This post was written by Netisha Currie, Archives Specialist at the National Archives at College Park
Sometimes, instead of digging through boxes to find an interesting record, a record will find you. While walking through the offices of the Still Pictures branch in College Park, I saw an enlarged print on the wall of this little boy smiling at me.
This photo was taken in August of 1941 of Charles Michael Lee, aged 3, in the photographic laboratory at the Signal Corps office in Baltimore, Maryland. This is one of the many photos collected from official and unofficial sources for the Signal Corps in the series Photographs of American Military Activities, 1918-1981 (NAID 530707, Local Identifier: 111-SC). The caption for the photograph states: “Smart as a whip and neat as a pin, little Charlie’s personality should carry him far.”
What might have become of little Charlie’s life? Some of the landmark documents from the National Archives provide insight as to what he faced growing up in the 20th century United States:
- He was born at a time when military segregation would soon come to an end under Executive Order 9981 in 1948
- The Brown v. Board of Education decision would help to desegregate schools, probably while he was in high school
- Well into being eligible to vote, the Voting Rights Act would pass in 1965 – outlawing discriminatory and unfair practices that inhibited many persons of color from voting
- He would also be in the prime of his life during the most active years of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, and might have witnessed the Baltimore Riots in 1968.
Looking ahead, as the National Archives continues to preserve and protect the permanent records of the federal government, I wonder what documents and records will match up with the life of a 3 year old kid whose picture is taken in 2015.
For more records and photographic series relating to African Americans in the military, please check out the following resources:
- “The Lion’s History: Researching World War II Images of African Americans”; by Barbara Lewis Burger
- Pictures of African Americans During World War II; compiled by Barbara Lewis Burger
- “Black Men in Navy Blue During the Civil War’ by Joseph P. Reidy, Prologue Magazine, Vol. 33, No. 3 (Fall 2001)
- “Exploring the Life and History of the ‘Buffalo Soldiers’”; by Walter Hill, The Record (March 1998)
- “Researching African Americans in the U.S. Army, 1866-1890: Buffalo Soldiers and Black Infantrymen”; by Trevor K. Plante, Prologue Magazine, Vol. 33, No. 1 (Spring 2001)
- “Preserving the Legacy of the United States Colored Troops”; by Budge Weidman
- Records of Military Agencies Relating to African Americans from the Post-World War I Period to the Korean War, Reference Information Paper 105; compiled by Lisha Penn
- Records Pertaining to the Military Service of Buffalo Soldiers, Reference Reports 100 & 922
- Teaching with Documents: The Fight for Equal Rights: Black Soldiers in the Civil War
- Teaching with Documents: Photographs of the 369th Infantry and African Americans during World War I
- “The Christmas Shootings on Guam: Charges of Unlawful Assembly and Rioting Followed”; by Tina L. Ligon, Prologue Magazine, Vol. 46, No. 4 (Winter 2014)