henry later reflected, voting rights activists worked “to stimulate people to go down and register to vote, or try, even when it was so rough that you couldn’t make it.”

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Telegram from Julian Bond of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) asking for federal protection from expected violence during a voter registration drive. [JFKWHCSF-0368-006-p0045]

(Future posts in this series will explore cases of voter discrimination in more depth, highlighting events and documents from the early 1960s voting rights movement.)

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“National Negro Health Week”: 1915 to 1951

Today’s post was written by Tiffany Walker, Archives Technician at the National Archives at College Park, Maryland

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National Negro Health Week Posters, NAID 522915

 “National Negro Health Week” began in 1915, in response to disturbing findings by the Tuskegee Institute that highlighted the poor health status of African Americans in the early part of the 20th Century. At a session of the Tuskegee Negro Conference in 1914, founder of the Tuskegee Institute, Booker T. Washington brought forth data, which showed the economic costs of the poor health status of the black population in the United States.

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National Negro Health Week Poster, NAID 522915

The U. S. Public Health Service then instituted “National Negro Health Week” in response to these findings, in order to improve the health status of the black population by educating members of the community, providing greater access to healthcare, and encouraging an increased number of black professionals in the field of public health. National Negro Health Week was observed during the first week of April, and focused on educating black communities throughout America on methods of acquiring health care and informing students on proper health practices.

The creation of National Negro Health Week resulted in the formation of the National Negro Health Movement, which formed to improve the status of black health in America year round. Organizations that participated in this movement included the Annual Tuskegee Negro Conference, the National Medical Association, the National Negro Business League, and the National Negro Insurance Association. The movement, in collaboration with the U. S. Public Health Service, published the “National Negro Health News” quarterly. The publication focused on planning for annual National Negro Health Week activities, as well as reporting on new data and reports related to the status of black health.

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“National Negro Health News Volume 1, Number 2”, NAID 7586131

One particular health issue that faced the black population in the 20th century was the amount of individuals contracting tuberculosis. Assistant Surgeon General of the United States Public Health Service Taliaferro Clark, M.D. reflected on the importance of addressing the relatively high mortality rate of black tuberculosis patients as compared to whites. In his 1932 “The Negro Tuberculosis Problem” address, he stressed the importance of black medical professionals, specifically, the role that the black public health nurses could play in combating this high mortality rate.

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“National Negro Health News Volume 1, Number 2”, NAID 7586131

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“National Negro Health News Volume 1, Number 2”, NAID 7586131

The 1930s saw a significant increase in the number of black women entering into the nursing profession, which had previously been dominated by white, single women. The number of black women in the nursing profession steadily increased throughout the 20th century, and would eventually rise from just a few thousand in the beginning of the century to hundreds of thousands by the end. Programs like the National Negro Health Week and the subsequent National Negro Health Movement helped to play a role in this increase in the earlier part of the 20th century. Photographs from the series Public Health Service Historical Photograph File, 1880-1943 (NAID 522915) helped to spread the positive image of the black public health nurses to members of the black community. These images were staged, in order to encourage more African-American women to enter the profession.

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“Mrs. Mabel J. Kimbrough, Public Health Nurse, District of Columbia Health Department.” (Illustration of National Negro Health Week Bulletin, 1937.) NAID 522915

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“Mrs. Mabel J. Kimbrough, Public Health Nurse, District of Columbia Health Department, with client.” (Illustration of National Negro Health Week Bulletin, 1937.) NAID 522915

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African-American Women Astronauts Making their Mark in Space Exploration

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

All kinds of people have dreamt about flying into outer space, but only a select few are chosen to make this dream a reality. Out of this select few, a small number are women and an even a smaller number are African American. The series Mission Photographs Taken During the Space Shuttle Program, 4/12/1981 – 7/21/2011 (NAID 12562338) contains digital photographs of every space shuttle mission during its twenty year tenure. The photographs include the missions that Mae C. Jemison, Stephanie D. Wilson, and Joan E. Higginbotham were a part of. These African-American women astronauts were determined to reach the stars, and, while in the process, have inspired a new generation of space explorers.

Dr. Mae C. Jemison made her mark in space exploration history as the first African-American women to fly into space. She flew aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavor (STS-47) as a science mission specialist in September 1992. Jemison was born in Decatur, Alabama, and grew up in Chicago, Illinois. She entered Stanford University at age sixteen and received her B. S. in Chemical Engineering and a B. A. in African and Afro-American Studies in 1977. She also attended Cornell Medical College and earned her Doctorate of Medicine in 1981. Before beginning her career at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in 1987, Jemison was a member of the Peace Corps as a medical officer in West Africa. During her first flight in space, she conducted several scientific experiments, including two-bone cell research, weightlessness, and motion sickness. Dr. Jemison resigned from NASA in 1993 to pursue a career in higher education and became an advocate for science education.

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Stephanie D. Wilson was the second African-American woman astronaut to fly into space. She was born in Boston, Massachusetts, and received her B. S. in engineering science from Harvard University in 1988. Wilson also received her Master of Science degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Texas in 1992. She joined NASA’s astronaut program in 1996, and flew on three shuttle flights as a mission specialist. Her first flight was on the Space Shuttle Discovery (STS-121), the second Return to Flight mission from July 4 – 7, 2006; her second flight was aboard  Discovery (STS-120) from October 23 – November 7, 2007 and her last flight was also on Discovery (STS-131) from April 5 – 20, 2010. Wilson is still a part of NASA’s astronaut program and has received numerous awards, including the NASA Distinguished Service Medal (2009 and 2011) and NASA Space Flight Medal (2006, 2007, and 2010).

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Joan E. Higginbotham is the third African-American female astronaut to fly into space. Born in Chicago, Illinois, Higginbotham received her B. S. from Southern Illinois University Carbondale in 1987. She then received her Masters of Management Science (1992) and Masters in Space Science (1996) from the Florida Institute of Technology. She joined NASA in 1987 and was selected for astronaut training in 1996. She flew her first and only mission on Space Shuttle Discovery (STS-116) from December 9 – 22, 2006. Higginbotham received the Adler Planetarium Women in Space Science Award, NASA Exceptional Service Medal, and the Black Rose Award. She resigned from NASA in 2007.

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We thank you for your service.

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To Boldly Go Where No (Wo)Man Has Gone Before…

Today’s post was written by Ms. Netisha Currie, Archives Specialist at the National Archives at College Park, Maryland

“Space, the final frontier…” these are the words recited at the beginning of every episode of the national treasure that is Star Trek: The Original Series. Widely known to be an inspiration to geeks, nerds, sci-fi buffs and world leaders alike, Star Trek remains an enduring symbol and example of what the future could be for humanity and space exploration. One actress from the show has worked for decades in an effort to recruit women and people of color in order to ensure that Lieutenant Uhura would not be the only black woman in space.

black and white photograph of a group of people including Nichelle Nichols standing in front of a spacecraft

Actress Nichelle Nichols at the Visitor Information Center, John Glen Research Center at Lewis Field (NAID 17468123)

Lt. Uhura was portrayed by Nichelle Nichols from 1966 to 1991. As communications officer on the Starship Enterprise, Uhura was fourth in command on the vessel, highly intelligent, and strong in her own agency. That all of these qualities were portrayed by an African American woman was shocking to home viewing audiences in the 1960s, who were accustomed to seeing them as domestics and subservient characters when they were onscreen. Nichelle Nichols (and Gene Rodenberry’s creation) carried out a mission that sought to normalize black people being intelligent and more than servile domestics.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) recognized the positive impact and influence Nichols presence on the TV screen had, and in the late 1970s, hired the actress to recruit women and people of color for the Space Shuttle Program. This partnership led to many appearances, speeches, and personal visits to airfields and other government sites such as the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), seen in the press release below (from RG 342, Records of US Air Force Commands, Activities, and Organizations).

black and white photograph of Nichelle Nichols holding a piece of a satellite

Nichelle Nichols holding a piece of a satellite presented by Capt. David Martin at NORAD, 1/6/1977, RG 342

NORAD press release regarding Nichelle Nichols' visit to NORAD

Many astronauts have credited Nichols and the character of Lt. Uhura as an inspiration to them for seeking out opportunities with NASA, including: Ronald McNair, Sally Ride, Judith Resnik, current NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, and the first African American woman in space – Mae Jemison. Nichelle Nichols continues an alliance with NASA – most recently taking a flight with the flying observatory SOFIA in 2015.

–Live Long and Prosper

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Black Panther: A News Reel Video

Today’s blog was written by Dr. Tina L. Ligon, Lead Archivist at the National Archives at College Park, Maryland

The ideology of Black Power promotes cultural appreciation and black self-determination. Although it sometimes has negative connotations, the phrase “Black Power” represented racial pride, political and economic empowerment, and community service among those of African descent.

The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense (BPP) was established on October 15, 1966 by two college students, Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale in Oakland, California to monitor police brutality in the community. The Black Panther Party was a revolutionary organization, born out of the Black Power movement, with an ideology of black nationalism and armed self-defense. The Panthers also introduced and enacted progressive social programs, such as providing free breakfast for school children, sickle-cell anemia testing, legal aid, and adult education.

The video Black Panther (NAID 12101) in the RG 65 Motion Picture Films and Video Recordings, ca. 1936- ca. 1985 (NAID 12073) series contains footage of Huey P. Newton and Eldridge Cleaver discussing the purpose, need, and rise of the Black Panther Party in the African-American community, as well as their opposition to the Vietnam War. The video also shows images of Black Panther members participating in drills, protests, and singing panther songs in the Bobby Hutton Memorial Park and in front of the Alameda County Courthouse. Party Leader Kathleen Cleaver is also seen speaking at Hutton Memorial Park.

Disclaimer: video contains some harsh language

The Ten-Point Program (or Platform) as explained by Bobby Seale in the video established the goals and agenda of the BPP. The platform was created by canvassing the neighborhood to determine the wants and the beliefs of the black community. A couple of the points include: power to determine the destiny of the black community, decent housing, full employment, an immediate end to police brutality, and trial by a jury of peers.

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Jesse Owens, American Hero

Today’s post was written by Netisha Currie, Archives Specialist at the National Archives in College Park

photo with Jesse Owens starting an Olympic race

Olympian Jesse Owens, NAID 595375

The new biographical movie about Jesse Owens, Race, will be released in theaters this Friday, February 19th. The title has a double meaning – alluding to Owens’ historic record breaking feats he performed at the 1936 Berlin Olympics as well as his identity as an African American, which presented hurdles as a citizen of the United States.

Jesse Owens was born in Oakville, Alabama in 1913. In the 1920s, his family relocated to Cleveland, Ohio as part of the Great Migration. After a very successful track career in high school (where he helped his team win a national title and set world records), Owens was heavily recruited by many colleges due to his athletic prowess. Jesse Owens decided to run track at The Ohio State University, where, although he was the track star, campus segregation barred him and other African American athletes from living on campus and traveling on the same bus to track meets. In spite of these and other hardships, Jesse Owens earned the title of “fastest man on Earth” at a Big Ten meet in which he broke three world records (long jump, 220 yard sprint, and 220 hurdles) and tied the world record for the 100 yard dash.

Next came the 1936 Olympics, taking place in Berlin, Germany. These Olympic games were met with controversy in the United States. Many athletes and supporters were concerned that participation would send the message that the US supported Hitler’s regime; and on the other side, many wanted to go to prove the idea of Aryan supremacy wrong. With four gold medals won in the 100 meter, 200 meter, long jump, and the 4×100 relay – Jesse Owens overwhelmingly showed the world the error in the thought of Aryan superiority. Owens excellent showing and winning four gold medals was not matched until Carl Lewis won gold in the same events at the 1984 Olympics.

 Jesse Owens Olympic glory was celebrated around the world, his dominance at the games making him arguably the most famous Olympian. When Owens returned home, he was met with the mixed bag of treatment and courtesy afforded to an African American living in the US. From the series Franklin D. Roosevelt President’s Official Files, 1933-1945 (NAID 567634) there are numerous letters and telegrams expressing enthusiasm and glee for how the “fastest human” will be welcomed and celebrated when he gets home. One telegram, from New York City, announces that “Jesse Owens has been officially selected to March at the head of the American Olympic in the welcome home parade up Broadway,” and the Good Neighbor League “would be honored to carry on by presenting your greetings to these great athletes.”

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Telegram to Franklin D. Roosevelt, nd. File: OF 720: Olympic Games, 1933-1943 NAID 2780709

Another letter from the same file (OF 720: Olympic Games, NAID 2780709) puts forward suggestions for an extravagant homecoming, citing the political and social gains:

“It would seem that a move of this kind would be a Master stroke for many obvious reasons – politically and otherwise…This should please the negro race because of Jesse Owen[sic] and the other colored Americans…I believe that the most extreme Southerner would laud you for this very discreet and timely move”

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Letter from H. R. O’Keefe to President Franklin Roosevelt, 8/10/1936. File OF 720: Olympic Games (NAID 2780709)

Still other letters came in calling directly for President Roosevelt to invite Jesse Owens to the White House and shake his hand. The pastor of Roosevelt’s valet, Ernest Hall of Cleveland, wrote: “I am writing today to ask that you make provision for the successful contestants of the Olympic games in Germany to be officially received by yourself upon their return home without regard to race or color. I am certain that you are not aware of the electric effect such an action on your part will have upon the twelve million Negroes in America.”

The reply from the White House was sadly evasive and noncommittal – citing a packed schedule of trips to flooded areas over which the President had no control.

Jesse Owens nor any of the other persons of color that won medals for the United States during the 1936 Olympics were invited to the White House to be received by President Roosevelt. A myth grew out of the games stating that a humiliated Adolf Hitler refused to shake hands with Owens. Owens himself addressed the “snub” myth: “I wasn’t invited to shake hands with Hitler, but I wasn’t invited to the White House to shake hands with the president, either.”

Owens remained a celebrated figure to the American public, however, and in 1976, he received the highest civilian honor – the Presidential Medal of Freedom, given at the White House by President Gerald Ford.

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1976, August 5 – East Garden – The White House – Washington, DC – Gerald R. Ford, Jesse Owens – Owens at lectern, speaking, President Ford laughing in background – Presentation of the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Jesse Owens; NAID 7062576

The award ceremony was everything that should have happened 40 years earlier. Held after the conclusion of the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, the White House lawn was full of Owens peers, athletes who received congratulations on their recent victories, but who came to see the greatest American Olympian receive his highest honor. Owens even had a fan in the President himself, who witnessed the record breaking day at the Big Ten meet in 1935. The official citation along with the Exchange of Remarks between the President and Jesse Owens (NAID 7345229) is below.

The Medal of Freedom citation read:

To Jesse Owens, athlete, humanitarian, speaker, author – a master of the spirit as well as the mechanics of sport. He is a winner who knows that winning is not everything. He has shared with others his courage, his dedication to the highest ideals of sportsmanship. His achievements have shown us all the promise of American and his faith in American has inspired countless others to do their best for themselves and for their country.


I would like to thank my colleague Kirsten Carter for supplying documents from the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum.

 

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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.

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Black College Life in the New Deal: A Google Cultural Institute Exhibit

Today’s blog was written by Netisha Currie, Archives Specialist at the National Archives in College Park.

In celebration of Black History Month, the Google Cultural Institute has created a channel devoted to Black History and Culture. It features over 80 exhibits showcasing documents, artwork, photographs, artifacts and 5,000 other types of items relating to black history. The National Archives has contributed to the channel by creating an exhibit of our own – Black College Life in the New Deal: A Photo Exhibit through the Lens of Kenneth Space, Photographer for the Harmon Foundation.

Our exhibit (curated by myself and Tina Ligon, with great assistance from Rutha Beamon, Sharon Culley, and Theresa Roy) displays photographs from the series Kenneth Space Photographs of the Activities of Southern Black Americans, 1936-1937 (NAID 559211) in the Harmon Foundation Collection. Pictures show African American students at various historically black colleges and universities including: Howard University, Virginia Union University, Fisk University, Clark Atlanta University, Tuskegee University, Xavier University, and Dillard University.

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The photos selected in the exhibit will be the first time they are displayed as a large collection, rather than in fragments that may be shown on individual college’s websites. These records are an important highlight of the National Archives collection as they tell a story of an under represented and unique time in American history – of black students attending college during the Great Depression.


 Important Links:

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Civil War Era Tintypes: Randall Nash, USCT, Inf.

Today’s blog was written by Jesse Wilinski, Archives Technician at the National Archives at Washington, D. C.

While working on RG 15 Case Files of Approved Veterans’ Pensions Application (Civil War and Later Survivor’s Certificates), 1861-1934 series, I came across a rare object in a Civil War Pension file. It was a tintype of United States Colored Infantryman, Randall Nash. A tintype is a photograph made by creating a direct positive on a thin sheet of metal coated with a dark lacquer or enamel. It is a rarity to see a photograph, much less a tintype, in a pension file. When found, tintypes are generally removed from the series and stored in the specially protected vault at the National Archives at Washington, D. C.

Randall Nash's tintype along with document from the Department of the Interior

Randall Nash’s tintype along with documentation from the Department of the Interior Bureau of Pensions

Randall Nash’s unit was first designated as the 4th Regiment Colored Infantry of Missouri Volunteers and was soon renamed the 68th United States Colored Troops (USCT) Infantry. It was mustered in Liberty, Missouri on January 28, 1864 and mustered out on February 5, 1866. Over two hundred former enslaved men from across Missouri were enlisted in this unit. The 68th travelled to Tennessee, Mississippi, Louisiana, Florida, Alabama, and Texas, performing duties in the defense of other units.

 

Tintype of Randall Nash

Tintype of Randall Nash

Nash’s pension file was listed under the name of Randall Talbot, an alias. The tintype was used to identify him, because no one knew Nash by any other name in the 68th USCT. The use of aliases made it difficult for surviving family members to collect pensions. In several cases, former enslaved black men who served during the Civil War would use an alias to prevent recapture or to take on a “free” name.

Index card to request the tintype for Randall Nash. Invalid Application 1046175 Certificate 831223 Widow Application 673620 Certificate 476266

Index card to request the tintype for Randall Nash. Invalid Application 1046175 Certificate 831223
Widow Application 673620 Certificate 476266

When I found this tintype, I had pulled the pension file and scanned it at the Innovation HUB. The Innovation HUB is new way of capturing information for researchers in a digital format for free and gives the National Archives the ability to put the records online for the public to use. Since this tintype is now in the vault, it is no longer physically available to researchers, but can be accessed through digital images. For assistance with pension files and tintypes, please contact the reference staff at the National Archives at Washington, D.C.

 

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