by Ligon on August 13, 2013
Today’s Blog Post was written by Patrice Brown, Archivist (Special Assistant) in the Evaluation and Special Projects Division, National Declassification Center at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland.
The first blog on Service Record Cards, 1904-1920 (National Archives ID 7226556) revealed the contributions service women made to the Panama Canal. The following selected cards document the service of employees from other countries. Many European, Asian, West Indian, and East Indian immigrants toiled on the Isthmus of Panama to ensure that the Canal was built. One European immigrant in the service cards is Dimitie Corsit from Greece, a country well known for its shipbuilding prowess. He was employed as a Shipwright Foreman. A shipwright builds or repairs ships and as a foreman, Mr. Corsit undoubtedly supervised employees working in this area. This occupation may not automatically come to mind when thinking about the type of work conducted on the Canal Zone, but the Canal operation owned their own ships, which were used to transport personnel, supplies and equipment to the Canal Zone so it would seem perfectly normal to employ people in this capacity. The card notes Mr. Corsit’s death, and although it does not give the cause of death, the information serves to remind us of the dangerous health and working conditions on the Canal Zone. The National Archives does have death certificates for those who died while in the Canal Zone.
Service Card for Dimitie Corsit
The next Service Card relates to Louis Philippe Orsini who was born in France. Mr. Orsini arrived on the Isthmus in 1905, and was employed as a clerk. Bureaucrats and clerks in offices in connection with the engineering and construction work of the Panama Canal were essential to a well-run operation. Louis Philippe Orsini was 47 years old and, I wonder, were there labor conditions in France that made the Canal Zone a better employment opportunity? Why he would have gone to work on the Canal Zone? Further research is necessary to answer this question.
Service Card for Louis Philippe Orsini
The annotation on his card states that he began his career as a clerk with the office of the Collector of Revenue and earned $1,080.00. Reading further down in the card it is noted that he later earned $1,300.00 per year.
The Service Cards reveal a wide variation in pay ranging from $60.00 a month for a nurse to 56 cents an hour for a shipwright foreman to $1300.00 per year for a clerk. I wonder what was the average yearly salary for Canal Zone employees, and if the majority of employees were able to earn what we know as a living wage in the early construction days of the Panama Canal.
Service Card for Akira Awoyama
This Service Card is for Akira Awoyama, from Japan, who was a resident engineer. He may have been the only Japanese engineer that served on the Canal Zone. He was only 26 when he started and was employed from 1904 to 1912. He resigned two years before construction of the Canal was completed. His last position was a draftsman at $175.00 per month. During his tenure he would have seen much improvement from the primitive living conditions first encountered in 1904. I wonder what drew him to this foreign land and what eventually caused him to leave.
These Service Cards provide important information on the individual employees that worked on the Canal Zone and give us a broader understanding of exactly who built the Panama Canal. Service Record Cards is just one series of records in the National Archives that can provide information on Panama Canal employees. Additional Panama Canal records relating to employees will be discussed in future blogs.
by Ligon on August 6, 2013
Today’s blog is written by Netisha Currie, Archives Specialist in the Research Services Division, Textual Records at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland
There are many episodes of disappointment in American history when disparate groups of citizens seek out the interference of help from the Federal Government and are turned away because there is no way the government can become involved, or a path to resolving the problem has not been carved out. The following documents from the Straight Numerical Files, 1904-1974 (National Archives Identifier 583895) series, highlight cases where the Department of Justice (Record Group 60) was either unable to intervene because of jurisdiction or no laws existed that would make disturbances a federal case.
Telegram from John Beggett, Secretary of the Ministerial Alliance to President Warren G. Harding, 01/08/1923
This telegram, addressed to the President of the United States, asks for an investigation into the recent “race disturbance” that occurred in Rosewood, Florida. The Rosewood massacre was a racially charged episode that occurred during the first week of January 1923, in which eight people were killed and a whole African American community was burned, razed, and wiped off the map – never to be rebuilt again. The violence was widely reported in papers across the country, reaching this concerned group of ministers in Tennessee. However, this call for justice could not be answered by the Government. In a reply to the telegram, the Assistant Attorney General of the United States acknowledges receipt, states that “there is no federal action which can be taken in the race disturbance at Rosewood, Florida,” and advises that “the matter should be called to the attention of the State officials.”
There are also boxes and folders full of correspondence in the Straight Numerical Files regarding lynchings of African Americans throughout the country. In the letter below, the Pittsburgh Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) calls to the attention of the President, that since entry into World War I, 247 African Americans have been victims of mob violence. Many letters such as this were sent to the Federal Government with lynching statistics to try and call for national attention on this extensive problem.
Letter from William Randolph, Pittsburgh NAACP to President Woodrow Wilson, 06/29/1918
Letters were also sent to the Government detailing individual cases of lynching – either detailing the story of a black soldier recently returned home from the War, or sending in newspaper clippings of occurrences that got coverage in local newspapers. Each time, the correspondent received a letter much like the one below.
Letter from Claude R. Porter, Asst Attorney General to Charles Douglas, 05/24/1919
The case referred to the Justice Department’s response is Hodges v. United States (203 U.S. 1), 1906. The Court limited the power of Congress to make laws under the Thirteenth Amendment, effectively shutting the Government out of cases involving the civil rights of those the amendment protected – mostly African Americans in the South. It is overwhelming to think how many letters were sent from the Attorney General’s office with the phrase “it is impossible to intervene” in the span covered in these three documents, from 1918 to 1923. And it continued for years after. The Government could not help.
The rampant lynching that was carried out in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century sparked an early arm of the Civil Rights movement, spearheaded by Ida B. Wells-Barnett. These efforts resulted in proposed legislation in Congress for anti-lynching laws, all of which failed to pass through the Senate (the Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill passed in the House of Representatives three times from 1922-1924). In 2005, the Senate issued an apology for blocking anti-lynching legislation.
by Ligon on July 30, 2013
Today’s Blog Post is written by Patrice Brown, Archivist (Special Assistant) in the Evaluation and Special Projects Division, National Declassification Center at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland.
In 2014, the Panama Canal will celebrate its 100th anniversary. There are many records in the custody of the National Archives that document the well known story of the creation and construction of this tremendous engineering feat. Also in our custody are records documenting the equally important but seldom highlighted story of individuals who worked to not only build the canal but who operated and maintained it.
The Service Records Cards, 1904-1920 (National Archives Identifier 7226556) series, in Record Group 185 Records of the Panama Canal, 1848-1984, contains information on those who worked in the Canal Zone during the construction of the Panama Canal. The Service Cards usually include a summary of an employee’s work history, and personal information, such as: place of birth, date of birth or age, home address, Canal Zone address, occupation, and rate of pay, and length of service. In some cases the name and address of the employees’ relatives are also noted.
- Miss Anna L. Doolittle’s Service Card (June 21, 1907)
The information recorded on the cards also reveal the variety of jobs available to women and men, and the numerous nationalities (including West Indian, European, Chinese, and American immigrants) who were recruited to work in the Canal Zone.
back view of Doolittle’s service card
In 1907, the central infrastructure of the Canal Zone was still under construction. Workers were still building government buildings, stores, schools, hospitals, streets, and roads. The tropical insects that infested the Canal Zone made it necessary to employ a medical staff quickly. With so many deadly diseases, one may not think that a female would apply to be a nurse in this area. Yet, Anna L. Doolittle was one of many females who served as nurses in Canal Zone hospitals. Miss Doolittle was only 23 when she left the comfort of her home in West Virginia to venture to a rough and tumble area of the world. This Service Card documents the hiring of Miss Anna L. Doolittle as a nurse at Ancon Hospital in 1907.
Ancon Hospital Ward #9 (National Archives Identifier 6120319)
Miss Doolittle is one of the many stories of the many women who worked in other capacities such as store clerks, stenographers, laundresses, and housewives who performed jobs vital in supporting the construction work on the Panama Canal. Why these women came to such a desolate area cannot be determined from Service Cards alone, but the records may provide insight into genealogy research, local social history, etc. and so additional research elsewhere is necessary to possibly answer such questions.
by Ligon on July 18, 2013
Today’s blog was written by Tina L. Ligon, Archivist at the National Archives and Michael Arzate, Summer Diversity Intern at the National Archives
There is perhaps no other name so greatly associated with the South African anti-apartheid movement as Nelson Mandela’s. He is considered one of the greatest global advocates for peace and equality in South Africa. Born on July 18, 1918, in the village of Mvezo, Transkei [in the southeastern region of South Africa], Mandela made history when he was elected as the country’s first Black President in 1994, in a fully representative election.
Various government officials bid farewell to South Africa’s President Nelson Mandela as he prepares to depart the flightline, 10/07/1994 (National Archives Identifier 6493886)
Mandela began his revolutionary career in the early 1940s, at the University of Witwatersrand, where he was the only native African law student. Throughout his years at the law school, Mandela was engaged in a number of nationalist and socialist organizations that advocated the core tenets of his beliefs, which were social and civil equality. After the 1948 election, the National Party adopted an openly racist policy and expanded racial segregation through the passage of tougher apartheid legislation. Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress (ANC) directly attacked the apartheid system through the use of radical and revolutionary protests, boycotts, and strikes.
Colonel Acuff greets South Africa’s President, Nelson Mandela. 10/04/1994 (National Archives Identifier 6493889)
The National Archives has several photographs on Mandela’s visits to the United States and of US leaders visiting with him in South Africa. Within record Group 59 General Records of the Department of States are an assemblage of photographs relating directly to the highest-profile officials at the Department of State. The Photographic Portraits and Events Coverages relating to Secretaries of State, compiled 1969-1993 series (National Archives Identifier 518083) contains images of Secretary of State James A. Baker greeting Nelson Mandela upon arrival in Washington, D. C.
South Africa’s President, Nelson Mandela, talks with other distinguished visitors on the flight line after his arrival. (National Archives Identifier 6493891)
Record Group 306 Records of the US Information Agency consists of photographs of Presidents of the United States with foreign dignitaries and their visits to the United States. This series contains a photograph of President Bill Clinton with Nelson Mandela at Andrews Air Force Base in 1994. Also in this record group are photographs from the Photographs Assembled for “Topic” Magazine Coverage of Political, Economic, and Cultural Life in the United States and Africa, compiled 1965-1990 series (National Archives Identifier 1055788). This series comprises the principal working file of photographs deployed, or considered for deployment, in the US Information Agency’s (USIA’s) heavily illustrated publication disseminated in sub-Saharan Africa, “Topic” magazine. This series includes photographs on the historic visit of Nelson Mandela to the United States in 1990.
Photograph of President William J. Clinton with Nelson Mandela at the Philadelphia Freedom Festival , 07/04/1993 (National Archives Identifier 2569290)
Record Group 330 Records of the Office of the Secretary of Defense contains photographs focusing on Mandela’s visit to Washington, D. C. in October 1994. Within the series Combined Military Service Digital Photographic Files, compiled 1982-2007 (National Archives Identifier 6274097) there are several photographs detailing Mandela’s arrival and departure from Andrews Air Force Base. This series consists of camera original images made by photographers from the US Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and to a lesser extent the US Coast Guard from 1982 through 2007. Most of the photographs are available through the Online Public Access (OPA) catalog.
Michael Arzate is the Summer Diversity Intern in the Research Services Division, Textual Records at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland. He is currently a History undergraduate major at the University of California, Berkeley.
First, let me introduce myself. I’m an undergraduate student spending my summer as an intern at the National Archives. Why? I wanted to expose myself to the treasures of America’s historical records and to do research on the African American civil rights movement in the 1960s. Plus, I was curious to explore the kinds of careers a history major can enjoy. “What are you going to do with a degree in history?” became a tiresome question.
I soon found out that work here at the Archives is actually extremely rewarding. It seems that every day I come across a new record containing information about people and events that I had only read about in a textbook or a research paper. One such name appeared as I was browsing over Record Group 129 Records of the Bureau of Prisons. The Notorious Offenders (National Archives Identifier 580698) series immediately caught my attention (my 20-something year old self wanted to see the “cool” stuff first) and I began to delve into the cases of famous people that had served hard time in federal prisons. Familiar names were the first to be examined- Alger Hiss, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, Bayard Rustin, and Billie Holiday. But as I began searching for those who might be interesting to research relating to Black History, I thought that legendary civil rights leaders such as Rustin might be the only ones worth including. I soon realized, however, that not all African American history is heroic or uplifting. It’s important not only to study the works of great leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. but also of those of who halted their progress and the motivations behind doing so. Thus, I chose to focus a bit more on the other side of Black History and research the man who was convicted of King’s death: James Earl Ray.
[FBI Most Wanted photo flyer 442-A April 19. 1968]
I think it’s safe to say that most people have a one-sided view of Ray. After reading through his record however, I was fascinated to discover the many facets of a supposedly one-dimensional character. His story begins with humble beginnings growing up in a poor family in rural Illinois. During World War II, he served in the Army in Germany. After returning he committed numerous felonies (including armed robbery, forging money orders, and murder) all of which sent him to prison a total of three separate times in which he escaped twice, sparking an international man-hunt and a spot on the FBI’s Most Wanted List.
[photo of the truck, showing how he escaped in a bread truck in 1967. Taken from The Kansas City Star January 19, 1969 page 3D]
After escaping prison the first time in 1967 he fled across the country both south and north of the border. Ray was known to have segregationist ties (it’s said that while living with a different name he even helped campaign for George Wallace in Los Angeles), possibly being evidence of his hatred towards African Americans and the motivation towards the alleged assassination.
If you do not know the rest of the story, any search engine will do. Controversies and conspiracies theories shrouded the investigation over MLK’s assassination. After being arrested in 1969 by London authorities (yes, he made it all the way to the U.K.), Ray confessed to the crime but then famously denied his confession three days later, claiming that he was forced to do so by police officials. Ray was sentenced to a 99 year sentence, with another year added after his escape in 1977. Until his last day, James Earl Ray denied the crime, saying that it was part of a larger conspiracy involving contacts from Canada and even insinuating that the U.S. government had a role in it as well.
[Taken from Washington Post pg. 1 August 17, 1978]
While the entire story behind the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. remains to this day unclear, a look into the other side of history reveals the complexity and depth of a story that is not so eagerly told. How plausible is his version of history? His prison escapes make me doubt, but this document recorded in 1977 gave another interesting glimpse into the mind of James Earl Ray. Of his three year sentence in 1955 for forgery it says, “Ray was eligible for parole on September 30, 1956, but on April 4th, 1956, signed a waiver saying ‘I do not wish to apply for a parole as I do not think it will do me any good’”.
[memo relating to Ray's parole, June 22, 1977]