Tribute: Muhammad Ali, “The Greatest”

“Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. His hands can’t hit what his eyes can’t see. Now you see me, now you don’t. George thinks he will, but I know he won’t.” ~ Muhammad Ali

On June 3, 2016, Muhammad Ali passed at the age of 74 in Phoenix, Arizona. He was a professional boxer and one of the greatest athletes in the world. Known for his boxing skills and trash talking, Ali was both inspirational and controversial. Ali won three world heavyweight championship titles, was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame, named Sportsman of the Year, received the Presidential Citizens Medal in 2001 and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005. Ali also was an activist and humanitarian, who raised funds for the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center and the Special Olympics.



Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr. was born on January 12, 1942 in Louisville, Kentucky. He began boxing at the age of 12, after threatening to “whip” the person who stole his bicycle. Ali won six Kentucky Golden Glove titles, two national Golden Glove titles, and a gold medal in the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome. At the age of 22, Clay won his first heavyweight title by defeating reigning champion Sonny Liston.

Photograph of King Hussein of Jordan and President Gerald R. Ford Greeting Heavyweight Boxer Muhammad Ali in the Receiving Line at a State Dinner Held in His Majesty's Honor (NAID 7840017)

Photograph of King Hussein of Jordan and President Gerald R. Ford Greeting Heavyweight Boxer Muhammad Ali in the Receiving Line at a State Dinner Held in His Majesty’s Honor (NAID 7840017)

In 1962, Clay met Malcolm X, who became his spiritual advisor and friend. He joined the Nation of Islam in 1964 and changed his name to Muhammad Ali. In 1967, Ali refused to serve in the armed forces during the Vietnam War due to his religious beliefs. He was charged with draft evasion and sentenced to five years in prison, fined $10,000, and banned from boxing for three years. The conviction was overturned by the US Supreme Court in 1971. The National Archives holds records relating to his arrest and successful appeal in the series Case Files and Enclosures Relating to Cassius Clay, Jr. (Muhammad Ali), 1967-1969 (NAID 22930205).

During his exile, and continuing after his reinstatement to the boxing world, Ali started making television appearances where he had the opportunity to be openly vocal about the state of black people in America. He often expressed opinions about the reality of inequality, bigotry, and racism experienced by African Americans on a daily basis; as well as his support of social movements like Black Power and Civil Rights.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Ali was involved in several legendary boxing matches. In 1974, he fought George Foreman in Kinshasa, Zaire, in an event promoted by Don King billed as the “Rumble in the Jungle.” Ali also fought Joe Frazier in 1975 in Quezon City, Philippines, in the “Thrilla in Manila.”  He continued his boxing career with matches against Leon Spinks, Larry Holmes, and Trevor Berbick. Ali retired from boxing in 1981 at the age of 39.

Before his sporting and civic contributions were recognized by Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, Muhammad Ali was chosen to light the flame in the opening ceremony of the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia.

Muhammad Ali’s life and legacy in and outside of the ring proves that he was truly The Greatest.

Posted in Black Power, Tribute/News | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Revisiting Alex Haley’s ‘Roots’: History Channel Premieres Remake on Memorial Day

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


Alex Haley addressing Department of Housing and Urban Development employees in Washington DC [NAID 24070480]

The History Channel has produced a four part, 8 hour remake of the 1977 miniseries ‘Roots,’ which is based on the 1976 novel Roots: The Saga of an American Family by Alex Haley. The series is set to air from May 30th through June 2nd and will be broadcast on the History Channel, Lifetime, and A&E.

The original series, along with Haley’s novel sparked an increase in public interest in genealogy in the late 1970’s, particularly among African Americans. Haley performed a fair amount of his genealogical research for his novel with the assistance of former National Archives staff member  James “Jimmy” Dent Walker, who was a research consultant at the time. With the release of the novel and series, and with the expertise of staff members like Walker, the genealogical research profile of the National Archives rose tremendously among members of the genealogical research community and the public.

To learn more about James “Jimmy” Dent Walker visit the National Archives Prologue article:

 James D. Walker: Lone Messenger to International Genealogist

To learn more about African American genealogical research:

Genealogy Notes

Black History at NARA

Posted in Diaspora, Genealogy, Slavery and the Slave Trade, Tribute/News | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lynching of Women in United States Blog Series: The Lynching of Belle Hathaway

Today’s 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

This is the second blog post on a series of blogs on the lynching of women in the United States.

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 assumed an increasingly sadistic nature.

Between 1837 and 1946, 173 women were victims of white mob violence in the United States. Of the 173 women lynched: 144 were African American, 25 were white, 3 were Mexican, and 1 was Native American. 164 of these women met their deaths at the hands of lynch mobs in the South. Women, who moved outside the well-defined boundaries of the rigid moral and social order of the Post-Reconstruction period, were challenging the cult of true womanhood and the domination of white males and sex-role mandates. In extreme situations, women who would not conform were lynched.

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 the 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 1884-1946: 17 were African American and 1 was white. The series Straight Numerical Files, 1904-1974 (National Archives Identifier 583895) contains correspondence regarding the lynching of women in the United States.

“Dear President, imagine a poor helpless woman being marched thru the streets to a post and amidst her piteous cries and protesting her innocence, she is strung up and lynched like a brute…” E.D. Rosemond of Ashville, North Carolina wrote to President William Taft on January 24, 1912, describing the lynching the 6th female victim in the state of Georgia, Belle Hathaway.


Letter to President William Howard Taft from E. D. Rosemond (NAID 583895), page 1

Letter to President William Howard Taft from E. D. Rosemond (NAID 583895), page 1


Letter to President William Howard Taft from E. D. Rosemond (NAID 583895), page 2

Letter to President William Howard Taft from E. D. Rosemond (NAID 583895), page 2

On January 22, 1912, an unknown assailant shot and killed Norman Hadley, a young white married farmer, while sitting in his home. That afternoon authorities arrested four African-American tenants, including Belle and three men, and charged them with the crime of murder in Hamilton, Harris County. Although Sheriff Hadley, the victim’s uncle feared no lynching would occur, a white mob had been mobilizing and planning that entire day and night. By 9 o’clock that evening, a mob of 100 white men overpowered the jailer and took the four prisoners, who were marched out-of-town at gunpoint. “There they were quickly strung up. Immediately their writhing bodies became silhouetted against the sky, revolvers and rifles blazed forth and fully 300 shots were fired before the mob dispersed. The Negroes protested their innocence to the last, but the mob would have none of it.”

Newspaper clipping about the incident (NAID 583895) [Subject to copyright restrictions]

Newspaper clipping about the incident (NAID 583895) [Subject to copyright restrictions]

All four victims died, “at the hands of persons unknown,” since no one had ever been prosecuted for this lynching.


Posted in African-American Women, Post-Reconstruction | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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.

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.

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.

Posted in Tribute/News | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“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.”


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.


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.


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.


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.”


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.)

Posted in Civil Rights, Civil Rights Protest & Issues | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“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


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.


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.


“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.


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


“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.


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


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

Posted in African-American Women, Civil Rights | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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).

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We thank you for your service.

Posted in African-American Women, Tribute/News | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

Posted in African-American Women | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

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

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.”


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”


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.

B0973-14 600dpi scan from Original Negative

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.


Posted in Civil Rights Protest & Issues, Tribute/News, World War II Era | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments