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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

August 15, 2014, marked the 100th Anniversary of the completion of the Panama Canal.  So, it would seem like an appropriate time to continue my dialogue about the records in the National Archives that deal with the diverse nationalities that were responsible for the Panama Canal’s construction and maintenance.  Last year, in the “Panama Canal Employees: Service Record Cards (Part 1) and (Part 2)” blogs, I discussed the limited amount of information on West Indian Workers found in the Service Record Cards (NAID 7226556) series, even though they were the largest group of people employed by the Panama Canal.

Street Scene (NAID 535444)

Street Scene (NAID 535444)

However, there are other series in RG 185 Records of the Panama Canal that relate to the employment of West Indians in the Canal Zone.  These records are not as voluminous or as extensive as those for the white employees, but they still reveal much about the occupations and backgrounds of the West Indian workers.  Most West Indians were employed in manual intensive positions, but without their labor there would not have been a Panama Canal.  Therefore, it is fitting as we celebrate the 100th year anniversary of the completion of the Panama Canal that we also highlight the West Indian workers whose blood, sweat, and tears built it.

There are a number of series that relate to West Indian employees within RG 185.  These series include Applications for Photo-Metal Check, 1918-1919 (NAID 6821421); Metal Check Issue Cards, 1930-1937 (NAID 7226555); Sailing List of Contract Laborers, 1905-1913 (NAID 7226554); and Labor Service Contracts, 1905-1913 (NAID 7351398).  All four series listed above are scheduled to be moved to the National Archives at St. Louis, MO later this year and but can now be found on the FamilySearch website. [Click on View Images in this Collection to see the digitized series]


Application for Photo Metal Check for Raphael Septer (NAID 6821421)

Application for Photo Metal Check for Raphael Septer (NAID 6821421)


West Indians came from Barbados, Jamaica, Grenada, Martinique, and Trinidad.  They came to the Canal Zone looking for better employment opportunities and improved working conditions.  But once they were employed with the Panama Canal Company, West Indian workers also experienced racial discrimination.  A lot of these men were employed as laborers to dig, clear the land, and level or grade the earth in order to build the Miraflores Locks or the Gatun Dam.  Very few, if any, whites were assigned these types of jobs.  The races were segregated with people of color getting lower wage jobs, poorer working conditions, and inferior housing than the white employees.  This discrimination is documented in the General Correspondence, 1905-1914 (NAID 1065499) and in the General Records, 1914-1960 (NAID 7491558).  There is a subject index for these two series that lists topics such as laborers quarters, rates of pay for manual labor, colored schools, and colored towns that discuss these unequal conditions.

There are other records in our custody that can add not only to our knowledge about West Indian employees but all employees that lived within the borders of the Canal Zone.  We sometimes lose sight of the fact that employees in the Canal Zone married and raised families in the Canal Zone.  Generations of men and women married, had children, and died there before the canal was turned over to Panama in 2000.  We have records that document these phases of their lives such as Marriage Licenses, 1904-1979 (NAID 7694692) and Clergy Marriage Registration Books, 1904-1979 (NAID 7542706).  These records list such information as the bride’s and groom’s names, the names of the witnesses, and the date of the marriage.

West Indian Wedding Party (NAID 535444)

West Indian Wedding Party (NAID 535444)

We also have a fragmentary set of Registers of Birth, 1910-1928 (NAID 7351411); Records of Deaths, 1905-1949 (NAID 7387658); and Death Certificate Cards, 1914-1915 (NAID 7408557).  The birth records list such information as the father’s name, the father’s nationality, the child’s birth date, and a registration number.  The death records list information concerning the deceased such as name, date of death, grave number, nationality, cause of death, age, color/race, sex, and place of death.  The marriage, birth, and death records apply to individuals who lived within the Canal Zone.  Those workers who lived in Panama and commuted to the Canal Zone were governed by the laws of Panama and their vital records are in custody of the Panamanian Government.

I have cited some, not all major series of records found in the custody of the National Archives that document the contributions of the West Indian workers to the building of the Panama Canal.  I hope this brief blog will inspire others to come in and do more research into this important aspect of American history.

Three Civil Rights Workers

by on August 12, 2014

Today’s blog was written by Damon Turner, summer intern at the National Archives at College Park, Maryland and doctoral student at Morgan State University


Freedom Summer or the Mississippi Summer Project was a time of great intrigue and courage.  Black and White Americans who witnessed the horrors of Jim Crow, attempted to change America for the better.  Freedom Summer is primarily recognized by three key events: the creation of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP); the establishment of Freedom Schools along with the registration of Black voters; and the brutal murder of three civil rights workers.

Missing Civil Rights Workers

Missing Civil Rights Workers

On June 21, 1964, three civil rights workers investigated the burning of a Black church, where a civil rights rally took place days earlier.  James Chaney, 21 year-old Black Mississippi college student, and two White New Yorkers from the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), Andrew Goodman, age 20 and Michael Schwerner, age 24 were arrested and placed in jail for “speeding” by the local police.  The men were released after dark into the hands of the Ku Klux Klan.  In RG 65 the Classification 157 (Civil Unrest) Case Files, 1957-1978 (NAID 1513558) series, there are files regarding the attempts of CORE and the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) to register Black voters. Several of the cases in this series were opened by the FBI to investigate Ku Klux Klan and other hate organizations activity.  These records must be screened prior to public use.

After local and state authorities failed to locate the men, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy stepped in, along with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to take over the case.  Kennedy ordered an investigation under the Lindbergh Law [Federal Kidnapping Act (1948)] to look for the three civil rights workers.  The investigation was given the code name MIBURN or Mississippi Burning.  Ironically, this incident provided the final impetus for President Lyndon B. Johnson to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  In the mist of searching for the three workers, the FBI discovered the bodies of other missing civil rights activists.  Two of the recovered bodies were of Henry Dee and Charles Moore.  Many of the DOJ’s investigations into civil rights violations are detailed in RG 60 Class 144 (Civil Rights) Litigation Case Files, 1936-1997  (NAID 603432) series.  The case file number for the three missing civil rights workers is 144-41-686.  These records must be screened prior to public use.

It was not until the FBI offered a $30,000 reward before an anonymous source provided details and information concerning the whereabouts of the civil rights workers.  On August 4, 1964, the three men were found near Old Jolly Farm in Neshoba County, Mississippi.  Goodman and Schwerner were both shot in the head with a single bullet, while Chaney suffered two broken arms, trauma to the groin area, a broken jaw, and a crush right shoulder.  The Press Releases, Speeches, Testimonies, and other Records, 1933-1984 (NAID 5605357) series contains the Department of Justice’s press release on August 4, 1964, announcing the discovery of the bodies of the three young men.


The FBI arrested twenty-one local police officers and Klansmen for the crime.  But, state officials refused to prosecute them for kidnapping and murder.  Instead, the Federal Government charged seven out of the twenty-one Mississippians for the crime of violating the civil rights of Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner.  It was not until 2005, when eighty year-old former Klansman Edgar Ray Killen was indicted and convicted of manslaughter for masterminding the murder of the three civil rights workers.  He was sentenced to sixty years in the Mississippi State Penitentiary.  The RG 21 US District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi (Meridian) records are held at the National Archives at Atlanta, Georgia.  Included in this series is USA v. Cecil Ray Price, et al (1967) Case No. 5291, which details the charges against eighteen Klansmen in the murders of Schwerner, Goodman, and Chaney.

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

The passage of the Civil Rights in 1964 gave African Americans hope for equality in America.  The act allowed for the Department of Justice (DOJ) to initiate lawsuits on behalf of individuals who were discriminated against on the bases of race, color, religion, sex, and national origin in public accommodations.  Despite all the good intensions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, African Americans still faced discrimination in many public spaces across the country.

The Press Releases, Speeches, Testimonies, and Other Records (NAID 5605357) series consists of information released by the DOJ for public knowledge.  These records concerns the activities and accomplishments of the DOJ, as well as information on cases relating to organized crime, kidnappings, prisons, antitrust litigation, voting rights, and civil rights.  Several of the press releases following the signing of the Civil Rights Act showed how the DOJ determined whether or not to pursue a discrimination complaint or how they resolved these types of violations.

The first case filed with the DOJ under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 concerned the discrimination of African Americans in various restaurants and motels in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  The complaint brought to the Northern District of Alabama Federal Court by Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy showed that there was “a pattern or practice of resistance to equal treatment in public accommodations.”  The public release for July 29, 1964 detailing the violations are displayed below:

The DOJ press releases were also used to disclose information of cases involving civil rights violations, including murder.  During the summer of 1964, students from all over the country traveled to the state of Mississippi in an attempt to register African Americans to vote.  Freedom Summer was a dangerous time for these activists who tried to uplift the southern black population, while facing intimidation from resistant white Mississippians.  As a result of this activity, three young men, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner paid the ultimate price when they disappeared on June 21, 1964.  Below is the press release from August 4, 1964 announcing the discovery of the bodies of the slain civil rights workers.

Much of the violence that occurred in the South was due to African Americans attempting to register and to vote.  The Civil Rights Act of 1964 had a provision for voting restrictions.  In the press release for July 24, 1964, DOJ filed suit in the Circuit Courts of two counties in Mississippi.  Holmes County and Marshall County subjected African Americans to “unreasonable questions, procedures, and treatment,” when trying to participate in state elections.

The Civil Rights Act also protected individuals whose violations did not necessarily make the national news.  The case of Lemuel A. Penn, an educator and Lieutenant Colonel in the US Army Reserve, who was killed by Klan members in Georgia, was announced on August 6, 1964.  The DOJ and FBI worked together to find justice on behalf of this American citizen with the immediate arrest of the four men who committed the murder.  This case was one of many that demonstrated that several white southerners were not willing to accept the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Today’s blog is written by Alan Walker, Archivist at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland


Only a short time after President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, the National Archives had it on exhibit. It made a big impression on visitors who came from across the country and around the world to view the document that would forever change the lives of Americans.

GSA News Release

GSA News Release





Visit of Mrs. Gladys Sheriff to National Archives, July 23, 1964. Viewing Civil Rights Act of 1964 exhibit, with a  visitor. Mrs. Sheriff is assistant librarian of Fourah Bay College, University College, Freetown, Sierra Leone.

Visit of Mrs. Gladys Sheriff to National Archives, July 23, 1964. Viewing Civil Rights Act of 1964 exhibit, with a visitor. Mrs. Sheriff is assistant librarian of Fourah Bay College, University College, Freetown, Sierra Leone.



The Act was first displayed in the Pennsylvania Avenue lobby of the Archives Building, then was moved to the Exhibition Hall behind the Rotunda when space for it became available. Here it is, as displayed in the lobby:

Civil Rights Act of 1964 on display at the National Archives in Washington, D. C.

Civil Rights Act of 1964 on display at the National Archives in Washington, D. C.


In August 1964, tour guides from the New York World’s Fair arrived for a visit, and the Civil Rights Act was a focal point.

Deputy Archivist Robert H. Bahmer with Foreign Tour Guides from the World's Fair, August 21, 1964

Deputy Archivist Robert H. Bahmer with Foreign Tour Guides from the World’s Fair, August 21, 1964

Crafted in a time of unspeakable violence and danger in the South, this document, so hardly fought and dearly bought, served as a sign of hope that things would get better.


***Pages of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 are currently on display through September 16, 2014 at the National Archives Museum, located on the National Mall at Constitution and 9th St., NW.*** Press Release

Today’s blog is written by Dr. Tina L. Ligon, Archivist and Damon Turner, doctoral student at Morgan State University and summer intern at the National Archives at College Park, Maryland.


At the conclusion of World War II, African Americans began an aggressive campaign to achieve equal rights in America.  Organizations such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) organized sit-ins, boycotts, and led marches to end racial segregation in public places.  Protesters, both black and white participating in demonstrations were beaten, arrested, and verbally assaulted during the early 1960s.  Their fight for civil rights was documented on television news cast, in newspaper accounts, and through personal statements, and photographs.  Face with international criticism stemming from the Cold War and changing attitudes in America, the time had come for African Americans to demand civil rights.


Life-sized display of students sitting-in at a lunch counter in Memphis, Tennessee (NAID 7718945)

Life-sized display of students sitting-in at a lunch counter in Memphis, Tennessee (NAID 7718945)

During his televised speech on June 11, 1963, President John F. Kennedy asked for a Civil Rights Bill that would ban discrimination in public accommodations and to allow the US Justice Department to initiate lawsuits on the behalf of individuals.  After, Kennedy’s assassination in November 1963, President Lyndon Baines Johnson continued this request by urging Congress to pass this Bill as soon as possible. [Several hours after Kennedy made this plead to America, Civil Rights Activist Medgar Evers was killed in his driveway in Mississippi].

JFK addresses the nation about Civil Rights on June 11, 1963 (NAID 194188)

JFK addresses the nation about Civil Rights on June 11, 1963 (NAID 194188)

On July 2, 1964, President Johnson signed into law the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  This Act outlawed discrimination based on a person’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.  It also banned segregation in businesses such as theaters, restaurants, swimming pools, libraries, schools, and hotels.  This Act marked the beginning of the end of the Jim Crow South.  Most of the NARA holdings relating to this Act can be found at the LBJ Presidential Library in Austin, Texas.  Below are the first five pages of the Civil Rights Act of 1964  (NAID 299891).

During the Congressional debate over the Bill, Civil Rights leaders came to listen to the sessions.  Many black organizations and leaders backed the passage of this Bill and showed their support by attending conferences and making statements to the press.  Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X both came to Washington D. C. to monitor the progress of the Bill in March 1964.  This was the one and only time the men met in person.  Their encounter lasted less than a minute.


Once the Bill was introduced, it faced challenges in both houses.  Southern Congressmen wanted to maintain a segregated South.  In the House of Representatives, there were multiple attempts to keep the Bill out of the various judicial committees and prevent it from coming to a vote.  But, public opinion in the North forced representatives to bring the Bill to a vote.  It passed the House on February 10, 1964 by a vote of 290–130.  In the Senate, the Bill encountered the same type of opposition from those who were against integration in public spaces.  The southern bloc used the filibuster to prevent the Bill from coming to a vote.  Senator Hubert H. Humphrey (D-MN) managed to get enough votes to end the filibuster by introducing a weaker bill.  This was the only the second time in history, where the Senate was able to override a filibuster.  The cloture bill passed in the Senate by a vote of 73–27 on June 19, 1964.

Prior to signing the Bill at the White House, President Johnson made a public statement on why he signed it.  Click here to hear his comments



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