Megan Lewis joined the Rubenstein staff in 2002 as a rare book cataloger. In 2009, she became the Technical Services Archivist for the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture.
Tell us about your academic background and interests.
My B.A. is in English, so I’m particularly interested in our literature collections. It’s fascinating to make connections between the materiality of what we collect with the published product. I’m also interested in popular culture. Show me your popular culture, and I’ll show you who you are. Since I started working at the Bingham Center, I’ve become interested in the ways we as archivists can serve various activist communities by documenting their work.
What led you to working in libraries? How did you know you wanted to be an archivist?
I was genetically destined to work in libraries, since my mom was a librarian and I loved to shadow her at work when I was a kid. After working at my college library as an undergrad, I was lucky to get my first job in special collections at the Library Company of Philadelphia. Once I started learning about rare books there, there was no turning back.
I never actually planned to become an archivist, but fell into it at Duke after working as a rare book cataloger. A position opened at the Bingham Center, and I applied for it. I’d first heard about the Bingham Center when its director visited my class in library school. She gave an inspiring talk about how the Bingham Center “saves women’s lives,” and as a lifelong feminist, I thought it would be a dream job to work there. I was right.
What are the main projects you work on at the Rubenstein and Bingham Center?
I process and catalog manuscript collections. That means that I arrange them in a coherent fashion and create collection guides, as well as a catalog record, so people can find what we have. I’ve worked almost exclusively with large modern collections, but lately I’ve also been cataloging small, older manuscripts from the Lisa Unger Baskin Collection. As a Bingham Center staff member, I also participate in events, outreach, and donor relations.
How do you describe what you do to people you meet at a party? To fellow librarians and library staff?
I tell laypeople that I’m a women’s history archivist. Usually, they say “cool!” and that’s it, but sometimes they want to know details.
To fellow library folks, I say that I’m a technical services archivist at the Rubenstein, because that gives them an idea of where I fit into Duke Libraries’ organizational structure.
What does an average day look like for you?
On an average day, I might check in with my library school intern and my undergraduate student assistant. I’m lucky to have an intern who also processes collections. My student assistant helps me rebox and folder incoming new materials, and creates boxlists that are part of the collection guide. Much of my job entails moving materials along so we don’t get backed up. Right now my shelves are almost full, which means that it’s time to send as many boxes as possible to our Library Service Center. I also meet weekly with my Bingham Center cohorts so we can discuss our work with each other.
What do you like best about your job? What excites you most?
I love that I get to help document women’s history. It’s a privilege to work with our donors, many of whom are tremendously accomplished women whose work has changed the world for the better in palpable ways.
I get excited when I see young women, who might not consider themselves feminists, use our collections and be able to connect their present-day struggles with the work done by activists who came before them.
What might people find surprising about your job?
It’s not always quiet, and it’s not without stress. When I tell people I work in a library, they often say, “Oh, that must be nice and quiet and calm.”
What is the most challenging aspect of your job?
Trying to keep up with new acquisitions and increase our processing capacity. Some donors like to send us things on a frequent basis, which has a mushroom effect. Sometimes I feel like the Sorcerer’s Apprentice trying to beat back the water.
Do you have a favorite piece or collection at The Rubenstein? Why?
Right now, I’d have to say the Lisa Unger Baskin Collection, which has been transformative for the Rubenstein. It’s an amazingly rich and deep collection based around the theme of working women. Each small manuscript collection I catalog is a mini history lesson.
Where can you be found when you’re not working?
Walking my dog and consuming culture in and around Durham.
What book is on your nightstand/in your carryall right now?
Leslie Feinberg’s Stone Butch Blues (1993). Leslie was a transgender activist ahead of her time, and was also the partner of writer/activist Minnie Bruce Pratt, whose papers are held by the Bingham Center.
Contributed by Alice Poffinberger, Library Specialist.
The materials in the Lisa Unger Baskin collection celebrate more than five centuries of women’s work. One of the highlights of describing and cataloging these collections is the remarkable talent that is often showcased by these women.
Helen Allingham, born near Derbyshire, England in 1848, studied at the Birmingham School of Design and the Royal Academy School in London. In fact, she was the niece of the first female student at the Royal Academy School, Laura Herford. Allingham began her career as an illustrator, but eventually became well known for her watercolors, usually of cottages. Her renderings often showed so much detail that they have been studied by architects interested in the construction of these buildings.
Following her studies, she supported her widowed mother with her work as an illustrator for publications like The Graphic. She was a founding staff member of the newspaper, and the only woman on staff. Her other work includes the original illustrations for Thomas Harding’s novel Far from the Madding Crowd.
She married William Allingham, an Irish poet and editor, in 1874. After their marriage, Helen shifted her career focus to watercolor painting. Her work was widely praised by the art community in London. She had paintings accepted at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, and was eventually the first woman granted full membership to the Royal Watercolour Society. After the family’s move to Surrey in the early 1880s, Allingham began painting the cottages for which she is best known.
The collection includes sketches and drawings made in graphite, watercolor, and pen and ink, dating from 1868-1916.
Subjects in the scrapbooks from the LUB collection are varied, and include English cottages and buildings, architectural features, sailboats and coastal scenes, figures, landscapes, and botanical items. Essentially, Allingham drew or painted anything that she came across during her travels, from a simple pile of rope to a vestry door. Many of the images are only about two inches wide.
Stop by and spend some time with these scrapbooks!
The Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture recently acquired 47 copies of The Ladder (1956-1972), more than doubling our run for a total of 79 issues of the publication spanning the years 1957 to 1972. We are especially excited about this opportunity to expand our holdings of this ground-breaking publication sixty years after the first issue was released.
The Ladder was the first nationally distributed lesbian periodical in the United States. Preceded only by a local Los Angeles newsletter titled Vice Versa, The Ladder began in October 1956 as the small publication of the group Daughters of Bilitis (DOB). The DOB was founded in 1955 in San Francisco as a social group for lesbians who wanted to avoid public scrutiny and the violence of bars that were often the target of police brutality. As their numbers grew, DOB chapters formed in cities across the country, including New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago. The DOB evolved into a highly influential lesbian activist organization providing a “feminine viewpoint,” educating women about “female homosexuality and positive self-image.” The DOB worked closely with groups that were primarily focused on gay men, such as the Mattachine Society and ONE, Inc.
Partners Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin, the co-founders of DOB, both had educational backgrounds in journalism and worked as reporters. Lyon decided to publish The Ladder as a way to advertise the group—since they were forbidden from doing so in newspapers—as well as to spread awareness about social issues affecting the wider lesbian community. The mission statement of the DOB was printed inside every cover of the magazine:
According to some sources, the magazine was titled “The Ladder” to symbolize a way to escape the “well of loneliness,” a phrase popularized by Radclyffe Hall’s influential novel of the same name. The first issues featured a hand-drawn cover with two people standing beneath a ladder ascending into the clouds. There were only 175 original copies made of this issue, which were given to friends and mailed to professional women in the San Francisco telephone book and around the country. By 1957, the second year of publication, there were hundreds of subscribers on the mailing list, and the magazine was available on select newsstands in major cities. By the publication of its last issue in 1972, it had a subscription of over 4,000 worldwide. It is difficult to estimate total readership, however, because the issues were frequently shared and read aloud at gatherings.
Early content included information from DOB meetings, “Lesbiana” literature reviews, prose and poetry, social experiments, etiquette advice, community events, and reader responses. The editors avoided including any overtly sexual content, but quickly began rallying around political issues and publishing news about the Homophile movement.
The Ladder was published monthly from 1956-1970 and bi-monthly from 1971-72. Over that time span, the magazine underwent drastic changes. The first major transformations began after Barbara Gittings, DOB New York chapter president, became editor in 1963. Gittings added the subtitle, “A Lesbian Review” to the cover in 1964, signifying the word “lesbian” as something that was no longer unspeakable. She changed the magazine’s size and publication quality, increasing issues from 12-15 pages to 27 and moving from a mimeographed copy to professionally printed pages. Kay Tobin Lahusen, a photojournalist who was Gittings’ partner and assistant editor, began using photographs of lesbians, rather than the illustrations typical of past issues. Regardless of the changes in its appearance, The Ladder was issued in a brown paper covering for the duration of its existence.
The last issue was published in September, 1972. In 1975, Arno Press released a nine-volume compilation of The Ladder in hardback as part of their series “Lesbians and Gay Men in Society, History, and Literature.” The Ladder was a lifeline for those women who read it, providing one of the first formal spaces for lesbians to come together in dialogue and artistic expression. Today, it stands as an important artifact of 20th century lesbian and feminist movements and a valuable resource for scholarship.
Post contributed by Valerie Szwaya, intern for the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture.
Blog post contributed by Laura Wagner, PhD, Radio Haiti Project Archivist. Translation by Laura Wagner and Tanya Thomas.
It was Radio Haiti’s eighty-first birthday a few days ago. The station was founded on 17 September 1935 by Ricardo Widmaïer, and later, under Jean Dominique’s leadership, Radio Haïti-Inter continued to commemorate that anniversary. On 17 September 1991, they did a special broadcast celebrating fifty-six years of Radio Haiti. It is a beautiful, moving, and enchanting program. They dove into their own archives, revisiting some of their most memorable broadcasts. And Jean Dominique, always the interviewer of others, at last became the interviewee. Michèle Montas asked him about Vodou, the Haitian Creole language, pale andaki (speaking in veiled or covert ways) the 1973 kidnapping of American ambassador Clinton Knox, and resistance to Duvalierism and dictatorship. At the end of the program, Jean took back the microphone to pay surprise tribute to Michèle. He gave credit to the fanm vayan (courageous woman) who shared the struggle, knew how to fouye zo l nan kalalou (investigate, dig deep), ran the newsroom and trained Radio Haiti’s journalists. That less than two weeks after this broadcast, Haiti’s democratically-elected government was overthrown in a military coup makes the program all the more poignant: Radio Haiti was hurtling toward another long exile.
Today, we have translated a portion of the 17 September 1991 broadcast from Haitian Creole into English. In an earlier broadcast, he referred to the Italian adage “traduttore, traditore” – “translator, traitor” – to describe the perils and impossibility of translating Haitian Creole to French. Translating Haitian Creole to English, too, was an exciting challenge, made all the more exciting because the original words were spoken by an uncommonly gifted and playful wordsmith with an uncommonly expressive voice.
With that caveat, we present Jean Dominique:
Before I did radio – don’t forget, I’m an agronomist – I spent a lot of time in the field, since as an agronomist, as an agronomy student, I spent a lot of time in the Artibonite when I finished my studies I went to work as an agronomist in Quartier Morin, in the Plaine du Nord, in Plaine Bayeux, where I spent time face-to-face with Vodou, with peasants who served the lwa, with oungan [Vodou priests], with manbo [Vodou priestesses].
Since I also had books to read, I read them, I learned from them. And after I finished studying agronomy I spent two years in the School of Ethnology (which later became the Institute of Ethnology, but at the time it was the School of Ethnology), where I met a whole bunch of professors who showed me the way. I came to know the way, so I could find what I was searching for. And when I began to work in radio, radio could let people hear Vodou songs for the spirits, to hear rasin songs, to hear the beats of the drum. That too is an important thing. But this also presented a big problem because Duvalier used Vodou, too. The problem was that many people who were opposed to Duvalier thought that all of Vodou was tied to Duvalier. Likewise, anyone who spoke about Vodou was suspected of being pro-Duvalier. So I had to be very careful. Yet again l’oncle, Jean Price-Mars, helped me to be very careful. And the fellow we just heard there, Maître Pierre, and another of my spiritual fathers named Aristène. Aristène Jecrois. They both greatly helped me to understand. And another of my fathers, a father from the Northwest… Hmm! That’s another story. A patriarch, a patriarch from the Northwest. He came one day to the station, and I was testing the waters for my usual little afternoon program, and from time to time I’d put on a little music. And one day he showed up at the station to see me, and he told me, “I had a dream about you.”
And he described the dream to me, and then he said, “There are things you understand, and there are others you do not understand. I understand what you don’t understand. And I understand why you don’t understand it.” Hmm! And he told me. And it was he who put me on the path. It was he who told me, “Jean, under the American occupation, we spoke of everything in the peristil (Vodou temple).” They would speak those words, and the Americans were there, within the peristil, but they didn’t understand anything at all. And so the word spread. It was he who told me of Charlemagne Péralte [who led an armed resistance to the US occupation] . It was he who told me of Benoît Batraville. It was he who told me of the Cacos. It was he who told me of the role of Vodou in the resistance. It was he who explained that this tradition began waaaay back, long long ago, from the time of Boukman, from the time of Biassou. Those words, [historian Thomas] Madiou didn’t write them, [François] Dalencourt didn’t write them, but those words were passed along through song.
Likewise, I came to understand something important that dialectical philosophy could show me, but that the blan could never understand: what we call the Haitian people’s strategy of mawonaj. The dialectic of mawonaj. The dialectic of everything having two faces, two sides. Heads and tails. Everything on the blessed earth has two sides to it. There are two sides. Duvalier took one side, but there is another side he didn’t take. He couldn’t take it.
And so it was, when an oungan was taking me through his lakou, he was showing me his lakou. And when they saw that I wasn’t an enemy, when they saw that I all I wanted was to learn – I didn’t make any trouble – they taught me. And I learned that there were some altars that were sealed shut.
“Oh-oh!” I said, “Papa, why are these altars sealed?”
“Mm-mm. I’ll tell you another time.”
Another altar was sealed. I said again, “Oh, papa, why are these altars sealed?”
Now remember, this was in ‘73, ‘74, we were under Jean-Claude Duvalier. When I got home, I kept thinking about what he had said, I got in my car, I came back, and I asked again. “Why are these altars sealed off? I know there is a spirit, some meaning behind it.”
Eventually, one day, the patriarch told me, “I’ll tell you why those altars are sealed off. In 1957, when the devils took over the country, a great many of the Ginen spirits returned to Africa. They turned their back on the country. They left the country for the devils.”
I said, “Oh!” I said, “Papa, those are serious words you’re telling me!”
He said, “They are serious words, my child. That’s why the altars are shut.”
I said, “So, they’ve abandoned us! They’ve left us helpless!”
He said, “No, my child. The day the Ginen spirits return, that means the time has come. The time has come.”
So, since I’ve been traveling deep, deep into the countryside, I’ve come to realize that there is a force in the Haitian people. The word “no” cannot cross their lips — but that’s not what’s going on in their hearts. They bow their heads when someone says “Bow your head!” It looks like they’re bowing their heads, but in their hearts they’re not. And they’re waiting for the day to come. They’re waiting for the moment to come, when they can say, “No!” When they will raise their heads again. That is what I learned within the peristil. That is what I learned Vodou held.
And then came a day, then came a day (I don’t remember whether it was in ‘72 to ‘73), I said to someone who was close to me, “Oh, I’m going to take a little trip, I’m going to go up to Ville Bonheur, to the annual July pilgrimage, when they celebrate the festival of Saut d’Eau.” So I went, like any tourist, like any citizen, like anyone else from Port-au-Prince, who goes to watch and have fun! When I got there, that fateful July at Saut d’Eau, I started moving through the crowd: people, people, people, people, people everywhere! I got to the front of the church, cassette in hand, I started to record, and there I discovered a great truth. That truth…! I realized — and I said all of this on the radio in a report that caused an uproar at the time, because it was the first time that listeners had heard such things. And we were under Jean-Claude Duvalier, we were under [high-ranking Macoutes like] Luc Désir, Jean Valmé, Luckner Cambronne, and company! We were under the tigers! The people opened their arms in front of the pilgrimage site, they looked toward the church, and they described their misery. They described their oppression, how the life was squeezed out of them [peze-souse]. They described how everything was being destroyed [kraze-brize]. They spelled it all out. They described it in a litany, for hours. For days. And when I arrived under the palm tree — you know? You go past the church, go straight down, and there’s the palm tree where they say Emperor Faustin saw the apparition. When I arrived under the palm tree, I heard something else: “Those who do evil cannot set foot in Saut d’Eau.” Big words! When you got up to the water, they said the same thing. I said, “Hmm! Listen to what the people are saying. The people are using the spirits to reveal their enemies.” That is what I meant at that time [in that report].
I feel the same thing in the drumbeats that echo throughout the country. Sure, Macoutes could use the drum, too. To make a show, to intimidate people. But there is another kind of drumbeat: boom. And that beat, Haitians of courage will understand it. Haitians who are ready to fight will understand it. That is the drumbeat that sounded at Bocozelle [where peasant farmers rose up against landowners]. That is the truth I came to see — implicitly! secretly! — but I came to see it nonetheless. And when I saw it, I held onto it! I held tight! And it revitalized me. It let me understand that my people are a people of courage. Days came and went — February 7, 1986 was about to be set in motion. That is the quest that Vodou taught me.
I’m not saying “go practice Vodou, sprinkle water for the spirits” — no. That’s not the question, no, that’s not it. It’s that strength, that capacity for resistance that I found within the peristil. And I found it again, later, in the ti legliz [Catholic churches preaching liberation theology]. The current was always there… heheh. The current was flowing, the current knows nothing of the borders between the Vodou peristil and the church of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost — no! The current doesn’t know anything about those kinds of borders. Wherever it finds an outlet, it gushes out! Like hot water ready to boil! It finds an outlet under a mapou tree, it gushes out! It finds an outlet under layers of rock, it gushes out! It doesn’t choose. It pushes ahead. And that is what I discovered at Saut d’Eau, Ville Bonheur. That’s what I discovered in the Artibonite, that it what I came to understand, deep in the countryside, from Aristène Jecrois: one day, the Ginen spirits are going to come back, they’re coming to purge the country and drive the devils out, so that the brave people can rebuild their home. That’s the message contained in the songs. That’s the message contained each beat of the drum. And that is why, on Radio Haiti, the drum never stops beating.
The Voices of Change project was made possible through a generous grant from the National Endowment of the Humanities.
Help the Hartman Center solve a mystery! Recently we acquired a photograph, dated circa 1949, of a woman working on art and layout for what appears to be a Chevrolet poster. A man is standing behind her watching as she labors on a snowman at a drawing table.
What we can put together from the photograph is that the image on the drawing board is similar to the snowman featured on a poster for Chevrolet Radio Service that is affixed to the wall above the woman. A recent online auction for a similar Chevrolet Dealers’ Service Department poster, by Barrett-Jackson, dated the campaign to the 1950s and likely it is the early 1950s based on some of the design elements. The Campbell-Ewald agency held the Chevrolet advertising account during this period.
If you have any information about the people in this photograph, who likely worked at Campbell-Ewald on the Chevrolet account in the 1940s-1950s, please contact the Hartman Center at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you!
Post contributed by Richard Collier, John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising & Marketing History
(Note that the interview excerpts in this post have been translated from Haitian Creole and French, and in some cases have been lightly edited for clarity.)
Father Jean-Marie Vincent was halfway around the globe, at a conference in Rome, when he received word that mass violence had broken out in the remote town of Jean Rabel in arid northwest Haiti on July 23, 1987. The priest, part of the ti legliz (small church) liberation theology movement, had been working with the grassroots peasants’ rights organization Tèt Ansanm (which later became Tèt Kole Ti Peyizan Ayisyen) in Jean Rabel for fourteen years. Upon hearing that scores of Tèt Ansanm members had been massacred in his absence, Father Vincent returned to Haiti as soon as he could, only to find it impossible to reach Jean Rabel. In the midst of what were surely desperate days, he spoke with Michèle Montas at Radio Haiti-Inter to try to make sense of what had happened, and to explain the seemingly unthinkable: that a group of poor farmers had slaughtered other poor farmers en masse.
“There is an alliance between the big landowners [in Jean Rabel] and Macoutes, who coerced the ti peyizan… to kill other ti peyizan malere [poor peasant farmers] just like them, who are agitating for justice and for their rights in this country.” In Jean Rabel, most of the land was controlled by a few families: the Lucas, Poitevien, and Richardson clans. As in most of Haiti, those landowners had long profited from their alliance with the Duvalier regime, while the landless peasants remained systematically oppressed.
Father Vincent was accustomed to violent opposition from those in power, and was unruffled by rumors about his own ideology and practices. “If I’m not there anymore… there won’t be anyone to bother the landowners anymore, and they’ll regain the same power they’ve always had over people in the area, everyone calling them Uncle, Papa, so they can buy them off, do whatever they want with them. So I think it’s natural that they attack me…They’ve come to my house already, that same Nicol Poitevien and [others], carrying machetes, they said they were going to kill me… But I don’t think that’s what’s most important. What’s most important is that peasants’ rights be respected, that they continue to be able to organize.” His voice was measured and calm, even comforting, infused with warmth and good humor despite the circumstances.
In his early forties, Father Vincent still had a boyish, lively face and the energy of the soccer player he had been in his youth. “If you’re mobilizing poor peasants to assert their rights, you aren’t going to make certain big families who have held political and economic power for more than forty years very happy, because they’re going to lose certain advantages, they’re not going to find workers to come and work their fields for only one or two gourdes [a few cents] anymore… They find that people are a little ‘disrespectful’ now, they find people aren’t docile anymore. The peasants have become a little too enlightened, and they say, ‘You, you’ve taken the blindfold of the peasants’ eyes.’ They don’t like that kind of work, obviously. They call that kind of work communism.”
Jean-Marie Vincent’s analysis reflected not only the case of Jean Rabel, but also a wider reality about the Catholic Church’s moral and political identity in the 1980s, in Haiti as well as beyond. Liberation theology had emerged in Latin America in the 1950s and 1960s, focusing on poverty, human rights violations, and political oppression. For Jean-Marie Vincent and priests like him, following Christ’s example meant fighting against structures of oppression and injustice, against the tangible, worldly causes of suffering. Church authorities lashed out against liberation theology, in essence creating a battle for the soul of the Catholic Church.
The rise of and backlash against liberation theology in Haiti cannot be separated from the particularities of political context, for in Haiti, the “hierarchical Church” was associated with the powers-that-be: the Duvalier regime and their supporters and henchmen—the Macoutes. On February 7, 1986, the brutal right-wing Duvalier dictatorship had fallen after nearly thirty years in power, and the unsteady process of democratization cast Haiti into political uncertainty. For pro-democracy activists and human rights advocates, 1987 was filled with promise often overtaken by peril, a push-and-pull of freedom and repression. New political parties formed, while the army cracked down on the democratic movement. Although Duvalier was gone along with his death squads, the official Tontons Macoutes, Duvalierism nonetheless persisted, as did the Macoutes themselves. They were no longer formally designated Volontaires de la Sécurité Nationale, or VSN; now, “macoute” referred to members of the army, chefs de section and others who employed Duvalierist methods of domination and violence. Rural farmers, long oppressed under the Duvalier regime, began to organize. For the members of Tèt Ansanm and other grassroots peasant groups, the fall of the regime and the possibility of democracy represented an opportunity to at last reclaim their land and literally reap the fruits of their own labor.
The massacre began on July 23, but it lasted through the weekend and into the next week. Members of Tèt Ansanm hid in the brush – some survived, while others were found and slaughtered by the armed brigades. Those who had been injured were threatened at the hospital. Those who had been arrested were threatened at the prison. In the days that followed, members of Tèt Ansanm who had survived the massacre spoke on the radio. On Catholic-run Radio Soleil, they called on the Catholic Church authorities, the monsignors, the Red Cross, or any “moral person” to come with a convoy of cars to save the 120 or so people “who are left, whom they haven’t yet killed.” They declared it a duty for the Church to save them, and asked how many cars they could expect.
By July 28, 1987, two members of Tèt Ansanm who had survived the massacre made their way to Port-au-Prince and spoke with Michèle Montas on the air at Radio Haiti:
“It was a group of landowners that organized it, in La Montagne [in the commune of Jean Rabel],” explained Anne Jean-Louis. “They paid people 10 or 15 gourdes, to organize them to kill people…. [The landowners] are hiding behind them, they’re hiding themselves to send those people out to fight for them.”
Noland Métayer described what had happened. “We went to go see our fellow peasants in La Montagne, near La Reserve. We were going to have a meeting between peasant and peasant. We were going to hold a demonstration. We came in solidarity with our brothers. But when we arrived, they didn’t accept being together with us. From the moment we appeared, we didn’t even have the chance to explain why we’d come. They began to attack us, to throw rocks at us, shoot bullets at us, shoot rifles. And that’s when everyone became afraid. There were four people who got shot, they got hurt, they died – I believe of the four who were shot, we only saw one. The others, they disappeared. After that, when we saw that we had come in friendship and they hadn’t accepted it, we turned to leave, and that’s when they ganged up on us, they cornered us on a path, they joined up with the Macoutes from Jean Rabel… They formed their brigades. They blocked a bunch of people on the path, they forced them to go to Jean Rabel. And there were a lot of other people who were hurt, who had broken bones, and they thought that in the town of Jean Rabel they would be safe. So they tried to get to Jean Rabel. But when they got to Jean Rabel, that’s where they really massacred them. They put them in prison, they put some in the hospital. But even in the hospital, they weren’t safe. The Macoutes, all those people, they entered freely whenever they wanted. They were threatening them, they were putting lots of pressure on them, and they told them that whenever a single one of them was released, they’d be watching them, and they’d be eliminated nonetheless. They are going to die nonetheless. All those people…” his voice trailed off.
Anne Jean-Louis described in harrowing detail her escape from the massacre. “I pulled myself together not to sleep on the street, I didn’t want to sleep at someone else’s house. If someone came and found me sleeping on their porch, they could beat me and I could die badly. I had already almost died. I managed to sleep in a corner of the hospital, on the ground behind a toilet.” Her brother Fadiné, also a member of Tèt Ansanm, was arrested. “They took him, they wounded him to the point that he was in the hospital. I tried to see him, then. Everyone was worried. They were already saying I’d been killed, that I wasn’t among the living anymore. They thought I was dead, and when they saw me on Friday they were shocked. As for Fadiné, he was inside the hospital, and there was no security. They were asking for members of the gwoupman in both the hospital and the prison. They blamed them for everything…. Their lives are in danger. They can’t sleep. People say there was a massacre on July 23, but that’s only when it started. It lasted Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday. They kept killing people.” In the interview, Anne Jean-Louis said she had last seen her brother in the hospital. She wanted to know what had become of him, but she was afraid that if she reappeared, she would be arrested and killed.
The two pleaded, again, for people to come and rescue the survivors. “The danger is still there,” explained Noland Métayer. “That’s why we’ve left, because the lives of those people are in danger, we left to see if we could find any authorities, anyone who is mindful, if there’s any possibility for them to rescue those people as soon as possible from the prison so they don’t finish killing them all. That’s why we left.“
“If those people don’t get out of the hospital tomorrow, we should buy our mourning clothes here… Even though we’ve already lost people, we don’t want anyone else to die,” added Anne Jean-Louis. She requested perhaps thirty or forty cars, and asked that the rescuers come all at once, nan yon sèl kou, because if they came in shifts, those who were left behind would certainly be killed.
The events of July 1987 were strategic, born of long-standing anti-communism (which had been central to political strategy throughout the Duvalier years), the instability of the post-dictatorship landscape, and deepening divisions in the Catholic Church that pitted the church hierarchy, which was allied with the elites, against liberation theology priests like Jean-Marie Vincent, who worked alongside and promoted the rights of the poor.
Violence and discontent had been escalating for months in Jean Rabel. In February of 1987, the powerful landowning families had orchestrated the burning of peasant farmers’ homes in the nearby village of Gros Sable, though the wealthy landowners maintained that they were the true victims and accused Father Vincent and his team of fostering violence and communist ideology among the peasants. “The grassroots group is the arm of the movement, but the ekip misyonè [missionary team] is the head,” declared Rémy Lucas in an interview with Konpè Filo after the events in Gros Sable. When Filo asked Jean-Michel Richardson if he was affiliated with the Macoutes, his response was evasive and absurd. “That’s a strange question, because Tonton Macoutes don’t exist anymore, so I don’t see what relation I could have with the Tonton Macoutes.”
In the face of escalating oppression, Tèt Ansanm continued to demand their rights. Two days before the July 23 massacre, Tèt Ansanm issued a kout lambi [call to action]. Over drumbeats, a member of Tèt Ansanm invoked the revolutionary spirit of Jean-Jacques Dessalines and Charlemagne Péralte and called on rural cultivators, grassroots groups, and ti legliz members throughout Haiti to come together to uproot the spirit of Macoutism.
In the aftermath of the massacre, journalists and human rights advocates tried to understand its roots. It was not immediately clear what had happened, nor exactly how it had happened. The independent press could not reach Jean Rabel, and so Radio Haiti’s only option was to speak to people who had managed to approach the area. In an Inter-Actualités Magazine special report on Jean Rabel, Jean Dominique sat with Chavannes Jean-Baptiste and Michèle Pierre-Louis, and they tried to comprehend a situation in which, as Jean-Baptiste put it, “the little dog eats the little dog, poor peasants are killing poor peasants just like themselves.” Agronomist and activist Jean-Baptiste described the unrelenting propaganda campaign to convince the rural peasantry that Father Vincent was a communist, and that the communists were going to seize their land, their homes, even their wives. Michèle Pierre-Louis, who at the time was with the literacy program Mission Alpha, described a devastated landscape filled with incinerated houses, and the conflict between the peasant farmers and the landowners as a battle between good and evil. “This is what’s happening in this country, a face-off between the forces of change and the forces of death. There are certain forces, it is death they are spreading. That is their lifeblood and their source of power. And there are forces that are demanding change, and those are the forces of life. This is what is happening now. And all the forces that worship death, as we say, are coming into action now.”
“Forces de changement contre forces de mort,” repeated Jean Dominique. “Michèle has defined it well for us. What has happened in Jean Rabel, and what is at risk of happening to the rest of the peasantry.”
From the studios of Radio Haiti-Inter in Port-au-Prince, Dominique used his razor-sharp analysis to piece the story together and explain the political context of the slaughter to listeners throughout the country. He demonstrated that the Jean Rabel massacre was not spontaneous, and the manipulation of the poor and landless by the region’s powerful landowners was not an extraordinary act of brutality and avarice. “Jean Rabel is not an isolated case. Jean Rabel is not an exception. At the heart of Jean Rabel are problems that are taking place among all the Haitian peasantry, and, alas, throughout the whole Church, as well.”
On August 28, 1994, Jean-Marie Vincent was gunned down in a rainstorm in front of his rectory in Port-au-Prince. He was forty-eight years old. No one has been held accountable for his assassination. There has been no justice for Jean-Marie Vincent, just as there has been no justice for most of the victims of the “land conflicts” and politically-motivated massacres of which Jean Rabel was only one. Twentieth-century Haitian history is inscribed with the names of the recognized dead and with a litany of locations (Cazale, Jean Rabel, St. Jean Bosco, Piatre, Ruelle Vaillant, Gervais, Raboteau, Carrefour-Feuilles…) which have come to stand for the untold numbers of dead, mostly poor, whose names are largely unknown.
Yet they are not erased. Their voices persist, in Radio Haiti’s archive. “Is Gwoupman Tèt Ansanm going to be destroyed by this?” asked Jean-Marie Vincent in his July 28, 1987 interview at Radio Haiti. “I don’t believe it! I don’t believe that.” He laughed a little, a laugh that somehow contained exasperation, sadness, and hope all in one. “There is no people who will accept wearing chains forever. The solution for Haiti cannot come about through anything other than grassroots organization…. Are these peasants going to be discouraged? Are these deaths going to make it so we can no longer work alongside them?… Or is the solidarity of the Haitian people so strong that Gwoupman Tèt Ansanm will not perish? That is what I most believe, myself…I believe that the peasants may die, but they will not disappear… I believe that the poor will have their day, and the Macoutes will indeed lose, one day.”
The Voices of Change project was made possible through a generous grant from the National Endowment of the Humanities.
This post originally appeared on H-Net on June 29, 2016. Post contributed by Laura Wagner, Ph.D., Radio Haiti Project Archivist.
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 Voices of Change project was made possible through a generous grant from the National Endowment of the Humanities.
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!
Post contributed by Rick Collier, Hartman Center
Dispatches from the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Duke University