Written by Netisha Currie and Tina Ligon, National Archives at College Park
“My greatest work comes in the community” ~ Marion Barry
Today is the annual Turkey Giveaway – a local tradition of Southeast Washington, DC in which former mayor Marion Barry would give out turkeys and vegetables to less fortunate residents so that they might have a happy Thanksgiving. In spite of his recent death, the event goes on as scheduled because planners say, “that’s what he would have wanted.”
Marion S. Barry, Jr. was born into a sharecropping family on March 6, 1936 in Itta Bena, Mississippi. Growing up in the South, Barry noticed at an early age the disparities between blacks and whites in education and employment. He fought for equal rights as an Eagle Scout and as a student member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Barry earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from LeMoyne College in Memphis, Tennessee (1958) and then began a master’s program at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee. While at Fisk, Barry participated in the student sit-ins that were spreading across the South. In April 1960, Barry, along with John Lewis, Diane Nash, and James Bevel, traveled to Raleigh, North Carolina to answer the call for organized student protest. Barry was one of the founding members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and was the first national chairman of the student group that would work towards desegregation in the South.
In June 1965, Barry relocated to Washington, DC where he began his political career. Armed with passion and a desire for equality for African Americans, he soon became a favorite of Washingtonians. Barry was first elected to the newly minted city council after Home Rule was established in 1974. He went on to serve four terms as Mayor of Washington, DC in 1978, 1982, 1986, and 1994, and was serving as council member for Ward 8 when he passed away. He dealt with several issues that included city administration, public housing, violent crime, unemployment, and DC statehood.
There are a number of records in the holdings of the National Archives that document Marion Barry’s personal life and public career. The records relating to Barry’s famous drug bust, investigation, and trial are permanent government record, as well as records relating to public programs and works he implemented as mayor. In his first term as mayor, Marion Barry instituted the Summer Youth Employment Program. Aimed at providing opportunity for under-served low-income young people of the District, the program continues today (entirely on District funding) and is credited as one of the factors in expanding the Black middle class of the Washington, DC area. On July 20, 1983, at the occasion of $800,000 of additional federal funds being allocated to DC, President Ronald Reagan spoke in the Rose Garden before presenting Mayor Barry with a check:
When Secretary Ray Donovan learned that my adopted hometown here was running out of money for its summer jobs program, he called Mayor and offered to help. The result is today’s check drawn from available funds at the Department of Labor. These funds will be added to the $8.2 million already transferred to the city and should provide 2,200 more summer jobs for unemployed young people in our Nation’s Capital, a city that is very special to all of us as Americans.
This money is part of over $800 million that is being distributed nationally to enable State and local governments, and this will provide an estimated 800,000 summer jobs for young people throughout the United States. Our goal is to offer disadvantaged young people valuable work experience and at the same time provide the community with their services, which, I might add, will be more than welcome by cities and nonprofit agencies which will be receiving their help.
-”Remarks on Providing Additional Federal Funds for the Washington, DC Summer Youth Employment Program July 20, 1983.” Public Papers of President Ronald W. Reagan. Ronald Reagan Presidential Library
Another item of note is the motion picture from the Office of Economic Opportunity’s Police Program. This series of film documents the early years of an experiment on police-community relations. In the film CG 8225: The People and the Police, 1971 (NAID 73174) Marion Barry is shown as one of the community representatives charged with deciding on where a pilot precinct should be established, and ways to improve relations with the police force. Marion Barry, in his ‘activist phase’, brings up the issue of community distrust in the police force, and urges that citizens should be in control of the precinct. The film clearly displays Barry’s charisma, passion for the people he represented, and leadership that he would carry throughout his storied career in public office.
Mural in Petworth, Washington, DC
by Ligon on November 18, 2014
Barbara Lewis Burger, a retired National Archives Still Picture Senior Archivist
We hea’ a callin’ from Colon
We hea’ a callin’ from Limon
Let’s quit de t’ankless toil an’ fret
Fe where the better pay we’ll get
~Claude McKay, Peasants’ Way O’ Thinkin’
According to La Autoridad del Canal de Panamá (Panama Canal Authority) almost 57,000 workers were employed during the construction of the Panama Canal. Of that figure, the overwhelming number was people of African descent. Some of the employees were black Americans from the United States (see “The Panama Canal: The African American Experience” by Patrice C. Brown in Prologue, Summer 1997). The majority of personnel, however, were Afro-Caribbeans from the Antilles islands commonly referred to as the West Indies. The largest number of those workers—roughly 20,000—was from Barbados. Included among those seeking jobs in the Canal Zone were many West Indian women, some of whom followed their husbands, while others journeyed to Panama often for the same reasons as men—jobs and better pay, freedom, or adventure.
In his lengthy 1912 poem, “Peasants’ Way O’ Thinkin’,” Jamaican-American writer and poet Claude McKay suggested some of the reasons islanders left their homes in droves (see William J. Maxwell, ed., Complete Poems/Claude McKay, 2004). The applicants were not unaware of the racism practiced by Canal officials, the physically demanding and dangerous jobs, the deadly diseases, the deplorable living conditions, nor of the high death rates among laborers. Individuals returning home or sending news to relatives and friends certainly relayed information about the situation. Then again, life on the islands for the unskilled and mostly illiterate was little better. Sugar prices had been depressed for many years, and sugar cane cultivation was in decline, frequent floods and droughts and even a 1907 earthquake wrought havoc, and landlessness, overpopulation, and severe unemployment made for a bleak existence. A construction job paying ten cents an hour was for many West Indians double what could be expected from working in sugar cane fields. Understandably, the opportunity to escape the dire conditions on their home islands for a chance at better pay was a strong lure that so many could not ignore.
No matter their motivation, a seemingly endless supply of Antillean workers permeated all aspects of life and work on the isthmus. David McCullough noted in his history The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal 1870-1914 (Simon and Schuster, 1977) that “There were not only thousands of West Indians down amid the turmoil of Culebra Cut or at the lock sites but black waiters in every hotel, black stevedores, teamsters, porters, hospital orderlies, cooks, laundresses, nursemaids, janitors, delivery boys, coachmen, icemen, garbage men, yardmen, mail clerks, police, plumbers, house painters, gravediggers. A black man walking along spraying oil on still water, a metal tank on his back, was one of the most familiar of all sights in the Canal Zone.” McCullough further remarked that despite the essentialness of their labors, little official or national notice or acknowledgement was paid.
Nevertheless, photographic coverage of their hard work exists in still picture series in the Records of the Panama Canal, Record Group 185 at the National Archives. The photographs featured in this blog document a variety of occupations. The images are from two series: the general still picture series Photographs of the Construction of the Panama Canal, 1887-1940 (NAID 535444) and the series Photographs Related to the Construction of the Panama Canal’s Pacific Terminals, East Breakwater Works, Cristobal Coaling Plant Works, and the Operation of Floating Cranes, ca. 1911-ca. 1916 (NAID 535446).
by Ligon on November 4, 2014
Dr. Miranda Booker Perry, Archivist at the National Archives at Washington, D. C.
LBJ and Civil Rights
Although I did not have the opportunity to attend the Civil Rights Summit in April of this year, having the event at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library was most fitting. A key component of the Great Society was Johnson’s efforts to end racial injustice. President Johnson was a masterful legislator, clever tactician, and seasoned politician; the qualities needed to get the Civil Rights bill passed in Congress. In his address to a joint session of Congress, five days after Kennedy’s assassination, he asserted,
First, no memorial oration or eulogy could more eloquently honor President Kennedy’s memory than the earliest possible passage of the civil rights bill for which he fought so long. We have talked long enough in this country about equal rights. We have talked for one hundred years or more. It is time now to write the next chapter, and to write it into the books of law. I urge you again, as I did in 1957 and again in 1960, to enact a civil rights law so that we can move forward to eliminate from this Nation every trace of discrimination and oppression that is based upon race and color.
President Johnson firmly believed in the adage, ‘Where there’s a will, there’s a way’ and he was determined to make the Civil Rights Act a reality even in the face of strong opposition.
Plight of African Americans
Although a century had passed since the Civil War drew to a close and the 13th Amendment was secured, African Americans in the South were living without equal protection under the law and were left to fend for themselves against white supremacy. Civil Rights Bills were enacted in the 1860s and 1870s, but they were not enforced or circumvented by the states. The Civil Rights Act of 1875 prohibited discrimination in public accommodations, but was nullified by the Supreme Court Decision known as The Civil Rights Cases (1883). By the 1960s legalized segregation (Jim Crow laws) was entrenched in the South and blacks were treated as second-class citizens. Public accommodations such as restaurants, lunch counters, hotels, beaches, pools, retail stores, and cemeteries were racially segregated. Black people suffered numerous indignities at the hands of segregationists and were subject to brutal beatings, maiming, or murder if they dared to exercise their constitutional rights.
Significant Civil Rights Events that occurred in 1964
- “Mississippi Burning, the federal investigation into the the disappearance of civil rights organizers James Chaney, Michael “Mickey” Schwerner, and Andrew Goodman in June 1964
- Lt. Colonel Lemuel Penn, Army Reserve Officer and educator, was shot and killed by Ku Klux Klan members on his way back to Washington D. C. with two other Army Reserve officers after training exercises in Fort Benning, Georgia
- Council of Federated Organizations (COFO) Initiatives
- Freedom Summer (also known as the Mississippi Summer Project)
- Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) was established
- Northern urban unrest/discontent (due to police brutality etc)
- Dr. King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize
President Lyndon B. Johnson Johnson meeting with religious leaders to discuss Civil Rights.
Supporting the Civil Rights Bill of 1964
Many photographs and documents pertaining to the Civil Rights Act are in our holdings at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library in Austin, Texas. During April, May and June of 1964 numerous groups came to the White House to demonstrate or show their support of the passage of the Civil Rights Bill, namely, the NAACP, unions, religious groups and other organizations. The organizations are as follows: National Interreligious Convocation on Civil Rights in April 28, 1964 (groups from various major religious faiths joined together to support the passage of the Civil Rights Bill) meeting with the National Director of the NAACP and board of directors, June 24, 1964; and Civil Rights leaders in January 1964.He met with leaders of major Civil Rights organizations on a number of occasions and they are, notably,: Roy Wilkins who was the executive director of the NAACP, Whitney M. Young, Executive Director of the National Urban League, James L. Farmer, founder of Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). With pressure applied by various organizations, and especially Civil Rights organizations and their supporters, forward thinking members of Congress and a pro-active President the Civil Rights Bill was enacted and its provisions were enforced by the federal government.
Martin Luther King, Jr. (center), with Roy Wilkins, James Farmer, and Whitney Young, met with President Lyndon Johnson in the Oval Office on January 18, 1964. (LBJ Library)
Inner workings of Congress
President Johnson had considerable clout in Congress. His power of persuasion coupled with the “The Johnson Treatment” was especially useful in handling the diehard Southern Bloc in the Senate (18 Democrats and 1 Republican) who was in opposition to the Civil Rights bill. Southern Congressmen and senators used a variety of tactics including the Filibuster that lasted for more than fifty days in attempts to kill the bill. This was anticipated and Senator Hubert H. Humprey (D-MN) and other Senators introduced a substitute bill to end the filibuster and ensure that the act was passed.
The Civil Rights Movement was a grassroots movement. Had it not been for ordinary men and women, unsung heroes, along with Civil Rights leaders, non-violently protesting and demonstrating against racial injustice (and some losing their lives in the process) the acts passed in the 1960s would not have come to fruition. America’s Civil Rights Struggle galvanized Congress to pass and enforce legislation to protect the rights of people of color. It was a tremendous help, of course, that the leader of the free world, LBJ, firmly supported the passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. In the same year, he also signed the Constitutional Amendment on the Poll Tax. The 24th Amendment, ratified on January 23, 1964, finally outlawed the poll tax which was intentionally designed to disenfranchise Southern blacks. On August 20, 1964, LBJ also signed the Economic Opportunity Act into law which is also known as the Poverty Bill. And this was just in 1964. He went on to sign such transformative legislation as the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Fair Housing Act of 1968 (officially known as the Civil Rights Act of 1968) among others. Why then, when President Johnson’s name is evoked, does the Vietnam War, started under the Eisenhower Administration, prominently figure in many peoples’ minds instead of the devastating blow he dealt to overt racial discrimination?
President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the 1964 Civil Rights Act as Martin Luther King, Jr., others look on, 07/02/1964. (The LBJ Presidential Library)
Written by Netisha Currie, Archives Specialist at the National Archives in College Park.
Today is the kick off for the second annual National Archives Virtual Genealogy Fair. From October 28-30 the Archives will broadcast 17 live lectures from across the nation via YouTube to inform the general public on various aspects of genealogical research. This event is free and open to all levels of genealogist – whether you are a professional or just starting to search for records about your family – all are welcome!
This year I am happy to present with my colleague Britney Crawford about FBI records that can be used in the course of genealogical research. Our talk, FBI and the FOIA: 20th Century Family Research, hopes to introduce genealogists to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) process and inform users on the potential for finding your family stories in the records of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The case files of the FBI are of particular value to African American families because many incidents of racial violence, political protest, and social movements were captured in these files when the FBI decided to investigate the actions as possible crimes. Two of the most important classes that are pertinent to African American history are Class 44 – Civil Rights (established to investigate crimes of the Ku Klux Klan), and Class 157 – Civil Unrest (established to investigate civil disorder and demonstrations).
Through my personal research, I was able to locate and submit a FOIA request for the Class 157 file that was in my grandfather’s name. It turns out that the family story I had heard for years of my father’s childhood home being burned down by the KKK was investigated, typed up, and made a permanent government record that sits in the same building where I work! Britney and I will be sharing that story and others of curious individuals finding their family history in the FBI records at the National Archives. Our presentation will take place Thursday, October 30 at 10am, please visit the Genealogy Fair Website for direct links to the YouTube cast and a list of other presentations. Please see other presentations of note below. Hope to see you there!
by Ligon on October 21, 2014
Written by Damani Davis, Reference Archivist at the National Archives in Washington, D. C.
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 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 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 genealogical aspirations, because I would need to trace their lineages 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.
“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,”
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. (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. (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. (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 (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 (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. (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. (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 states 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 (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 was the effort to many to get back to their native states in order to reunite with family. This movement was mainly towards the old tobacco states like Virgina from which they were likely sold or forced to move with owners who had relocated to states further 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 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.