Monday, April 26, 2010

Commemorating the 50th Anniversary of Public School Desegregation in New Orleans

On November 14, 1960, four young African American girls entered the formerly all-white elementary schools William Frantz and McDonogh 19 in New Orleans. Despite the insults and rotten food cast their way, Ruby Bridges, Gail Etienne, Tessie Prevost, and Leona Tate provided the capstone of what historian Liva Baker called “The Second Battle of New Orleans” -- the hundred-year struggle to end segregation of the city’s public schools. In recognition of the 50th anniversary of this historic event in New Orleans, the Amistad Research Center has embarked on a project to commemorate the struggles and the triumphs of the individuals and community organizations that led to the desegregation of the Orleans Parish public schools.

Newspaper clipping from November 14, 1960, showing a crowd
protesting the integration of William Frantz School.

With a grant from the Keller Family Foundation, the Center is currently processing six archival collections that document desegregation efforts in New Orleans and the surrounding area. Two collections, the Natalie Midlo Collection and the A.M. Trudeau Jr. Papers, have been completed and the finding aids are now available online.  Other collections include the records of the Catholic Council on Human Relations and the personal papers of community activists Rosa Freeman Keller and Jane T. Lemann, as well as the research collection of Dr. Alan Wieder, which includes three scrapbooks of newspaper clippings contemporary to the integration of the Frantz and McDonogh schools.

The finding aids for six additional collections that have already been processed will also be posted online. By expanding access to these collections, Amistad will provide the primary source material -- letters, fliers, legal papers, and others -- that documents the events around November 1960 and the resulting impact on the city of New Orleans and beyond. In addition to the work with the Center's archival collections, Amistad is also planning a related exhibition that draws from a variety of its holdings. The exhibition, entitled Through a Crowd, Bravely: The 50th Anniversary of Public School Desegregation in New Orleans, will be on view in the Center's exhibition gallery from October 4-December 22, 2010. Public programming events will also be held, and more information on those will be made available in the future.

Posted by Christopher Harter

(From the Alan Wieder Collection, Amistad Research Center. Image may not be reproduced without permission.)

Friday, April 23, 2010

Beyond the Blues Opens to the Public

The exhibition Beyond the Blues: Reflections of African America in the Fine Arts Collection of the Amistad Research Center is now open to the public at the New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA). With over 150 paintings, sculptures, and works on paper representing over 125 years of artistic endeavors, the exhibition highlights not only the contributions of African American artists, but works that reflect the African American experience, as well. Over 300 guests previewed the show on April 10th, and an introductory lecture by artist and scholar David C. Driskell was presented during opening day.

Works by Richmond Barthe and William Artis
on display in Beyond the Blues

Conceived of not simply as an exhibition of artworks, but as an educational forum, a full slate of lectures and public events, as well as school tours, will accompany the show while at the Museum. A calendar of events and information on tours can be found on the Beyond the Blues website. Amsitad staff will be posting photos of these various events on the Center's Facebook page and this blog throughout the duration of the exhibition, which runs through July 11.

Accompanying the exhibition is a catalog (shown on the right) that documents not only the show, but the majority of Amistad's fine arts collection. Featuring Elizabeth Catlett's color lithograph, Blues, as the cover illustration, the catalog's foreword by David C. Driskell and essays by exhibition curator Margaret Rose Vendyres and scholars Lowery Stokes Sims, Michael D. Harris, and Renee Ater make the catalog an essential tool  for art scholars and a pleasurable read for all art lovers. The catalog is available from NOMA's Museum Shop or directly from the Amistad Research Center. More information is available by calling (504) 862-3222 or emailing

Complementing Beyond the Blues is a related exhibition entitled Creative Circles: Exploring Community in African American Art, which is on display in Amistad's own exhibition gallery. Drawing from the papers of artists Elizabeth Catlett, Hale Woodruff, John T. Scott, and William Pajaud, as well as other sources, this exhibition provides a more intimate understanding of the interconnected lives and careers of some of the artists represented in Beyond the BluesCreative Circles will be on display through June 30.

Amistad invites everyone to visit the Center and NOMA to partake of these wonderful exhibitions and to share them with family and friends.

Posted by Christopher Harter

(From the Amistad Research Center. Images may not be reproduced without permission.)

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Warren Q. Marr II, 1916-2010

The Directors and staff of the Amistad Research Center are saddened to announce the death of Warren Q. Marr II. Mr. Marr passed away on Tuesday, April 20, 2010, after devoting a significant portion of his life to preserving the legacy of the Amistad Event. He was instrumental in the founding of the Amistad Research Center, served as Executive Director of Friends of Amistad, and helped found Amistad Affiliates and the creation of a replica of the schooner La Amistad.

Warren Q. Marr II was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on July 31, 1916. He attended Wilberforce University, where he studied journalism and printing. He worked as a linotype operator for The St. Louis Argus beginning in 1938, and worked in that same capacity and as assistant editor for The Plaindeader in Kansas City, Kansas, from 1939 to 1942. Following his newspaper work, Marr worked as a concert promoter and for James Lassiter and Sons in Madison, New Jersey, as a drapery maker and assistant. Marr continued his interest in printing as the proprietor of The House of Marr, a print shop specializing in "art" printing and greeting cards. In 1968, Marr was hired as an assistant in the public relations department of the NAACP and served as editor of the organization's house organ, The Crisis, from 1974 to 1980.

Mr. Marr and Carmel Carrington were married in 1948 and had two children, Warren Quincy III and Charles Carrington.

It was during the early 1960s, while working for the American Missionary Association (AMA), that Marr developed a keen interest in the Amistad Event and the legal history of the Africans aboard La Amistad. It was Marr who asked the Amistad Research Center's founding and long-time director, Dr. Clifton H. Johnson, to develop the proposal for the foundation of the Center. Marr's vocal support within the AMA's offices facilitated the establishment of the Center in 1966 at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee. Marr was also influential in establishing a support network of Friends of Amistad organizations around the country.

Friends of Amistad officers shown at organizing meeting in New York City, 1971. (l-r):
Warren Marr II, Eleanor Shoenfeld, Branford Taitt, Aaron Brown, Carmen Rodriguez, and Clifton H. Johnson.

Marr's interest in the Amistad Event and in educating the general public about its legacy led to the formation of Amistad Affiliates, a non-profit corporation devoted to Marr's dream of seeing a replica of La Amistad fitted as a floating museum and educational center. The origins of the replica, known today as the Freedom Schooner Amistad, can be traced to Operation Sail '76, a parade of tall ships on the Hudson River held during the Bicentennial. Marr and Michael Clement chartered a suitable ship, temporarily renamed it La Amistad, and entered it in the parade. More information on the Freedom Schooner Amistad can be found here.

Throughout his life, Warren Marr II received numerous civic awards for his dedicated efforts to document the United States' ethnic history, race relations, and the Amistad Event. Mr. Marr was also an accomplished painter and photographer. Many of his photographs can be found within the archives of the AMA housed at the Amistad Research Center. His painting, One Society, is currently featured in the exhibition Beyond the Blues: Reflections of African America in the Fine Arts Collection of the Amistad Research Center at the New Orleans Museum of Art through July 11, 2010. In addition, the Center holds an extensive collection of personal papers related to the Marr Family.

Posted by Christopher Harter

(From the Amistad Research Center archives, Amistad Research Center. Image may not be reproduced without permission.)

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Happy Birthday to Elizabeth Catlett

Today is the birthday of sculptor and printmaker Elizabeth Catlett. Born April 15, 1919 at Freedman's Hosptial in Washington D.C., she was the third child of Mary Carson Catlett and John Catlett. In 1931, she enrolled at Howard University and began her studies as a design major, but later changed to painting. At Howard, she studied under Lois M. Jones, James Herring, James Wells, and James Porter.

Catlett later studied at Iowa University to pursue a master's degree in art and majored in sculpture. In 1940, she would become the first African American to receive an MFA in sculpture from the university. While at Iowa, she studied under painter Grant Wood. It was Wood who encouraged her to work with wood and depict subjects with which she could directly indentify. She took his advice and worked on images of African American women, mothers, daughters, and children. Her thesis piece, Mother and Child, became a characteristic theme of her art.

Elizabeth Catlett at work in her studio, circa 1983

After completing her studies at Iowa, Catlett studied ceramics at the Art Institute of Chicago before joining the Art Department at Dillard University in New Orleans. She taught drawing, painting, sculpture, printmaking, and art history. One incident profoundly affected the focus of her art during her time at Dillard. Intending to take her art class to see a retrospective exhibition of Picasso's paintings at the New Orleans Museum of Art, the class had to enter the museum directly from the bus due to the fact that the museum's entrance was through City Park, which was closed to African Americans due to Jim Crow laws.

The Julius Rosenwald Foundation awarded Catlett a grant in 1945 to create a series of prints and sculptures on the theme of African American women. The series would be entitled The Negro Woman and conveyed the determination of African American women in the face of overwhelming odds. In 1945, Catlett traveled to Mexico and returned in 1947, marrying painter and printmaker Francisco Mora. The couple had three sons, Francisco Jr., Juan, and David. Catlett joined the Taller de Grafica Popular (People's Graphic Arts Workshop) of printmakers who were committed to maintaining the social and political ideals of the Mexican Revolution. She became a Mexican citizen in 1960.

The political activism of the 1960s and early 1970s was seen in a variety of Catlett's works of that era, such as Black Unity, Homage to My Young Black Sisters, Target, and The Torture of Mothers. She has been the recipient of numerous awards and commissions, and continues to work and reside in Mexico.

The Amistad Research Center is honored to house the personal papers of Elizabeth Catlett, as well as a number of examples of her work in its fine arts collection. The staff of Amistad extend their heartiest birthday wishes to not only a wonderful artist and creator, but a longtime friend and supporter of the Center.

Posted by Christopher Harter

(From the Elizabeth Catlett Papers, Amistad Research Center. Image may not be reproduced without permission.)

Benjamin Hooks, 1925-2010

Staff of the Amistad Research Center are saddened to learn of the death of Benjamin L. Hooks, celebrated civil rights leader. Hooks, who died early this morning, is best known for his term as a former Commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) during the Nixon administration and his lengthy stint as the Executive Director of the NAACP.

Born in Memphis in 1925, Hooks came from one of the most influential African American families in that city. Growing up, he worked at his father’s photography studio on Beale Street, and he enrolled at LeMoyne College in Memphis when he was sixteen. Hooks’ studies were interrupted by his service in World War II, where he served for over three years in Italy. Hooks returned to the United States in 1946, and he earned a law degree from DePaul University two years later.

After graduating from DePaul, Hooks became only the second African American practicing law in Memphis. In addition to his private law practice, Hooks participated in several entrepreneurial ventures with community businessmen – he organized a federal savings and loan association, served as president of the Mahalia Jackson Chicken franchise, among other ventures. Hooks hoped that his entrepreneurial endeavors would serve as a model for other African Americans to follow.

By the 1960s, Hooks focused his energies more on public service, and, ever the pioneer amidst the recalcitrant power systems in the mid-century South, Hooks amassed an impressive range of notable “firsts”. In 1961, Hooks became the first African American public defender in Memphis, and in 1965 Tennessee Governor Frank Clement appointed Hooks to serve as a criminal court judge in Shelby County. With this appointment, Hooks became the first African American judge to serve in the South since Reconstruction. In 1972, President Nixon appointed Hooks to serve as the Commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), representing another first for African Americans.

In Hooks’ civic life, too, he utilized his hard-earned positions of authority to broker change within his sphere of influence. To name just a few examples, during his judgeship in Tennessee, Hooks worked to change the selection process for jury pools. As FCC commissioner, Hooks frequently and publicly decried the dearth of African American-owned broadcasting channels; Hooks fought to install affirmative action programs within the entertainment industry, and minority employment in the entertainment industry increased fivefold by the end of his tenure with the FCC.

In 1976, Hooks was elected to serve as Executive Director of the NAACP, a position he held until 1992. Hooks assumed leadership of the NAACP during a difficult period in the organization’s history, during which it struggled to garner national attention after decades of vigorous participation in the civil rights movement. Hooks led the NAACP in its protest against South African Apartheid, which influenced American public opinion on the issue. Hooks also presided over the NAACP’s public stance against the appointment of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court and the condemnation of the court system in the aftermath of the Rodney King verdict.

In 1979, Hooks donated papers to the Amistad Research Center which chronicle his work with the FCC. The Benjamin Hooks Papers include speeches, memoranda, and correspondence which reflect the impact that Hooks had on the FCC, especially in the area of affirmative action, and offer insight into the life and career of this civil rights pioneer.

Posted by Andrew Salinas

(From the Amistad Research Center. Image may not be reproduced without permission.)

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Dr. James Egert Allen papers

James Egert Allen (Seated), President of NAACP New York State Conference with unidentified members, 1949

Dr. James Egert Allen (1896-1980), educator, community advocate, civil rights activist, and author, was an active promoter of African American studies in New York. He was the first president of the New York Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (1933-1938), a longtime public school teacher in New York City (1926-1946), and the author of three books: The Negro in New York (1964), Black History: Past and Present (1971) and The Legend of Arthur A. Schomburg (1975).

Shortly after graduating from Johnson C. Smith University in 1916, Allen enrolled in graduate classes at Columbia University in New York. During summer school at Columbia in 1921, Allen witnessed a parade sponsored by Marcus Garvey and the Universal Negro Improvement Association, and while a student, he learned more about Garvey's movement, its objectives, and the interest it uncovered in New York City. Allen said that the movement was one of the earliest signs of the interest of African Americans in their own story, contributions, and history. He believed that African Americans now were determined to "achieve a place in the sun."

Allen was involved in both the educational and community relations in New York. He took the lead in the reestablishment of the New York City Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1933. He was elected as its first president from 1933-1938; and also served as the first president of the New York State Conference of the NAACP from 1937-1952. During his tenure, he helped establish chapters of the association throughout the state.

The Amistad Research Center has created a searchable finding aid for the James Egert Allen papers.  In this collection, there is a sub-series of Allen’s NAACP activities. The correspondence (1929-1971) contains both incoming and outgoing letters from Allen and the NAACP Board of Directors as well as invitations, meeting requests and confirmations, and speaking engagement requests. Conference materials (1936-1964) include programs from the first annual NAACP New York State Conference in 1937 and subsequent years, along with programs from out of state NAACP conferences in Baltimore and Ohio.

The majority of the NAACP material is printed material (1936-1969) including agendas for NAACP meetings and events; programs for banquets, concerts and dinners; and publications about the history of the NAACP. Of special interest is a pamphlet for “Teacher’s Salaries in Black and White” (1941) which details the salary discrepancies between teachers in segregated schools.

The original NAACP Branch files for New York City (Manhattan), 1915-1940, and the NAACP New York State Conference, 1936-1939 are held by the Library of Congress.

The Amistad Research Center received funding from The Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) Cataloging Hidden and Special Collections Program to process nine manuscript collections documenting Civil Rights era organizational history. The James Egert Allen papers were processed under the CLIR grant.

Posted by Amber L. Moore

(From the James Egert Allen papers, Amistad Research Center. Image may not be reproduced without permission.)