Tag Archives: civil rights

Jakeintransition

Clarissa Sligh: Jake in Transition

Sometimes in Technical Services, we get to work with the visual arts as they intersect with the Rubenstein Library’s mission of cultural documentation.  One such collection, acquired by the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture, is the Clarissa Sligh Papers. Sligh is a visual artist, writer, and lecturer. As a teenager, she was the lead plaintiff in a 1955 school desegregation case in Virginia which later inspired her book “It Wasn’t Little Rock”. After working in math and science with NASA and later in business, she began her career as an artist, using photographs, drawings, text, and personal stories to explore themes of transformation and social justice.

The Bingham Center began acquiring Sligh’s work in the 1990s as part of a collection of artists’ books by women. In 2011, we began the process of transferring her archive to Duke. One of the works represented in her papers is Jake in Transition, a series of 51 black and white photographs, some superimposed with text, documenting one man’s transition from female to male. The project explores issues of gender, identity, and physicality. Sligh revisited those themes in her book Wrongly Bodied Two, which juxtaposes Jake’s story with that of a female slave who escapes to the North by passing as a white man.

Jakeintransition

Sligh took the original “Jake” photographs between 1996 and 2000, a time when transgender issues were still largely ignored. Her work is particularly relevant now that the transgender rights movement has gone mainstream. This isn’t surprising for a woman who has been ahead of her time since at least 1955.

Post contributed by Megan Lewis, Technical Services Archivist for the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture.

Andrew Young in Mississippi, 1963

“No car, no money, no food…just me.”

In the mid 1980s, Duke history student Joseph Sinsheimer interviewed veterans of the fight for voting rights in early-1960s Mississippi. The generational distance between the interviews and the subject worked in Sinsheimer’s favor: his narrators had gained the perspective of years but many still had their youth, with memory intact, and were ready to talk at length of their experiences. The collection guide to these remarkable interviews is a roll call of Civil Rights Movement leadership in the deep South:  C.C. Bryant, Robert Moses, Lawrence Guyot, Willie Peacock, Hollis Watkins and others detail Mississippi’s struggle through stories of their involvement.

Andrew Young in Mississippi, 1963
Andrew Young during Mississippi’s Freedom Summer, 1963. From the Joseph Sinsheimer Papers.

As we digitize the audiocassettes that Sinsheimer used to record the interviews, one story immediately stands out. Activist Sam Block’s retelling of how he came to be involved in the movement is a coming-of-age story informed by the death of Emmett Till and galvanized by a confrontation with a white customer at his uncle’s service station. His subsequent recruitment into the Movement via the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and his training at Highlander Folk School, were prologue to the courage Block demonstrated when he asked Robert Moses to drop him in Greenwood, Mississippi, with “no car, no money, no food…just me.”

Listen here: Sam Block interviewed by Joseph Sinsheimer

BlockTape_Sinsheimer

Post contributed by Craig Breaden, Audiovisual Archivist in the Technical Services Dept.

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Women in the Movement Part One: Reflections Unheard: Black Women in Civil Rights

Date: Thursday, September 26, 2013
Time: 5:30-8:00 p.m.
Location: FHI Garage, Bay 4, Smith Warehouse (directions & parking information)
Contact: John Gartrell, john.gartrell(at)duke.edu

reflections_imageReflections Unheard: Black Women in Civil Rights focuses on black women activists and their marginalization within the Black Power and Feminist movements of the 1960s and 1970s. Filmmaker Nevline Nnaji looks at how each movement failed to fully recognize black women’s overlapping identities and include them as both African Americans and women. Through interviews and archival footage, Reflections Unheard tells the story of these black female activists’ political mobilization and fight for recognition.

The screening will be followed by a discussion with producer and director, Nevline Nnaji.

Part 1 of 2 in the Women in the Movement series is co-sponsored by John Hope Franklin Research Center, the Department of African & African American Studies, the Center for Documentary Studies, the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture, the Center for African and African American Research, the Franklin Humanities Institute, and the Program in Women’s Studies.

 

herzog

Civil Disobedience and the Church in North Carolina

The recent Moral Monday civil protests being held at the state legislature in Raleigh has become national news. Since late April, roughly 700 more protestors have been arrested at the civil disobedience demonstrations. The leadership of clergy within the Moral Monday movement–including Rev. William Barber II, President of the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP–calls attention to the historical role of the church in civil disobedience and racial justice struggles, both in North Carolina and nationally.

herzogThe Frederick Herzog Papers at the Rubenstein Library provide just such a history. A review of the collection situates the Moral Monday protests within the radical traditions of clergy–particularly Protestant ministers but also rabbis and priests–established during the civil rights era and the ability of the Church to organize and influence direct action. Herzog was a liberation theologist and, from 1960 until his death in 1995, a professor at Duke Divinity. Ordained in the ministry of the United Church of Christ, Herzog played an active role in the civil rights struggles in North Carolina in the 60s. His papers give detailed accounts of not only his reflections but also reflections by various others on “wrestling with the role of the church in the face of current racial tensions . . .” (Letter from A.M. Pennybacker, a minister with Heights Christian Church in Shaker Heights, Ohio).

On January 3, 1964, Herzog and ten others were arrested on trespass charges for participating in a sit-in demonstration at a restaurant just outside Chapel Hill to protest segregation. They were beaten and hosed and spent a night in jail. The court offered to commute the sentences of several of the protestors if they affirmed that they would not take part in such demonstrations again. Herzog’s colleagues, William Wynn of the University of North Carolina and Robert Osborn of Duke University refused to say, for theological and moral reasons, that they felt they did not have the right to break the law. They were sentenced to 90 days in the county jail. Herzog, however, affirmed that he could not take part in such action again.

Herzog writes in a brief statement “Christian Witness and a Sit-In” (filed in the Papers under Writings and Speeches) that he initially understood his civil disobedience as an attempt “to fulfill rather than to break the law,” turning to both the Gospels and Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. for justification of his act. Yet Herzog goes on to observe that the arrests of the apostles and Christ’s persecution were “not part of a technique of nonviolence or a planned civil disobedience campaign. It was the result of taking seriously the obligation to witness to Christ.” Their acts were not, in other words, a “crusade against only one specific injustice or wrong.” Herzog comes to the conclusion that this articulation of the Gospel was missing from his “attempt on January 3rd to witness to greater social justice.”

In his statement, Herzog further distinguishes between the refusal to obey a direct requirement of the state and the direct testing of existing laws, the latter which, he argues, characterized his participation in the sit-in. “Is it possible that civil disobedience is a misnomer when applied to this type of activity?” Herzog nevertheless affirms the necessity of reexamining “the forms in which the Christian witness finds expression in the protest movement” and concludes that marching to jail with our fellow men is only a partial solution. We must also, he states, become personally responsible for one another: “The person to person effort has to be tied to new political groups that in the democratic process openly engage in reshaping the societal structures.”

Klancross
Photograph of a KKK Cross in North Carolina, from the Frederick Herzog Papers.

Moral Mondays do not constitute a crusade against one specific injustice but rather employ the broader language of offering a place in society to our most disenfranchised citizens. Herzog’s statement nevertheless complicates and deepens the relationship between theology and protest, and prompts me to ask where Moral Mondays fall within his distinction between refusing to obey and direct testing? Would Herzog classify the occupation of the Capitol as civil disobedience?

Post contributed by Clare Callahan, Rubenstein Technical Services student assistant.

Wense Grabarek addressing the congregation at St. Joseph's AME Church, May 1963.

Wense Grabarek in the First Person

The 50th anniversary of a key moment in the desegregation of Durham, North Carolina came and went largely without fanfare last month.  It was in May 1963 that, amid growing racial discord in the city, Mayor Wense Grabarek prevailed upon business and community leaders, black and white alike, to cooperate in desegregating the city. The mayor was in an unusual position: having held office for less than a day when a series of sit-ins around Durham resulted in 130 arrests, Grabarek’s first task upon being sworn in was to stop a riot at the jail. Achieving this by letting supporters deliver sandwiches and cigarettes to the jailed protesters, he then turned his attention to the NAACP and CORE, who promised mass demonstrations in the wake of the arrests. Jean Anderson, in Durham County: A History of Durham County, North Carolina, tells the story this way:

He went in person, a slight, dapper man, always with a red carnation in his lapel, to a meeting of protesters, one thousand strong, held at Saint Joseph’s A.M.E. Church.  Habitually soft-spoken and immensely polite, he asked permission to enter and address them.  Then, pointing out that by their demonstrations they had informed the community of their deeply felt grievances, he spoke about the danger of racial tension and division and promised to take positive steps to respond to their complaints.  Finally, he asked for their support and understanding.  Impressed by his coming, his tone, his words, they accepted his sincerity and promised to halt demonstrations and give the mayor time to act on his promises.

Mayor Grabarek formed the Durham Interim Committee to reconcile the community’s opposing groups, in so doing acknowledging the damage of segregation and the real possibility that Jim Crow could prevent Durham from realizing its potential, particularly given the economic promise of the newly formed Research Triangle Park. The efforts of Grabarek and of the leaders appointed to the Committee allowed Durham a degree of progress that eluded many other southern cities.

Wense Grabarek addressing the congregation at St. Joseph's AME Church, May 1963.
Wense Grabarek addressing the congregation at St. Joseph’s AME Church, May 1963.

A modest man and a successful accountant who continues to work full time six days a week, Wense Grabarek is now 93 years old and eager to add his perspective to the history of Durham, the adopted hometown that called him mayor from 1963 to 1971. To this end he has donated to the Rubenstein Library a number of recorded interviews he has given since the early 2000s, as part of a larger collection of papers that he is gathering for donation later this summer. You can check out the finding aid for the interviews here.

Wense Grabarek in conversation with Tim Tyson, Sept. 2011
Wense Grabarek in conversation with Tim Tyson, Sept. 2011

The recordings include an interview with Steven Channing for his documentary Durham: A Self Portrait, an 8-hour conversation with author and scholar Tim Tyson detailing his work as mayor, and, presented here, with the permission of WTVD, an interview with Angela Hampton on the events of May 1963:

An oral history has been scheduled with Mr. Grabarek in July, and this time the interviewer will be the Rubenstein Library. We hope to learn more about the mayor’s life before and after the 1960s, including his experiences as a soldier in World War II and the philanthropic work he and his wife have done over the years in education.

Post contributed by Craig Breaden, Audiovisual Materials Archivist in the Technical Services Dept.