Many Thousands Gone: Tribute to Ira Berlin

“[B]inary opposites fit nicely the formulation of history as written, but they do little to capture the mess, inchoate reality of history as live.” ~ Ira Berlin

On June 5, 2018, Ira Berlin passed away at age 77, in the Washington, D. C. area. He was an award-winning historian and Distinguished Professor of History at the University of Maryland. His work focused on African-American slavery and the African Diaspora during the 16th-18th centuries. Berlin has written many influential books that include Slaves without Masters: The Free Negro in the Antebellum South (1975), Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in North America (1998), and The Making of African America: The Four Great Migrations (2010). Berlin has won numerous awards for his scholarship relating to American slavery, which includes the Bancroft Prize, Elliott Rudwick Prize, Albert J. Beveridge Award, and the Anisfeld-Wolf Book Award. He also served as President of the Organization of American Historians (OAH) from 2002-2003 and was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2004.

“The Long Emancipation: The Demise of Slavery in the United States” presentation by Dr. Ira Berlin at the National Archives in Washington, D. C. on February 10, 2016.

Ira Berlin was born on May 27, 1941, in New York City and raised in the Bronx. He received his bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Berlin taught at the University of the District of Columbia and at Princeton University, before joining the history department at the University of Maryland in 1976. While at the University of Maryland, Berlin founded the Freedmen and Southern Society Project to research and produce scholarship relating to the emancipation of enslaved men and women in America. Under Berlin’s guidance, the Freedmen and Southern Society Project produced the multi-volume series Freedom: A Documentary History of Emancipation, 1861-1867 that utilized several records from the National Archives. This series was awarded the Thomas Jefferson Prize of the Society for History in the Federal Government and the J. Franklin Jameson Prize of the American Historical Association for outstanding editorial achievement.

Ira Berlin contributed to several educational publications and programs at the National Archives. In 1997, he wrote the dedication, “In Memory of Sara Dunlap Jackson, May 28, 1919-April 19, 1991” for the Prologue: Special Issue on the use of federal records in African American historical research. In February 2016, the National Archives was honored to have Berlin discuss his most recent book, The Long Emancipation: The Demise of Slavery in the United States (2015). See the video below for the full presentation.

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Lynching of Women in United States Blog Series: The Lynching of Mrs. Mary Turner and Her Family

This blog was written by Dr. Trichita M. Chestnut, Management and Program Analyst in the Office of the Chief Operating Officer at the National Archives at College Park, Maryland.

Lynching remains one of the most disturbing and least understood atrocities in American history. Defining the act of lynching is also controversial and for the purpose of the blog series, lynching is defined as the killing of women who were: 1) tortured, mutilated, burned, shot, dragged, raped, and/or hung, 2) accused of an alleged or unknown crime by a white mob comprised of no less than two persons, and 3) deprived of their life, either in secret or in the open, without due process and equal protection of the law.

There are case files on the lynching of women in Georgia, found in Record Group (RG) 60, the General Records of the Department of Justice and RG 65, Records of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. In these records you will find correspondence, newspaper clippings, telegrams, petitions, and resolutions from ordinary Americans, as well as notable anti-lynching and civil rights activists and organizations relating to the lynching of African Americans in the United States.

In Georgia, the state with the second largest number of females lynched, had 18 female victims of lynch mobs from 1884 to 1946: 17 were African American and 1 was white. The series, Straight Numerical Files, 1904-1974 (NAID 583895), contains correspondence regarding the lynching of women in the United States. Continue reading

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Lynching of Women in United States Blog Series: The Lynching of Mrs. Kate Browning

This blog was written by Dr. Trichita M. Chestnut, Management and Program Analyst in the Office of the Chief Operating Officer at the National Archives at College Park, Maryland

Lynching remains one of the most disturbing and least understood atrocities in American history. During the Postbellum and Reconstruction periods, mob violence in the south became a tool for maintaining the racial order. African American men, women, and children now comprised the majority of victims of lynch mobs and lynchings became increasingly sadistic in nature.

During the Postbellum and Reconstruction periods, mob violence in the south became a tool for maintaining the racial order. African American men, women, and children now comprised the majority of victims of lynch mobs. Although, rare, white women were lynched. In Kentucky, the state with the third largest number of females lynched, had 16 female victims of lynch mobs from 1895 to 1928: 11 were African American and 5 were white. One of the white women lynched in Kentucky was Mrs. Kate Browning. She was a seventy-year old widow at the time of her death.

According to accounts on the lynching, Mrs. Kate Browning was attacked by a white mob when she and her sister-in-law allegedly reported the operating and manufacturing of a whiskey still to federal officers. It was the Prohibition period in the United States and at this time, it was illegal to produce, transfer, and sell alcoholic beverages. Mrs. Browning was living with her family in Bullitt County, Kentucky, when a mob set fire to her home, 90 years ago, in the late night hours of May 4, 1928. As the family tried to escape the burning home, they were shot at by the mob, waiting in ambush. Some of the family members were wounded, and unfortunately, Mrs. Browning was fatally shot.

Locating vital records (such as death certificates) of lynch mob victims can be challenging. When lynch victim’s untimely deaths are “accurately” recorded, the death certificate provides a wealth of information about the victim. The information includes the victim’s name, race, gender, date of birth, age at the time of death, date of death, and most importantly, the cause of death. In this case, the death certificate for Mrs. Browning was located on for the state of Kentucky.

Like many other victims of mob violence, the coroner gave the same verdict at Mrs. Kate Browning’s autopsy. The coroner noted that she died of gunshot wounds in the hands of an unknown person.


browningdeathcert KYVR_7017529-1720

Death Certificate, Kate Browning. From Kentucky, Death Records, 1852-1964 [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2007

However, unlike the lynchings of African American mob victims, the murder of Mrs. Browning did not go unnoticed and unpunished. A few weeks after the lynching, several white men were arrested and prosecuted for the murder of Mrs. Browning and the wounding of her family members. By the trial date, 9 white men were charged with first degree murder. The jury deliberated for two days before they returned with their verdict. The men were found guilty of first degree murder and sentenced to life in prison. In the end, the murder trial and guilty verdicts were rare for lynch victims. This was a significant victory over Judge Lynch in the state of Kentucky.

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The Week of April 4, 1968: A Tribute to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Today’s post was written by Steven Booth, Archivist at the Barack Obama Presidential Library in Hoffman Estates, IL


A wreath on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel makes the spot where Dr. King was shot and killed. (NAID 7718880)

This week cities across the United States commemorated the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who was killed on April 4, 1968. The day prior to his death, Dr. King traveled to Memphis, Tennessee to stand in solidarity with the city’s 1,300 Black sanitation workers who were on strike and to help prepare for another demonstration for wage increases and union recognition. The previous protest held on March 28 had resulted in an violent uprising and the death of Larry Payne, a sixteen-year old African American male, who was shot and killed by Memphis police officer Leslie Dean Jones over a $100 stolen television. Dr. King hoped that the protest scheduled for the following Monday would not be a repeat of the previous one, but in fact peaceful. On the evening of April 3, he delivered his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech in front of a packed congregation at the historic Mason Temple Church of God in Christ.

The next day, shortly before 6:00 PM, Dr. King along with Rev. Ralph Abernathy and Rev. Samuel “Billy” Kyles departed the Lorraine Motel for dinner at Kyles’ house. While standing on the balcony outside of room 306, Dr. King spoke and laughed with his associates, including Rev. Jesse Jackson, Jr., from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) who were waiting for the trio in the parking lot. During the middle of their conversation Dr. King was struck by a single bullet and immediately fell to the balcony with his foot caught in between the balcony railing. The shot hit the right side of his face and caused life threatening damage. Abernathy, Kyles and the SCLC associates hurried to his aid and phoned 911 and his wife, Coretta Scott King, while others who witnessed the shooting pointed in the direction of the gunshot. Dr. King was rushed to St. Joseph’s Hospital, where doctors pronounced him dead at approximately 7:05 PM. He died at the age of 39.

As television anchors and radio disc jockeys broadcast the news of his assassination, a fury of riots erupted in roughly 125 American cities – including Baltimore, Washington, D.C., Chicago, New York City, Detroit and Pittsburgh – over the course of the week. The rioting resulted in significant property damage; mostly in African American neighborhoods as well as several dozen deaths and thousands of arrests and injuries. In many cities today the effects of the riots can still be felt and seen. Continue reading

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A School Girl Makes History: Tribute to Linda Brown

On March 25, 2018, Linda Brown passed at age 76 (some reports claim 75) in Topeka, Kansas. She was the schoolgirl who was at the center of the 1954 US Supreme Court case, Brown v. Board of Education. At age 9, Brown’s father Oliver Brown attempted to enroll her in the all-white Sumner Elementary School that was close to their home. The school denied her admission based on race, so Oliver Brown, with the assistance of the local National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) sued the Topeka Board of Education. His lawsuit was combined with four other similar cases to challenge segregation in public education. As the lead plaintiff of the case, Brown’s name was used for the title of the case.

By the time of the historic ruling in 1954, Brown was attending a local junior high school, and never attended the elementary school on which the Brown v. Board of Education case was based. She later attended Washburn University and Kansas State University. Brown became an educational consultant, public speaker, and was very active with her church.

Below is a blog post written by NARA staff in 2014 to commemorate the Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board.


May 17, 2014 marks the 60th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decision regarding education in America.  The Oliver L. Brown et. al.  v. Board of Education of Topeka (KS) ruling declared public schools that were separated by race as unconstitutional.  The unanimous decision stated that segregated schools violated the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.  The ruling meant that African-American children had a right to attend schools that were properly equipped with well-trained teachers and staff.  This decision was celebrated by many who believed that black children received an inadequate education in the racially segregated schools and was condemned by those who wanted to keep the races separated.

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The Brown v. Board of Education case was made up of five similar lawsuits from around the country.  The first case was Briggs v. Elliot (1949), which challenged segregated schools in Summerton, South Carolina.  The three judge panel granted an injunction to make the inferior black schools equal to the white schools.  The Boiling v. Sharpe (1950) case dealt with segregated schools in Washington, D. C.  It held that segregated schools in the nation’s capital violated the due process of the law under the Fifth Amendment.  Initiated by student protests, the Davis v. Board of Education of Prince Edward County (1951) challenged the ill-equipped black schools in Virginia.  Similar to the Briggs v. Elliot case, the Virginia courts ruled that the facilities at the segregated black schools should be equalized to the white schools.  The last case, which carries the landmark name, was the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1951).  Black parents argued against the poor conditions and the locations of the segregated black schools.  The local courts maintained that black and white schools in the state were equal on the basis of buildings, transportation, and curriculums.  Finally, the state of Delaware was ordered by the ruling in Gebhart v. Belton (1952) to admit black students into the white only schools.  All five of these cases were grouped together and argued before the US Supreme Court in 1954.  The court’s decision mandated desegregation of public schools across the country.

The National Archives holds many records relating to the Brown v. Board of Education case and the other four cases that made up this historic lawsuit.  Related records ranged from court documents, photographs, online study-guides, and information papers.  This blog is an overview of the types of federally created records relating to the Brown v. Board decision.  To learn more about additional records, visit the Online Public Access catalog.

In 2004, Walter B. Hill, Jr. and Trichita M. Chestnut complied Research Information Paper (RIP) 112 Federal Records Pertaining to Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas (1954).  The records described in this RIP are from the executive and judicial branches of the Federal Government.  It identifies most of the records held at the National Archives that relate to the Brown v. Board decision.

The Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library located in Abilene, Kansas holds many of the records made in the District Court condemning the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas as well as the segregated school system as a whole.  The Civil Rights collection relating to this case has letters, memoranda, and court orders from southern governors and friends of Eisenhower expressing their concern over integrated schools.  Several of these documents are available online through the Eisenhower Presidential Library website.

The main  NARA website has a section dedicated to teaching the Brown v. Board of Education case.  This teacher’s resource gives background information on the case, as well as documents related to the lawsuit, which includes the dissenting opinion of Judge Waites Waring in the Briggs v. Elliott case (NAID 279306), a letter from President Dwight D. Eisenhower to E. E. “Swede” Hazlett (NAID 186601), and the judgment of the case (NAID 301669).  The Teaching with Documents pages also provides users with a timeline, teaching activities, and biographies of key figures.

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Before the Mayflower: A Tribute to Journalist Lerone Bennett, Jr.

“An educator in a system of oppression is either a revolutionary or an oppressor. ~ Lerone Bennett, Jr.

On February 14, 2018, Lerone Bennett, Jr. passed at age 89 at his home in Chicago, Illinois. Bennett was a journalist and social historian who focused on African-American life and racism in the United States. He is best known for the 1963 historical study, Before the Mayflower: A History of Black America, 1619-1962, which examines the experiences of African Americans from their time in Africa to the beginnings of the Civil Rights Movement. Other works by Bennett include What Manner of Man: A Biography of Martin Luther King, Jr., Black Power U.S.A., and Pioneers in Protest. Bennett has also won several awards for his writings, such as the Carter G. Woodson’s Lifetime Achievement Award from the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (2003), Literature Award from the Academy of Arts and Letters (1978), and Book of the Year from the Capital Press Club (1963).


Bennett was born on October 17, 1928 in Clarksdale, Mississippi. As a teen, he worked for the black owned weekly newspapers the Jackson Advocate and the Mississippi Enterprise as a reporter. After graduating from the segregated high school in 1945, Bennett enrolled at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia. He paid for his tution by playing alto saxophone for local jazz bands. After graduating from college, Bennett began working as a journalist in Atlanta before relocating to Chicago in 1953 to work for Jet Magazine. The following year, he started working for Ebony Magazine, as an associate editor. Bennett quickly rose to the position of executive editor and remained with the magazine for over fifty years.

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A Man of Many “Firsts”

   Today’s post was written by Daniella Furman, Archivist in the Textual Processing Branch at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland

     With both Black History month and the 50th anniversary of the 1968 assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. fast approaching, I began looking back to the year of 1968 to try to get a small picture of the country and its’ people at that time. There were so many important milestones and events happening in 1968 that I quickly became overwhelmed by all of the social change and chaos.  But I also saw an immeasurable amount of courage, determination, strength and compassion during that year that led me to delve deeper.

     Two events that stood out in particular that I would like to highlight from that year are the first ever U.S. Amateur Tennis Competition and the first U.S. Tennis Open held that allowed amateur players to competeIn winning both of these competitions, Arthur Ashe became the first black male to win both the amateur and open competition in the same year. I decided to find out more about this man and his story. I was truly moved by his story and the example of someone using their talents, drive and accomplishments to pave a way forward for others.

     Arthur Ashe (1943-1993) was a three times Grand Slam Tennis champion. During his athletic career he received many awards and accolades including being ranked World No. 1 in 1968 and 1975. He achieved so many firsts and a wide variety of awards and titles that had never been held by an African American male before. He is also known for his charitable works and activism including founding the Arthur Ashe Foundation for the Defeat of AIDS and the Arthur Ashe Institute for Urban Health. He was also posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Bill Clinton. Ashe begun playing tennis by the age of 7 in his hometown of Richmond, Virginia and continued through high school. During this time he was trained and mentored by Ron Charity and Robert Walter Johnson. In 1958 he competed in his first integrated tennis competition and became the first African American to play in the Maryland Boys Championships. He later decided to move to St. Louis, Missouri where the competitions were more racially integrated than in Virginia at the time.

     He was ultimately awarded a tennis scholarship to the University of California in Los Angeles in 1963 where he was coached by J.D. Morgan. Ashe was also active in the R.O.T.C in college which led him to join active military service after graduation. While in the Army he worked as a data processor at the United States Military Academy at West Point and remained in the army until 1969. His Army military personnel file is located in Record Group 319 Records of the Army Staff, Series “Official Military Personnel Files 1912-1998” (NAID 40922125). Arthur Ashe went on to become the first African American player ever selected for the United Stated Davis Cup team in 1965 where he won the National Collegiate Athletic Association singles title and doubles title.


Reagan White House Photographs, 1/20/1981-1/20/1989 (NAID 75855229)

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“And They Thought We Couldn’t Fight:”* Remembering the Nine Soldiers in a World War I Photograph

Today’s Blog is written by Barbara Lewis Burger, a retired National Archives Still Picture Senior Archivist

369th all

New York’s Colored Regiment Returns Home on Stockholm. Some of the colored men on 369th (15th N.Y.) who won the Croix de Guerre for gallantry in action. Front row, left to right: Private Eagle Eye, Ed Williams; Lamp Light, Herbert Tayl; 12 Feb, 1919 (NAID 26431282detail of photo scan

The above photograph of nine World War I soldiers of the 369th Infantry Regiment is one of several iconic photographs in the National Archives and Records Administration that document African American soldiers during the war. This particular image has been widely reproduced in print and broadcast media, and on the internet. The photograph (Local ID 165-WW-127A-8/ NAID 26431282) is from the series, American Unofficial Collection of World War I Photographs, 1917-1918 (NAID 533461) in the Records of the War Department General and Special Staffs, Record Group 165.

The image was taken on board the USAT Stockholm on February 12, 1919, as the soldiers of the 369th and other African American troops returning home following the Armistice, awaited disembarkation in New York City. The 369th’s service in the war began over one hundred years ago on April 2, 1917, when President Woodrow Wilson asked a joint session of Congress to issue a declaration of war against the German Empire. In two days, both houses had voted to support the declaration. In the spring and summer, the nine men in the photograph, eager to join the war, volunteered with the 15th Regiment Infantry (Colored) of the New York National Guard. Later that winter, within days of the United States declaring war on December 7th against Germany’s ally Austria-Hungary, the troops of the 15th Infantry set sail on the USS Pocahontas. The ship was bound for the port city of Brest, France and the soldiers were destined for their place in history.  Two months later, on March 1, 1918, the regiment was reorganized and designated the 369th Infantry Regiment, 93rd Division.

The history of the regiment is well researched and documented, including its ill treatment and under-utilization by American forces in France. At the time, many Americans, including military leaders, believed African Americans lacked the intelligence and courage to fight. In the summer of 1918 the regiment was integrated into French forces to help replenish its forces and soon faced combat. The 369th proved the skeptics wrong and went on to achieve a remarkable combat record: they served more time in continuous combat than any other American unit — the regiment fought for 191 days on the front, the longest of any unit; never lost a man captured; never lost a foot of ground to the Germans; and was the first Allied unit to cross the Rhine River during the Allied offensive. In recognition of its bravery under fire, the French government awarded the regiment with the country’s military decoration, the Croix de Guerre. In addition, 171 men of the regiment were also presented with an individual Croix de Guerre for their valor. Several soldiers were also awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. The 369th was not the only black World War I regiment, nor the only one to fight valiantly, but it is perhaps the most famous. Each soldier in this photograph, who is identified in an accompanying caption, is wearing the Croix de Guerre pinned to his garment. Also visible on the left sleeves of several are two War Service Chevrons signifying a year of service in the theater of operations.

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Living Testimony, Faithful to Cleo & Lifting the Race: Dr. Roland McConnell

                                                 Happy American Archives Month!

Today’s blog was written by Dr. Ida E. Jones, University Archivist at Morgan State University in Baltimore, Maryland

Professor of history and author Dr. Roland Calhoun McConnell was born in Amherst, Nova Scotia, Canada on March 10, 1910. McConnell graduated from Dunbar High School in 1927, where he was a classmate of historian Sadie I. Daniels and Dr. Robert C. Weaver. McConnell earned his A.B. degree in 1931 and his M.A. degree in 1933 from Howard University, where Charles Wesley introduced him to Carter G. Woodson, founder of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (now ASALH).

After graduating, McConnell taught at Elizabeth State Teachers College before joining the United States Army in 1942. In 1943, McConnell served as visiting lecturer at Howard University and archivist at the National Archives in the Army Branch of the War Records Office.

Dr. McConnell completed his doctorate in history with a minor in sociology. He taught on the college level during his doctoral program at Elizabeth City. His matriculation was interrupted by World War II where he served as a statistical clerk, CFA-4, a Second Lieutenant, as well as, a researcher in the Industrial College of the Armed Forces.

In 1946 Colonel HP Hennessey penned a letter to Solon J. Buck, Archivist of the United States commending the War Department records staff where Dr. McConnell worked with Dr. Elisabeth B. Drewry and Mr. J.W. Crowder. Hennessey noted “members of the archives staff showed [us] every possible trouble to help him in his research. The staff were particularly helpful.”

Photograph of the Conference on Federal Archives as Sources for Afro-American Research [Roland McConnell] (NAID 35810342)

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Marshall film takes a look at Thurgood Marshall’s early career

Marshall tells the story of Thurgood Marshall’s early days as a young lawyer fighting alongside fellow lawyer, Sam Friedman, in the case of a black chauffeur Joseph Spell, accused by his white employer, Eleanor Stubing, of sexual assault and attempted murder. The film stars Chadwick Boseman, Josh Gad, and Kate Hudson.

Previous blog posts relating to Thurgood Marshall:

“The Long Siege”: Thurgood Marshall’s Other Court Nomination Battle

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

The Prince Edward County Free School Association

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