Post contributed by Jessica Janecki and Lauren Reno
Over the past few years, the Rubenstein Library acquired some early editions of the Narrative of Sojourner Truth. These new acquisitions allowed catalogers in the Technical Services department to reevaluate and re-catalog these editions of the Narrative according to more current standards. We were surprised to find upon searching OCLC, the union catalog used by libraries around the world, that authorship for the Narrative was given to Olive Gilbert in most of the catalog records for various editions. This gave us pause and cause to look more closely at the history of the Narrative, the life of Sojourner Truth, and ultimately how to approach the cataloging of one of the most important books of the 19th century by one of the foremost abolitionists and feminists.
The attribution to Gilbert is problematic given that the first edition in 1850 and subsequent editions to 1878 reference Truth as the author in the publication statement with wording such as, “Printed for the Author,” or “Published for the Author.” Cursory research would show that Truth acted as her own publisher and distributor. This statement confirms that she also considered herself the author. Additionally, Gilbert’s name does not appear anywhere on any 19th century editions of the Narrative. Meaning, those attributing authorship to Gilbert had to be conducting some research into the history of the Narrative, and were likely to come across the fact that Truth was also the publisher and distributor.
What emerged when we looked at more recent research, mostly consulting Nell Irvin Painter’s biography Sojourner Truth: A Life, A Symbol, was unsurprisingly that the history of the writing and publication of the Narrative is complex. This however does not account for this century-long misattribution of authorship.
Please join the History of Medicine Collections for our next Trent History of Medicine Lecture Series event. Gerrit Bos, Ph.D., will present
“Moses Maimonides, medical doctor and author: Aspects of his work, medical training, theory, and practice.”
Rabbi Moses ben Maimon, most commonly known as Maimonides, was a 12th century philosopher and physician. Maimonides authored numerous philosophical and medical treatises. In his talk, Professor Bos will cover a short survey of Maimonides’ medical works, his training as a doctor, and some central aspects of his medical theory and practice such as proper regimen, including the sex res non-naturales (six things non-natural), the role of one’s nature, and his wariness to apply bloodletting.
Dr. Bos is Professor Emeritus and former Chair of the Martin Buber Institute for Jewish Studies at the University of Cologne. His main fields of research are medieval Jewish-Islamic science, especially medicine, medieval Hebrew, and Judeo-Arabic studies.
Happy Black History Month! This year we’ll be celebrating #28daysofblack by sharing materials from the Rubenstein Library’s collections and by highlighting our work on current projects. Stay tuned to follow our rare materials catalogers and manuscript archivists as they catalog and process collections that feature black authors, activists, artists, characters, entrepreneurs, and families. You will also be hearing regularly from John Gartrell, Director of the John Hope Franklin Research Center for African and African American History and Culture. John will be posting about the SNCC Legacy project, among many other things. You can follow us on our various social media platforms:
In the 1960s a group of brash young organizers worked alongside local people in the Deep South to change the direction of America. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee was a key catalyst for mobilizing grassroots activists to address voting and political power, economic equity, education, and civil rights. Over the last three years, the SNCC Digital Gateway project has worked to create an online platform that highlights the work of SNCC activists, mentors and allies using primary sources from our library and libraries across the country.
Contract with freedmen on Plains Plantation, 1865 June 8-August 28
This worn and creased contract was once framed and ostensibly hung on someone’s wall. It contains language binding newly-freed African Americans and their children to the Plains Plantation in Jefferson County, Mississippi and was signed not even a month after the Civil War was over. According to the contract, the laborers committed to working every day “from sun to sun,” except Sunday, with other possible days off. They were to be paid one quarter of the net proceeds for the crop. Surnames of the freedmen include: Wilson, Thompson, Digg, Turner, Lonsway, Hatton, Clement, Willis, Payne, West, Blair, Garner, Kelley, Arran, and Johnson. The contract was written in iron gall ink, which caused corrosion of the paper. It now has a catalog record and a collection guide and is currently with Duke Libraries’ Conservation Department to receive repairs and proper housing.
Radio Haiti is an ongoing, multi-year project to create a trilingual (Haitian Creole, French, and English) public-facing digital archive of all the audio of Radio Haiti-Inter, Haiti’s first and most prominent independent radio station. Our goal is to make the content as accessible as possible to people living in Haiti.
In February, we are going to finish up the processing of Radio Haiti’s papers, and archivist Laura Wagner will be traveling to Haiti to continue to do outreach around the project and to distribute flash drives with a large selection of Radio Haiti audio (around 500 recordings) to libraries in Haiti.
Allen Building Takeover
February 13th will mark the 49th anniversary of the Allen Building Takeover at Duke in 1969. This month we’ll be continuing work on the Vice President for Student Affairs Records, which include materials documenting the events during and after the Allen Building Takeover. Some items of note include eye-witness accounts of events written by students as well as materials documenting the administration’s planning for an African and African-American Studies Program in the wake of the Allen Building Takeover.
Post contributed by Laura Wagner, Ph.D, Radio Haiti Archivist
In January 1982, Richard Brisson – poet, actor, journalist, station manager at Radio Haïti-Inter – was killed, along with Robert Mathurin and Louis Célestin, following a quixotic attempt to invade Haiti via Île-de-la-Tortue, the island off Haiti’s northern coast. He was thirty-one years old. Along with the rest of Radio Haiti’s journalists, Brisson had been in exile following the Duvalier regime’s violent crackdown on the independent press on November 28, 1980. Richard, they say, could not bear exile. The dictatorship claimed that Brisson and his comrades had been killed in combat. They were, in fact, executed.
In 1987, a few months after Radio Haiti returned from exile after the fall of Duvalier, they paid tribute to Richard Brisson. The broadcast opened and closed with the Alain Barrière song “Un poète,” which begins, “A poet does not live long.” Richard’s cousins Ady Brisson and Freddy Burr-Reynaud and Radio Haiti journalists Michèle Montas, Konpè Filo, and Jean Dominique remembered Richard the journalist, the poet, the iconoclast, the dreamer.
Dominique’s words are translated below.
This would have been the title of a fine fairytale, Richard’s death, for the two eyes of a princess. I have rightly said “two eyes” [deux yeux] and not “sweet eyes” [doux yeux]. But quickly consider, good people, that this is the wicked fairy godmother[i] of whom we speak, that evil princess whose two eyes Richard wished to gouge out in a famous song about one of the poor neighborhoods of our capital — do you recall, “Panno Caye Nan Bois Chêne”?[ii] And it was due to an evil spell cast by those two eyes that our poet was killed. But his murderers were so ashamed of their crime that they then tried to disguise it as a death in combat. Yet you must have seen those photos of Richard and his two comrades shackled and perfectly alive after their arrest on Île de la Tortue…
I read in the newspaper that slumber eludes that wicked fairy who so despised Richard, now in exile in France where she and her husband were dispatched, thanks to the complacency, or the complicity, of the world’s powerful. “She cannot sleep at night!” she complained. The ghost of Richard must haunt her sleepless nights, and that is as it should be.
For the death of Richard, whose memory we are celebrating this week, paradoxically raises very current questions. Paradoxically, because Richard approached news as he approached politics, as he approached everything: as a poet. He wanted to represent Léogâne in parliament, like his grandfather Frédéric Burr Reynaud. Richard’s photo soon hung from the electrical towers along the road. When asked about his lack of political experience, he laughed uproariously and responded, brows knitted: “Politics is too important to be left to the politicians.” And when Luc Désir[iii] made it clear to him this was not his place: “Have you looked at yourself in the mirror?” demanded the Duvaliers’ chief torturer, future lackey of the wicked fairy. “Have you looked at yourself in the mirror?” Richard told me this story smiling once more, then added, “Jean Do, are we truly the Jews of this land?” And on he went, whistling, hands in his pockets, a song by Jacques Brel on his lips, a song about the bourgeois who are like… you know…[iv]
Post contributed by Jonathan Cogliano, Assistant Professor for the Department of Economics at Dickinson College.
The Economists’ Papers Archive features collections from some of most influential economists of the post-war era, and among this impressive group are the recently re-processed papers of Kenneth J. Arrow (look for the new finding guide soon!). Arrow’s contributions to the field of economics are wide-ranging, notable among them are: his contributions to social choice theory—with the eponymous Arrow’s Impossibility Theorem—and welfare economics; his work with Gérard Debreu on the development of general equilibrium theory; the idea of learning-by-doing as a driver of economic growth and innovation; and the problems posed by asymmetries in information available to people when making economic decisions. Over his lifetime he received numerous awards for his work, including the John Bates Clark Medal (at the time, awarded biennially by the American Economic Association to the economist under the age of 40 who has made “the most significant contribution to economic thought and knowledge”), the John von Neumann Theory Prize in operations research, the National Medal of Science, and the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel (shared with John R. Hicks), as well as numerous others and honorary degrees. Arrow’s, perhaps, lesser known contributions outside of economic theory include work on the abatement of acid rain with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA), efforts to build a program to provide affordable malaria medications with the Institute of Medicine (IOM), and political advocacy on behalf of persecuted scholars under repressive regimes throughout the world, among many others.
Arrow passed away in February, 2017 and this meant that new additions were made to his collection at the Economists’ Papers Archive. With a substantial amount of his papers already at the Rubenstein Library, the arrival of new materials required careful incorporation into the existing collection and management of a large quantity of physical materials (over 90 boxes in total!). This large and complicated re-processing project took several months and entailed significant re-organization, including the incorporation of his numerous prizes and the last chapters of his life; Arrow kept working until shortly before his death. How does one go about keeping track of such a large project with a number of boxes stored offsite at any one time? Well, a couple of Excel spreadsheets and a few lines of code can help to sort things out (an example is pictured below).
Using computing power to help overcome the challenges of sorting and tracking boxes in an archival collection may seem unrelated to the work of Kenneth Arrow, but his contributions to information economics and the economics of complex systems (via the Santa Fe Institute) helped pave the way for a burgeoning body of work applying computational modeling to economics. (They have, at least, been influential for the computational work done by the economist writing this post.)
The impact of Arrow’s work is too expansive to fully capture here, but having his papers available again in the Economists’ Papers Archive will prove an invaluable resource for those interested in one of the most influential economists of the post-war era.
This post is contributed by Erin Rutherford, Josiah Charles Trent Intern, History of Medicine Collections
There are many extraordinary items in the History of Medicine artifacts collection: Bloodletting fleams, trepanation kits, bone saws, and ivory handled dental tools. But for me, the most magic dwells in the unassuming items that ask us to tell their stories, such as a diminutive paper cylinder measuring 3 ¼ inches in height and 2 inches in diameter. This Kraft brown tube is capped on each side by scalloped-edge paper in dark blue. I fall in love with the simplicity and utility of this object – its design, its size, its weight in my hands. A small amount of its contents, Purified Talcum Powder, remains inside. A label emblazoned across the front declares that the product was dispensed at Spake Pharmacy in Morganton, North Carolina.
The January 1937 edition of The Carolina Journal of Pharmacy heralds the opening of the Mimosa City’s newest drug store: “The Spake Pharmacy is the name of a new drug store which was formally opened in Morganton on Dec. 9 (1936) by Mr. Y. E. Spake. The new proprietor has spent fourteen years in drug work in Morganton, coming to that town from Kings Mountain where he was a partner in the wholesale drug firm of the Mauney Drug Co. The prescriptionist will be Mr. W. P. Phillips, originally from Morehead City, who goes to Morganton from Charlotte where he was connected with J. P. Stowe and Co. The new store, Mr. Spake says, ‘will offer complete prescription service, in addition to maintaining a modern fountain and a complete line of other medical supplies, cosmetics, and other goods.’” At the time of the store’s opening, purified talcum powder could be obtained from a wholesale druggist for approximately 20 to 40 cents per pound.
Talcum powder is a refined powder form of the mineral talc, which rose to commercial popularity during the 19th and 20th centuries. Advertised as ‘thoroughly antiseptic’ and intended for use by the young and old alike, it was generally applied after bathing, shaving, or partaking in outdoor activities. Talcum powder was thought to cool the skin on hot days, sooth irritation, and keep the skin ‘comfortable.’ On babies, it was used to prevent chafing and ‘nappy’ soreness. Adults dusted the powder on their bodies to absorb dampness and neutralize body odors. Advertisements aimed specifically at women promoted its scented quality, proclaiming that talcum powder would keep them ‘dainty’ and fragrant ‘like a newly opened flower’ when essential oils were added to the product – typically rose, lavender or violet. Given its myriad uses, powder-filled tin canisters, glass bottles, and paper cylinders like the one dispensed at Spake Pharmacy, would have been a common sight within the medicine cabinets and on the dressing tables of many American households.
Occupying a small space on North Sterling Street, Spake Pharmacy first operated under the catchphrase, “The little store with the big heart.” In addition to dispensing and delivering prescriptions, they sold fountain drinks, Blue Ridge Ice Cream, and Martha Washington candies. In the early 1940s, Yates Ellis Spake moved his business to a prominent location at the corner Union and Sterling Streets and adopted the iconic slogan, “On the Square.” While the talcum powder cylinder is undated, the presence of this simple slogan on the label indicates that it was dispensed sometime after the move.
Between 1936 and January of 1953, Spake and his team filled over 300,000 prescriptions. A set of these were captured in a small 1950s feature, entitled ‘Rx Oddity’: “Yates E. Spake of Morganton sends us a list of three prescriptions filled for a customer recently: (1) 1 bottle of Cortone Tablets, $30; (2) 1 Rx for Terramycin Caps., $14.40; and (3) 1 Rx for an ice cream cone, 5c. ‘I have never experienced anything like this during all my years in the drug business,’ says Yates.”
Under the leadership of J.A. Hurt, Spake Pharmacy moved locations for a third and final time in 1966 to 307 West Union Street. Spake Pharmacy last appears in the Carolina Journal of Pharmacy’s ‘List of Drug Stores’ for Morganton in 1970 with J. A. Hurt, Jr. certified as pharmacist in charge. By 1971, the address was assumed by Burke Pharmacy, Inc.
Happenings of Interest. (January 1937). The Carolina Journal of Pharmacy, Vol. XVIII(1), 8.Named Manager of Spake Pharmacy. (March 1953). The Carolina Journal of Pharmacy, Vol. XXXIV(3), 94.
Named Manager of Spake Pharmacy. (March 1953). The Carolina Journal of Pharmacy, Vol. XXXIV(3), 94
Rx Oddity. (December 1951). The Carolina Journal of Pharmacy, Vol. XXXII(12), 581.
Rudolph was invented by a Robert L. May, a 35-year old copywriter, for a promotional campaign at the Montgomery Ward department store in Chicago. May was inspired to pen the story of the humble, resilient, reindeer to cheer his daughter Barbara, whose mother was dying from cancer. Drawing from the “Ugly Duckling” story and his own memories of being ostracized as a child, May wrote a tale of an odd-looking deer whose unusual bright-red nose saves the day after Santa asks him to light the way on a particularly cloudy and foggy Christmas Eve. In the end, Rudolph is feted and admired by reindeer-peers who previously had bullied him. May collaborated with Denver Gillen, a colleague from Montgomery Ward’s art department, to create drawings to accompany the story. Their booklet, which first appeared in November 1939, became a hit, with nearly 2.5 million copies printed and distributed.
Production of the pamphlet ceased during WWII. Montgomery Ward resumed the marketing campaign in 1946, printing another 3.6 million copies. But in January 1947, for reasons that remain unclear, department story executives turned over copyright on the Rudolph story to May. This was a boon to the May family, which was reeling from medical bills accrued during the illness and death of May’s wife.
Luckily, the delightful story continued to enchant. In 1948, Rudolph became the hero of a short animated Christmas film. The following year, May’s brother-in-law, a songwriter named Johnny Marks, composed a jingle based on the reindeer’s adventure. The song was picked up by country-singer Gene Autry, whose version would become a smash-hit, selling more than 25 million copies worldwide. This song became the basis of a 1964 stop-motion animated film by Rankin/ Bass Productions based on Rudolph’s story. The film became a classic holiday special that continues to air today. Rudolph not only saved Christmas, he also saved the May family from bankruptcy.
This unassuming 78-year-old booklet introduced an unlikely hero who transformed the life of an Illinois family and the culture of Christmas around the world.
Terry Sanford was a fixture of North Carolina life and politics for decades, and from 1970 to 1985 he was “Uncle Terry,” the President of Duke University. As a North Carolina State Senator, Governor, and United States Senator, he was known for his tireless support of and advocacy for education, especially public education, as well as his support of civil rights causes, including desegregation. He has left a lasting legacy here at Duke (the Sanford School of Public Policy is named for him), in North Carolina, and across the South.
While he may be well-known at Duke and across the country for his progressive ideals, he is slightly less well-known for a particularly fascinating tradition known as the Varmint Dinner. We’re here today to rectify this oversight and share with you all the story of this peculiar party.
According to an article in the Atlanta Constitution in 1980, the Varmint Dinner, also sometimes called the Critter Dinner, started in the mid-1970s when then-President Sanford and a friend, Jake Phelps, had “a lot of game” and thought “a Varmint Dinner in a formal setting would be a fun way to get rid of it.” The dinner continued because it was a way “to get family and friends together every once in a while.” Hard to argue with that!
So what was served at the Varmint Dinner? Over the years, courses included raccoon (universally shortened to “ ’coon”), venison, catfish, wild pig, squirrel, rabbit, goat, bear, turtle, possum, and snake. The theme demanded the idea that “these entrees should have been recently lumbering around the words somewhere or at least hiding in tall grass beside a winding asphalt highway bracing for a brave challenge to oncoming cars.” Highly romantic description that allowed for basically anything not raised on a farm for the sole purpose of being eaten. In keeping with the down-home feel, the dinner was limited to mostly family and some friends, and the recipes based on instinct, rumor, and trial and error. With help from, according to the article, copious amounts of moonshine.
The article appearing in the Atlanta Constitution does an excellent job of trying to convey the sense of Southern country ingenuity combined with refined charm and grace that the whole idea of this dinner given by Terry Sanford evokes. The Terry Sanford Records and Papers, the collection of materials from President Sanford held in the University Archives, also includes some humorous correspondence that details the attendance of the article’s author at the Varmint Dinner in 1980.
Included in the collection is a note written to President Sanford by Bill Green, a journalist and the then-Director of University Relations, conveying the wish of David Morrison of the Atlanta Constitution to attend that year’s dinner, if there was to be one, and offering to bring snake. President Sanford jotted a reply on the letter that reads: “We’ll have one if we can gather in enough varmints. Seems we have been eating them as fast as they come by –“.
Later correspondence shows that David Morrison, in attempting to deliver his promise of snake, contacted Georgia State Senator Franklin Sutton, apparently a known source of “rattlesnake steak,” who wrote a lengthy and detailed account of how he might trap a snake and why he was unable to procure one. The letter was a fun reminder to me that politicians and executives rarely typed their own correspondence, since it also includes a sharply hilarious postscript from Senator Sutton’s secretary Benita to David Morrison.
We don’t know exactly how long the Varmint Dinner tradition carried on, since this correspondence and the photocopied article from the Atlanta Constitution, as well as half of a photocopied article from an unknown paper, are the only mentions of it in the collection (that I know of, please note this collection has more than 300 feet of material). But if you are looking for a new holiday tradition, and you can lay your hands on some (legally and ethically acquired) varmints, consider what Uncle Terry would do.
These materials came to light during recent reprocessing of portions of Terry Sanford’s collections related to his campaigns for President of the United States in 1972 and 1976. There is a wealth of interesting material in this collection – check it out for yourself!
Correction: After this was posted, a helpful friend of Terry Sanford called to let us know what happened to the Varmint Dinners. The dinners continued while Sanford was President of Duke University and lived at Knight House on Pinecrest Road, but once he stepped down as President and moved to a different residence, the dinner ended. The dinner written about above was one of the last Varmint Dinners held. Paul Vick, our source of information, attended and assures us it was a good one.
It was 1967, and people weren’t drinking Seven-Up. Well, a few were: consumers mostly thought of the bubbly beverage as a mixer or a tonic to calm an upset stomach. But executives at the St. Louis-based Seven-Up Company were anxious to tap into a wider market. The company wanted to rebrand its product as a common soft-drink like the more well-known cola beverages, Pepsi or Coca-Cola. It enlisted a marketing team from the Chicago office of the J. Walter Thompson ad agency to help them. Out of this collaboration came one of the most famous advertising campaigns of the 20th century.
The late 1960s were a difficult time in America. The Vietnam War and the fight for civil rights divided the country. Disillusioned young people were building a robust oppositional counter-culture that rejected war, racial segregation, and violence. The summer of 1967 became known as the “Summer of Love,” a period when hippies gathered in San Francisco and cities around the country in the hopes of igniting “a renaissance of compassion, awareness, and love, and the revelation of unity for all mankind.”
Seizing on this oppositional energy, the JWT team designed a campaign that framed 7-Up as the ultimate oppositional drink: the “Uncola.” Rather than trying to play up the similarities the soda shared with its competitors, the new ads focused on its differences. In the company newsletter, the team explained “Seven-Up advertising tells people that, of the three top-selling soft drink brands, 7-Up, the Uncola, is the only one with distinctly different qualities.”
The “Uncola” struck a chord with the younger generation as the first ads appeared in 1968. They focused on puns based around “un” part of the new slogan. By portraying Coke and Pepsi as “the Establishment,” JWT effectively situated 7-Up as an alternative brand for alternative people.
The following year JWT created a contest inviting artists to submit wildly imaginative designs for 7-Up ads. The submissions were presented to the client, who chose the final images. The winner received a $2000 reward and the opportunity to work with JWT to make final versions. From this contest, JWT and the Seven-Up company built a campaign of colorful road-side billboards with psychedelic graphics. Art by young graphic designers including Pat Dypold, Ed Georges, and Milton Glaser dotted highways across the country in 1969.
A 1973 article from Southern Advertising described the success of the billboard campaign: “To zero in on the college and younger age groups, [Seven-Up executive] Roesch has developed a different approach to the use of the outdoor medium. The agency’s media department uses outdoor as a means of zeroing in on a specific target . . . instead of as a mass media that doesn’t discriminate. The boards are located accordingly, and the art used is slated to the specific likes of the age groups. The result has been demand for Seven-Up posters to be used as room decorations, party decorations, all without any promotion by the company.”
The Uncola campaign continued into the 1970s. As times changed, the campaign tried to stay in dialog with oppositional culture by incorporating new visual mediums such as grafitti. JWT argued that “In 1968, the rebellious approach of youth was a workable parallel for the rebellious approach of Seven-Up. Today, in the Seventies, the attack remains viable.” However, 7-Up’s hard-won market share declined over the course of the decade, losing ground to the growing popularity of another lemon-lime soda, Sprite.
Perhaps the soda became a victim of its own success. The Uncola campaign had so effectively linked to the youth of the 1960s that by the 1990s, it was considered ”what old people drink,” in the words of one financial analyst, “and that’s not what you want in a soft drink.” In 1998, the company finally dropped the Uncola slogan and reinvented its formula. Since then the company has since tried several different campaigns to redefine its identity without success. Regardless, the Uncola campaign will remain a mainstay of the consumer culture of 20th century America and a sign of the times in which it was created.
Post contributed by Meggan Cashwell, Franklin Research Center Graduate Intern, PhD candidate, Department of History
The FBI records in the Robert A. Hill Collection are extensive and include trial transcripts, government profiles of black nationalists, and reports of racial conditions during the Great Depression and Second World War (i.e., Hill’s 1995 publication The FBI’s RACON). Hill spent many years tracking down these documents for his research on Marcus Garvey since the FBI followed Garvey while he was living in the U.S. What I found fascinating when I was working on processing this portion of the collection is that it illuminates the lives of black nationalists largely hidden from view, such as Mittie Maude (Maud) Lena Gordon (1889-1961).
The obvious roadblock facing any researcher wishing to explore FBI records, however, is that much of the content is redacted (see document). The challenge, then, is to use what remains to uncover the important contributions that Gordon and other lesser-known activists made. During my research to better inform our collection processing, I noticed that scholars of the Black Nationalist movement have pointed out that the focus on Marcus Garvey has in large part overshadowed the efforts of women. While Garvey-centered, the materials in the Robert A. Hill Collection allow us explore the life and work of female activists like Gordon, recognizing the important role of women in addition to better understanding Garvey’s impact in the U.S. both before and after his mail fraud conviction and subsequent deportation back to Jamaica in 1927.
Gordon was born in Louisiana and grew up in Arkansas with her nine siblings. Her family followed the teachings of Bishop Henry McNeal Turner, who advanced the idea that former slaves should relocate to Africa. Gordon adopted many of Turner’s views, namely that there was no other viable option for African Americans, particularly those living in the South, but to leave the U.S. As an adult, Gordon moved to Chicago where she joined Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association and became the “lady president” of her division. Gender discrimination within the UNIA caused her to disaffiliate in 1929. In 1932 she established the Peace Movement of Ethiopia (PME) in her restaurant and garnered around 300,000 members. It was there that she launched a Liberian letter-writing campaign that linked the struggles of the Great Depression to those facing Liberians. The campaign culminated into a petition bearing almost a half a million signatures that she sent to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, in which she requested support for African Americans to move to Liberia.
Gordon’s dreams of African American relocation were never realized. She was arrested in 1942 at a PME meeting and charged with sedition on grounds that she had used the meetings to foster opposition to the war effort (see document). Gordon refuted the claims, but was convicted and sentenced to two years in prison in 1943.
Gordon’s trial is one of many transcripts in the FBI portion of the Hill Collection. These documents tell us a great deal about racial conditions during the 1930s and ‘40s and what activism looked like on the ground. My hope is that by shedding light on Gordon’s life and other female black radicals, we can broaden our understanding of the Black Nationalist movement and how we approach the materials that record its history.
This blog is based on research documents in the Robert A. Hill Collection as well as secondary literature. For further reading on Gordon, see Keisha Blain’s forthcoming, Set the World on Fire: Black Nationalist Women and the Global Struggle for Freedom (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018).
Dispatches from the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Duke University