75th Anniversary of the Attack on Pearl Harbor: Dorie Miller, War Hero

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

At 7:48 am on December 7, 1941, Japanese fighter planes and bombers began their surprise attack on the US Naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. In two waves of attack, the Japanese sunk 4 battleships, as well as damaged 4 more battleships, 3 cruisers, 3 destroyers, an anti-aircraft training ship, and 1 minelayer, along with destroying 188 aircraft. The early morning attack also killed 2,403 Americans and injured another 1,178. The attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese, caused the United States to enter World War II.

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Gwen Ifill, “A Journalist’s Journalist”

Today’s Tribute was written by Dr. Tina L. Ligon, Supervisory Archivist at the National Archives at College Park

“Journalists are accused of being lapdogs when they don’t ask the hard questions, but then accused of being rude when they do. Good thing we have tough hides.” ~ Gwen Ifill

On November 14, 2016, Gwen Ifill passed at the age of 61 in Washington, D. C. She was an award winning journalist and television newscaster, who moderated and reported on a range of topics related politics and social injustices. Several town hall sessions that she recently moderated included “America after Ferguson” in 2014, “America after Charleston” in 2015, and “Voters Choices” with President Barack Obama in 2016. She received numerous awards, which included the Gracie Allen Tribute Award in 2004, the Peabody Award in 2008, and the First Amendment Award in 2011. Also in 2011, Ifill was inducted as an honorary member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, and in 2012, she was inducted into the National Association of Black Journalists Hall of Fame.

Gwen Ifill at "A Conversation with Gwen Ifill" (1/22/09) https://www.jfklibrary.org/Asset-Viewer/Q0_e8Zd7uk2dplsvUQBKDg.aspx

Gwen Ifill at “A Conversation with Gwen Ifill” (1/22/09) https://www.jfklibrary.org/Asset-Viewer/Q0_e8Zd7uk2dplsvUQBKDg.aspx

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Commander-in-Chief: U.S. Presidents and their Executive Power

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

How has a Commander-in-Chief used his executive power to help shape a diverse nation?  With the stroke of a pen, he has used this power to command, appoint, veto, remove, and pardon. This year, the National Archives Exhibits Division’s Outgoing Loan program teamed up with the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, and lent several original documents for a special exhibition in conjunction with the upcoming 2016 Presidential Election, entitled Powers of the President. The exhibition explores the president’s executive power under the Constitution and how many of them have exercised it.  Included in the original documents relating to presidential power in Black history are President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s message nominating Earl Warren to be Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court and President Ronald Reagan’s veto of S. 557, Civil Rights Restoration Act of 1987.

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Voting Rights in the Early 1960s: “Registering Who They Wanted To”

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

Part II: Literacy Tests, Poll Taxes, and other 1971(a) Barriers to the Black Vote

In 1962, Deputy Attorney General Burke Marshall reported that “racial denials of the right to vote” existed in eight states, with only fourteen percent of eligible black citizens registered to vote in Alabama, and just five percent in Mississippi. There were pockets with even lower numbers: eleven Southern counties with majority-black populations but no registered black voters; and a Louisiana county that hadn’t registered a single black resident since 1900. Aaron E. Henry, Director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in Mississippi, later explained: “it was largely the will of the white power structure of the various communities that dictated whether or not blacks were able to participate” in elections.

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Southern black communities and Department of Justice (DOJ) lawyers worked together to dismantle this power structure, building court cases against states and counties that allowed the two main types of violations: rule-based discrimination (including unfair requirements for registration) and threat-based violations (such as violence against people who tried to register). As communities pushed back against both kinds of discrimination, thousands of people across the country noticed.

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In this post, we’ll focus on the rule-based violations, illegal under Section 1971(a) of voting rights law. These cases could be tough to prosecute in the early 1960s; because states had the right to make their own voting rules, it wasn’t technically illegal to require tests, taxes, or identification for registration. But what was illegal – and what the DOJ had to prove was happening – was using those rules to keep certain people from voting. Some of the DOJ’s most glaring examples came from the infamous literacy tests, required for registration in several Southern states.

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In theory, the tests were created to make sure voters could read and write. But in practice, Aaron Henry noted, registrars used them as “a way of registering who they wanted to, and not registering who they didn’t want to.” Civil rights leader and future Congressman John Lewis described how, in trying to prove discrimination, he and many other activists were arrested while trying to “get people on the steps of the courthouse to get up the steps, inside the door, to get a copy of the so-called literacy test.” Protected by federal voting rights laws, DOJ lawyers were able to search the courthouse records; they took thousands of literacy tests into court to prove black applicants were given harder questions, graded more strictly, and denied help more often than their white neighbors.

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In these examples, a white applicant was told to interpret Section 14 of the Mississippi Constitution: “No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property except by due process of law.” Writing “the law has supreme jurisdiction of all its citizens,” the applicant passed and registered. The same registrar gave a black applicant Section 16: “Ex post facto laws, or laws impairing the obligation of contracts, shall not be passed.” The applicant wrote a thorough response, but was failed and barred from registering.

In addition to literacy tests, “poll tax” payments were required for registration in a handful of states. While low-income citizens of all races found themselves unable to afford their right to vote in these states, even black Southerners who could pay the tax described resistance and abuse from registrars.

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Complicated voter identification laws presented challenges, too. The DOJ reported that these rules, which local officials claimed were meant to prevent fraud, were really used to disqualify minority applicants. In court, witnesses described the Louisiana system: registrars could demand identification from anyone they didn’t personally know, requiring the applicant to produce two registered voters to vouch for his or her identity.

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In areas like East Carroll Parish, Louisiana, which hadn’t registered a single black voter since 1922, black applicants often couldn’t find even one person to vouch for them – and if they did, that person could only identify two people per year. When DOJ lawyers challenged the East Carroll system, the registrar explained that he required two vouchers for every black applicant “because Negroes are not reliable.” The judge ruled for the DOJ in this case, ordering the parish to accept reasonable proof of identification (including hunting and driver’s licenses, library cards, or utility bills) from people of all races.

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Though the DOJ and voting rights advocates enjoyed groundbreaking court victories when battling 1971(a) violations, many Americans argued that government lawyers didn’t have the power to solve every voting rights problem. Even as it became harder for states and counties to discriminate with rules, minority communities still faced violence and threats while working to register more voters. In follow-up posts, we’ll look at these 1971(b) violations and and the people who fought to end what civil rights leader A. Philip Randolph called the “reign of terror.”

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(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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Revolutionary Movements Then and Now: Black Power and Black Lives Matter

In 1966, Black Power emerged as a rallying call for African Americans to shift their focus from freedom now to the embrace of black cultural, political, and economic power. In a speech during the March against Fear in Mississippi, Stokely Carmichael made public the phase Black Power and moved the civil rights movement towards a black nationalist agenda. Four months later, Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale canvassed their neighborhood inquiring about issues and concerns of black residents. Their efforts created the Ten-Point Platform that became the foundation for the establishment of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. Fifty years later, in 2016, Black Lives Matter, co-founded by Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi, and Patrisse Cullors, has become a movement advocating for dignity, justice, and respect in the wake of social and judicial tragedies occurring in America today.

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Elaine Brown: Leader and Activist

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

It is important to look back and examine the similarities and differences between the Black Power Movement of the past and the Black Lives Matter Movement of today, to see the important lessons learned and the goals that are still yet ahead of us in the quest for equality and justice. One of the most prominent organizations during the Black Power era was the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. There were only a few figures who stood out or were as remembered from this movement as Elaine Brown. We recently came across a treasure trove of photographs in the RG 65 FBI Case File 157-3430 in the series Classification 157 (Civil Unrest) Case Files, 1957 – 1978 (NAID 1513564) that depict Elaine Brown during some of the highlights of her involvement in the Black Power Movement. To obtain a copy of this file, please contact our FOIA office. Continue reading

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An Act to Establish the National Museum of African American History and Culture

Today’s post is by Netisha Currie, Archives Specialist at the National Archives in College Park, MD.

Throughout this month until November 9th the National Archives will display the act from 2003 that established the National Museum for African American History and Culture (NMAAHC), opening this weekend on September 24th.

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Black Power Politics: The Congressional Black Caucus

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

This year is the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Black Power movement in America. During the 1960s and 1970s, African Americans experienced an increase in the embrace of racial pride, self-determination, and started to create cultural institutions relating to their communities. The momentum of the Black Power movement also brought about a stronger desire for political power. Through black political organizing, African American politicians were able to refocus their attention towards an agenda that would better serve and improve black communities in America and throughout the world. Continue reading

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Bayard Rustin: The Inmate that the Prison Could Not Handle

Today’s post was written by Shaina Destine, a student intern in Textual Processing at the National Archives in College Park.
Bayard Rustin was the perpetual hero that history forgot.  I learned of Bayard Rustin in regards to his Civil Rights and Gay Rights work in my early 20s.  I heard about him being a Quaker and a Communist.  I even heard that he spent time in prison, however, his prison life is always glossed over.  I never knew the details.  In the last few weeks, I’ve spent time scanning his prison records from 1944 to 1946 (located in the RG 129 Notorious Offenders Files NAID 580698)when he was imprisoned for violating the Selective Service Act.
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Intake mugshot of Bayard Rustin at the Lewisburg Penitentiary, August 3, 1945

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Jesse Owens, American Hero

Re-post in Celebration of the Start of the 2016 Olympics Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Today’s post was written by Ms. 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. Continue reading

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