Friday, December 12, 2014

Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith: Jewish Allies in the Black Liberation Movement?

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) of B’nai B’rith originated as a Jewish organization dedicated to combating anti-Semitism in America. It was founded in 1918 as a component of B’nai B’rith, the first Jewish fraternal society in the United States. The idea for the creation of the ADL stemmed from a B’nai B’rith committee created in 1908 whose purpose was to “see to it that the cause of the Jews shall be everywhere properly championed, and the name of the Jew shall everywhere be upheld as synonymous with a high sense of moral obligation.” The ADL expanded its agenda from anti-Semitism to upholding the civil rights of all during the 1940s and this largely included becoming associated with the burgeoning Civil Rights Movement that was gaining traction within African American communities across the U.S.

An ADL report on the
foundation of anti-Jewish
sentiments among Catholics.
The Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith Race Relations Work records at the Amistad Research Center consists of correspondence, reports, pamphlets, publications of the ADL and reports collected from other institutions. Much of the correspondence is to Oscar Cohen, who served as the Program Director of the ADL from 1954 to 1975. Other prominent ADL correspondents include A.I. Botnick, Benjamin Epstein, Murray Friedman, Irwin Schulman, and Arthur Spiegel. Prominent non-ADL correspondents include Julian Bond, James Forman, Frank P. Graham, Floyd McKissick, Henry Lee Moon and Louis H. Pollack. The strengths of the ADL lies in its reports which cover a range of topics including anti-Semitism, the Black Power Movement, desegregation and the radical right in the United States.

Much of the early work of the ADL focused on fostering positive interfaith relationships between Christians and Jews. This was of primary interest because the ADL conducted a study which concluded that a large source of anti-Semitism stemmed from the Christian church. In 1960, a Chairman’s Report addressed the need for the ADL to increase the scope of its work, nationally and internationally, due to the 1960 outbreaks of vandalism to European synagogues, the bigotry that emerged in the 1960 U.S. presidential election, and the sit-ins that were intensifying the Civil Rights Movement in the South. It is apparent through correspondence and reports that ADL’s goal of decreasing anti-Semitism intersected with some of the major incidents, people and organizations of the Black Freedom Movement of the 1960s and 1970s.

A list of school incidents
involving the Little Rock Nine
from the ADL's Little Rock
Desegregation study.
An aspect of the Civil Rights Movement that the ADL was particularly interested in was its potential to provoke anti-Jewish sentiments towards Jewish merchants that owned businesses in Black communities in the North and South. Their report, The Sit-In Demonstrations and Negro Anti-Semitism, and a 1964 story in their publication “Facts” about the Harlem and Brooklyn riots, outline their concerns regarding anti-Jewish beliefs African-Americans harbored towards Jewish business owners because of their position within the white power structure. The ADL presented alternative ways in which they could become involved in the Civil Rights Movement as facilitators between African-American communities and Jewish entrepreneurs.

Through correspondence between administrators and reports performed by members, it is apparent that the ADL sought to keep abreast of the ideas, people, programs, and events that were pumping life into the Black Freedom Movement. An example of this was a report of the Black Panther Party (BPP) that included an appendix titled, The Black Panthers on Jews, Zionism, Israel, the Arabs, and Al Fatah. The study delved into the political rhetoric of the BPP regarding the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. The ADL also performed studies on desegregation in Little Rock, Arkansas, which included a list of attacks suffered by the students that integrated Little Rock Central High and their perpetrators, and a 1963 riot that occurred in Birmingham, Alabama. Both studies included interviews with white segregationists, black activists, and white and black political leaders. The records of the ADL can provide insight into the status of Jewish citizens as an ethnic minority and illuminate how the Black Freedom Movement was covered by an ethnic organization outside of the traditional racial purview of black and white communities.

Post by Chianta Dorsey

Images from the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith Race Relations Work Records. Not to be reproduced without permission.

Monday, November 24, 2014

NOLA Hiphop and Bounce Archive Now Open

The Amistad Research Center is pleased to announce the opening of its latest digital collection -- the NOLA Hiphop and Bounce Archive. The collection currently holds over 40 extended oral history interviews with New Orleans rap and bounce pioneers, including Mannie Fresh, Mystikal, KLC, DJ Jubilee, Ms. Tee, 5th Ward Weebie, Nicky da B (1990-2014) and many more, and will eventually include materials from Alison Fensterstock and Aubry Edwards's Where They At exhibit, which was covered by The New York Times and includes 50 photographic portraits and audio interviews with New Orleans rappers, DJs, producers, photographers, label owners, promoters, record store personnel, journalists and other parties involved in the New Orleans hiphop and bounce scene from the late 1980s through Hurricane Katrina.
Mannie Fresh
The NOLA Hiphop and Bounce Archive is the result of a collaboration between the Amistad Research Center, the Tulane University Digital Library, interviewers Holly Hobbs and Alison Fensterstock, archive community consultants Truth Universal and Nesby Phips, videographer/tech advisor Joe Slack, and production assistant Colin Meneghini. The NOLA Hiphop and Bounce Archive is the culmination of over two years of interview work focusing on telling the stories that haven't yet been told and documenting the stories of the pioneers and legends who created New Orleans hiphop. In addition to the online collection, the Amistad Research Center is pleased to house the original interviews in the NOLA Hiphop Archive Project Collection and the Where They At Collection.

Nicky da B

Thursday, November 20, 2014

"Inside New Orleans" Offers a Small Glance into the City's History

Amistad is in the process of cataloging its periodicals. As someone who is involved with pulling and organizing the papers for Laura Chilton, our cataloger, I am amazed at the little gems I discover while doing it. It gives me an opportunity to acquaint myself with Amistad’s holdings so I can better inform members of the Center’s community on what we have to offer. Amistad has a wonderful array of newspapers that highlight American minority run presses and international periodicals of countries in the African Diaspora. Among these are the Indian Trader, which details Native American communities and achievements across the country, Asian Weekly, which largely covers the Asian American community in San Francisco, and Inside New Orleans, a local New Orleans paper that has become my personal favorite. 

Inside New Orleans is a content rich source regarding the social, educational, economic and political events in New Orleans. However, the paper does not fall short by only reporting all things New Orleans; it also recounts events that occurred throughout Louisiana’s African-American communities. The years we hold cover the period of 1965-1966 and the paper covers some of the most iconic civil rights moments in American and Louisiana history during this period. Some of the components included in the paper are an “Editorial” that offers a social critique on a particular topic; the “World Wide News” which gives tidbits of news on events occurring in the nation and the world; “Inside Society” targets New Orleans social affairs and “Scotty’s Whirl,” the column of a journalist named C. Scott, imparts the musical happenings within the city.

One part of newspapers that I usually can’t ignore from this time period is the advertisements. They offer insight into products and services that have drastically changed or just aren’t available anymore. These advertisements also demonstrate African-American entrepreneurship and showcase businesses that operated within or served African-American communities in New Orleans and its outlying areas. Inside New Orleans is a great newspaper for researchers interested in the African-American press and how civil rights news events were covered at the time they occurred.

Post by Chianta Dorsey

Images from Inside New Orleans. Not to be reproduced without permission.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Amistad Adds to Hale Smith Papers

Notebook containing a
list of phonograph records,
presumably collected by
Hale Smith.
Music-related holdings at the Amistad Research Center are as varied as music itself, ranging from jazz to classical and from spirituals to hip hop. Amistad is pleased to add to the papers of a musician whose own oeuvre has been described as “eclectic”. Since 2004, Amistad has housed the papers of jazz and classical composer, arranger, performer, and teacher Hale Smith. A new addition to the collection was recently received, which greatly expands the collection and documents further Smith’s career and collaborations.

Born on June 29, 1925, in Cleveland, Ohio, Smith began studying piano at the age of seven and played mellophone in high school. At the age of 16, he attracted the attention of Duke Ellington, who had been shown one of Smith’s compositions and offered advice to the young composer. Smith arranged music for shows touring Army camps in the U.S. South during World War II. Afterwards, he returned home and enrolled in the Cleveland Institute of Music, where he studied under Marcel Dick and Ward Lewis. In 1952, he won BMI’s first student composer award for his “Four Songs”. Smith moved to New York in 1958 and found work as an editor and consultant for music publishing houses while performing in New York City. In 1948, he married Juanita Hancock, with whom he raised four children: Robin, Michael, Eric, and Marcel.

Hale Smith also taught at the C.W. Post campus of Long Island University and at the University of Connecticut. His compositions include “The Valley Wind” (1952), “Contours for Orchestra” (1961), “Ritual and Incantations” (1974), “Innerflexions” (1977), and “Dialogues and Commentary” (1990-1991). Known for straddling the jazz and classical worlds, Smith collaborated with or arranged works for Langston Hughes, Dizzy Gillespie, Kathleen Battle, Jessye Norman, Chico Hamilton, Ahmad Jamal, and others. He described himself in The New York Times as “one of America’s most famous unknown composers” but he was loved and respected by a variety of performers and fellow musicians.

Program for the first public
performance and recording
of Hale Smith's "Contours".
The recent addition to the Smith papers includes correspondence (1958-2010) regarding projects, presentations and performances, greetings from fellow musicians, and correspondence amongst family members; photographs; programs, announcements, and invitations of performances by Smith, performances of his works, and tributes to him; and news clippings, press releases, publications, and writings by Smith (1953-2006). Also included are minutes for the New York State Council of the Arts, weekly planners and address books, copyright files, audio reels, music scores, books of poetry, and contracts. Correspondents include musician/poet/publisher Russell Atkins, musicians Dizzy Gillespie and Eric Dolphy, and poets Langston Hughes and Ted Joans.

The Center is currently organizing the Hale Smith papers and this important addition will be included in the final online finding aid, which will be available in the near future as part of a grant from the Patrick F. Taylor Foundation. A special thanks, as well, to Juanita Smith for her continued support of the Amistad Research Center and this most recent donation.

Undated photograph of Dizzy Gillespie, Hale Smith, and Benny Carter (l-r).
Detail of a flyer for the City College CUNY Department of Music with
Hale Smith's annotation "My first 'lecture'!"
Posted by Christopher Harter

(Images from the Hale Smith papers. May not be reproduced without permission.)

Amistad Acquires the Harold Sylvester Papers

The newly-arrived papers
waiting to be inventoried
and reboxed.
From New Orleans to Hollywood and back to New Orleans, the Amistad Research Center is pleased to announce the acquisition of the personal papers of film and television actor, writer, and producer Harold Sylvester.

Spanning four decades, Harold Sylvester’s career has included film roles in Corrina, Corrina (1994), Innerspace (1987), Uncommon Valor (1983), An Officer and a Gentleman (1982), and Sounder, Part 2 (1976); appearances on television shows ranging from Married…With Children to Hill Street Blues to A Different World; and the screenplay for the TV movie Passing Glory, a film that portrays the events leading up to the historic 1965 New Orleans high school basketball game between all-black St. Augustine High School and all-white Jesuit High School – a game in which Sylvester played, and a landmark moment in New Orleans Civil Rights history.

A New Orleans native, Sylvester attended Tulane University beginning in 1968 as a psychology and, later, theater major. He also parlayed his success as an athlete on the basketball court to become the university's first African-American student to receive an athletic scholarship. He graduated from Tulane in 1972 and moved on to become active in the Free Southern Theater before moving to Los Angeles to pursue a career in film and television in the mid 1970s. Since then, he has taken part in 17 feature films and over 400 television shows. Sylvester won an Emmy as Writer/Executive Producer of the TNT documentary On Hallowed Ground and made his directorial debut in 2005 with the feature film NOLA.

The Harold Sylvester papers measure approximately 30 linear feet and include correspondence, film and television scripts, materials reflecting Sylvester’s involvement with the Free Southern Theater and his Blue Bayou Productions, photographs, news clippings, and more. Amistad is delighted to add Harold Sylvester’s papers to our collections, and pleased to bring the actor and writer’s materials home to New Orleans. 

The collection is currently being inventoried, and will be open for research in the near future. Inquiries regarding the collection can be sent to the

Production stills from Uncommon Valor.

A copy of Harold Sylvester's script for Passing Glory.

Posted by Brenda Flora and Christopher Harter

(Images from the Harold Sylvester Papers. May not be reproduced without permission.)

Monday, October 27, 2014

World Day for Audiovisual Heritage

A variety of audiovisual formats from Amistad's collections.
October 27th marks UNESCO’s World Day for Audiovisual Heritage. “Audiovisual” is the word we use to describe moving image and sound recordings in our archival collections, which can be any of a variety of formats. These include films, videos, DVDs, CDs, audiocassettes, 8-tracks, phonographic records, and born digital material. Amistad’s collections contain close to 8,000 individual audiovisual items, amounting to many hours of material. Whether oral histories with icons of the Civil Rights Movement from the Tom Dent collection, activist and social justice videos from the Africa Fund records, interviews with New Orleans hiphop artists from the NOLA Hiphop Archive Project collection, or an exploration of local LGBT issues from the Just for the Record collection, each of these items is an important cultural document of the 20th and 21st Centuries. 

Audiovisual material is particularly susceptible to deterioration and damage, and archivists who handle AV collections face a different set of concerns than those who deal strictly with paper-based collections. Shelf stability and problems with playback are the two main threats to the preservation of our audiovisual heritage. All AV formats have their own preservation concerns, but surprisingly, older formats like motion picture film and phonographic discs have emerged as the most shelf stable items. You may find a film from the 1930s in your collection that still looks great when played, whereas a VHS from the 1990s has become completely unplayable. AV deterioration cannot be stopped, but can be slowed by storing items under optimum environmental conditions, meaning cool temperatures and low (but not too low!) humidity.

1/4" reel-to-reel audiotape player,
an example of a legacy format.
Access to playback equipment is also an ongoing concern for AV collections. Many different formats of moving image and sound recordings necessitate many different playback machines. An 8mm film cannot be played on the same projector as a 35mm film; a U-matic videotape cannot be played on the same device as a Digital Betacam tape. This means not only must an archives acquire a wide variety of playback equipment, it must also maintain the equipment to keep it in peak condition so as not to damage items being played on it. This is particularly challenging because in many instances new playback equipment and replacement parts for legacy formats has not been produced in many decades.

The emergence of digital technology has gone a long way to help archives protect their original recordings and provide easy playback for anyone who wants to access their collections, but it is not without its own problems.  Bridging the gap between analog and digital can be costly and time consuming, whether archivists decide to tackle the digitization in house or ship items to a professional lab for transfer. And once recordings have been digitized, it is up to the archivists to make sure that with every software update and file transfer the recordings remain safe and playable.
A researcher views a film from the American Committee on Africa records
on a Steenbeck. The ability to view moving image material online means that
 researchers will not have to be physically on site in order to
view items from our collections.

Amistad began its Audiovisual Initiative in 2009. Since that time, the Center has done much to ensure the long term preservation and access to its AV collections. We have hired an audiovisual archivist to our staff, expanded our playback capabilities, rewritten policy to include AV specific concerns, and improved our storage environment. We are currently undertaking several projects to increase digital access to our audiovisual collections, including expanded cataloging, digitization and indexing of sound recordings, and sharing collections though Tulane’s Digital Library.

As this year's World Day for Audiovisual Heritage theme reminds us, we have "much more to do." With AV collections, as with all archival collections, the job is never finished. Technology is constantly changing. New collections and new formats continue to come in. New scholarship within the archival field leads to new best practices and better techniques for safeguarding our audiovisual heritage. And while all this is happening, our collections continue to age and grow closer to the point that, if we have not yet done something to preserve them, they will be lost forever. That is why we take this annual day to highlight these concerns, to celebrate our achievements and to plan our strategies for the future.

For more information on the World Day for Audiovisual Heritage visit the UN website:

Posted by Brenda Flora

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Curious Case of Margaret Aurelia Porter and Reuben Reynolds

“In the suit between Porter and myself it can be proved that Kidman, his main evidence, is an idiot and that Stephen Porter offered him a bushel of corn for what he did swear.” –Reuben Reynolds

The case of Margaret Aurelia Porter v. Reuben Reynolds reveals the conflict between free and slave holding states in early 19th century America and how the movement of slave bodies into borders that recognized their emancipation presented a dilemma for owners attempting to execute their return. The litigation involved Margaret Porter, a slave owner, who in 1810 sued Ruben Reynolds for harboring three of her slaves that escaped from the state of Maryland to Pennsylvania. Porter demanded $1,500 in damages for the loss of labor and income that resulted from her missing property. Margaret’s father, Stephen Porter, filed the lawsuit and legally represented her since women could not appear as “persons” before the law during this period.

Subpoena from Margaret Porter
requesting the presence
of Reuben Reynolds, circa 1810
The records of the case, housed at the Amistad Research Center, originate from the United States Circuit Court (3rd circuit) in Pennsylvania and consist of fourteen handwritten documents dated between 1810 and 1812. There is correspondence, depositions, testimonies and subpoenas of witnesses and other individuals involved in the case. The most interesting material in the records is a letter from Reynolds to his friend William Master in which he discredits one of Porter’s witnesses, a man named Samuel Kidman. Reynolds goes on to assert that the three escaped slaves, Cesar, George, and Emmanuel, all sons of a woman named Betty Hayes, were free because she was emancipated at the time of their births. Kidman claimed in his testimony that Reynolds and his wife hid the boys on their land, provided them with “victuals” and had even threatened him with physical harm if he considered revealing the boy’s concealment.

A letter from Reynolds to
William Master discussing
his case, 1811.
There is very little documentation about Margaret Porter or her father, Stephen, outside of the court documents on this case. What is clear is that Margaret evoked the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793, which preceded its more well-known counterpart of 1850 that allowed slave owners the right to recover escaped slaves. What is not clear is if Porter even had the right to summon Reynolds from Pennsylvania to Maryland to address her accusations in court. One of the questions asked by the counsel was, “Has the governor of the state of Maryland a right to demand of the governor of Pennsylvania a delivery of person to be tried in the state of Maryland?” The topic of state’s right becomes a dilemma in this case and would continue to do so during the era of slavery as slaves continued to flee across borders to manumit themselves.

There is also no documentation about Reynolds, Betty, or her three sons beyond the case. What is known is that Reynolds lived in Pennsylvania and that his declaration about the free status Betty and her three sons was unwavering. There is a strong possibility that Reynolds may have assisted Cesar, George and Emanuel considering the indignation he displayed about Stephen Porter and Kidman in his letter to William. Pennsylvania was also a Quaker stronghold and they vehemently opposed slavery.

Testimony from Betty
describing her
 life as a slave, undated.
Surprisingly, the records do not completely silence Betty for she offers up her own testimony. She was born in Trenton, New Jersey, and was sold four times throughout her life before she found herself the property of Stephen Porter. She lived in Peachbottom, Pennsylvania, where Porter had taken her to live with his brother for a length of time. Porter then took her back to Maryland where she ran away from Porter after several years of bondage. She had two other children, another boy and a girl, besides Cesar, George, and Emanuel. One son was sold by Porter, which may have prompted her runaway and the escape of the last three. Betty had every inclination to believe that her remaining sons were at risk for being sold. Males around the age of 25 were the most valued and her sons were estimated to be 13, 16, and 18 years of age according to court documents. Her two oldest sons were quickly approaching the age where their worth on the market would skyrocket.

Betty, like many other slaves that rebelled against the slavocracy, took the fates of her children into her own hands. If Reynolds did assist Betty then she calculated correctly that he and his wife would be able to protect and guide her sons to freedom. Her daughter was still being held as a slave by Porter when she gave her testimony. Unfortunately, the records do not detail how the case ends, whether Porter was reimbursed or the destinies of Reynolds, Betty, and her three sons and daughter.

Post by Chianta Dorsey

Images from the Margaret Aurelia Porter v. Reuben Reynolds records. May not be reproduced without permission.