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This February, the Rediscovering Black History blog is kicking off a new feature – the Record of the Week. Every Thursday during Black History Month there will be a post highlighting one of the records from the National Archives’ vast holdings.

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and miniseries tells the story of Aminata Diallo, a protagonist whose life is forever changed because of this real-life historical document.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.

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. The Book of Negroes will air on BET February 16, 17, and 18 at 8 p.m.



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

 

There has been increased interest in the employees of the Panama Canal since I posted several blogs in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the construction of the canal. Many researchers are interested in tracing their ancestors who might have worked on the canal. To assist these researchers, I will be offering several “how to blogs” on records in NARA’s custody that concern Panama Canal employees. The blogs will discuss such records as personnel, marriage, birth, and death, where they are located, and how to search and request information from these records.

Working with dynamite was one of the most dangerous jobs in the Canal Zone. Deaths and severe injuries to these laborers were not uncommon. In this February 1912 photograph several “powder men” are shown loading shot holes with dynamite to blast a slide of rock in the west bank of the Culebra Cut.  (National Archives Local Identifier 185-G-154)

Working with dynamite was one of the most dangerous jobs in the Canal Zone. Deaths and severe injuries to these laborers were not uncommon. In this February 1912 photograph several “powder men” are shown loading shot holes with dynamite to blast a slide of rock in the west bank of the Culebra Cut.
(National Archives Local Identifier 185-G-154)

The first “how to blog” exams personnel records in NARA’s custody. The records may provide a lot of genealogical information such as the age, place of birth, parent’s names, occupation, and whether the employee was single or married. All personnel records for the Panama Canal are a part of RG 185 Records of the Panama Canal, and are located at the National Archives at St. Louis, Missouri.

  1. Panama Canal Railroad, 1896-1920
  2. American Citizen Official Personnel Files, 1904-1920
  3. Panama Canal Official Personnel Files, 1903-1920
  4. Panama Canal: Sailing Lists of Contract Laborers, 1905-1910 [available online at FamilySearch.org]
  5. Panama Canal: Requests for Metal Check Issue Cards, 1930-1937 [available online at FamilySearch.org]
  6. Panama Canal: Applications for Photo Metal Checks, 1918-1919 [available online at FamilySearch.org]
  7. Panama Canal: Labor Service Contracts, 1905-1913
  8. Panama Canal: Service Record Cards, 1904-1920  [available online at FamilySearch.org]
  9. Records Concerning Individuals (“99 Files”), 1907-1960

 

The records containing the most substantive information are to be found in series 1, 2, 3, 7, and 8. The records most often include employees from the United States as well as Europe (series 1, 2, 3, and 8). All of these series are arranged alphabetically by last name of the employee that served between 1896 and 1920. So if you know the name of the employee and when they worked on the Canal you should have enough information to request copies of records that are not available online. The documents may contain a wealth of information on the individual as well as their family members such as place of birth, age, mother’s name, father’s name, etc. However, not all personnel files are created equal. Some personnel files may be filled with information while others contain only the bare bones information on the employee. So do not be surprised if a particular employee’s file that you are interested in contains next to no information or incomplete information. The Service Cards are available online at FamilySearch.org.

 

Employees from the West Indians are most often found in series 4, 5, 6, and 7. The Sailing Lists of Contract Laborers, 1905-1910 list the names of the men from other countries hired to work on the Canal. The workers came from such countries as Barbados, Jamaica, and Spain. The lists are arranged alphabetically in part by name of ship and thereunder by date of arrival on the Canal Zone and place of departure. These records document the arrival of workers only. They do not give much information on their background. The Sailing Lists are available online at FamilySearch.org.

 

 application for photo-metal check-employees

Requests for Metal Check Issue Cards, 1930-1937 and Applications for Photo Metal Checks, 1918-1919 are arranged by assigned numerical numbers. The Metal Checks can provide the employee’s name, their age, and their job, and their wages. These series are available online at FamilySearch.org.

 request for metal check issue

Labor Service Contracts, 1905-1913 are agreements between an individual and the hiring officials on the canal. The records are arranged alphabetically by the last name of the individual. It contains a description of the individual, their age, and their place of birth. Knowing the name of the individual and when he was hired on will allow for a detailed search of these records.

Records Concerning Individuals (“99 Files”), 1907-1960 are arranged by year and thereunder alphabetically by the last name of the individual. In this case you would have to know the name of the individual and the years that he worked on the canal. The value of this series of records has proven to be questionable given their nature. The records deal more so with incidents than with individuals. I have not found these records valuable in providing information on canal employees.

 

Placing granite in the hollow quoin. Dry Dock No. 1, Balboa, June 21, 1915.  (National Archives Local Identifier 185-HR-4-26J164)

Placing granite in the hollow quoin. Dry Dock No. 1, Balboa, June 21, 1915.
(National Archives Local Identifier 185-HR-4-26J164)

Researchers should realize that not all personnel records are still in existence. Therefore, we may not be able to document the service of many former Panama Canal employees. Inquiries concerning the series discussed in this blog that are not online, as well as for official personnel folders (OPFs) of Panama Canal employees should be directed to the following address: National Archives at St. Louis, Attention: Archival Programs, P.O. Box 38757, St. Louis, MO 63138-10002. When you write in please provide as much information about the employee as possible in order to facilitate a proper search of the records.



Today’s blog was written by David Langbart, Archivist at the National Archives in College Park.

At the outbreak of World War I, William H. Hunt was serving as the U.S. Consul in St. Etienne, France. In addition to his official duties, Hunt was also a true American pioneer. In 1914, he was one of the very few African Americans serving in the Department of State, the Diplomatic Service, or the Consular Service in a professional capacity. Even more notable, he was not serving at a post in the Caribbean or in Africa.

William H. Hunt, 1911

William H. Hunt, 1911

[Source: William H. Hunt, Official Personnel Folders-Department of State (NAID 3752654); Record Group 146: Records of the U.S. Civil Service Commission; National Archives, St. Louis, MO]

William Henry Hunt was born near Nashville, Tennessee on June 28, 1864, even as the American Civil War still raged. He received his education in the public schools of Nashville, at the Lawrence Academy in Groton, Massachusetts, and spent one year at Williams College before entering the business world as a clerk for Price, McCormick Co. in New York City. In 1898, he became a clerk in the U.S. consulate in Tamatave, Madagascar. His professional career began with appointment as a vice consul at Tamatave in May 1899. When the Consul Mifflin W. Gibbs resigned, he urged President McKinley to appoint Hunt in his stead. The President and Department of State took that advice and Hunt was appointed consul at Tamatave in August 1901. Hunt married Gibbs’s daughter Ida in 1904.

In 1904, Hunt sought transfer to a less remote post with a better climate and greater level of work. Hunt was appointed as consul in St. Etienne and entered into service there in November 1906. He remained in that city for over 20 years, until the U.S. closed the office in 1927. In last six years of his career, Hunt held the following postings:
●Consul at Guadeloupe May 1927
●Consul at St. Michaels, Azores September 1929
●Consul and Second Secretary of Legation at Monrovia, Liberia January 1931
●Detailed to the Department August 1932

Hunt retired on December 31, 1932, and died on December 20, 1951.

Department of State to U.S. Embassy, Paris January 15, 1927

[Source: Department of State to U.S. embassy Paris, January 15, 1927, file: 123 H 911/42a, 1910-29 Central Decimal File, RG 59: General Records of the Department of State, National Archives, College Park, MD]

The fact of Hunt’s background was ever present in his personnel file. The summary sheet of his service is headed “WILLIAM H. HUNT, of New York. (Colored).” There are also the following comments over time:

●1913: Mr. Hunt is a well educated colored man.
●1915: The only possible objection to him and the only obstacle in the way of his promotion to a more important post is the fact that he has negro blood.
●1921: The only possible objection to him is the fact that he has negro blood. . . . Good personality for a colored man.
●1921: Seems a very creditable member of his race.
●1923: For a colored man, Mr. Hunt’s personality in all respects deserves to be rated as excellent . . . were it not that his colored blood restricts his usefulness to certain posts and countries where no prejudice against such blood exists. . . . He should not be sent to a country where any race prejudice exists.
●1925: The fact that he has negro blood in his veins cannot but detract, however, from cultural standing; . . . . standing is greatly handicapped by the fact of his wife’s racial extraction which is more evident than in his own case.
●1926: The fact that he has negro blood in his veins cannot but detract, however, from cultural standing; . . . . standing is greatly handicapped by the fact of his wife’s racial extraction which is more evident than in his own case.
●1926: The Board will remember that Mr. Hunt is colored. [In reference to a new assignment.]
●1927: As the officer and his wife are colored, he is not very mobile and must be rated low as to post utility. . . . it is possible to assign him to only a limited number of posts.

When he went to Madagascar, Hunt already read, spoke, and wrote French. After working in the French colony and in France for an extended period of time, Hunt became quite fluent with the language. Indeed, he was so immersed that when he visited the Department of State on his first return visit to the United States in 17 years in November 1921, one official noted “that he has some difficulty expressing his thoughts in English.”

Hunt was not a standout performer. His ratings varied over the years, generally in the fair/good range, but he sometimes came in for severe criticism for the small number of reports the lack of comprehensiveness in those he did submit, and a lack of initiative. It was also noted that his reports were not very well written. On the other hand, he was considered tactful, courteous, prompt, accurate, industrious, and generally made a favorable impression on the local population wherever he served. He was quite prominent and popular in St. Etienne.

Sources: William H. Hunt, Official Personnel Folders-Department of State (NAID 3752654); Record Group 146: Records of the U.S. Civil Service Commission; National Archives, St. Louis, MO; Appointment Cards, file “2313” in the 1906-1910 Numerical File (NAID 654171), and file “123 H 911” in the 1910-29 and 1930-39 segments of the Central Decimal File (NAID 302021), all part of RG 59: General Records of the Department of State, National Archives.

I greatly appreciate the assistance of my colleagues Ashley Mattingly and Tina Ligon.

Soul City, North Carolina!

by on December 30, 2014


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

 

As a part of the Great Society, President Lyndon B. Johnson created the model cities program in 1966. This program provided federal funding to community leaders in urban areas with the intent on developing affordable housing, establishing alternative forms of municipal government, and creating antipoverty programs. Some of the areas that were selected to establish model cities were Detroit, Michigan; Oakland, California; Newark and Camden, New Jersey; Smithville, Tennessee; and Chicago, Illinois. The model cities program ended in the mid-1970s, due to conservative backlash from urban protest that occurred in the late 1960s and widespread accusations of mismanagement of government funds.

Civil Rights Activist Floyd B. McKissick was the driving force behind the Soul City project, which was to be built in Warren County, North Carolina. This model city was designed to be the residence for 50,000 people of all races and the home to businesses that would provide employment. McKissick planned for Soul City to have schools, factories, medical facilities, a man-made lake, and retail shopping by the 21st century.

Floyd B. McKissick (L) and Kimp Talley stand in front of huge 20 ft. steel and concrete sculpture which graces the entrance to Soul City at the intersection of U.S. Highway 1 and Soul City Blvd. (NAID 12584354)

Floyd B. McKissick (L) and Kimp Talley stand in front of huge 20 ft. steel and concrete sculpture which graces the entrance to Soul City at the intersection of U.S. Highway 1 and Soul City Blvd. (NAID 12584354)

The series Program Records Relating to Soul City, 1974–1979 (NAID 12584354) contains contracts, newspaper clippings, and photographs on the Soul City project. The bulk of the series consists of letters dealing with the progress of the Soul City project. Although the letters focus on the later years of the project, they give some insight into the challenges and misconceptions of building of Soul City. The following letter is from Mrs. Richard S. Bear to Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Patricia Roberts Harris (June 14, 1979) showing support for McKissick and Soul City:

 

In 1975, the Raleigh News & Observer wrote an article criticizing McKissick’s motives and accused him of corruption, nepotism, and mismanagement of government funds. Several members of Congress, including Senator Jesse Helms, political leaders in North Carolina, and citizens from across the country expressed concerned over the progress of Soul City. Many felt that taxpayers’ money should not be wasted on the project. The article prompted a federal investigation into the Soul City project. Even though the investigation found no wrong doing, businesses refused to invest in the project and people chose not to relocate to Soul City. Below is a letter from North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms to Harris (July 13, 1979) about concerns over HUD’s involvement with Soul City:

 

Despite the continuing efforts of Floyd McKissick and his supporters, Soul City failed. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) withdrew its funding in 1979, due to the lack of progress in creating Soul City. Despite the government foreclosure, McKissick continued to work towards his vision of a black utopia. Today, there are a few hundred people living in Soul City and a couple of buildings. The following is from McKissick to Harris (July 6, 1979) detailing his accomplishments towards Soul City:

 



Written by Kevin L. Bradley, Archives Technician in the Motion Picture, Sound, and Video Division at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland

The National Archives holds thousands of photographs illustrating the various activities of servicemen and women in all branches of the Armed Forces. The photographs are able to give visuals of the bravery and sacrifice that men and women in the military made during their service.

In several of the series, there are images of lesser known military heroes whose stories deserved to be acknowledged. One such person is Frederick C. Branch, the first African American commissioned officer in the United States Marine Corps (USMC).

After receiving a draft notice in May 1943, Branch reported to Fort Bragg in North Carolina, where he was inducted into the Marines. He was one of the first African Americans selected into the USMC after President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 8802, which allowed black men to join the corps. Branch’s service and commitment during World War II, earned him at place in the officer’s training program. On November 10, 1945, Branch was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant. Branch would later achieve the rank of Captain in 1952.

The image below is from the General Photograph File of the U. S. Marine Corps, 1927-1981 (NAID 532396) series. This series was created by the USMC to capture the history of the Corps’ activities from early campaigns during World War II to battles in the Vietnam Conflict. It also contains images of African American Marines in wartime activities. The selected photograph shows Branch’s wife, Camilla, admiring his second lieutenant’s bars in 1945.

“The first Negro to be commissioned in the Marine Corps has his second lieutenant’s bars pinned on by his wife. He is Frederick C. Branch of Charlotte, NC.”, 11/1945 NAID 532577

Over the years, Branch has received numerous awards and honors. In 1995, the Senate passed a resolution to honor his contribution to the integration of the USMC. Additionally, an officer candidate training school in Virginia, and several scholarships were named after him.

The series Combined Military Service Digital Photographic Files, 1982-2007 (NAID 6274097), created by the Defense Visual Information Center to collect a visual record of military activities for publicity purposes, contains photographs of servicemen and women at various functions representing the Armed Forces. The photograph below shows Branch and his wife, at the dedication ceremony for Branch Hall at the Officers Candidates School, Marine Corps Combat Development Command in 1997.

Mr. Frederick Clinton Branch cuts the ribbon and officially dedicates Branch Hall at the Officers Candidates School, Marine Corps Combat Development Command. Mr. Branch is now a retired educator living in Philadelphia. Assisting Mr. Branch are his wife; Brig. GEN. E. C. Kelly, Commanding General (left); LT. GEN. P. K. Van Riper, Commanding General Marine Corps Combat Development Command; and COL. A. Davis, Commanding Officer of the Officers Candidate School, 07/09/1997 NAID 6501401

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