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This post was written by Netisha Currie, Archives Specialist at the National Archives at College Park.


“Master Charles Michael Lee, A Patriot” August, 1941. Local ID: 111-SC-121857


Sometimes, instead of digging through boxes to find an interesting record, a record will find you. While walking through the offices of the Still Pictures branch in College Park, I saw an enlarged print on the wall of this little boy smiling at me.

This photo was taken in August of 1941 of Charles Michael Lee, aged 3, in the photographic laboratory at the Signal Corps office in Baltimore, Maryland. This is one of the many photos collected from official and unofficial sources for the Signal Corps in the series Photographs of American Military Activities, 1918-1981 (NAID 530707, Local Identifier: 111-SC). The caption for the photograph states: “Smart as a whip and neat as a pin, little Charlie’s personality should carry him far.”

What might have become of little Charlie’s life? Some of the landmark documents from the National Archives provide insight as to what he faced growing up in the 20th century United States:

  • He was born at a time when military segregation would soon come to an end under Executive Order 9981 in 1948
  • The Brown v. Board of Education decision would help to desegregate schools, probably while he was in high school
  • Well into being eligible to vote, the Voting Rights Act would pass in 1965 – outlawing discriminatory and unfair practices that inhibited many persons of color from voting
  • He would also be in the prime of his life during the most active years of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, and might have witnessed the Baltimore Riots in 1968.

Looking ahead, as the National Archives continues to preserve and protect the permanent records of the federal government, I wonder what documents and records will match up with the life of a 3 year old kid whose picture is taken in 2015.

For more records and photographic series relating to African Americans in the military, please check out the following resources:

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


This is the second in a series of blogs that relates to Panama Canal records. This blog focuses on death records and how the records can be used to perform genealogical or labor history research concerning living and working conditions in the Canal Zone. The records date from 1884–1999 and relate to accidents, injuries and deaths that occurred in the Canal Zone. The records can assist in documenting a variety of events such as whether a relative worked for the Panama Canal. Genealogical information can be obtained from the records relating to an individual’s name, age, marital status, and country of origin. In addition, illnesses and causes of injuries listed in the records can indicate the living and working conditions in the Canal Zone.

From the series Photographs of the Construction of the Panama Canal (NAID 535444), photo number 185-G-1198

From the series Photographs of the Construction of the Panama Canal (NAID 535444), photo number 185-G-1198

The earliest death records in our custody are the Certificates of Death [French], 1884–1894 (NAID 7387390), which contains information relating to deaths that occurred during French construction in the Canal Zone. In addition to this series, researchers might want to also consult the General Records of the French Canal Companies, 1904–1914 (NAID 1012543), particularly File # 14-C-X1, which relates to construction work, acquisition of land, and labor and personnel problems. The majority of the workers were French, but there were several employees from other countries, including Haiti, Martinique, Colombia, and England.

From the series Photographs of the Construction of the Panama Canal (NAID 535444), photo number 185-G-131

From the series Photographs of the Construction of the Panama Canal (NAID 535444), photo number 185-G-131

In several instances the death records document the deaths of Canal employees as well as members of their families, sailors docking at Zone ports, passengers on steamships, and residents of the Canal Zone. Record of Deaths, 1905–1949 (NAID 7387658) and Death Certificate Cards, 1907–1915 (NAID 7408557) capture this type of information. These series include information on males, females, and children from various countries including Jamaica, Panama, the United States, England, and Spain.

From the series Photographs of the Construction of the Panama Canal (NAID 535444), photo number 185-G-1197

From the series Photographs of the Construction of the Panama Canal (NAID 535444), photo number 185-G-1197

Another substantive series that is similar to the previously records is the Gorgas Hospital Mortuary Records, 1906–1999 (NAID 7694678). The records relate to individuals who died in the Gorgas Hospital, which was used to treat patents for malaria and yellow fever. These records cover the largest time span and relate to a specific hospital in the Canal Zone. These records can be searched in the Access to Archival Databases (AAD).

From the series Photographs of the Construction of the Panama Canal (NAID 535444), photo number 185-G-1194

From the series Photographs of the Construction of the Panama Canal (NAID 535444), photo number 185-G-1194

In addition to records in the custody of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) concerning accidents and deaths in the Canal Zone, we also have records relating to accidents and deaths that occurred on Steamships. The Panama Canal Company was an adjunct to the Canal Zone operation. The Company owned a steamship line that was responsible for transporting provisions and passengers between New York, the Canal Zone and South American ports of call. Most of these records have information on the deceased, such as their name, age, nationality, and cause of death.

These steamship records cover employees and to a small extent non-employees. The employees include workers such as seamen, waiters, and cooks. The passengers included Canal employees returning to the Canal Zone from vacation to the United States and families or individuals traveling to Panama or the Canal Zone.

Please note that most of these records concerning accidents, injuries or deaths in the Canal Zone or on steamships are fragmentary and does not cover all deaths. The Department of State, Consular Section has a more complete set of records for deaths occurring in the Canal Zone.

The series related to steamships include Personal Injury Registry Books, 1906–1914 (NAID 7542695), Index to Panama Railroad Relocation Injury Claims, 1914–1951 (NAID 7542845), Personal Payroll Injuries Index Book, 1911–1912 (NAID 7542768), Records Relating to Employee’s Accidents, Sickness or Disability, 1919–1951 (NAID 7822663), Employee’s Accidents, Sickness or Disability, 1951–1960 (NAID 7822689), Injury Report Files, 1952–1960 (NAID 7822682), Reports Relating to Deaths on Steamers, 1949–1960 (NAID 7822683). These series add insight into life on board ships for workers and travelers, as well as document a relative’s service for the Panama Canal.

From the series Photographs of the Construction of the Panama Canal (NAID 535444), photo number 185-G-136

From the series Photographs of the Construction of the Panama Canal (NAID 535444), photo number 185-G-136

All of the records discussed in this blog can provide useful information concerning the lives of those living on the Canal Zone. The information provided ranges from genealogical to social and labor topics. These topics are of interest to many researchers and these records may prove valuable to their hunt for historical information.

This post was submitted by Ray Bottorff, Archivist at the National Archives at College Park. Ray is also a comic books enthusiast, so we present this record of the week in celebration of Awesome Con, happening this weekend in Washington, DC.

From the series General Records, 1942–July 1943 (NAID 12126610) in RG 44

George J. Hecht, President of the Parents’ Institute, a publishing company, contacted the Division of Education Services of the Office of War Information (OWI) about printing comic books aimed at African Americans in order to include and encourage their participation in the war efforts.

Along with the letters, Hecht sent in examples of his work, including tear sheets from a biographical story of  Marian Anderson, which highlighted Anderson’s rising fame and generosity towards American servicemen.

Another set of tear sheets includes a biographical story on Joe Louis.

Today’s blog was written by Emanuel Riley, graduating senior at the University of Maryland and Archives Technician at the National Archives at College Park


On October 17, 1963, William J. vanden Heuvel, then special assistant to President John F. Kennedy, delivered a speech to the students and faculty of Hampden-Sidney College in Prince Edward County, Virginia. By the time, vanden Heuvel delivered the speech he had become quite familiar with Prince Edward County; the county that held the title as the only county in America to close the doors of its public school system amid federal orders to desegregate its school system.




The file unit LL 2-3 Desegregation: Prince Edward Co. (NAID 18515150) located in the Office Files, 1928–1980 (NAID 573507) series in RG 12 Records of the Office of Education contains documentation from the desegregation, and subsequent mass closings, of the Prince Edward County school system. The legal case for the desegregation of the Prince Edwards County school system would become one of the five court cases that would become Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, the landmark Supreme Court case in which laws establishing segregated schools were deemed to be unconstitutional.



The events leading up to the closing of the school system occurred as the war of attrition on school desegregation was occurring, led by lead counsel at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Thurgood Marshall. Marshall and the NAACP saw the Prince Edward School System as an ideal case to challenge the constitutionality of public school segregation and overturn the doctrine of Separate but Equal established by Plessy v. Ferguson more than 50 years prior. Following several lower court decisions seeking to delay the effective date of school desegregation, the U.S. Supreme Court, on June 26, 1959, denied the Prince Edward School Board’s request for further delay of the desegregation mandate. The school board responded by shutting the doors to all of its public schools in the summer of 1959.

At the start of the 1959–60 school year, the county’s white children were provided education through the Prince Edward School Foundation, a nonprofit school foundation that provided elementary and secondary education. Several local and state agencies, including the Virginia Teachers’ Association and the Prince Edward County Christian Association, arranged to provide black children with the opportunity to receive an education in non-public facilities in the county and in surrounding areas. But, less than 200 of the county’s 1,700 black children were able to attend school under such arrangements. Most of the county’s 1,700 black children were not provided a public education between 1959 and 1964.   In 1963, Michigan State University conducted a study on black and white students in Prince Edward County. Below is a sampling of the results of the study.



The Prince Edward Free School Association was established to serve the children who could not receive an education under the alternative forms of schooling established following the closing of the public school system. The Free School Association began from an initiative started by President John Kennedy, following a petition started by citizens of the county demanding public education for students of all races. On its opening day, the Prince Edward Free School Association provided schooling to 1,550 black children in the county.

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

“The beautiful thing about learning is nobody can take it away from you.” ~ B. B. King


B. B. King, blues legend and one of the greatest guitarists in music history, transitioned last week. With hits such as “The Thrill is Gone” (1969), “To Know You is to Love You” (1973), “Never Make a Move Too Soon” (1978), and “Midnight Believer” (1978), B. B. King defined music in America and around the world. His talents influenced countless other artists, including Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and the Rolling Stones. B. B. King loved to tour and interact with audiences by telling short stories about loves and loves lost, between songs.

Riley B. King was born on a plantation near the town of Itta Bena, Mississippi on September 16, 1925. As a child, he sang in local gospel choirs and at age 12, purchased his first guitar for $15.00. King made his way to Memphis, Tennessee where in 1948 he got his big break – performing on the Sonny Boy Williamson radio show on KWEM. His performance led to short 10-minute segments on the black-staffed radio station WDIA. The popularity of the segments prompted King to adopt a catchy radio name. He started using Beale Street Blues Boy, then shorten it to Blues Boy King, and eventually decided on B. B. King. In 1949, B. B. King started recording his songs and touring across the country. At a performance in Twist, Arkansas, two male patrons got into a fight that caused a fire. B. B. King barely escaped the club with his Gibson guitar. After learning that the fight was over a woman named Lucille, B. B. King decided to name his guitar after her, as a reminder to never fight over a woman.

B. B. King and President George W. Bush (NAID 7431369)

President George W. Bush Presents Riley “B. B.” King with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in the East Room of the White House (NAID 7431369)

In 2006, B. B. King received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush. The honor is bestowed to those who have contributed to the national interest of the United States, through actions of world peace, culture, and other significant public endeavors. An image from the ceremony is included in the series Photographs Related to the George W. Bush Administration (NAID 5962237). B. B. King was honored for his contribution to American music and making a place for the blues within mainstream genres.




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