Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Birth of the Negro Almanac and the Evolution of Written Resources on African American History

The Negro Almanac Collection represents the burgeoning efforts of historians to document African American achievement over the course of America’s 400+ year existence. The Negro Almanac Collection consists of 950 photographs compiled by Harry A. Ploski for his reference work titled The Negro Almanac. The photographs depict some of the most well-known African Americans in the realms of sports, the arts, music, politics, the sciences, education, business, civil rights, and entertainment. They also depict African Americans who participated in historic events such as the Civil War, WWI, the Vietnam War, and the Westward Expansion. The collection brings some of the most iconic photos of African Americans under one collection to be consulted.

A 19th century Black family.
 The Negro Almanac became an important ready reference book for public libraries and has gone through nine editions since its first publication in 1967. Ploski received assistance in completing the book from his co-author, Dr. Roscoe C. Brown. After subsequent editions of the book were published, its name eventually changed to the African American Almanac in 1989, replacing the term Negro because it had become an outdated identifier for Black Americans. The topics covered in the Almanac have also changed since its 1967 initial publication to include historical events, people, places and ideologies that reflect the development of contemporary Black America.
Slaves on a plantation.

The photos in the Negro Almanac Collection highlight Ploski’s attempt to provide a visual representation of the people and movements discussed in his book. Many of the photographs can be attributed to news agencies such as the Associated Press and United Press International. The hand drawn pictorials documenting Black participation in the anti-slavery movement are largely from Harper’s Weekly. The images also have an international scope, documenting the peoples, activities and leaders of African countries such as Liberia, Nigeria, Algeria, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), South Africa and Ethiopia. The Negro Almanac Collection can be a useful source of historical images for K-12 education on African American history.

Post by Chianta Dorsey.

Images from the Negro Almanac Collection. May not be reproduced without permission.

Monday, August 25, 2014

The Heslip-Ruffin Family Papers Showcase Blacks in Antebellum America

The Heslip-Ruffin Family Papers serve as a great introduction into the lives of African Americans during the antebellum period in America. The papers reference several generations of the Ruffin family beginning with Nancy Lewis and George W. Ruffin, who were both antebellum free blacks in Richmond, Virginia. The collection includes correspondence between various members of the Heslip-Ruffin Family, as well as letters from famed abolitionists Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison. The family’s achievements are documented through legal documents, biographical data, news clippings, printed ephemera, and photographs. Other African Americans that achieved notoriety are highlighted in the papers, as well.

Carte-de-visite of
Nancy Lewis Ruffin
George W. Ruffin worked as a barber and, with his wife Nancy Lewis Ruffin, believed in the value of education so strongly that Nancy and the children left Virginia when legislation prohibited African Americans from learning to read. Nancy moved to Boston where she became a seller of fruit and fish while George continued to financially support the family from Virginia. Their sacrifices set the foundation for subsequent success among their children and grandchildren, including their son, George L. Ruffin, who became the first Black to graduate from Harvard Law School (1869) and the first Black to be elected to a judgeship in Massachusetts (1883), and their granddaughter, Florida Ruffin Ridley, who became a teacher after attending Boston Teachers College and Boston University.

The earliest correspondence between Nancy Lewis Ruffin and her husband George W. Ruffin is from the 1850s. Many of the letters in the collection were written to their son, George L. Ruffin, and the majority of the material in the family papers concerns his life and career. Other noteworthy documents are the free papers of George L.; photos of Paul Robeson’s family, James Weldon Johnson, W.E.B. Du Bois; and 19th century receipts for food, furniture and medical treatments.

Carte-de-visite of
George W. Ruffin
The Heslip and Ruffin families were active African American leaders in early 20th century social and political organizations such as the Women’s Era Club, a precursor to the National Association of Colored Women, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA). George L. Ruffin and his wife Josephine were active in elite African American social circles and befriended abolitionists William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglass. George L. Ruffin even wrote the introduction to the 1881 edition of Douglass’ third autobiography, Life and Times of Frederick Douglass. Josephine served as one of the founding members of the Boston chapter of the NAACP, founded the Women’s Era, a monthly magazine dedicated to African American women’s issues, and was editor in chief of the African American weekly newspaper “The Boston Courant.” Ultimately, The Heslip and Ruffin Family Papers serve as a rich source of a free Black antebellum family and their subsequent generations.

Posted by Chianta Dorsey

Images from the Heslip-Ruffin Family Papers. May not be reproduced without permission.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Hale Woodruff Exhibition Extended

Amistad's current exhibition on the life and work of African American muralist and painter Hale Woodruff has been extended through September 12th to coincide of the closing of the exhibition Rising Up: Hale Woodruff's Murals at Talladega College, which is being held at the New Orleans Museum of Art. Don't miss this extra chance to view both exhibitions that highlight Woodruff's Amistad Murals and other works.

Amistad's next exhibition focusing on the civil rights work of Fannie Lou Hamer and Clarie Collins Harvey will open September 16th.

Posted by Christopher Harter

(Image from the Hale Woodruff papers. May not be reproduced without permission.)

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

John E. Rousseau Collection, 1950-1967: The Plight of Edgar Labat and Clifton Alton Poret

"The law hath not been dead, though it hath slept. Death for thirteen years has kept close tab on Edgar Labat and Clifton Poret." -Judge John Minor Wisdom.

The John E. Rousseau Collection highlights the legal systems of Louisiana in the case of Angola State Penitentiary inmates, Edgar Labat and Clifton Poret. Labat and Poret were two African American men wrongfully convicted by an all white jury for the 1950 rape of a white woman in New Orleans. Both men were sentenced to the death penalty in 1953 and suffered through nine stays of execution. They ultimately won their release in 1967 but not without the distinction of being the longest serving death row inmates in modern U.S. history at the time. Rousseau, an editor of the Louisiana edition of the Pittsburgh Courier, collected materials related to the case. He spent years writing about the case of Labat and Poret, even going so far as to find witnesses who would attest to the innocence of both men.

Cover of Rousseau's report
titled, "In Louisiana Only
Negroes Die for Rape."
John E. Rousseau was a journalist and active member of the New Orleans chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Rousseau was promoted from reporter to editor at the Louisiana Weekly and won awards in editorial writing from the National Newspaper Publishers Association. He also worked for the Houston Informer and the New Orleans Sentinel, which he co-founded. Rousseau was a graduate of Xavier Preparatory School and attended Xavier University and the YMCA School of Commerce.

Though a small collection, the documents in the Rousseau collection offer unique insight into the case of Labat and Poret, including correspondence and testimony from the wrongfully-accused men. In a twelve-page hand script testimony, Labat describes police brutality in his home and the police station, torture and coercion in signing a statement of guilt, receiving beatings from the brother of the purported victim, racist treatment from the police, and subsequent medical attention.

A petition used to garner
support for the clemency
of Labat and Poret.
Press releases and notes at various stages of appeal and litigation demonstrate the near-certainty of execution faced by Labat and Poret. These materials also reflect the police abuse and intimidation of witnesses into withholding evidence portending to the innocence of the two wrongfully accused men. The collection also contains hundreds of signed petitions supporting clemency for Poret and Labat to Governor McKeithen printed from The Louisiana Weekly

Posted by Chianta Dorsey

(Images from the John E. Rousseau Collection. May not be reproduced without permission.) 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Larney Goodkind Papers Document Careers of African American Performers

My manager and friend Larney Goodkind was leaving no stone unturned to develop my career. He knew, better than most, that there was no clear path for me. He was forever promoting me for roles in the theater and encouraging my club dates, yet still reminding me that I had a gift for greater things. He knew music, and he believed in me.”

R to L: Larney Goodkind, Charles
Moses of the Australian Broad-
casting Commission, William
Warfield , and an unidentified
man, 1950.
That is how concert singer and actor William Warfield described his long-time manager, Larney Goodkind, in his 1991 autobiography, William Warfield: My Music & My Life. The working relationship and friendship between Warfield and Goodkind is chronicled throughout the book and has long been documented in the William Warfield papers housed at the Amistad Research Center. However, the Center is pleased to announce that, in addition to the Warfield papers, Amistad has added the Larney Goodkind papers to its collections related to African American concert and operatic performers.

The Goodkind papers measure over 11 linear feet and shed light on Goodkind’s efforts to promote Warfield’s career as an international performer. The collection includes correspondence, concert programs and stage bills, concert reviews, photographs, contracts, biographical sketches, scrapbooks, certificates and awards, press releases, and sound recordings of Warfield performances, including his 1950 New York City debut. The career of Leontyne Price, Warfield’s wife and fellow performer, under Goodkind’s management is also documented in the collection.

Correspondence dates from 1950 through the 1970s, and consists of letters from Warfield to Goodkind concerning performances, touring, and recordings, with some being written while Warfield was on tour. Letters are also present from various individuals to Warfield and Goodkind, which pertain to performances by Warfield, as well as teaching positions in music schools.

William Warfield performs at the
Regal Cinema in Lahore, Pakistan,
January 1958.
The collection is extremely rich in visual documentation of Warfield’s career, as well as that of Leontyne Price to a lesser extent. Photographs of performances around the world, dating from 1950 into the 1970s, include tours of Europe, Africa, Australia, and Asia, as well as numerous performances in the United States. Of note are over 40 photographic images of Warfield taken by Carl Van Vechten in 1951 and 1954, including one on which Van Vechten noted in pencil: "This is the best photograph I ever made of anybody." A number of photographs taken of Warfield and Price’s 1952 wedding are also included. Throughout, Warfield and Price are photographed with numerous individuals in the music and entertainment world, as well as others, including: Edgar Bergen, Leonard Bernstein, Joe E. Brown, Cab Calloway, Marge and Gower Champion, Aaron Copland, Robert Fossi, Ava Gardner, Catherine Grayson, Howard Keel, Otto Klemperer, Nicoli Malko, Lemuel Mathewson, David Poleri, Eleanor Roosevelt, Lanny Ross, Dore Schary, Zachary Solov, George Sydney, Yves Tinayre, Bruno Walter, and others.

Scrapbook from William
Warfield's 1950 tour
of Australia.
Of note in the collection is a scrapbook of Warfield’s 1950 tour of Australia and a file on his 25th anniversary concert at Carnegie Hall in 1975. News clippings, programs of performances, press releases, and biographical information for Warfield and Price are also present. The Larney Goodkind papers are a wonderfully rich addition to Amistad’s music-related holdings, and will be organized in time for an exhibition focusing on the Center’s operatic and classical music collections in 2015. 

Posted by Christopher Harter

(Images from the Larney Goodkind papers. May not be reproduced without permission.)

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.)