A Phenomenon Called “Roots,” 1977

Today’s blog was written by Alan Walker, Archivist at the National Archives at College Park, Maryland

From the moment our search room doors opened to the public in late 1936, family history was a big draw for the public. For the fiscal year ending June 30, 1938, nearly one quarter of the admission cards issued went to “students of genealogy.”

64-NA-324+Silence+in+the+Search+Room+-+Philadelphia+Inquirer,+Publicity,+8-12-42.JPG                                     64-NA-324 (investigators in Central Search Room, ca. 1940)

Coincident with this was a burgeoning interest in the African American experience in America. On its 75th anniversary, the Emancipation Proclamation went on display here.

Emancipation+Proclamation+75th+Anniversary+Display+-+Washington+Post,+Sept.+26,+1937

The Washington Post, January 26, 1937(c)

Later that year, the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History held its annual meeting in Washington, DC.

Association+for+Study+of+Negro+Life+and+History+-+Wash.+Post,+Nov.+1,+1937

The Washington Post, November 1, 1937(c)

Archivist James R. Mock attended, and discussed relevant records in the Archives’ custody:

Cover+Page+-+Address+on+Negro+Records+at+NA+-+RG+64,+A1+8,+file+Mock,+JamesJames+R.+Mock+as+Faculty+-+cropped.jpg

RG 64, A1 8, file “Mock, James”                        Faculty photo, 1927 yearbook

His address would be published in the association’s Journal of Negro History in January 1938. Mock highlighted the records of Congress, various executive branch agencies, and some of the emergency agencies established during World War I, such as the Food Administration. Here is an excerpt:

Food+Administration,+Negro+Press+Section,+from+Mock+Address+to+ASNLH,+1937+-+2.jpg

Proceedings of the Annual Meeting of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, October 31 – November 3, 1937

Ten years, and another world war later, archivist Paul Lewinson, in cooperation with the American Council of Learned Societies, compiled this guide to records of interest to the scholar:

Negro+Guide,+1947+-+cover.jpg64-NA-1-220+Paul+Lewinson,+Sept.+1,+1951.jpg

64-NA-1-220  Paul Lewinson, 1951

Organized chronologically by time periods, with entries arranged by record group, the guide also included a section with records of particular interest to the genealogist:

Negro+Guide,+1947+-+Section+G,+with+Census+Records+-+RG+64,+P+74.jpg

But for those African Americans who wished to find out more about their ancestry, the way forward was fraught. Genealogical organizations like the Daughters of the American Revolution resisted integration.

National+Genealogical+Society+Bans+Negroes+-+Washington+Post,+Nov.+21,+1960

The Washington Post, November 21, 1960(c)

But the desire to simply know more compelled many people forward – to question, demand, and discover.

Negro+American+Monuments+Highlighted+in+Tour+-+Washington+Post,+Nov.+7,+1962

The Washington Post, November 7, 1962(c)

American+Traveler's+Guide+to+Negro+Monuments+-+Washington+Post,+June+16,+1963American+Traveler's+Guide+to+Negro+Monuments+-+Cover

The Washington Post, June 16, 1963(c)

American travelers guide to Negro monuments. –  Full View | HathiTrust Digital Library | 

Negroes+Left+Out+of+U.S.+History+Textbooks+-+Washington+Post,+Aug.+10,+1964.jpg                                                                                                 The Washington Post, August 10, 1964(c)

Negro+Heritage+Library+-+Washington+Post,+Nov.+16,+1965.jpg                                                                                   The Washington Post, November 16, 1965(c)

Children+Learn+their+African+Heritage+Through+Art+-+Washington+Post,+Aug.+22,+1966.jpg                                                The Washington Post, August 22, 1966(c)

In 1963, on the Emancipation Proclamation’s centennial, Attorney General Robert Kennedy came to the Archives and spoke of its legacy, and of still so more to be done.

64-NA-2154+Charles+Wesley+at+Emancipation+Proclamation+Centennial+Exhibit,+Jan.+4,+1963.jpg                                                                              64-NA-2154

Dr. Charles H. Wesley, President of Central State College, speaking at Emancipation Proclamation Centennial, January 4, 1963

And this notable observance, as well as the centennial of the Civil War, helped to spur more use of our records.

Emancipation+Centennial+-+Black+Civil+War+Pensions+-+Jet,+Feb.+20,+1964+-+page+1.jpg

Emancipation+Centennial+-+Black+Civil+War+Pensions+-+Jet,+Feb.+20,+1964+-+page+2.jpg

Jet, February 20, 1964

During this time, a writer named Alex Haley had started doing research at the National Archives. Like so many, he was motivated by tantalizing yet fragmentary family stories. On his many visits, he may have consulted this guide.

NA+Genealogy+Guide,+1964.jpg

Haley made a successful living by interviewing notable figures, like Malcolm X.  Their interview sessions became a bestselling book.

Autobiography+of+Malcolm+X

Haley also interviewed George Lincoln Rockwell, the head of the American Nazi Party, for Playboy magazine.

George+Lincoln+Rockwell+and+Goons.jpg

This excerpt set the tone for the ensuing conversation.

Alex+Haley+Interview+of+George+Lincoln+Rockwell,+excerpt

1966 Playboy Interview : George Lincoln Rockwell; Alex Haley : Internet Archive

While Rockwell would be killed by a disgruntled former Party member the following year, Haley continued researching, writing, and sharing his experiences. During the Poor People’s Campaign on the Mall in the spring of 1968, photographer Jill Freedman was there to chronicle its daily rhythms.

Jill Freedman Discusses Her Photographs of the Poor People’s Campaign, 2008

Poor+People's+Campaign+-+NA+Issuance,+May+23,+1968+-+RG+64,+P+42                                                                RG 64, P 42

And Alex Haley was there, too.

Alex+Haley+at+Poor+People's+Campaign+-+Washington+Post,+June+6,+1968.jpg                                                                           The Washington Post, June 6, 1968(c)

“Resurrection City: The Dream, The Accomplishments,” Ebony, October 1968

And all the while, schools were adding more courses about genealogy and Negro history.             GW+Genealogy+and+Negro+Studies+Courses+-+Wash.+Post,+Sept.+25,+1968                                                                        The Washington Post, September 25, 1968(c)

College+Courses+on+Negro+History+Prove+Popular+-+Washington+Post,+Feb.+9,+1969.jpg      The Washington Post, February 9, 1969(c)

Robert+L.+Clarke+Hired+by+Archives+-+Jet,+Nov.+19,+1970,+p.+20                                                                                     Jet, November 19, 1970

With interest in Afro-American history burgeoning, the Archives’ Robert L. Clarke proposed a conference to discuss research sources among federal archives.

64-NA-5433+Robert+L.+Clarke+at+Afro-American+History+Conference,+June+1973.jpg                                                                                                                  64-NA-5433 Robert L. Clarke at Afro-American History Conference, June 4, 1973

Cover+of+Conference+Program

Later Clarke compiled the participants’ essays into this volume:

Afro-American+History+Sources+for+Research+-+cover

Haley attended the conference, and spoke of his story:

64-NA-5436+Alex+Haley+at+Afro-American+Conference,+June+1973      Alex+Haley+Presentation+-+first+page+from+Clarke+book                        64-NA-5436

A few years later, he published another book.

Cover+of+Roots+-+Original+Edition.jpg                                                                                                           “A Black American’s Search for His Ancestral African Roots,” Ebony, August 1976

Roots quickly became a bestseller. And the effects reverbated.

New+Interest+in+Genealogy+-+Washington+Post,+Dec.+13,+1976                                                                             The Washington Post, December 11, 1976(c)

A TV miniseries was not long in coming.

TV+Guide+Cover,+Jan.+22-28,+1977+-+Roots

TV+Guide+-+Roots+Ad

TV+Guide,+Jan.+22-28,+1977+-+Alex+Haley+Story+-+page+1  TV+Guide,+Jan.+22-28,+1977+-+Alex+Haley+Story+-+page+2.jpg                      TV Guide, January 22-28, 1977

Airing on consecutive nights over that week, “Roots” took the country by storm. The Archives welcomed Haley and some of the cast for a preview.

Joan+Mondale+Greets+Roots+Stars+at+Archives+-+NARS+Newsletter,+Feb.+1977.jpg                                                            NARS Newsletter, February 1977

And the Archives saw a huge increase in reference service as a result.

James+Walker+on+TV+with+Alex+Haley+-+NARS+Newsletter,+Feb.+1977.jpg                                                                    NARS Newsletter, February 1977

Pile+of+Reference+Letters+from+Roots+Phenomenon+-+NARS+Newsletter,+May+1977.jpg                                          NARS Newsletter, May 1977

How+to+Trace+Your+Family+Tree+-+Ebony,+June+1977,+page+1                                                                                           “How to Trace Your Family Tree,” Ebony, June 1977

James+D.+Walker+-+Ebony,+June+1977,+p.+53                                                                                                      Ebony, June 1977, p. 53

Debra+Newman+Wears+Roots+T-Shirt,+NARS+Newsletter,+August+1977.jpg                                                                                    ARS Newsletter, August 1977

Number+of+Black+Researchers+Triples+at+Archives+-+Jet,+Aug.+4,+1977,+p.+57                                                                                                       Jet, August 4, 1977

Alex+Haley+and+Roots,+NARS+Newsletter,+Nov.+1977  Alex+Haley's+Ancestors+on+1870+Census+Record+-+NARS+Newsletter,+November+1977                  NARS Newsletter, November 1977

And the effects weren’t just felt in the U.S. A British publisher expanded its operations owing to the intense interest.

British+Peerage+Publisher+Expands+to+America+-+Washington+Post,+May+6,+1977.jpg                                                                                       The Washington Post, May 6, 1977(c)

But on this side of the pond, in a moment of powerful symbolism, the “Roots” phenomenon breached an elite bastion of (hitherto) white heritage.

First+Black+Member+of+the+DAR+-+Jet,+May+25,+1978                                                                                               Jet, May 25, 1978

____________________________________________________________________________________________
On the 40th anniversary of the publication of Roots, this story explored its impact:
Everyone was talking about ‘Roots’ in 1977 — including Ronald Reagan – The Washington Post

Posted in African-American Women, American Civil War, Diaspora, Emancipation & Reconstruction, Finding Aids, Genealogy, Slavery and the Slave Trade, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Historical Background of the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program

Today’s post was written by Gabrielle Downer, Archivist in the Textual Processing Division at the National Archives at College Park

19-2201a.gif

Harmony Community, Putnam County, Georgia. Negroes in the Harmony Community. [NAID 521375]

Historically, the agricultural industry has been generally unable to meet the labor demands since the 1940s. During World War II, the United States suffered drastically from food and labor shortages. Farm workers joined the armed forces and many women and children had to support themselves. Families had to compensate for the loss of their fellow farm workers and work on the farms themselves. Undesirably, the food and labor industry was still scare and more farm hands were needed. Continue reading

Posted in Diaspora | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

If Not for the Public Outcry: The Tuskegee Syphilis Project/ Study

Today’s blog was written by Timmia King, undergraduate student at Howard University and spring intern in the Textual Processing Division at the National Archives at College Park, Maryland

The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment  was conducted from the years 1932 to 1972, in Macon County, Alabama. It’s namesake is derived from the facts that the experiment was conducted in an area overwhelmingly populated with African Americans close to the Tuskegee Institute that in an earlier survey funded by the Rosenwald Fund were found to have a high prevalence of syphilis and it was also conducted with the cooperation of Tuskegee Institute. This study is often referred to as one of the dark periods in modern medical history. But why is that, did this experiment involve sanctioned torture, was it as bad as to the multiple instances where African American females were sterilized or does it mirror instances in which countless other experiments that were done to the bodies of African Americans in the name of Eugenics. Well quantifying suffering is not my job, but instead here is a summary of the study. Continue reading

Posted in New Deal Era | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Roll Over Beethoven”: Tribute to Chuck Berry

“I grew up thinking art was pictures until I got into music and found I was an artist and didn’t paint.” ~ Chuck Berry

On March 18, 2017, Rock ‘n’ Roll legend Chuck Berry passed in his home in St. Charles County, Missouri. He was known for his guitar riffs, showmanship on stage and his renowned “duck walk.” His songs defined American music and brought into the mainstream the genre of rock and roll with such hits as “Maybellene” (1955), “Johnny B. Goode” (1958), “Run Rudolph Run” (1958) and “No Particular Place to Go” (1964). Berry received the Grammy’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 1984 and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986. He was also listed as Time magazine’s top 10 best electric guitar players and Rolling Stones magazine’s “greatest of all time.”

Paul Simon and Chuck Berry at “Song Lyrics of Literary Excellence” (2/26/12)

Charles Edward Anderson Berry was born on October 18, 1926 in St. Louis, Missouri. He was raised in a middle-class family where he developed an interest in music at an early age. Berry was influenced by Blues artists, and developed his guitar skills by studying Blues artists, such as T-Bone Walker. In 1955, Berry met Blues great Muddy Waters and signed with Chess Records. During the 1950s, Berry toured across the country and made several appearances on nationally syndicated television shows. Berry’s music influenced many up and coming artists in America and Great Britain, including the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.

Song Lyrics of Literary Excellence

At the National Archives at Kansas City, there is a case file for US v. Charles Edward Anderson Berry (NAID 7403547) from the series Criminal Case Files, 1864-1986 (National Archives Identifier 582694). In January 1962, Berry was sentenced to three years in prison for violation of the Mann Act. The document below is the first page of the transcript of proceedings and testimony of the trial.

U.S. v. Charles Edward Anderson Berry (NAID 7403547)

Posted in Tribute/News | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Two Views: Marcus Garvey the Leader and the Threat

Today’s blog was written by Timmia King, undergraduate student at Howard University and spring intern in the Textual Processing Division at the National Archives at College Park, Maryland

Coming into this project, I did not think I would find many records relating to Marcus Garvey. One thing I failed to realize, is that today, although we remember him as a great race leader who inspired feelings of self-pride and a want for self-determination of the African people, by the United States government he was thought of as a threat. He was called a “Negro Agitator” in the long tradition of “Negro Agitators” that came before him and after him such as Ida B. Wells and Martin Luther King, Jr. His organization, the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), was labeled an unAmerican organization that incited racial violence. Sections of the United States government watched everyone and everything connected to him.

World War I Draft Registration Card for Marcus Garvey (NAID 641770)

World War I Draft Registration Card for Marcus Garvey (NAID 641770)

The Records of the Department of State (RG 59) contain quite a few records of his and his wife’s activity within the United States and throughout the US sphere of influence. Government workers followed his activity and sometimes went as far to request other countries not to allow him into their country. The predecessor of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (The predecessor of the FBI was a section of the Department of Justice called the Bureau of Investigation (BOI). Within the BOI there was a General Intelligence Division called the “anti-racial division” which was headed by J. Edgar Hoover.) also followed his activities closely in an effort to shut down his organization. There are five different court cases that the United States waged against Marcus Garvey. United States of America v. Marcus Garvey, Elie Garcia, Orlando M. Thompson and George Tobias (NAID 7388866) would prove to be the one that effectively weakened his organization’s power within the United States. As a result of the court case, he was convicted, jailed and then eventually deported.  After his deportation in 1927, the organization rapidly lost membership and influence. Continue reading

Posted in Diaspora, World War I Era | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Frederick Douglass – Statesman, Abolitionist, Champion of the People

Today’s post was written by Tiffany Walker, Archivist in the Textual Processing Division at the National Archives at College Park

Frederick Douglass was a social reformer, abolitionist, orator, writer, and statesman. After escaping from slavery in Maryland, he became a national leader of the abolitionist movement in the Northern states and gained a following via his enrapturing speeches and antislavery writings. In his time, he was seen as a living example of the potential of formerly enslaved African Americans, who ran counter to slaveholders’ arguments that slaves lacked the intellectual capacity to function as independent American citizens.

Series: Artworks and Mockups for Cartoons Promoting the War Effort and Original Sketches by Charles Alston, ca. 1942 - ca. 1945 (NAID 535673)

Series: Artworks and Mockups for Cartoons Promoting the War Effort and Original Sketches by Charles Alston, ca. 1942 – ca. 1945 (NAID 535673)

Continue reading

Posted in Emancipation & Reconstruction, Slavery and the Slave Trade | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Black History Month 2017: Blogs Related to Military

Happy Black History Month! This year the Rediscovering Black History blog at the National Archives would like to highlight select posts from the past. This public blog was created to inform researchers, scholars, students, and anyone interested in records related to African-American history at the National Archives and Presidential Libraries on the vast amount of textual, electronic, photographs, and special media available for use. For the past four years, NARA employees, student interns, and independent researchers have written informative and insightful blogs on the black experience through the use of our holdings. The highlighted blog posts for the month of February will center around popular themes. Today’s theme is military.

"Master Charles Michael Lee, A Patriot" August, 1941. Local ID: 111-SC-121857

“Master Charles Michael Lee, A Patriot” August, 1941. Local ID: 111-SC-121857

African Americans have contributed to every war fought by the United States from the Revolutionary War to today’s current conflicts. The records used on this topic are mostly military records from all branches, which includes textual, motion pictures, and photographs to highlight the actions of African Americans primarily during the Civil War and World War II. Selected blogs focus on the heroic actions of black soldiers, discrimination in the military, and little unknown stories about the involvement of African Americans enlisted in the US military.

 

Posted in American Civil War, Military, World War II Era | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Black History Month 2017: Blogs Related to Black Power

Happy Black History Month! This year the Rediscovering Black History blog at the National Archives would like to highlight select posts from the past. This public blog was created to inform researchers, scholars, students, and anyone interested in records related to African-American history at the National Archives and Presidential Libraries on the vast amount of textual, electronic, photographs, and special media available for use. For the past four years, NARA employees, student interns, and independent researchers have written informative and insightful blogs on the black experience through the use of our holdings. The highlighted blog posts for the month of February will center around popular themes. Today’s theme is Black Power.

157-3430-1a13-002

In 2016, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Black Power movement in America. The blogs posted about Black Power were some of our most popular. They related to such topics as the Black Panthers, individuals who made strides within Black Power, and attempts towards black economic independence. The black power blogs were also written in part to promote NARA Say it Loud! Employee Affinity Group’s panel presentation “Revolutionary Movements Then and Now: Black Power and Black Lives Matter,” which was held in October 2016 at the National Archives in Washington, D. C.

Posted in Black Power | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Black History Month 2017: Blogs Related to the Post-Reconstruction Era

Happy Black History Month! This year the Rediscovering Black History blog at the National Archives would like to highlight select posts from the past. This public blog was created to inform researchers, scholars, students, and anyone interested in records related to African-American history at the National Archives and Presidential Libraries on the vast amount of textual, electronic, photographs, and special media available for use. For the past four years, NARA employees, student interns, and independent researchers have written informative and insightful blogs on the black experience through the use of our holdings. The highlighted blog posts for the month of February will center around popular themes. Today’s theme is the Post-Reconstruction Era.

Telegram from John Beggett, Secretary of the Ministerial Alliance to President Warren G. Harding, 01/08/1923

Telegram from John Beggett, Secretary of the Ministerial Alliance to President Warren G. Harding, 01/08/1923

The Post-Reconstruction Era refers to the period between the Compromise of 1877 and the early twentieth century, when African Americans faced widespread disenfranchisement, legal discrimination, anti-black violence, and lynching. Historian Rayford Logan coined this era as the Nadir, which he described as the lowest point of racial relations in US history. Selected blogs in this topic relate to lynching, protest, and the image of African Americans.

Posted in Post-Reconstruction | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Black History Month 2017: Blogs Related to the Civil Rights Movement

Happy Black History Month! This year the Rediscovering Black History blog at the National Archives would like to highlight select posts from the past. This public blog was created to inform researchers, scholars, students, and anyone interested in records related to African-American history at the National Archives and Presidential Libraries on the vast amount of textual, electronic, photographs, and special media available for use. For the past four years, NARA employees, student interns, and independent researchers have written informative and insightful blogs on the black experience through the use of our holdings. The highlighted blog posts for the month of February will center around popular themes. Today’s theme is the Civil Rights Movement.

Young women at the march, 08/28/1963 (National Archives Identifier 542022)

Young women at the march, 08/28/1963 (National Archives Identifier 542022)

Blogs about the Civil Rights Movement highlight the struggles, challenges, and successes of African Americans in achieving fair treatment and equal rights. The records used on this topic were mostly created by investigative agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) to monitor violations of the Civil Rights Act. The selected blogs relate to voting rights, protest, marches, and the murder of people fighting for justice.

Posted in Civil Rights, Civil Rights Protest & Issues | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment