Today’s blog is written by Netisha Currie, Archives Specialist at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland.
In addition to permanent government records, the National Archives also holds many documents and artifacts relating to polar exploration. These records were donated by many explorers and scholars to the Center for Polar Archives at NARA until the late 1970s. One of the most extensive and famous collections belongs to Robert Peary, famous for leading the first Arctic expedition to reach the North Pole.
Many documents and photographs in the Peary Collection (Collection Identifier XP) deal with Matthew Henson, the first African American polar explorer, who had a close 20 year relationship with Peary and accompanied him as navigator, driver, craftsmen, and translator on many expeditions.
Matthew Henson (center) and 4 Inuits after reaching the North Pole, 4/7/1909
Although Henson contributed greatly to the Peary party reaching the North Pole in 1909 (and by his own account was the first to walk to the spot of the North Pole), he was not among those who received wide ranging recognition once the crew made it home. The explorer was honored with a dinner ceremony by the Colored Citizens of New York in 1909, but acknowledgement of Henson’s achievements were non-existent outside of the African American community. Nearly 30 years later, Matthew Henson received an invitation to join the prestigious Explorers Club; and in 1945 was awarded a US Navy medal for his role in the Arctic explorations.
The same discrimination and prejudice that delayed recognition and celebration of his achievements was also a cause for frustration and anger while racing to the North Pole.
Letter from Matthew Henson to Robert Peary, 9/5/1906
This letter (from Papers Relating to Arctic Expeditions, 1886-1909, National Archives Identifier 304961) was written during the 1905-06 expedition to Greenland aboard the USS Roosevelt. In the letter Henson airs his frustrations with members of the crew spreading false rumors, talking behind his back, mistreating him, and generally being jealous of his ability. Alluding to their long relationship Henson tells Peary near the end: “You have been knowing me for nineteen years and I have never carried you any tailes [sic] and it is to [sic] late to begin now.” Matt Henson’s continued participation in future polar expeditions suggest he and Robert Peary’s relationship did not suffer as a result of the scheming of the crew. By many accounts, Robert Peary greatly respected and recognized the abilities of Matt Henson, declaring that he would not have made it to the North Pole without him.
by Ligon on January 14, 2014
Today’s blog was written by Alexis Hill, Assistant Registrar in the Exhibits Division at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland.
America celebrates another year of remembering Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday and legacy. Many of us remember him as a leader in the African-American Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s. By using the philosophy of Mahatma Ghandi’s nonviolence activism in India, King was able to make advancements in civil rights for African-Americans through nonviolent civil disobedience.
Born on January 15, 1929, in Atlanta, Georgia, King came to stardom when he led the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955 after Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white man. In 1957, he founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and became its first president. Through SCLC, King led many struggles for civil rights throughout the South. King gained even more national attention when he delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963. Through his devotion to nonviolence and racial equality, he received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 and was present when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (National Archives Identifier 299891).
In the spring of 1965, King and the SCLC organized a march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama for voting rights. The first march took place on March 7, 1965, which became known as “Bloody Sunday,” when 600 marchers were attacked by state police with beatings and tear gas on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. One of those 600 marchers was Representative John Lewis of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) who was beaten severely during the attack. The events of “Bloody Sunday” resulted in a class action suit against Governor George Wallace and the State of Alabama brought up by Lewis, Hosea Williams, and Amelia Boynton. All three testified at the hearing and described the horrific events that took place at the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Dr. King also testified at the hearing. On page 29 of the testimony, King answered questions on how they planned the march from Selma. In one answer he stated, “Well, we started having mass meetings; we felt that we had to do something to arouse people all over the community…” After an objection from one of the lawyers, King continued to describe how they held mass and ward meetings in Dallas County.
In the end, the court approved a plan and guarded the marchers from Selma to Montgomery. On March 21, 1965, around 8,000 people began the march from Selma arriving at the State Capitol in Montgomery on March 25th. The publicity of the lawsuit and the second march inspired Congress to pass the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (National Archives Identifier 299909).
The file of Hosea Williams, John Lewis, and Amelia Boynton v. Governor George Wallace (National Archives Identifier 643802) is part of the series Civil Cases, 09/1938 – 11/26/1968 (RG 21 Records of District Courts of the United States), at the National Archives of Atlanta in Morrow, GA. The Southeast Region Archives holds many U.S. District Court files pertaining to civil rights cases from Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi, North and South Carolina. For more information, please visit the National Archives at Atlanta website The National Archives at Atlanta.
In the final years of his life, King focused on poverty, the Vietnam War, as well as the rights of African American workers. He was planning the Poor People’s Campaign when he was assassinated in April 1968. His legacy continues to be inspirational in the United States and around the world. On November 2, 1983, President Ronald Reagan signed a bill creating a federal holiday to honor him; it was first observed on January 20, 1986 and continues to be observed on the third Monday of January every year.
by Ligon on December 31, 2013
Today’s blog post was written by Tina L. Ligon, Archivist at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland.
At the National Archives there are several collections affiliated with the federal government that has records relating to the African and African American experience. One such collection is the Harmon Foundation Collection that contains photographs of paintings, sculptures and portraits from black artists, including Palmer Hayden, Jacob Lawrence, Charles White and Selma Burke.
The Harmon Foundation was established in 1922 by William E. Harmon to support and to give acknowledgement to black artists in the United States and abroad. The foundation provided exhibits, scholarships and awards for black artists to showcase their work in a public space. After the foundation terminated in 1967, the board donated its entire collection to the National Archives.
The series Artworks by Negro Artists, 1922-1967 (National Archives Identifier 558790) consists of images depicting the African and African American experience. Most of the artwork in this series was exhibited during the 1920s and 1930s in various venues across the country. Many of these images can be found through the Online Public Access (OPA) system.
Sargent Johnson (1888-1967) was an African American artist from California who was known for his abstract figurative and early modern styles. He was a painter, sculptor and potter who used ceramic, clay, wood and watercolor in his artwork.
Augusta Savage (1892-1962) was an African American sculptor and teacher from Florida. She began making clay sculptures of animals as a child and continued her craft while living in New York City during the 1920s. Savage was an activist for African American artists and fought for equal rights within national and international art circuits.
Ronald Moody (1900-1984) was a Jamaican born sculptor, who specialized in wood carvings. Moody taught himself how to sculpt while studying in Europe. Many of his sculptures were sent to the Harmon Foundation to be used in exhibitions at the Baltimore Museum of Art and the Dallas Museum of Art.
James A. Porter (1905-1970) was an artist and art historian. His artistic and academic work provided the foundation for the critical evaluation of African American art. Porter taught art history at Howard University and published Modern Negro Art in 1943, which was one of the first studies on African American art history.
Alexander “Skunder” Boghossian (1937-2003) was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. He was a painter and art teacher. Boghossian was the first contemporary African artist to have his work purchased by the Musee d’Art Modeme in Paris in 1963 and he taught at Howard University from 1972 to 2001.
by Ligon on December 17, 2013
Today’s blog was written by Micah Colston, Archives Technician at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland and a graduate student at the University of Maryland
We are not too surprised when we hear about cases of racial profiling, wrongful arrests and police brutality during the civil rights era. However, rarely heard about are the few encouraging cases where this behavior doesn’t slip below the radar.
RG 60 Department of Justice (DOJ) case file # 144-35-456 (National Archives Identifier 603432) tells the story of Emory Jones, who I thought was the cousin of rapper Jay Z. Its not the same person, but his story is still very interesting. Jones was assaulted by police after his arrest in 1970. The case file contains letters, memorandums, investigative reports and other related documents detailing the investigation of the possible violation of Jones’ civil rights.
Jones was pulled over for excessive use of his horn and subsequently arrested in Laurel, Maryland. He was taken to the local police station, where he was assaulted in his cell. The arresting officers lied about the encounter and maintained that they had done nothing wrong until an internal investigation provided enough evidence of their wrong doing. One officer involved in the ordeal resigned from the police force and attempted to seek employment in another police station. But, the police chief denied the resignation and terminated the accused officer. The police chief stated that “he would not tolerate such a man in his department.”
Street Arrest, 05/1973 (National Archives Identifier 546633)
Discovering this case showed me that even in the 1970’s there were people willing to stand up for the underprivileged and not allow certain officers to feel and act as if they were above the law. Moreover, they did not allow an incident of this nature to go under the radar, even though the strong social perceptions of minorities during this time period surely allowed others to get away with greater offenses.
Today we enjoy a much better time as far as civil liberties and equality, but we still have progress left to be made in changing the image portrayed of many minority groups. Cases like Jones’ provide us with an example of people standing up for what is right in a societal environment where not many would blame them for standing idly by. Recognizing this should help encourage us to do the same today. Cases like that of Trayvon Martin (2013) reveal the power that social perceptions and the portrayal of minorities can have even on the image of youth. We still need to change the way we portray different groups and start seeing ourselves as one nation not only equally free as individuals, but equally deserving of the same image and considerations regardless of race, religion, or gender. It will always be important to look to our history to see evidence of positive change and people standing up for what is right.
*This case file has to be screened for FOIA (b)(6) Personal Information and FOIA (b)(7) Law Enforcement prior to use by researchers. For more information on filing a FOIA request please visit here.
by Ligon on December 6, 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
In honor of the life of Nelson Mandela, the Rediscovery Black History committee would like to re-post this blog from July 18, 2013.
Rest in Peace Madiba.
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.
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.
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.
Photograph of President William J. Clinton with Nelson Mandela at the Philadelphia Freedom Festival , 07/04/1993 (National Archives Identifier 2569290)
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.
President George W. Bush Presents the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Makaziwe Mandela on Behalf of her Father, Nelson Mandela, 07/09/2002 (National Archives Identifier 7431401)
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.