Remembering Those Who Served: A Tribute to Veterans

“Honoring the sacrifices many have made for our country in the name of freedom and democracy is the very foundation of Veterans Day.” ~ Congressman Charles B. Rangel

In honor of Veterans Day, the Rediscovering Black History blog would like to commend those African Americans who served in the Armed Forces.

The National Archives holds numerous photographs of African Americans serving in both World War I and World War II. These images depict black soldiers in training, interacting with other soldiers, and at victory parades. The photographs of African American men and women involved in the World Wars can be found in RG 44 Records of the Office of Government Reports, RG 111 Records of the Office of the Chief Signal Officer, RG 165 Records of the War Department General and Special Staffs, and RG 208 Records of the Office of War Information.

World War I

When the United States joined the Great War in Europe, more than 350,000 African American men enlisted in the military. They served in segregated units, primarily in supporting roles. Black men were assigned to the cavalry, infantry, and artillery units serving as chaplains, surveyors, and truck drivers. Although African American soldiers were limited to service in menial positions, there were a few predominate black troops that played a significant role in the war. These units included the 369th Infantry Regiment (“Harlem Hellfigthers”), 371st Infantry Regiment, Butchery Company, No. 322, Engineer Service Battalions, and Labor Companies.

 

Images from World War I

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World War II

Over 2.5 million African Americans served in World War II. They were assigned to various low-level tasks and duties, while still serving in segregated units (such as the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion, the “Triple Nickles”). Several African Americans stood out during the war for their heroics and promotions to higher ranks. Some of the noteworthy black men were: Dorie Miller, Benjamin O. Davis, Sr., Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., and Frederick C. Branch. Also, during this war, there was a greater presence of African American women gained a greater presence as they served in segregated women’s auxiliaries in the field. Black women, including Phyllis Daley, Harriet Ida Pickens, and Frances Wills made history during World War II in their roles as nurses and as officers.

Images from World War II

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Tribute to NARA Employees and Family Members who Served

On November 5, 2015, the Afro-American History Society sponsored a Veterans Day commemoration, featuring keynote speaker Dr. Oscar Barbarin, Chair of the Department of African American Studies at the University of Maryland, College Park. The title of the presentation was “Life After World War II, Veterans Who Survive Injury.” During the program, several National Archives employees shared personal pictures and related documentation of themselves or family members who served in the military.

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Below is a list of selected resources that highlight NARA records relating to African Americans in the World Wars:

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Freedmen’s Bureau Transportation Records: Letters of “Sold” Former Slaves Seeking to Rejoin Loved Ones

Submitted by Mr. Damani Davis, Reference Archivist at the National Archives in Washington, D. C.

This blog was a part of a presentation titled “The Freedmen’s Bureau and the Freedman’s Bank: Reconstruction Records at the National Archives,” given at the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) Conference in Atlanta, Georgia on September 25, 2015

Due to the recent popularity of genealogy-based television series such as, African American Lives, Who Do You Think You Are, and Faces of America, the interest in genealogical research has grown rapidly among African Americans. Reference archivists and specialists at the National Archives Building in downtown Washington, D. C. have assisted many of these new researchers by describing to them the relevant Federal records held in NARA facilities. Among NARA’s records most immediately relevant to African American genealogy and history are the RG 105 Records of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, or the “Freedmen’s Bureau.” These records provide a glimpse into the lives and experiences of recently freed African Americans in the South during the years immediately following emancipation.

When I first embarked upon my new career as a reference archivist, my colleagues advised that the best way to get acquainted with the records to assist researchers was by researching my own genealogy. I immediately began my research by examining the US Census records. Starting with my paternal line, based in rural Maryland and Philadelphia, PA, I hit a major dead end when the 1900 and 1910 censuses revealed that my great-grandfather, Harold Davis, was an adopted foster child. Unable to find any information on his biological parents, my research into that branch of my paternal lineage ended with him.

I then switched to my maternal line, which was based in Augusta and Jefferson County in Georgia. The oldest names that I knew from my maternal line were those of my great-great-grandfather, Cain Jordan, and his wife, my great-great grandmother, Mattie (Whitfield) Jordan.  Prior to consulting these Census records, I had assumed that all members of my maternal lineage had resided in Georgia, exclusively, since their first forebears arrived from Africa. But the 1900 and 1920 censuses revealed that the fathers of both Cain and Mattie had been born in Virginia. Both of my thrice-great grandfathers would have been alive during slavery, and were likely sold from Virginia down to Georgia. The process of selling surplus slaves from the older tobacco producing states of the upper South to the cotton belt states of the Deep South was extremely common during the last decades of slavery. But this fact was inconvenient for my immediate genealogical aspirations, because I would need to do local research down in Georgia in order to trace their lineages of these two men back up to Virginia.

As African American descendants of enslaved ancestors begin to trace their genealogy, they will likely be required to track their lineage across different southern states because of the internal domestic slave trade. A glimpse into this history is provided by some of the Freedmen’s Bureau Transportation records that document the efforts of the Bureau’s agents, and the formerly enslaved themselves, to procure transportation to rejoin children, parents, and spouses who had been separated by sale across state lines. Below are some examples that I found while searching the records of offices based in Augusta, Georgia and in South Carolina.

Benjamin Pillman Requests Transport to Get His Three Daughters (Molly, Susan, & Maria) from Mississippi, and back to Augusta, GA.

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“I am desirous of bringing from Mississippi my three children, all minors who are now without protection and support. Being twice notified of their condition and warned that I must come for them or they would be bound out for a term of years or set adrift in the world, I have made every exertion to accumulate the means to travel upon but am still unable to go unless you can afford me assistance. My family here consists of a wife and two children who are provided for during my absence to afford that protection and support due from a parent to his children,”

Very Respectfully,

Benjamin Pillman

The Bureau Agent comments concerning Pillman: “States that he is desirous of bringing from Miss. his 3 children (minors) who are without support & protection and that he has been mortified that if he does not send for them they will be bound out, and that he is unable to go for them unless afforded transportation, and desires that it may be furnished him.”

Freedwoman’s Daughter was sold from Georgia to Galveston, Texas

Records of the Field Offices for the State of Georgia Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, 1865-1872; microfilm publication M1903, roll 49, frame 227.

Records of the Field Offices for the State of Georgia Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, 1865-1872; microfilm publication M1903, roll 49, frame 227. (NAID 5717749)

“Nellie Carmichael, Freedwoman, states that her daughter Alice Heard was sold from this city before Emancipation to Galveston Texas where she now is in a destitute condition. She can be found in Galveston by addressing her through the Post Office. I would recommend that as her mother is in comfortable circumstances and able to support her, transportation be given her to this city by the proper authorities in Galveston….”

Transportation Requested for “Freedboy” from Augusta, GA to Richmond, VA

Records of the Assistant Commissioner for the State of South Carolina, Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, 1865-1870; microfilm publication M869, roll 44, frame 274.

Records of the Assistant Commissioner for the State of South Carolina, Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, 1865-1870; microfilm publication M869, roll 44, frame 274. (NAID 6212822)

“I have the honor to request transportation from this city to Richmond Va, for Freedboy Samuel Smith. This boy has been transported thus far from Augusta Ga. He desires to be sent to his parents. This will relieve the government from his support….”

Transport for “Small Colored Girl” from Columbia, South Carolina to Virginia

Records of the Assistant Commissioner for the State of South Carolina, Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, 1865-1870; microfilm publication M869, roll 44, frame 263.

Records of the Assistant Commissioner for the State of South Carolina, Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, 1865-1870; microfilm publication M869, roll 44, frame 263.  (NAID 6212822)

“I have the honor to request that transportation be furnished from this city for one small girl (Colored) to Orange Court House Virginia. She is in this city in destitute circumstances. And no friends to assist her in getting to her parents. I think this an urgent case….”

Woman Seeks Transport From Augusta, GA to Montgomery, AL to Reunite with Husband

Records of the Field Offices for the State of Georgia Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, 1865-1872; microfilm publication M1903, roll 49, frame 243.

Records of the Field Offices for the State of Georgia Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, 1865-1872; microfilm publication M1903, roll 49, frame 243 (NAID 5717749)

“Caroline Thomas has applied at this office for transportation from Augusta, GA to Montgomery, AL, where she states she has a husband who is willing to provide for her. She states that she will become a burden upon public charity if she is not sent to her husband. Her husband’s name is Josephus Thomas, and is supposed to be living with S.H. Grant at Montgomery, Ala., at the West Point & Montgomery depot. (her husband is a carpenter). I would respectfully recommend that transportation be furnished in this case if upon enquiry it be found that her husband is able and willing to provide for her….”

Five Formerly Enslaved Persons Seek Transport from Atlanta, GA to New Bern, NC

Records of the Assistant Commissioner for the State of South Carolina, Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, 1865-1870; microfilm publication M869, roll 44, frame 276

Records of the Assistant Commissioner for the State of South Carolina, Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, 1865-1870; microfilm publication M869, roll 44, frame 276  (NAID 6212822)

“This will be handed to you by a Freedman who is one of a party of 5 who have been furnished with transportation from Atlanta to Augusta as you will see endorsed upon the enclosed com[munication]. They are desirous of reaching their sons & daughters living near Newbern, N.C. where they can be properly provided for, and to th at end it is necessary that the Asst. Comm of South Carolina furnish them with transportation to such point en route to Newbern as he may have the power to grant and if he may deem it practicable to do….”

Transport of Old Freedwoman from Milledgeville, GA to Charleston, SC

Records of the Field Offices for the State of Georgia Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, 1865-1872; microfilm publication M1903, roll 71, frames 959-961.

Records of the Field Offices for the State of Georgia Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, 1865-1872; microfilm publication M1903, roll 71, frames 959-961.  (NAID 5756962)

“The Bearer of this a freedwoman Lativa Clements is old & infirm & destitute. She has relatives & children in Charleston, SC to whom she desires to go—if it is possible to give her transportation it will be an act of great kindness to a worthy though unfortunate person….”

Response Letter From Daughter: Charleston, February 8th, 1867

 Records of the Field Offices for the State of Georgia Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, 1865-1872; microfilm publication M1903, roll 71, frame 962.

Records of the Field Offices for the State of Georgia Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, 1865-1872; microfilm publication M1903, roll 71, frame 962.  (NAID  6212822)

“Dear Mother, it is with much pleasure that I sit down to write you these few lines hopeing that they will find you well as the leaves me at present. …I would have written to you before but I did not know how to direct your letter. I was more than glad to hear from you and glad to hear that you is well….You must be in good cheer until we send for you; I expect to get a free transportation from Genl. Scott to come for you, but if I do not get it I will send for you.  All is well all of the children sends howdy for you; they says that they would like much to see you….Harry Mathews expect to get a free transportation to go for his family and I think I will get one the same time; but the General is not here at present, he has gone to Savannah to see about some business. But I will see him as soon as he comes….When you write you can Direct your letter to Mrs. Celia Gibbs for I do not know any one else that you could Direct to. Write soon for I am longing to hear from you….I hope that I will see you before long for I am very anxious to see you. If god spears my life I hope that we will meet once more again before we die. I have no more to say at this time  I remain your Daughter Sophy Brown.”

Not all of the Freedmen’s Bureau transportation records reflect the efforts of separated family members seeking to reunite with loved ones. Some transportation records document the first voluntary migrations of groups of African American seeking to gain land or better opportunities elsewhere. This not widely-known, first mass-migration of African Americans was actually an intra-South migration in which recently freed blacks hoped to get land or better pay in relatively newer southern areas in Arkansas, Texas, Florida, and even parts of Mississippi. The majority of blacks that were part of this particular migration were departing mainly from the states of Georgia and South Carolina. Examples of this process are documented in travel registers from these states.

While searching records of the Augusta field office in Georgia, I found several work contracts documenting large groups of freed black departing for Arkansas. One travel register from South Carolina has lines that list large groups departing:

Records of the Assistant Commissioner for the State of South Carolina, Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, 1865-1870; microfilm publication M869, roll 44, frame 245

Records of the Assistant Commissioner for the State of South Carolina, Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, 1865-1870; microfilm publication M869, roll 44, frame 245 (NAID 621822)

  • from line 7: “35 adults, 14 children from Columbia, SC to Grenada, MS (49 persons).
  • from line 8: “Adam Pully & fifty-six others from Columbia SC to Vicksburg, MS (57 persons)
  • Other lines on the same register show much smaller groups, couples, and single individuals trying to get Virginia.

So these records highlight two important aspects of early black movement. First, there were the efforts of many to get back to their native states in order to reunite with family. This movement was mainly towards the old tobacco states like Virginia from which they were likely sold or forced to move with owners who had relocated to states farther south. The second aspect reflects the voluntary migration of large groups of African Americans from states such as Georgia and South Carolina who hoped to gain better opportunities in other southern states. The main point to take away from this, from a historical and genealogical standpoint, is that the lineages of the majority of African Americans will ultimately lead back to the oldest southern states: Primarily back to Virginia and the greater Chesapeake region; and secondarily, back to South Carolina and Georgia.

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Repost ~ ROTW: The Book of Negroes

Submitted by Ms. Netisha Currie, Archives Specialist at the National Archives at College Park, Maryland

This record of the week was a part of a presentation titled “Slavery, Freedmen, and Employment in Government Records,”  given at the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) Conference in Atlanta, Georgia on September 25, 2015

The Inspection Roll of Negroes (NAID 5890797), more commonly referred to as the Book of Negroes, is a record that is not widely known, but will soon become more prominent and recognized for its value to the history of American slavery, the Revolutionary War, and Canadian history. In the middle of Black History Month, Black Entertainment Television (BET) will air a three-part miniseries based on the novel The Book of Negroes (or Someone Knows My Name) by Lawrence Hill. The novel and miniseries tells the story of Aminata Diallo, a protagonist whose life is forever changed because of this real-life historical document.

The Book of Negroes is actually a set of two ledgers that lists the names, ages, and descriptive information of about 3,000 enslaved African Americans, indentured servants, and freedmen that were evacuated from the United States along with British soldiers at the conclusion of the American Revolution. Over the extent of about 200 pages, this record captures what is now invaluable genealogical information such as where a person was held in slavery, their owner’s name, and when and how the person obtained freedom.

Why was the list generated in the first place? At the suggestion of Sir Guy Carleton (commander of British forces during the War), the list was effectively an IOU to the United States. Per the terms of the Treaty of Paris (NAID 299805), the United Kingdom was supposed to return all property that was seized during the War, including slaves. Sir Carleton took exception with that component; for he intended to keep the promise of freedom that was made to African Americans who joined and fought for the British in the course of the Revolution (declarations such as Lord Dunmore’s Proclamation were made as early as 1775). Instead of giving in to the terms, Carleton negotiated that this Book of Negroes be made, as a way to tally the loss of ‘property’ to the US, of which the British government would compensate for at a later date. A record of that check has not been found.

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The 3,000 people that were listed in the Book of Negroes were evacuated by ship to the colony of Nova Scotia. From there many of the new African Canadians continued on and settled back on the continent of Africa, establishing the city of Freetown, Sierra Leone. During that voyage, in a bit of great irony, the ships that carried about 1,000 freed persons to a new home passed many ships that would bring thousands more enslaved peoples to the United States.

The National Archives in Kew, London holds the British version of the record.

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George Washington Carver and the Agricultural Experiment Station at the Tuskegee Institute

Today’s blog was written by Mary Kate Eckles, summer intern at the National Archives at College Park and undergraduate student at St. John’s College

George Washington Carver (ca. 1861 or 1864 to January 5, 1943) was one of the United States’ most prominent agricultural scientists, inventors, and humanitarians. Born enslaved during the Civil War Years in Missouri, Carver’s early education was attributed to his former owners who taught him basic reading and writing. Carver attended Simpson College for art and music, and then enrolled at Iowa State Agricultural College to study botany. In 1896, educator Booker T. Washington hired him to run the Agricultural Department at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. In his career, Carver presented at the Chicago’s World Fair in 1893, advised President Theodore Roosevelt and activist Mahatma Gandhi, supported interracial cooperation, and worked for the benefit of  poor farmers of the United States.

George Washington Carver - One of America's Great Scientists (NAID 535694)

George Washington Carver – One of America’s Great Scientists (NAID 535694)

Carver interacted with the federal government in several respects, and has created many records that are found at the National Archives. The RG 164 General Correspondences with State Experiment Stations and Agricultural Colleges, 1888 – 1937 (NAID 6928108) series contains Carver’s correspondences with A. C. True, Director of the Office of Experiment Stations and occasionally the acting director and chief clerk. The Office of Experiment Stations had been active since 1888, coordinating with the Department of Agriculture. Its purpose was to distribute federal funds to agricultural researchers across the country. In 1956, the Office of Experiment Stations became the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service.

Letter from George Washington Carver to A. C. True, Dated July 5, 1902 (NAID 6928108)

Letter from George Washington Carver to A. C. True, Dated July 5, 1902 (NAID 6928108)

As well as being the Director of the Agriculture for the Tuskegee Institute, Carver was also the director of one of the experiment stations for the state of Alabama. The experiment station at the Tuskegee Institute was, unfortunately, a one man show. Carver performed all the experiments, did all the writing and administrating himself. Carver’s correspondences with True often contained requests from True to send him the Tuskegee Institute catalog, records from the experimental station, and bulletins on whatever study Carver was working on at the moment. Carver, in return, asked for copies of articles he had written and copies of certain studies for his classes. The experiment station and the Tuskegee Institute were always pressed for cash, so Carver could not always afford to print copies of the needed materials. The Alabama State Legislature controlled funding for the state experiment stations and gave most of its money to the experiment station at Auburn University.

Letter from C. E. Johnston to George Washington Carver. Dated May 20, 1903 (NAID 6928108)

Letter from C. E. Johnston to George Washington Carver. Dated May 20, 1903 (NAID 6928108)

The bulletins that state experiment stations produced for the public were for agricultural researchers, but Carver wanted to reach a wider audience. Carver wanted his bulletins to help the poor farmers of the South. He wrote them in such a way that people with limited schooling could understand them. The experiments he wrote about could always be accomplished by a small farm. The experiments also focused on ways to replenish soil that had been depleted of nutrients by years and years of cotton growth.

Letter from George Washington Carver to A. C. True. Dated October 24, 1903 (NAID 6928108)

Letter from George Washington Carver to A. C. True. Dated October 24, 1903 (NAID 6928108)

During his career, Carver published forty-four bulletins. Each bulletin provided information for farmers, science teachers and included some recipes at the end. The bulletins were extremely popular. Carver left an indelible mark on the scientific community and American history. He died in 1943, and was buried next to Booker T. Washington. His epitaph read “He could have added fortune to fame, but caring for neither, he found happiness and honor in being helpful to the world.”

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Record of the Week ~ Morgan v. Hennigan: Desegregation of Boston Public Schools

Submitted by Dr. Tina L. Ligon, Archivist at the National Archives at College Park, Maryland

This record of the week was a part of a presentation on the role of the federal government in black education, given at the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) Conference in Atlanta, Georgia on September 25, 2015

Well into the twentieth century, many public schools in America were still segregated by race. The ruling in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, forced public schools in both northern and southern states to look for ways to balance the racial disproportions in its schools. Several of these schools, including the public schools in Boston, Massachusetts turned to busing as a method of desegregation.

Tallulah Morgan et al. v. James W. Hennigan et al. Complaint (NAID 4713867)

Tallulah Morgan et al. v. James W. Hennigan et al. Complaint (NAID 4713867)

In 1965, the Massachusetts legislature ordered all of its state public schools to desegregate. The legislation was opposed by many working-class whites in Boston and was not truly enforced. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) filed a class action lawsuit (Morgan v. Hennigan) on behalf of the black community against the Boston School Committee in 1972 for allowing segregation to exist in the public schools.  The United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts found a pattern of intentional racial discrimination in the public schools. The court ruled in 1974, that Boston public schools must be desegregated.

 

 

 

The documentation related to the lawsuit filed in the District Court for the District of Massachusetts is found in RG 21 Civil Action Case Files, 1938-1998 (NAID 568007). This series contains petitions, bills of complaint, transcripts of testimony and of record, decrees, court orders, and decisions regarding cases appearing in the District Court within the Massachusetts district. The file unit Tallulah Morgan et al v. James W. Hennigan et al Case File (NAID 4713835) consists of letters, complaints, transcripts of hearings, and judgments regarding the case against segregated public schools in Boston for the years 1972-1991.

Letter from Hyde Park High School Building Representative William Maher to Boston Police Commissioner Robert DiGrazia (NAID 12161210)

Letter from Hyde Park High School Building Representative William Maher to Boston Police Commissioner Robert DiGrazia (NAID 12161210)

The solution to the segregation problem in the Boston public schools was to bus students to different schools in order to offset the racial imbalance. Phase one of the desegregation plan required black students from the Roxbury neighborhood to be reassigned to the predominantly white schools in South Boston. Residents in this neighborhood resisted the plan and reacted violently towards the black students by yelling and throwing rocks or rotten eggs at them.

Letter from the Massachusetts Black Caucus to Judge W. Arthur Garrity, Jr. (NAID 4713898)

Letter from the Massachusetts Black Caucus to Judge W. Arthur Garrity, Jr. (NAID 4713898)

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ROTW: “Teamwork”: African-American Soldiers during World War II

Today’s record was submitted by Kevin L. Bradley, Archives Technician in the Motion Picture, Sound, and Video Division at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland

 

Why We Fight is a series of short films commissioned by the US government during World War II to convince Americans to fight and to support the war effort.  The films were directed by Frank Capra and featured interviews with foot soldiers, Army recruits, Pentagon personnel, decorated veterans, Congressmen, national security advisers, and top military strategists.  Participants in the film discussed the core philosophies of American military strategy and how they changed since the end of the Second World War.

The film Teamwork (NAID 36078) from the Orientation Films, 1942-1949 (NAID 36066) series is a great film to gain a basic understanding on interracial cooperation within the US Army.  The first reel shows white and black troops who participated in the landing on a beach at Normandy, as well as bringing supplies ashore in amphibious trucks, stringing telephone wire, using mine detectors, unloading supplies at a port, and driving supplies to the front.  In the second reel, viewers can watch African-American truck drivers receive medals for bravery and the 332nd Fighter Squadron (Negro) planes protect B-17s over Germany.

Teamwork is a joy to watch.  African-American soldiers had an opportunity to show the world that they were intelligent, and as brave as white soldiers.  Even though they were mistreated, black soldiers still loved and died for their country.  The life lesson in this film is “no matter what you are going through, always give your best.”

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NARA at ASALH’s Centennial

On September 25, 2015, archivists and archives specialists from the National Archives at College Park, Maryland and at Washington, D. C. participated in the 100th meeting of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH). In the past, NARA employees shared information on records relating to the black experience that are found at the National Archives, regional archives, and presidential libraries. Many of these panels and workshops addressed various topics, which included pension files, military records, African-American women, civil rights, law and justice, the Panama Canal, access to records, and genealogy.

ASALH was founded by Carter G. Woodson in 1915, to celebrate the legacy of the African-American experience. The mission of the organization is to promote research, preserve, interpret and disseminate information about black life, history and culture to the global community. The annual conferences allow scholars, researchers, information professionals, and students to come together and discuss issues and scholarship on black life. The theme for 2015 was “A Century of Black Life, History, and Culture” and the conference took place at the Sheraton Hotel Downtown in Atlanta, Georgia.

Carter G. Woodson (1875-1950) historian, author, and founder of ASALH Image: Public Domain

Carter G. Woodson (1875-1950) historian, author, and founder of ASALH
Image: Public Domain

NARA employees hosted two panels this year at ASALH, with each representing various types of records held at the National Archives.

NARA panelists: Damani Davis, Trichita Chestnut, Netisha Currie, Tina Ligon, and Shane Walsh

NARA panelists: Damani Davis, Trichita Chestnut, Netisha Currie, Tina Ligon, and Shane Walsh

Panel 1 Case Studies — A Preview of the National Archives’ Black History Guide (Part 1 of 2). This panel focused on the subject areas of slavery, Reconstruction, and lynching through the use of selected records located at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). Ms. Netisha Currie highlighted records relating to slavery, freedmen, and employment as seen through the lens of government records. Mr. Damani Davis presented on the Freedmen’s Bureau records, with some attention given to the Freedman’s Bank records. Lastly, Dr. Trichita M. Chestnut discussed related records that document lynching in the American South. Panel 1 was moderated by Dr. Tina Ligon.

Panel 2 Case Studies — A Preview of the National Archives’ Black History Guide (Part 2 of 2). This panel focused on the subject areas of education and legislation through the use of selected records located at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). Dr. Tina L. Ligon discussed records highlighting the role of the federal government in Black education. Mr. Shane B. Walsh examined Paul Robeson and the House Un-American Activities Committee through the use of legislative records. Panel 2 was moderated by Ms. Netisha Currie.

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Amelia Boynton Robinson, Leader in the Voting Rights Movement

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

“It’s important that young people know about the struggles we faced to get to the point we are today. Only then will they appreciate the hard-won freedom of blacks in this country.”

~ Amelia Boynton Robinson

On August 26, 2015, Amelia Boynton Robinson passed at 104 years young. She was a Civil Rights activist, educator, political leader, and catalyst for the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Robinson received the Martin Luther King, Jr. Medal of Freedom and served as the Vice Chair for the Schiller Institute. In January 2015, Robinson attended the State of the Union Address as an invited guest of the President, and in March, she crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge along side President Barack Obama on the 50th Anniversary of Bloody Sunday.

Photograph of John Lewis, Hosea Williams, Andrew Young and Amelia Boynton Praying before Bloody Sunday (NAID 16898979)

Photograph of John Lewis, Hosea Williams, Andrew Young and Amelia Boynton Praying before Bloody Sunday (NAID 16898979)

Amelia (Platts) Boynton was born on August 18, 1911, in Savannah, Georgia. She earned a degree from Tuskegee Institute [University] in home economics and further pursed her education at Tennessee State University, Virginia State University, and Temple University. Boynton married in 1936, and along side her first husband, worked on black voter registration in Alabama. Boynton continued working for civil rights during the 1940s and 1950s. In 1964, she was the first African-American woman to run for Congress from the state of Alabama.

Photograph of Amelia Boyton, Beaten on Bloody Sunday (NAID 16899082)

Photograph of Amelia Boyton, Beaten on Bloody Sunday (NAID 16899082)

While living in Selma, Alabama, Boynton attempted to vote numerous times, and was rejected each time. She worked with the Dallas County Voters League, Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) to gain voter rights for southern African Americans. On Sunday, March 7, 1965, Boynton along with about 500 other people held a protest march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama demanding voting rights. The marchers were met at the Edmund Pettus Bridge by the police and local southern whites. They were violently attacked and Boynton was beaten unconscious. The images of her lifeless body, forced many Americans to acknowledge the need for the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

For additional information about Amelia Boynton Robinson at the National Archives, please check out the following:

  • FBI Case File #44-28492: Bloody Sunday,” blog posted on February 24, 2015
  • Testimony from Hosea Williams, John Lewis, and Amelia Boynton et al. v. Honorable George C. Wallace, Governor of Alabama et al. (NAID 279204) from the series Civil Cases, 9/1938-11/26/1968 (NAID 279193)
  • Amelia P. Boynton v. James Clark, Sheriff of Dallas County, et al. (NAID 2618721) from the series Criminal Case Files, 1887-1981 (NAID 656880)
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60th Anniversary of the Death of Emmett Louis Till

Today’s blog was written by Dr. Tina Ligon, archivist at the National Archives at College Park and Mary Kate Eckles, summer intern at NARA and senior at St. John’s College

Sixty years ago, Emmett Louis Till was kidnapped and murdered in Mississippi for violating southern customs. His death was one of the sparks that led to the modern civil rights movement in the South. The images of his mutilated body published in Jet magazine and the Chicago Defender newspaper, still remain in the memories of many in America and around the world.

Emmett Till was born in Chicago, Illinois on July 25, 1941. He was raised by his mother Mamie Till Bradley in the South Side neighborhood. As a child in the North, Till was exposed to other races and had limited knowledge about the taboos of the segregated South.

In August 1955, Till visited his great-uncle Moses Wright and his cousin Simeon Wright in LeFlore County, Mississippi. One afternoon while hanging out with teen-aged boys, Emmett Till was dared to speak to Carol Bryant, a white woman behind the counter at a local grocery store. Till might have whistled at the woman, said “bye baby,” or hugged her waist. There are various accounts of the incident, as seen in the several memorandums to and from the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

Later that night, Carol Bryant’s husband, Roy Bryant and J. W. Milam dragged young Till from his uncle’s home. On August 28th, Emmett Till’s body was found in the Tallahatchie River. He was wrapped in barbed wire and tied to a cotton gin fan. Till’s body was unrecognizable. He was identified by his signet ring, which his mother had given to him the day before he left Chicago. Mamie Till Bradley had the body sent back to Chicago. She had an open casket funeral to “let the world see what has happened, because there is no way I could describe this.” Despite Moses Wright risking his life during the trial by testifying against Roy Bryant and J. W. Milam, the two men were acquitted of all charges by an all-white jury.

RG 60 Class 144 (Civil Rights) Litigation Case Files, 1936-1997 (NAID 603432) contains documentation used to build cases in reference to civil rights violations. The file unit 144-40-116 consists of newspaper clippings, letters, reports, and memorandums related to the Emmett Till case. The letters and telegrams included are from private citizens, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), labor unions, and elected officials from all parts of the United States, demanding justice for Emmett Till.

The horror of Emmett Till’s murder and the outcome of the trial helped galvanize the Civil Rights movement. Just 100 days after the murder of Till, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white man on a bus. This action led to the year-long Montgomery Bus Boycott. Parks later stated that “I thought about Emmett Till, and I couldn’t go back [to the back of the bus].”

Other file units and items from the National Archives, regional archives, and presidential libraries related to the Emmett Till case include:

  • Till, Emmett (NAID 12192565) from the series Alphabetical Files, 1953-1961 (NAID 593951)
  • Memorandum from National Administrative Committee of the American Communist Party Regarding the Emmett Till Lynching (NAID 12224523) from the series Federal Bureau of Investigation Files, 1953-1961 (NAID 12004580)
  • 44-9540, Section 1 Serials 1-11, Mississippi (1955) Emmett Till (NAID 7614683) from the series Classification 44 (Civil Rights) Headquarters Case Files, 1924-1978 (NAID 2329984)
  • Till, Emmett, Mr. (NAID 2729250) from the series General Correspondence, 1946-1963 (595046)
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10th Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina

Today’s Record of the Week was contributed by Dr. Tina L. Ligon, Archivist at the National Archives at College Park, Maryland

A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Geostationary Satellite Server (GOES) Look at Hurricane Katrina (NAID 17394063)

A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Geostationary Satellite Server (GOES) Look at Hurricane Katrina (NAID 17394063)

Hurricane Katrina formed on August 23, 2005, over the Bahamas in the Caribbean. It was the 11th tropical depression and the 5th named hurricane of the season. Within five days of formation, this tropical depression reached category five hurricane strength with wind speeds up to 175 mph and gusts near 190 mph. It made landfall in Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, and other areas along the Gulf  of Mexico Coast. Hurricane Katrina left $108 billion in property damage, an estimated 2,000 dead, and devastated a major US city and its surrounding communities.

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By mid-day on August 29, 2005, the center of Hurricane Katrina passed just southeast of New Orleans. The winds and the rains stranded hundreds of people on rooftops and inside the Superdome. The storm surge from the hurricane created breaches in the levees system around the city. These breaches caused massive flooding in the area, primarily in St. Bernard Parish and the Lower Ninth Ward neighborhood. The flooding displaced families, destroyed communities, and created havoc around New Orleans. Hurricane Katrina was one of the deadliest and costly storms in US history.

RG 48 Photographs Relating to the Secretary’s Trips, Speeches, and Other Functions, and Agency Officials, Events, and Managed Sites (NAID 7682706) contains photographs of Gale Norton, Secretary of the Interior’s visit to the Gulf Coast in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. These images shows the massive flooding and damage in New Orleans and the neighboring areas.

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