Friday, July 25, 2014

African Labor History: The Maida Springer-Kemp Papers

The Amistad Research Center is pleased to announce the opening of the papers of labor activist Maida Springer-Kemp, who was active in international efforts to improve labor standards, especially for women.  Springer-Kemp traveled throughout Africa, lending her technical assistance to the emergence of trade unions through her work with the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO).

Back cover of American Labor
, edited by Maida
Springer-Kemp was born on May 12, 1910, in Panama to Harold and Adina Stewart. Harold Stewart, a black migrant from Barbados, arrived as one of many migrant workers from the Caribbean to work on the Panama Canal. The family immigrated to New York in August 1917 and Maida was raised in Harlem by her mother, following her parents’ divorce. During her school years she often held summer jobs in the garment industry, one of the limited jobs available to black women.  In May 1933, she joined the Dressmaker’s Union, Local 22 of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union (ILGWU).  After a successful strike in August 1933, Springer-Kemp began to take on more assignments from the union. Her increased activism led to her rising status within the ILGWU, resulting in her serving on the executive board by 1938 and becoming the chair of its education committee in 1940.

Following World War II, Springer-Kemp’s activism turned towards the international arena, particularly in the new labor unions emerging in Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania, Ghana, Uganda, and other African nations. She served as the International Representative for Africa, Department of International Affairs, AFL-CIO and continued her work as a general organizer for the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, then as a consultant with the African American Labor Center and the Asian-American Free Labor Institute.

Springer-Kemp’s papers document the development of labor and trade unions in Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Tanzania (formerly Tanganyika), Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia). African trade unions represented within the papers include the East Africa Federation of Building and Construction Workers Union, the Kenya Federation of Labor, the African Mineworker’s Trade Union (Northern Rhodesia), the South Rhodesia Tailors and Garment Workers Union, the Tanganyika African National Union, the Uganda Trade Union Congress,  the United Labour Congress of Nigeria, and many others. Also represented in the papers is the Turk-Is (Confederation of Turkish Trade Unions).

Detail from a reprint of a 1963 International Ladies Garment
Workers Union publication regarding a sewing school at the
Kenya Institute of Tailoring and Cutting.
Another highlight of Springer-Kemp’s papers includes information in the subject area of women’s labor activities in the United States, Turkey, and Indonesia. A significant aspect of the Springer-Kemp Papers centers on the integration of labor unions in the United States during the modern Civil Rights Movement. 

The collection was organized by University of New Orleans graduate student intern Maher Judah, and is one of eleven collections to be processed under a grant from the Patrick F. Taylor Foundation.

Posted by Laura Thomson

(Image from the Maida Springer-Kemp papers. May not be reproduced without permission.)

Grant to highlight African Americans in STEM Fields

Amistad is about to take on another large project with the help of a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). The grant will allow the Center to hightlight African American accomplishments in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields.

The two-year project will process fifteen archival collections, drawing attention to the long history of African American achievement in the sciences. The completion of this project will not only position Amistad as a national leader of repositories holding collections documenting African Americans in STEM professions, but will also provide a young archivist in the early stages of his or her career valuable experience in the evaluation, organization, preservation, and description of complex archival collections. Selected items from the collections will also be digitized and added to Amistad’s online digital collections database, where they will be accessible to remote researchers.

Physicist Ronald Mickens' notes for a presentation
at Florida A&M University in 1985.
Collections pertaining to science and mathematics are one of Amistad’s eleven core subject strengths and primary collection areas. This project will help increase the visibility of these collections, and help the Center engage a new generation of minority scientists through increased awareness of preceding generations of African American achievement in mathematics, the sciences, and related fields.

The grant will provide processing for the papers of Luther G. Bellinger, Albert Turner Bharucha-Reid, James Blackwell, Henry E. Braden III, Eugene Collins, Alexander Louis Jackson II, Ronald E. Mickens, Brent Taylor Pendleton, Joseph A. Pierce, Raymond J. Pitts, Jesse Olin Sheffield, George Thomas Jr., and Robert Ambrose Thornton, as well as the records of the Black Data Processing Association and the Parson vs. Kaiser Aluminum and Chemical Corporation employment discrimination case. Topics covered within these collections include mathematics and science education and mentorship, desegregation and the historic barriers faced by African Americans in the STEM fields, careers in medicine and aeronautics, and more.

The mission of the IMLS is to "inspire libraries and museums to advance innovation, lifelong learning, and cultural and civic engagement." Amistad will be receiving one of thirty-seven grants from the organization, which is distributing a total of over two million dollars to worthy institutions. The Center's grant is one of several awarded in the area of "Museum Grants for African American History and Culture," and is intended to "provide professional training, technical assistance, internships, and outside expertise to museums that focus on African American life, art, history, and culture." Read more about the grant and discover other grant-winners here.

Posted by Brenda Flora

(Image from the Ronald E. Mickens papers. May not be reproduced without permission.)

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

A New Captain America...

Last week, Marvel Comics announced that Steve Rogers will hang up the shield of comic book superhero Captain America in November. He will be replaced by Sam Wilson, the man who has been Captain America's longtime friend and fellow crime fighter, The Falcon. This change from a long-standing white comics character to a new, African American figure is reminiscent of the announcement that Miles Morales, who was of African American and Latino descent, would don the mask of Spider-Man back in 2011. However, while the new Spider-Man was met with a mixture of support and condemnation, the announcement of Wilson's assuming the mantle of Captain American seems to have been met with a more even-keeled response.

Issues of the forthcoming Captain America story line will join Amistad's Comics and Graphic Novels Collection, but they won't be the first instances of a Black "Captain America." In 2003, Marvel published a seven-issue series entitled Truth: Red, White & Black, which overlaid the origins of the Captain America character and the horrors of the real-life Tuskegee Syphilis Experiments. Written by Robert Morales with artwork by Kyle Baker, the series examined the U.S. government's experimentation on African American soldiers during World War II to perfect the super serum used to turn Steve Rogers into Captain America. Morales and Baker provided a powerful examination of American heroic iconography, and while Sam Wilson as Captain America may not take such a close look at issues of race, his assuming the red, white, and blue outfit reflects continuing positive changes in the comics industry with respect to diversity.

Amistad's comics collection contains both the original seven-issue run of Truth, as well as the collected edition.

Front cover of Truth: Red, White & Black, issue no. 1
Posted by Christopher Harter

Image from the Amistad Research Center. May not be reproduced without permission.) 

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

World War I Collections at the Amistad Research Center

This past week marked the anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, and his wife, Sophie, in Sarajevo, which led to the outbreak of the first World War. The Amistad Research Center houses a small, but interesting, set of collections that document the war and its participants. Two collections are processed and have online finding aids, while another is slated for full processing as part of our current K-12 outreach project funded by the Patrick F. Taylor Foundation.

The Seleste L.Chandler papers document Chandler's service as an African American medic serving in France during World War I. The collection includes Chandler's diary, photographs, correspondence, and an obituary notice. The highlight of the collection is a diary kept by Chandler from approximately June 1917, when he entered Jenner Medical College in Chicago, Illinois, to February 1919, when he returned to the United States from his tour of duty. Chandler briefly describes his training at Jenner and his assignment to Company A of the 350th New York Battalion and the medical detachment of that battalion. The battalion traveled from Camp Grant near Rockford, Illinois, to Camp Upton on Long Island, New York, before leaving the United States on June 10, 1918 and arriving in Brest, France, on June 19. During his time in France, Chandler described his training, as well as battles, providing first aid in the midst of warfare, the capture of German soldiers, and being gassed by the Germans. The diary also lists the sectors, cities, towns, and villages visited by Chandler; personnel in the medical detachment of the 350th New York Battalion; equipment lists; and addresses of individuals in Shreveport, Louisiana, and Chicago.

Other items include three postcards and a letter (1918-1919) from Chandler to his family while overseas and upon his return to Camp Upton. Two photographs - one of the medical detachment of the 350th New York Battalion and one of Seleste Chandler's brother, Charles, in Chicago - as well as an obituary notice for Chandler are present.

The Morris Reynaud oral history interview chronicles Reynaud's participation in the Bonus Expeditionary Force, more commonly known as the Bonus March on Washington or Bonus Army of 1932. The collection includes an audio recording of Reynaud's 1978 interview with Glenda B. Stevens, a typescript transcription of the interview, and a 1979 newspaper article on Reynaud's involvement in the Bonus March.

Reynaud briefly describes his upbringing, service in World War I, and work on railroads and in sawmills across southern Louisiana both before and after the war. The majority of the interview involves Reynaud recounting his experiences in the 1932 Bonus March on Washington, D. C., where he was one of over 40,000 World War I veterans who attempted to pressure Congress into immediate payment of a wartime-service bonus initially promised in 1945.

The Harry Francis Vincent Edward papers, which will be processed in the coming year, document the life and career of Edwards as a humanitarian, Olympic athlete, businessman, civil servant, and relief worker. Born in Germany in 1898 to a German mother and West Indian father, Edward was raised in Germany, but spent part of his youth as a British prisoner of war in the Ruhleban internment camp during World War I, which is detailed in the collection through correspondence, ration cards, programs for theatrical performances by detainees, and photographs.

Posted by Christopher Harter

Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964

Tomorrow marks the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by President Lyndon B. Johnson. Although the Civil Rights Movement and the efforts of those working to end discrimination did not end with the passage of this act, it provided a major step forward in outlawing segregation in public facilities, businesses, and schools, as well as promoting enforcement of the right to vote. It also extended the life of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, prohibited discrimination in federally assisted programs, and created the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to assist in the implementation of the right to equal opportunities in employment. 

Efforts to pass the act into law were hard fought, as were efforts to make the new law understandable to the general public in order to ensure its proper enforcement. To aid this effort the Commission on Civil Rights produced this six-page special bulletin in August 1964 to summarize the new act. Summaries were provided for each section of the new act in outline form. This document is part of the many sources documenting civil rights efforts at the Amistad Research Center.

The Center has previously highlighted its digital collection of civil rights ephemera in previous blog posts, and we will be celebrating 2014's many civil rights anniversaries with our last exhibition of the year, which will highlight the role of women in the Civil Rights Movement, beginning in September. Look for more information as we move closer to that exhibition. 

Posted by Christopher Harter

Image from the Amistad Research Center. May not be reproduced without permission.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Children's Reading for the Freedom Summer Anniversary

Sanford Wexler's "The Civil
Rights Movement: An Eyewitness
History," 1993.
This summer marks the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer, a campaign launched in June 1964 to increase voter registration throughout Mississippi, as well as establish Freedom Schools, Freedom Houses, and increase resources for the state's African American population and those who supported civil rights activities. Education was a key aspect to Freedom Summer efforts. But did you know that among the extensive library collection at the Amistad Research Center is a sizable collection of children's books and graphic novels on the topic of the civil rights movement? Below are some highlights, but you can search our collections cataloged in the Tulane University library catalog using the following steps:

1. At the catalog page, select the "catalog" tab
2. Enter "juvenile literature" as a keyword search
3. Limit the location to Amistad Research Center
4. Click the "magnifying glass" search button

This will produce a list of the children's books housed at the Center. To search our graphic novels, simply visit our online description of the Center's Comics and Graphic Novels Collection, and select the Books link on the left.

All of these items can be viewed in Amistad's Reading Room. Stop in and catch up on some summer time reading...

Carol Greene's "Martin Luther
King Jr: A Man Who Changed
Things," 1989.
Shyrlee Dallard's "Ella Baker:
A Leader Behind the Scenes," 1990.
John Lewis' "March: Book
One," 2013.
Laird and Bey's "Still I Rise: A Graphic
History of African Americans," 2009.

Posted by Christopher Harter

Digital Resource on the Civil Rights Movement

Flier for the 1963 Freedom
Vote campaign in Mississippi
sponsored by the Council
of Federated Organizations.
As commemorations of Freedom Summer and the 1964 passage of the Civil Rights Act take place, the Amistad Research Center reminds everyone of an excellent resource for primary source documents on the Civil Rights Movement -- the online digital collection "Print Culture and the Civil Rights Movement, 1950-1980." This digital collection is an expansion of the exhibition “The Revolution Will Not Be...: Print Culture of the Civil Rights Movement” held at the Amistad Research Center in 2011. As the nation’s oldest, largest, and arguably most comprehensive independent archives/library documenting the modern Civil Rights Movement, the Amistad Research Center has brought together digitized documents from a variety of archival collections, including the papers of activists such as John O’Neal, Fannie Lou Hamer, Clarie Collins Harvey, Connie Harse, John Lee Tilley, as well as the Eric Steele Wells collection, the Center’s own ephemera collection, and other sources. Access to the digital collection is free and can be found via the Louisiana Digital Library or through the portal of the Tulane University Digital Library.

Flier produced following the
assassination of civil
rights activist Medgar Evers.

This project highlights the newspapers, posters, broadsides, pamphlets, fliers, and other printed ephemera produced by student and community groups, leading civil rights organizations, and individuals, which documented a revolutionary era. The Civil Rights Movement in the United States coincided with rapid changes in a variety of news and communications media. The expansion of television and documentary film-making brought images of the struggles of African Americans and those who supported civil rights into the homes of the American populace. However, control of the tone and content of electronic media was not always in the hands of those who were being documented. It was the democratization of various printed media that allowed civil rights leaders, workers, and organizations to circulate their combined, and sometimes contradictory, voices. 

Students, teachers, researchers, and others are encouraged to contact the Center’s Reference Department regarding this digital collection and related materials on the Civil Rights Movement held at Amistad. For more information, please visit the Center’s website

Posted by Christopher Harter

(Photos from the Amistad Research Center. May not be reproduced without permission.)