Oral histories are often fantastic, and fascinating, resources: first-hand accounts of lives and events, communities and histories, told with immediacy and giving a direct connection to the narrator, and thus to the story. They are rich and compelling, and are powerful tools in documenting those who are under-represented by the types of documentation traditionally found in archives. For these reasons, we were very excited to work on two recent oral history collections related to the local LGBTQI community: the Duke Alumni LGBTQ Oral Histories and the Rainbow Triangle Oral History Collection (RTOHC).
Both collections offer first-hand accounts of the LGBTQI experience at Duke and in the Triangle area. The Duke Alumni oral histories include individual Duke community members relating experiences from the 1970s through early 2000s, while the RTOHC materials come from individuals throughout the Triangle region and relate stories from the 1960s to the 2000s. As one can imagine, the stories in both document a large variety of experiences. Since some oral history subjects overlap in terms of years and environs covered, it is possible to compare multiple accounts of isolated, annual events like Blue Jeans Day; national crises like the AIDS epidemic; and ongoing struggles such as anti-LGBTQI persecution and community-building.
Similar to archival collections made up of paper and photographic-based materials, oral history collections pose significant challenges stemming from volume and format, as well as rights and content sensitivities. Close to 80 interviews are represented across these two collections. Interviews in the Alumni LGBTQ collections were conducted in 2015 and 2016 straight to digital recorders in formats supported by modern computing environments. Interviews conducted by the Rainbow Triangle Oral History project were conducted over a span of years in the 1990s and early 2000s on a variety of physical media and will require digital reformatting for use and preservation. Additionally, oral histories may have been recorded without the narrators giving explicit permission as to who can access the recordings, or under what circumstances, or what researchers can do with the information in the recording. Many projects and interviewers prepare forms for just this purpose, but not every form makes it into the archive with the recording. Finally, describing the contents, and the narrators, in ways that are sensitive to the narrator’s wishes, and concisely but accurately convey the topics covered in the recordings, can be complicated. Oral histories are often intensely personal and revelatory, and a wide range of subjects, persons, places, and events can be covered in a short period of time. We were lucky in that the alumni included either transcripts or interview summaries to aid in their description, and many of the RTOHC interviews included transcripts and/or biographical information.
Although these collections presented some complexities during processing, we were proud to work on preserving and providing access to these materials. Both collections are now available for use in the reading room.
Post contributed by Matthew Farrell, Digital Records Archivist, and Tracy Jackson, Technical Services Archivist for the Duke University Archives.
This post originally appeared on H-Net on June 29, 2016.
In June 2016, with the processing of the Radio Haiti archive well underway but only partially completed, we took another big step in bringing Radio Haiti home. I traveled to Haiti to present the archive project at the Caribbean Studies Association (CSA) and Association of Caribbean University, Research, and Institutional Libraries (ACURIL) conferences, both of which were held in Port-au-Prince during the same week, and brought with me a thousand flash drives. Each flash drive contains a small sample of twenty-nine Radio Haiti programs, and is emblazoned with Radio Haiti’s iconic microphone-inspired vèvè logo and the permanent URL of the collection’s finding aid.
The contents of the flash drives span nearly thirty years, from 1973 to 2002. It includes subjects ranging from the Battle of Vertières and the Haitian Revolution, the annual vodou pilgrimage to Saut d’Eau, the brutality of the Duvalier regime, the tribulations of Haitian refugees at sea, the 1987 Jean Rabel massacre, the persecution of Haitian cane-cutters in the Dominican Republic, the aftermath of the coup years, agrarian reform in the mid-1990s, women’s rights, and the search for justice in the assassination of Jean Dominique and tributes to the slain journalist. It includes the voices of journalists, writers, human rights activists, rural farmers, artists, and intellectuals. Jean Dominique, Michèle Montas, Richard Brisson, Madeleine Paillère, J.J. Dominique, Konpè Filo, Jean-Marie Vincent, Michel-Rolph Trouillot, and Myriam Merlet, among others. Each flash drive also contains a PDF containing a full list of the contents, and links to our permanent finding aid, Soundcloud site, Facebook page, and the trilingual pilot website.
Collaborators, friends, and fellow travelers, including the Fondasyon Konesans ak Libète (FOKAL), the MIT-Haiti Initiative, AlterPresse, and Fanm Deside (among others!) are helping distribute the flash drives throughout the country. Our goal is for copies to be available in various schools, universities, community radio and alternative media outlets, community libraries, grassroots organizations, cultural organizations, and women’s organizations from Cité Soleil to Jérémie to Cap Haïtien to Jacmel to Gonaïves to La Gonâve. In 2017, when the Radio Haiti archive is completely digitized and processed, we will give digital copies of the entire archive to the Archives Nationales, the Bibliothèque Nationale, the network of community radio stations SAKS, FOKAL, and other major institutions.
Radio Haiti’s digital archive is not only for scholars writing about Haiti; it isn’t even principally for them. It is for everyone. Radio in Haiti in general, and Radio Haiti in particular, was and is fundamentally democratic. The technology is relatively inexpensive. Even if you don’t have a radio yourself, a relative, a friend, or a neighbor does. Radio doesn’t depend on traditional literacy. And Radio Haiti itself was in Haitian Creole in addition to French, so that everyone could listen, participate, and share ideas. Radio Haiti demonstrated that Creole, the language spoken by all Haitian people, could be used for serious topics and serious analysis.
Radio in Haiti began with Radio HHK, a propaganda tool of the 1915-1934 US Marine occupation. In the 1970s, churches distributed small transistor radios. These radios were locked, to prevent people from listening to things other than church stations. But the listeners managed to unlock them in order to listen to other frequencies, especially Radio Haiti Inter on 1330 am. There is a long history of resourcefulness and innovation in Haiti—a history of degaje.
The Internet still is not as democratic as radio. It is not free. Not everyone has Internet access, and not everyone can buy enough data to livestream the digital archive. Despite that, I remain certain that the Radio Haiti archive will spread. Just as people took a propaganda tool and used it for their own purposes, they’ll find a way. Just as people unlocked the church radios, they’ll find a way. We want and encourage that. We hope that people will copy the content of these flash drives and share it with others, and that those who are able to download the audio will copy it, put it on a flash drive, share it with others.
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The weekend after the conferences, I left Port-au-Prince to travel to the Artibonite to visit Charles Suffrard, one of Jean Dominique’s closest friends and collaborators, a leader of KOZEPEP, an influential peasant rights organizations in Haiti. In a posthumous tribute to Dominique, which is one of the recordings featured on the flash drives, he introduces himself as “a rice farmer, and Jean Dominique’s teacher,” referring to the journalist’s uncommon respect for the expertise and experience of Haiti’s cultivators. We eat lalo and local rice from Charles’s fields. Then he takes me to the dam where they poured Jean Dominique’s ashes, after he was struck down by an assassin in Radio Haiti’s courtyard early in the morning of April 3, 2000. “This is the most important thing for you to see,” Charles says.
It feels like a pilgrimage: if I am to work on this archive, I must also know this place. The water was high and quick-moving, cloudy with sediment. “This is where all the water that irrigates the whole Artibonite Valley comes from,” Charles explained. “This is why we chose to pour Jean’s ashes here, so that he could become fertilizer for the entire Artibonite.”
The river glides apace toward the churning dam, and I imagine Jean Dominique’s dynamism dispersed throughout the water and earth of the Artibonite Valley, and I wonder about things that, through the act of diffusion, grow stronger. Memory should not stay stagnant or contained. Like the river, like sound, memory needs motion in order to be. As for Radio Haiti, it was never really gone. It was never lost or forgotten. It was merely, for a time, at rest. The physical archive is at Duke University now, but Duke is not really its home. The Duke project is a means of setting Radio Haiti in motion again, of creating access for as many people as possible so that Radio Haiti’s home can again be everywhere that people listen, and everywhere that they remember.
The John Hope Franklin Research Center for African and African American History and Culture recently acquired the Joseph F. Mattice Papers. Mattice was a native of Asbury Park who served as a lawyer, city council member, and district court judge prior to being elected mayor of Asbury Park, New Jersey in 1969. Mattice was mayor during the Asbury Park July 1970 riots and the collection contains a bevy of material related to the riots including letters from concerned citizens, business people, news clippings, and hate speech.
So how did Asbury Park become ground zero for riots from July 4th, 1970 to July 10th, 1970? This story began way before 1970. The first wave of the Great Migration brought African Americans from the South to Asbury Park for better opportunities. Historically, Asbury Park was a resort town that recruited African Americans to work in the resort industry.
At the time of the riots, Asbury Park was a town of 17,000, 30% of which were African-American. The town’s population increased to 80,000 with summer vacationers. The Great Depression, followed by World War II, caused the resort industry in Asbury Park to change dramatically to keep up with the times. The fancy resort stays gave way to weekend vacationers. The community maintained a steady resort community, but jobs at the resorts were frequently outsourced to white youth in the surrounding areas instead of local African American youth, which caused frustration in the community.
On the evening of Saturday July 4, 1970 all of the tension due to the lack of jobs, recreational opportunities, and decent living conditions came to a head.
By Monday July 6th, Mayor Mattice ordered a curfew. Surrounding local police as well as New Jersey state police were summoned and brought in via trucks by the National Guard.
Tuesday July 7, 1970: African American community representatives presented a list of twenty demands to city officials including better housing conditions as many were infested with rats.
Wednesday July 8, 1970: City officials, representatives of New Jersey Governor Cahill, and the African American community met in a closed conference. Governor Cahill completed a brief tour via vehicle then requested President Nixon to declare the city a major disaster area after the disorders (as the riots were called) were over.
Friday July 10, 1970: marked the last day of rioting. The state troopers were removed from the West Side but remained on patrol of other sections of the city. Mattice and city council had a productive meeting with West Side residents to discuss demands.
In the end, over 180 people, including 15 state troopers were injured, and the shopping district of the west side neighborhood of Asbury Park was destroyed. Police made 167 arrests. Many West side residents were displaced from their homes, and the neighborhood was still in disarray five years after the riots. There was an estimated $4,000,000 in damage, and an additional $1,600,000 spent on cleanup costs.
The riots brought national attention to Asbury Park, New Jersey. However, Asbury Park was just one of many cities across the United States that experienced riots within the late 60s- early 70s period. The same issues: lack of job opportunities and unfit housing were prevalent for many African Americans. The riots forced America to look at the inequalities, acknowledge them and work towards making things better.
The Joseph F. Mattice papers give an insider view into the riots and this period in general. The collection is a vital research tool that allows the reader to make their own interpretation of this historical event.
Post contributed by Charmaine Bonner, SNCC Collections Intern.
I wanted to showcase some of my favorite photographs from the Lucy Monroe Calhoun family photographs and papers, a collection we are currently processing. Lucy Monroe Calhoun was born in 1865; she was the sister of poet and editor Harriet (Stone) Monroe. She became a freelance art critic for Chicago and national newspapers, and served as an editorial reader for the Herbert S. Stone publishing company.
In 1904, she married William James Calhoun, known as “Cal,” who was appointed ambassador to China by President Taft. They reached Beijing in 1910, and look particularly regal in this 1911 photograph.
In her memoir (contained in the collection), Lucy detailed all the political upheaval of the period. In addition, she outlined all the various activities and entertainments that accompany the work of an ambassador, among them dinner parties, plays, music and musicals, tiffin (a light, midday meal), and excursions. Whenever possible, Lucy toted her camera along to take photographs. One of the groups she, Cal, and their niece, Polly, joined was the “Purple Cows,” a foreign legation dinner club whose members dressed in purple and met once a week to discuss a current reading.
The couple left Beijing at the end of Cal’s term in 1913. They returned to Chicago. After Cal suffered a stroke and died in 1916, Lucy had difficulty establishing a home, for various reasons. For a period she even worked for the Red Cross in France. So when friends asked her to accompany them on a trip to Japan and China, she joyfully accepted and returned to Beijing in 1921. She stayed until 1937, establishing her home in a former temple that had been built in 1789, using the ample space there for entertaining. She became the unofficial “First Lady” of the diplomatic corps. She even wrote about her house in her memoir: “Here we came to be at home; though it seemed far north at first and was called “Outer Mongolia,” friends of many nationalities found the way to our doors…. Wars and revolutions have raged around it, foreign planes have zoomed overhead, but my shaded courts are tranquil and I live in peace.” She took many photographs of her expansive living quarters, and the pieces of Chinese furniture she used for decoration.
So now for two photographs I found interesting. The first is a photograph of Tien an men Gate, which I didn’t recognize as something familiar until someone mentioned Tiananmen…. <<click!>>.
The second is perhaps my favorite photograph; I find its arrangement attractive. It was taken during a funeral procession, and features paper figures as effigies that will be burned following the funeral.
Spring, and a woman’s thoughts turn to…bicycles? Apart from sudden showers and the onslaught of inchworms and allergens, spring is perhaps the finest season to ride. Trees are filling out, flowers are a’bloom and the birds are a’tweet: in short the whole planet has its hormones on fine display. What’s a girl not to like—especially on a bicycle built for her, equal in every way to a man’s?
This 1900 ad for Columbia’s chainless bicycle makes the progressive argument that women are entitled to the same quality bike as a man. The copy goes on to show how the bike’s frame accommodates the latest in women’s biking fashions, and how the chainless design facilitates mounting and dismounting while eliminating the possibility of one’s skirt getting caught in a chain—or soiled by it, a concern that persists among our current-day urbanites rolling along with the right pant-leg rolled-up out of harm’s way. Actually, this basic frame design is still with us, in unisex “Dutch” and townie bike styles like the Breezers that Zagster provides for rent. Not only that, but the “bevel gear” drive system was the precursor to today’s eclectic shaft-driven bicycles (still trumpeted as “innovative.” Hah!). All in all, the Columbia was a triumph of engineering in its day, especially with the available option of a coaster brake, which is also still in use in kids’ bikes and beach cruisers.
Columbia additionally had the marketing vision to realize that the bike and rider formed a single ensemble, where the lines of the frame “Contribute to the Graceful Appearance of the Rider…” That came at a price, though. $75 in 1900 roughly equates to around $2000 today, which would put a modern woman in the market for a top-of-the-line bike from today’s major manufacturers. On the other hand, grace is priceless, and the freedom and autonomy provided by the bicycle was likely well worth the investment. In fact, the bicycle has occasionally been praised as an instrument of liberation, and early feminists such as Susan B. Anthony were also advocates for cycling, as much for gender-political as for its health benefits. Liberate the body and the mind will follow!
One of the things they don’t tell you in library school is that your personal and professional readings will occasionally overlap—something I’ve found to be especially true as I’ve worked to complete a long gestating newspaper project at the Rubenstein. When I serendipitously encounter primary sources in my readings, I’m forced to ask myself (and occasionally regret asking myself): Does the Rubenstein hold this? In the case of The Cherokee Phoenix, a newspaper written by the Cherokee Nation, the answer turns out to be a resounding yes, and one that I’m glad I pursued.
“We, the representatives of the people of the Cherokee Nation in Convention assembled, in order to establish justice, ensure tranquility, promote our common welfare, and secure to ourselves and our posterity the blessings of liberty”—The Constitution of the Cherokee Nation, created in 1827 and published in the first issue of the Cherokee Phoenix.
In the 19th Century, the Cherokee were under attack. Voluntary removals were increasingly involuntary, forcing the Cherokee farther and farther from their homes in the southeast United States. Treaties ostensibly designed to protect the Nation’s lands went unenforced by the state and federal governments (Zinn, 2015, p.143-148) (Brannon, 2005, p.14). And in 1830, Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act into law, thereby granting the federal government power to forcibly migrate Native Americans into lands beyond Mississippi (Primary documents in American history). The Cherokee were subsequently “rounded up and crowded into stockades” in October 1838 and made to march (Zinn, 2015, p.148). Today we recognize this as the start of the Trail of Tears, a cataclysmic event resulting in the deaths of some 4,000 Cherokees (Primary documents in American history).
The Cherokee Phoenix, a newspaper first published by Isaac H. Harris on February 21, 1828, navigates this sliver of time in the history of the Cherokee Nation, a time in which it fought to maintain its lands, protect its people, and keep its ways of life. In the first issue, the editor, Elias Boudinot, juxtaposes the opening salvos of the recently written (1827!) Constitution of the Cherokee Nation with a letter written by Thomas L. McKinney to the Secretary of War about the Cherokee people. A public notice underlining the difficulties in creating the paper and a column critical of the Federal government can also be found. The Cherokee Phoenix thus proves to be a remarkable historical document, made all the more remarkable by the fact it’s written in both English and Cherokee—a language that did not have a written component until 1821 (Brannon, 2005, p. x).
The Cherokee syllabary was created by Sequoyah, a silversmith and trader by profession, who felt that written language could be harnessed and used to the Cherokee’s advantage. In his initial attempts, Sequoyah tried to create a “symbol for each word in the language,” but that soon proved insufficient, and he turned his attention to the sounds of the language, paying particular attention to the syllables (Sequoyah and the Cherokee Syllabary). Eventually, he was able to isolate 85 syllables and devise associated symbols that could be combined to create a written component of the Cherokee language. The first to learn how to read and write using this syllabary was Sequoyah’s daughter, A-Yo-Ka. Incredibly, in eleven years, Sequoyah’s efforts proved successful: he developed an entirely new means of communication for his Nation. By 1825, there were Cherokee translations of hymns and the Bible, and thousands of Cherokee were literate (Sequoyah’s syllabary) (Sequoyah and the Cherokee Syllabary).
Three years later, the Cherokee nation purchased its own press and began publishing the Cherokee Phoenix in New Echota Georgia, the capital of the Cherokee Nation. The type was cast by Reverend Samuel Worcester, a missionary, postmaster, and now printer (Samuel Worcester). Forty-seven issues were published under its original name. And now, almost 200 years later, the Cherokee Phoenix name is still in use: The Cherokee Nation publishes both online and print editions of the newspaper, with a subscription base of 40,000 readers (Cherokee Phoenix celebrates 184 years).
Brannon, F. (2005). Cherokee phoenix, advent of a newspaper: The print shop of the Cherokee Nation 1828-1834, with a chronology. Tuscaloosa, Ala.: SpeakEasy Press.
Cherokee Phoenix celebrates 184 years. (2012, February 21). Cherokee Phoenix. Retrieved May 3, 2016, from http://www.cherokeephoenix.org/
Primary Documents in American History. (n.d.). Retrieved May 03, 2016, from https://www.loc.gov/rr/program/bib/ourdocs/Indian.html
Samuel Worcester. (n.d.). Retrieved May 03, 2016, from http://www.cherokee.org/AboutTheNation/History/Biographies/SamuelWorcester.aspx
Sequoyah and the Cherokee Syllabary. (n.d.). Retrieved May 03, 2016, from http://www.cherokee.org/AboutTheNation/History/Facts/SequoyahandtheCherokeeSyllabary.aspx
Sequoyah Museum: Sequoyah’s Syllabary. (n.d.). Retrieved May 03, 2016, from http://www.sequoyahmuseum.org/index.cfm/m/6
Zinn, H. (2015). A People’s History of the United States (Reissue ed.). New York, NY: Harper Perennial Modern Classics.
Post contributed by Liz Adams, Special Collections Cataloger.
With constant access to moving images via your cell phone, laptop, or tablet, I expect it is difficult to imagine when even simple movement in a book was revolutionary. But just image the impact of being able to manipulate part of a page in a book in the 18th century!
The Rubenstein’s History of Medicine Collection features many early movable books, which were usually intended for scholars. These were generally the “turn-up” style, often used by students of anatomy, where separate leaves, each featuring a different section of the body, were hinged together and attached to a page. One of the best examples, De humani corporis fabrica librorum epitome was printed by Andreas Vesalius in 1543.
It wasn’t until the late 1700s that movable books intended for entertainment were produced, usually for children. In 1765, Robert Sayer created a movable book that involved lifting a flap. Ann Montanaro explains the construction of these books in her “A Concise History of Pop-up and Movable Books:”
[the] books were composed of single, printed sheets folded perpendicularly into four. Hinged at the top and bottom of each fold, the picture was cut through horizontally across the center to make two flaps that could be opened up or down. When raised, the pages disclosed another hidden picture underneath, each having a few lines of verse.
These books quickly became popular and had different names based on their content or composition of illustrations, including “metamorphoses,” “harlequinades,” as well as the unfortunately-named “toilet books.”
As part of the Lisa Unger Baskin Collection, we recently received one of these metamorphoses books, handmade by Elizabeth Winspear in 1799. Unfortunately, that is the limit of all we know about her. The book features just four pages in full color with accompanying verse, each page with two flaps that reveal a new drawing underneath, in stages. The verses include instructions for how to move the flaps. One reads: The Lion Roaring from his Den / with porpose [sic] for to rainge [sic] / He’s turn’d into another shape / Turn down & see the sight so strange
I don’t want to give everything away! There is immense entertainment value to this little item. Initially we are introduced to Adam, whose Eve is not what one has come to expect. However, it is clear that Winspear also intended some instruction or moral training to occur by reading this book, for all does not end well, despite a character’s obtaining gold and silver. The piece ends as a cautionary tale.
On April 26, 1963, François Duvalier ordered his forces – the army and the Tontons Macoutes – to wreak unprecedented violence throughout the city of Port-au-Prince. It was the perhaps the single moment in which the encompassing brutality of Duvalierist repression was realized in full.
On April 26, 1986, two and a half short months after the fall of Jean-Claude Duvalier, eight civilians were gunned down by the army at a commemoration of the violence that had taken place twenty-three years before. It was one of the first of many events that proved that Duvalierism and Macoutism would outlive the Duvalier regime.
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The morning of April 26, 1963, the presidential car bringing François Duvalier’s children Jean-Claude and Simone to school was attacked by four armed men; the Duvalier children’s chauffeur and two bodyguards were killed. Duvalier père responded by issuing a call to arms on the national radio, commanding and authorizing the Macoutes and other Duvalier partisans to hunt down and kill the perpetrators, or ostensible perpetrators, of the attempted kidnapping.
François Duvalier believed that a group of military officers were plotting against him, in particular Lieutenant François Benoît, whom Duvalier accused of having masterminded the kidnapping attempt. (It was later discovered that the attack had been engineered by Clément Barbot, the former chief of the Tontons Macoutes who had once been one of Papa Doc’s closest confidants.) That day, Duvalierist forces hunted down and tried to exterminate the entire Benoît and Edeline families (the family of François Benoît’s wife). The Benoît home was burned down, and Lieutenant Benoît’s mother, father, toddler son, the baby’s nanny and another household worker were killed. At least seventy-four people were killed or disappeared that day. Many were military officers; many others were relatives of military officers (including small children), household workers employed by targeted families, or people who were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. An elderly lawyer named Benoît Armand was murdered merely because his first name was Benoît. Since Duvalier had his supporters given carte blanche to carry out these killings, the rampage was both opportunistic and indiscriminate.
That arbitrariness was not incidental. On the contrary: it was a fundamental part of the Duvalierist machine, essential to creating a climate of fear and exerting political and social control. In 1991, Jean Dominique spoke with members the Komite Pa Bliye (the Do Not Forget Committee), a sometimes-uneasy alliance of survivors and relatives of the victims of Duvalierist violence (including Guylène Bouchereau, whose father, Captain Jean Bouchereau, was among the officers who disappeared on April 26, 1963). Jean Dominique summarizes the ruthless logic of the regime’s terror: “If an individual man decided to fight against Duvalier, Duvalier would say, ‘if you fight against me, your entire bloodline will disappear.’ So, in addition to the destruction that the dictatorship carried out, it established a rule of terrorism, a domino effect that would exterminate entire families, entire bloodlines.”
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Jean-Claude Duvalier’s fall and hasty departure from Haiti on February 7, 1986 was followed by an initial swell of hope that the democratic project could at last begin. Devoir de mémoire (the duty of remembrance) was part of that process: commemorating the tragedies and atrocities of the past so that they would not happen again. But the democratic dream stalled almost as soon as it took off; neither the authoritarian structures the regime had created nor the sense of terror that the regime had inculcated could be removed as easily as the dictator himself.
On April 26, 1986, a group of people, among them several surviving members of the Benoît and Edeline families, commemorated the massacres of April 26, 1963 by organizing a mass at Sacre Coeur church followed by a march to Fort Dimanche, the notorious prison where untold opponents of the Duvalier regime were tortured and killed. Many young people, excited at the possibility of social and political change, participated in the demonstration. Jackson Row, twenty-six years old, worked as a typist at the Nouvelliste. He would have been a small child, unaware, when the 1963 violence took place. High school students Wilson Auguste and Wilson Nicaisse, aged eighteen and sixteen, had not yet been born in 1963. They were too young, all of them, to really remember the bloodiest years of the Duvalier regime. Nevertheless they went out that day to commemorate the injustices of the past. The mothers of both Wilson Auguste and Jackson Row would later speak of how their sons had never even seen Fort Dimanche before that day.
Gary Desenclos, a human rights observer at the march, watched the events unfold from a point between the crowd assembled in front of Fort Dimanche and the soldiers standing guard. As Desenclos explains on Radio Haiti, the commander instructed the other soldiers that if there was any “provocation” from the demonstrators, they should respond to the provocation. “That was the first warning, for me,” Desenclos reflects. “Because, I don’t know – those people didn’t have any kind of defensive weapons, tear gas, anything like that. So when you say ‘respond to provocation’ and you’ve got a rifle in your hands, I don’t know what that could mean.” The protestors were peaceful. At times they became impassioned, shouting and chanting, but they were unarmed, and, according to Desenclos, François Benoît managed to calm the crowd. And then, suddenly (“this was, for me, the most incomprehensible thing,” Desenclos recalls), the soldiers stepped back. The crowd advanced. And then, from somewhere, a shot rang out, the sound of a projectile, likely a tear gas canister, being launched.
After the fact, some people would argue that the shot could have come from within the crowd. But, as Desenclos observed, the only person with a projectile launcher was that same commanding officer. Desenclos heard the shot. “And it came from my far left. There was no crowd at my far left…. The shot didn’t come from the crowd. It came from the soldiers.”
The soldiers opened fire, the massacre began. They shot blanks into the air and bullets into the crowd. The measured, neutral testimony the human rights observer becomes more fragmented as he recalls the massacre. “I can tell you something, because I work for a human rights mission: I find this completely against all principles of human rights. At a certain point, several people in the crowd tried to save a young man, they tried to carry him away. And I saw two or three soldiers point their rifles at them and said, ‘Lage l atè. Lage l atè. Lage l atè. Drop him. Drop him. Drop him.’” At one point, Desenclos saw a man ripped apart by bullets. “He told me his name in that moment, but I’ve forgotten his name. There was no one there to help him, and I went to him, and he said, Pa bliye di ki m rele entèl. Don’t forget to tell them my name was so-and-so.”
Among those killed that day were Jackson Row, Wilson Auguste, and Wilson Nicaisse.
The relatives of the three young men wrote a letter to the Minister of Justice. It begins:
“We are: Mezilia Solivert, mother of Jackson Row; Vernilia Vernet, mother of Wilson Auguste; Matania Nicaisse, sister of Wilson Nicaisse. Our children and brother left their homes to fulfill a duty in alongside others who had lost their loved ones: mothers who lost their children, children who never knew their fathers, those who lost sisters, and all those who have suffered down to their core. It was the first time in twenty-nine years that such people could cry for what they had lost. It was the first time they could discover where their relatives’ bones were buried. It was the first time that they would light a candle and bring flowers to the dead. Our children and brother never came home. They fell before Fort Dimanche, the same place where Duvalier’s criminals and evildoers carried out their murders.
“Our children and brother went to a peaceful demonstration. They had no guns, they had no machetes, they had no knives in their hands. They died just as those who died under Duvalier. And just the same, to this day we don’t know how this happened, nor who is responsible. Democratic organizations, newspapers, radio, everyone has cried out… but nothing has come of it. It’s as though it were nothing at all. Minister, sir, we raised our children, we turned them into brave men, and all we have reaped is pain. They took them from us.”
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On the one-year anniversary of the 1986 massacre, the mothers and sister of the slain young men demand justice on the airwaves of Radio Haiti. Their grief is still fresh. Their testimonies are raw, choked and painful. They are working-class women, supporting their families as small-scale vendors (ti machann) in downtown Port-au-Prince. Unlike, for example, François Benoît and the members of the Komite Pa Bliye (relatively affluent and educated people who chose to participate in devoir de mémoire because of the violence and loss they had endured in their families), these three women are almost certainly unaccustomed to making public claims for justice. As they speak, the lives and personalities of the young victims emerge in touchingly real terms.
Her voice hoarse, Mezilia Solivert describes her son, Jackson Row. “Jackson was someone, a young man, who never had a problem with anybody. Everyone liked him, he liked everyone. Old and young, he respected everyone.” He saw the procession from Sacre Coeur to the prison, and decided to join. “He helped the people carry flowers and everything,” his mother recalled. “He came back to my home, changed his clothes, and he told me he’d never seen Fort Dimanche, this was the first time he was going to Fort Dimanche. And he left, and he never returned.” Jackson Row’s friends couldn’t bring themselves to tell his mother that he had died. They brought her his small radio and his wallet, and told her that he’d been tear gassed and taken to the hospital, but that he wasn’t dead. “And then I got to the hospital and saw him lying among the dead, with a bullet in his head.”
Vernilia Vernet, mother of Wilson Auguste, an eighteen-year-old high school student, remembers her son in poignant, sweet detail. She is on the verge of tears the entire time she speaks. “I worked hard to raise that child right. He was a child who never went out. When he wanted to go [to the demonstration], he said, Mama, I’m going downtown and then he said, ‘If I had the money, I’ve never been to Fort Dimanche, I’d like to see Fort Dimanche.’ So he heard the mass on the radio, and he said, ‘That mass, that’s something I’d like to be part of.’ So he got himself cleaned up, he put on his clothes, and he went to the mass… When I came home from working downtown, I asked, ‘Oh, where’s Wilson? He hasn’t eaten the food I left for him? Where’s Wilson?’ And my youngest said, ‘Mama, I was going to tell you. He’s been out since this morning to go to the mass, he was so excited about it, he went to it, and he still hasn’t come back.’ And I said, ‘Well, pitit mwen, he must be dead.’ He was a child – he was never looking for trouble. He never went out. The latest he ever came home was 8 pm when school gets out, other than that he didn’t go out at all. And that child was dear to me. Ever since he died…! I’m barely alive at all. That child spoiled me so. If I got home later than usual from downtown, he would say, ‘Oh! Makomè! What were you doing out so late? You know I miss you when I haven’t seen you all day. You need to hurry home.’ When I get home, he even washes my clothes for me. That child did laundry for me. Sometimes I’d come home to find my clothes, even my underwear, washed – he’s the one who washed them for me. I never had to lift a finger at home. Since that child died, I’ve wasted away.”
“Justice, to me, is for these things to stop happening in the country of Haiti. Shooting people for no reason,” continues Mezilia Solivert. Her words unconsciously recall Jean Dominique’s analysis of the lethal logic of Duvalierism, refracted through her own experience, demonstrating again that though the Duvaliers were gone, Duvalierism and Macoutism remained. “When they kill someone’s relative, it’s the whole family they’re killing. They don’t realize that. But that’s it. When you kill one person, you’re destroying the entire family. Because when you kill one person, that was the one who helped the whole family. So you’ve destroyed the entire family.”
Post contributed by Laura Wagner, PhD, Radio Haiti Project Archivist.
The Voices of Change project was made possible through a generous grant from the National Endowment of the Humanities.
The Hartman Center is currently processing the Gary B. and Sandra G. Baden Collection of Print Advertisements, a collection of about 50 linear feet of print ads that cover primarily the first three quarters of the twentieth century. It is notable and was initially attractive to the Hartman Center for its early ads for automobiles, perfume and watches, but it also includes a wide range of corporate ads as well as some travel and tourism literature.
The Badens were avid collectors, and the collection also includes some non-advertising-related materials: issues of international magazines; direct mail materials; packaging; old maps; and some sheet music. There are about eight compositions from the early 1900s-1930s, including Stephen Foster, Irving Berlin as well as some tunes from the Ragtime/Minstrel/Vaudeville era. Of these, two items especially stand out.
The first, a Thomas Allen/William Macauley ragtime tune entitled “M-M-Mazie” from 1904, is fairly well known, but this one has a seemingly rare cover. Most digitized versions, including one held by Duke, features a red cover with a photograph of pianist Joseph A. Callahan. The version found in the Baden collection features a blue cover with a photograph of the African American Vaudeville duo Brandow and Wiley. Brandow and Wiley were quite prominent in their day, one of the few black song-and-dance acts to star in the mainly white Keith-Orpheum circuit of theaters. Russell Brandow was an acrobatic dancer and a specialist in what was known as comedic “grotesque dance.” Stella Wiley was a singer and dancer who was previously married to the notable composer, producer and musician Bob Cole, credited with creating the first all-black musical production, “A Trip to Coontown” (1898), and a creative who worked to break down the minstrel-era racial stereotypes in theater. The history of African American vaudeville, minstrel shows and other performing arts in the early 20th century is still an emerging research field, so it is exciting to find a picture of this pair of performers.
As a side note, March was Disability Awareness Month, and “M-M-Mazie” regularly appears in scholarly work on the exploitation of speech impediments and other disabilities in popular cultural productions like songs and story narratives. The chorus goes “M’m M’m M’m Mazie My d’d d’d daisy You I adore; and everyday that passes by I love you m-m more and more.”
The second piece of sheet music poses a bit more of a mystery. It’s an 1899 piece entitled “Coontown Promenade” or alternatively, “Coontown or Loyola Minstrels Promenade,” a cake-walk and two-step composition. The composer, Johann Schmid, was quite prolific composer of popular music, with nearly 300 known compositions ranging from minstrel tunes to rags and schottisches, but very little is known of him as a person. “Coontown Promenade” does not seem to appear in any library holdings, digital sheet music collections or in the WorldCat database. It also does not appear in online databases of known compositions by Schmid, although it does appear in the register of U.S. copyright applications. The Loyola University Music Club did perform minstrels in the early 1900s but it is unclear whether this was among them. A very exciting find in a very unexpected place.
Post contributed by Rick Collier, Technical Services Archivist, John W. Hartman Center
Laura Wagner is the Project Archivist for the Radio Haiti Archives. She joined the Rubenstein in 2015. She has a PhD in anthropology from UNC. Her dissertation is about the 2010 earthquake and its long aftermath: how did people’s everyday lives and social worlds change (or not change) in the wake of the disaster and displacement? How do people get by in an aid economy? How did Haitian people and non-Haitian interveners make sense of the humanitarian response and its failures? She also wrote a YA novel, Hold Tight, Don’t Let Go, which deals with some of the same issues. Her interests include Haiti, literary fiction and nonfiction, humanitarianism, human rights, and social justice. She has been a frequent contributor to the Devil’s Tale since joining the RL.
How do you describe what you do to people you meet at a party? To fellow librarians and library staff?
At parties I say “I work on the archives of Haiti’s first independent radio station.” Then that confuses them and they think I’m doing research in the archives, and I have to clarify that I’m processing the materials. Then they generally want to know why these materials live at Duke. And if I’m at a party in Haiti, people then want to talk to about their own memories of Radio Haiti and of Jean Dominique, and they ask me if the station will ever reopen. To librarians and library staff, I say I’m a project archivist who never trained as an archivist.
What led you to working in libraries?
This project. I had never worked in a library before. I began working on this project as an external contractor for the Forum for Scholars and Publics, which was collaborating with the Library to create a public-facing pilot website with a small sample of the Radio Haiti recordings. When the opportunity to apply for the Project Archivist job came along, I applied. I had already decided that if it was possible, I wanted to work on this project full time. Temperamentally and experientially, I am probably a bit of an outlier among the library set.
Tell us about your relationship to Radio Haiti. How has it evolved since taking on this position?
Jean Dominique, Michèle Montas, and other members of the Radio Haiti team had numbered among my heroes since I first started learning about Haiti and learning Haitian Creole, back in 2004. I never could have imagined that one day I would have the opportunity to work on preserving the work of Radio Haiti. The first time I met Michèle, in April 2014, I was embarrassingly giddy. It is a huge honor to work on this project.
I’m learning a lot about late twentieth century Haiti, in a very granular way. I already knew the major events and trends, the main themes, but always analytically and in hindsight. It’s a very different experience to learn about events through real-time, day-to-day reporting, done by people who did not yet know the outcome of the story. It’s fascinating, but also often sad and frustrating because you see the same things happening over and over and over again, until today. The same injustices, the same impunity, though sometimes it “repaints its face”, to use a phrase that Jean Dominique uses.
How does your work at the Rubenstein influence your approach to research and writing?
I was a researcher and writer before I started working on this project, so I have to keep myself in check; I cannot follow my instincts and desires by letting myself act as a researcher and writer when my job, for the moment, is to be processing the archive. That said, I hope to someday write something substantial about this archive. I can also say that my experience as a researcher and writer influences my approach to processing this archive. I want it all to be clear and transparent; I want to provide context and thematic guidance for future researchers and listeners. Working on the Radio Haiti archive has been a huge learning experience for me, and I want to impart as much of that knowledge as possible to others down the line, by incorporating that knowledge into the structure and description of the archive.
What does an average day at RL look like for you?
Because this is a single project with a clear goal and endpoint, and with defined stages, my typical workday varies depending on what we’re working on. These days I am mostly working through Radio Haiti’s paper archive. So I get to work, answer some email, and start organizing the papers, removing the faded invisible Thermofax pages, sorting them by subject and year. I have two excellent undergraduate assistants this semester, both Haitian, who are starting to listen to and describe some of the recordings. I am very eager to finish processing the papers so I can focus on the audio full-time. I also spend part of the day thinking about broader questions of access — how we’re going to make this collection as available and accessible as possible to people in Haiti, given the social and infrastructural realities there. I am very eager to begin working on the recordings full-time, of course.
What do you like best about your job? What excites you most?
What excites me the most is that I am helping keep this important work alive, making it accessible to people in Haiti and beyond. And I just really like the experience of listening to the recordings. Sometimes it’s hard for me to listen as an archivist, rather than as a researcher and writer. So it’s fun when I get to write a blog entry about the project, and synthesize and put together different parts of the archive, translate some excerpts, and provide context to people who may not already know the story of Radio Haiti. As I said, it’s a great honor to work on this collection, to be entrusted with this collection. As Michèle says, part of Jean’s soul is here.
What might people find surprising about your job?
I think it depends on the person. For people who aren’t used to processing archival collections (id est most people), I think they’d be surprised at how much physical restoration, intellectual labor and time this job takes. A lot of people want the Radio Haiti collection to be available as soon as possible. (I’m one of them!) And many people don’t understand why we can’t do it instantly.
What is the most challenging aspect of your job?
I have two answers to that, which are sort of incommensurate with one another. In a day-to-day sense, it can be tedious, and I sometimes feel isolated in this work. Radio Haiti itself was a team effort — it was a social, collaborative, interactive entity, an act of ongoing solidarity, both in terms of the journalists and their audience… and the audience was nearly all of Haiti. So engaging with that work in my cubicle in a converted tobacco warehouse in Durham, North Carolina, can feel lonely. At the same time, I feel connected to the people who appear in the tapes, across time and space, even across life and death. Which brings me to the second challenging aspect of this job, which is actually the same as my favorite thing about the job: the weight of history, the weight of memory. This collection is a huge part of Haitian national heritage. And so much of it is sad, frustrating and infuriating — there is so much injustice, suffering, and absurdity in this archive. Sometimes it’s emotionally difficult to listen to these things — though Jean Dominique’s incisive intellect and humor make it easier. It sounds strange, but I laugh all the time.
Do you have a favorite piece or collection at The Rubenstein? Why?
Well, the Radio Haiti collection is obviously my favorite collection, for all the reasons I’ve mentioned. I’m not intimately familiar with the other collections, but the National Coalition for Haitian Rights archive has some fascinating material in it that often complements the Radio Haiti collection. And I like all the History of Medicine collections, especially Benjamin Rush papers, which are poignant, and the creepy suede baby + placenta.
Where can you be found when you’re not working?
Cooking dinner with friends, baking cakes, drinking a beer, vaguely working on novel #2, vaguely revising my dissertation, singing in the car, asking my cats why they are thundering hither and yon at 2 am. I like making silly little greeting cards for friends; I’ve been thinking about taking an actual art class or something. I’d like to know how to access all the other seasons of the Great British Baking Show. And I’ve started running as of late, at which I am truly mediocre. It’s liberating to do something you know you have no hope of being good at.
What book is on your nightstand/in your carryall right now?