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.)

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.