All posts by mlp60@duke.edu

11 of My Favorite Haitian Creole Expressions from the Radio Haiti Archive

Post contributed by Laura Wagner, Ph.D., Radio Haiti Project Archivist

Processing the archive of Radio Haïti-Inter can be difficult work. The collection is filled with human rights violations, suffering, injustice, and death — including both the repression that the station’s journalists covered and the repression they personally endured. Yet despite the heaviness of the subject matter, listening to Radio Haiti is often joyful. Jean Dominique is the single most expressive person I have ever had the privilege of spending time with. (He was, in the words of his friend Jonathan Demme, “an absolute theater superstar waiting to happen.”)  In French, he’d quote Henri de Montherlant and La Rochefoucauld. In Haitian Creole, he’d draw on the language’s evocative proverbs and expressions. Creole is a language of poetry and double meanings, of metaphor and dissembling, of mawonaj.

As I head into my last week on the Radio Haiti project, I wanted to emphasize a lighter side of the project and share some wonderful Haitian Creole phrases. I’ve also learned some fantastic French terms over the course of this project (like scélérat – a villain! often paired with mediocre, because to Jean Dominique, mediocre was one of the worst things a person could be. Or histrion, a buffoon; scribouillard, a penpusher; or crêpage de chignons, a catfight!). But, as I said, in this list I’m going to concentrate on the Creole expressions that I’ve picked up along the way, not only from Jean Dominique, but also from Michèle Montas, J.J. Dominique, Konpè Filo, and other members of the Radio Haiti team, as well as some of the people they interviewed.

    1. Sòt pa touye w, men li fè w swè – Literally, stupidity won’t kill you, but it’ll make you sweat. My personal mantra every time I made a mistake while processing the Radio Haiti collection. It’s pretty much what it sounds like: stupidity isn’t fatal, but it creates a lot more work for you.
    2. Sezi kou berejèn – Very surprised; literally, surprised as an eggplant. I have no idea why.
    3. Depi djab te kaporal – Literally, “ever since the Devil was a corporal.” Figuratively, since the beginning of time. I’m told that’s because the Devil has been a general for a long time, so if he was a low-ranking officer, that must have been a very long time ago.
    4. Mare sòsis – Literally, to tie your sausage together with someone else’s. Figuratively, to be in cahoots with someone.
    5. M a di w sa Kasayòl te di bèf la – Literally, “I’m going to tell you what Cassagnol told the cow.” When you want to curse someone out without doing it directly. No one knows who Cassagnol was, or what he told the cow, but we can only imagine that it was very bad indeed.
    6. Pitit trannde dan – Literally, “a child with thirty-two teeth.” In a report from 1979 by Konpè Filo, sex workers from Port-au-Prince explained that they referred to their pimps as “children with thirty-two teeth” because they were all grown up but still depended on women for everything.
    7. Benyen san kache lonbrit – Literally, bathing without hiding your belly button. Letting it all hang out, not having any secrets.
    8. Panzou – Traditionally, a children’s game in which you slap someone’s hand, often to make them drop something. Panzou came to mean coup d’état, referring to the way the army seized power from Haiti’s democratically-elected government in 1991. The perpetrators of the coup, accordingly, were panzouyis (panzouists).
    9. Mete absè sou klou – Literally, putting an abcess on top of a boil. Figuratively, making a bad situation worse.
    10. Nou se lanmè, nou pa kenbe kras – A proverb, and of Radio Haiti’s slogans. Literally “We are like the sea, we wash away the dirt.” It means “we reveal the truth, we don’t keep secrets.”
    11. Nou pa manje lajan Chango, nou pa manje manje bliye – Literally, “we don’t consume Chango’s money, we don’t eat the food of forgetfulness.” Figuratively, “we’re not taking part in corruption and we never forget.” Chango is a Vodou lwa known for his anger. If you take Chango’s money, you have to be prepared to do something in exchange. The original expression is Lè w manje lajan Chango, fò w peye Chango (“When you use Chango’s money, you better pay Chango back.”)
    12. Degi – A small bonus, like a baker’s dozen. (This twelfth entry on a list of eleven is your degi!) I knew this word before, from every time I’ve bought rice or beans in a Haitian market, but I did not know that degi comes from the Fon language of West Africa, as Jean Dominique learned when he interviewed the ambassador from Benin, Patrice Houngavou, in 1978.

A Note from Rubenstein Staff: Laura, we will miss you! Thank you for your incredible and invaluable work on this massive and complicated project.  We are so lucky to have pote kole with you these past few years. Because of your hard work, expertise, and passion, the Radio Haiti Archive  is accessible to people all over the world. How amazing is that?! We wish you all the best and look forward to hearing about your future endeavors.

I Wander all Night in My Vision: Commemorating William Gedney and Walt Whitman

Post contributed by Paula Jeannet, Visual Materials Processing Archivist at the Rubenstein Library

“Apart from the pulling and hauling stands what I am,
Stands amused, complacent, compassionating, idle, unitary,
Looks down, is erect, or bends an arm on an impalpable certain rest,
Looking with side-curved head curious what will come next,
Both in and out of the game and watching and wondering at it.

Backward I see in my own days where I sweated through fog with
linguists and contenders,
I have no mockings or arguments, I witness and wait.”

Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself,” Section 4

June 23, 2019 marked the 30th anniversary of photographer William Gedney’s death in New York City in 1989 at the young age of 56.  Gedney’s career spanned a time of great changes in American society and elsewhere, and in his photographs he captures the vitality and promise of those decades as well as the counterweights of social isolation and poverty.  A lover of literature, he found early inspiration for his work in another New Yorker: Walt Whitman. Like Whitman, Gedney was fascinated by people in all their complexity and was an exceptional portraitist, using his camera rather than a pen; like Whitman, he was especially drawn to street life and crowds.  The full extent of Gedney’s preoccupation with Whitman can be more fully explored through the photographer’s archive; for now, this blog post will indicate some starting points in the collection.

Born in 1932, Gedney grew up in rural Greenville, New York, in the Hudson River Valley.  As a child, his family took him to visit relatives in the big city, and ultimately he studied art at Pratt Institute and moved into a cold-water flat in Brooklyn in the mid-1950s. While working as a commercial photographer to pay the bills and cover darkroom expenses, he roamed Brooklyn neighborhoods, his camera loaded with black-and-white film.  Many of the images capture daily life and the inhabitants of Myrtle Avenue, where he lived.  He continued this documentary work for the rest of his life.

Black and white photograph with elevated railway on Myrtle Ave in Brooklyn
Myrtle Avenue, May 5, 1969, 4:45 pm [taken from Gedney’s apartment window].  Print RL10032-P-1580-6682-08.   From this vantage point, Gedney also documented the demolition of the elevated railway soon after its closure in October 1969.  William Gedney photographs and papers, © David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library
Black and white photograph of two boys
Caption: Brooklyn, 1955-1959. Print RL10032-P-B14-75-21. William Gedney photographs and papers, © David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library
Person with their arms out wide and head thrown back, perhaps smiling.
O’Rourke’s, January 9, 1960. Print RL10032-P-0057-0589-43. William Gedney photographs and papers, © David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library

In 1966, William Gedney’s photographic life took flight: he traveled to Kentucky (twice), cross country to California (also twice), then across the ocean to Ireland, England, Paris (twice again), and India, also twice.  Brooklyn always drew him back.

Sometime around 1968 or 1969, perhaps inspired by Whitman’s interest in celebrating and documenting urban street life, he began a consuming project to uncover the history of Myrtle Avenue from its beginnings in the 18th century, using newspapers and literary sources, including the Brooklyn Eagle, for which Whitman served as editor, writing copious notes and pasting clippings in two volumes, Myrtle Avenue 1 and 2 – another habit he would continue throughout his life.  Some of his notes include transcripts of Whitman poems:

Two pages from Gedney's journal from 1969.
Myrtle Avenue, Book 1, pages 6-7. Transcription of Walt Whitman’s “Song of the Open Road,” Leaves of Grass.

At some point (probably earlier than 1969), he discovered that Walt Whitman had lived in Brooklyn, on 99 Ryerson Street, just a few blocks from Gedney’s neighborhood on Myrtle Avenue.  While living at that address, Whitman published his ground-breaking epic poem Leaves of Grass in June 1855.

Although it’s not clear when the idea first came to him, in 1969 Gedney began to create the layout for a project to combine Whitman’s verses with his own photographs of New York City.  In one of his notebooks, titled only with the year 1969, he writes about “the bridge” photographs, and of framing them with Hart Crane’s poem “The Bridge.”

Black and white photograph of the Brooklyn bridge.
Brooklyn Bridge, circa 1959, Print RL10032-P-0008-0076-30. William Gedney photographs and papers, © David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library

A few months later, in the same notebook, Gedney writes “I think the bridge pictures would be best paired with Whitman’s Brooklyn Ferry poem under the overall title ‘Brooklyn Crossing.’  His poem is the one I was most under the influence at the time.”  The Brooklyn Bridge book maquette in the Gedney archive contains no accompanying texts; however, during the recent Rubenstein project to rehouse and digitize the Gedney archive, the lead archivist came across this item hiding out in a box of oversize materials:

Stanza 2 of Walt Whitman’s “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry,” in Gedney’s own hand. William Gedney photographs and papers, © David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library

Sometime around 1970, Gedney again turned to Whitman’s verses, this time selecting the poem “I wander all night in my vision” to introduce his planned book of night photographs taken in India.  Clearly Whitman was still on his mind and informing his work.

Man asleep on a ledge in an alley at night
Benares, India, 1969-1971. Print RL10032-P-BE121-0950-26. William Gedney photographs and papers, © David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library
Whitman quote of "I wander all nigh in my vision"
Layout page from planned photobook of night photography from Benares, India, circa 1980. William Gedney photographs and papers, © David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library

I had thought Gedney’s connection to Whitman largely remained unexamined, with the exception of Margaret Sartor’s comments in her seminal book introducing Gedney and his archive to the world: What Was True: the Photographs and Notebooks of William Gedney (W.W. Norton, 2000). Then, while researching this blog post, I discovered Mark Turner’s book, Backward Glances: Cruising the Queer Streets of NY and London (Reaktion Books: London, 2003), which in the context of the phenomenon of male cruising, discusses the remarkable parallels between Gedney and Whitman. The two clearly favored male liaisons, and this orientation was reflected to some degree in their poetic and artistic work.  Beginning in 1975, Gedney began extensively documenting the exuberant gay pride parades as well as street hustlers in San Francisco and New York, until a few years before his death.  At the same time, he was intensely private about his personal life, never fully coming out even to his closest friends.

“…as I pass, O Manhattan! your frequent and swift flash of eyes offering me love,
Offering me the response of my own–these repay me,
Lovers, continual lovers, only repay me.”

Walt Whitman, “Calamus 18”

Men sitting on the grass, one man with his head resting on the lap of another
June 25, 1978, New York City, gay march, Central Park. Print RL10032-P-1876-9617-07. William Gedney photographs and papers, © David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library
Man with unbuttoned shirt standing on street near strip club.
No known title, 1969. Proof print, contact sheet 1588. William Gedney photographs and papers, © David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library

Like William Gedney, Walt Whitman also celebrates an anniversary in 2019: he was born 200 years ago on May 31, 1819.  Many events have been planned in his honor:  http://waltwhitmaninitiative.org/

It’s easy to imagine that he would have been intrigued by Gedney’s photography and pleased at the idea of a publication of Brooklyn images prefaced by his own verses.

Sadly, it was not to be: Gedney bequeathed the world a body of compelling, eloquent photographic work, but his many book projects remained unpublished, with only the book maquettes in the archive as evidence of Gedney’s hopeful plans.  Perhaps with the right editor, these two artists will be joined again as Gedney had imagined.

“These and all else were to me the same as they are to you,
I loved well those cities, loved well the stately and rapid river,
The men and women I saw were all near to me,
Others the same—others who look back on me because I look’d forward to them,
(The time will come, though I stop here to-day and to-night.)”

Walt Whitman, “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry,” stanza 4

No known title, circa 1968. Print RL10032-P-1537-6255-32. Tree in foreground, Walt Whitman’s tomb in background, Camden, New Jersey. William Gedney photographs and papers, © David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library

 


Note about the Gedney Collection: Although William Gedney’s work was still largely undiscovered by mainstream audiences at the time of his death in 1989, it stood on the cusp of an awakening, thanks primarily to the efforts of close friends Maria and Lee Friedlander, and John Sarkowski, curator of photography at the Museum of Modern Art.  Eventually the entire Gedney archive — over 49,000 photographs, negatives, artwork, and papers – came to Duke University’s David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, and is now being digitized in its entirety (the finished prints and contact sheets are already available online). You can learn more about the collection by visiting the collection guide online.

New Acquisition Spotlight: The William T. Blackwell Family Papers

Post contributed by Meghan Lyon, Head of General Manuscript Processing at the Rubenstein Library

One of the Rubenstein Library’s older collections, the William T. Blackwell Papers, has recently grown thanks to a generous gift of 19th and 20th century papers and photographs from the Martin family, descendants of the Blackwell family. Before this latest addition, the William T. Blackwell Papers consisted almost exclusively of financial ledgers documenting the dramatic failure of the Bank of Durham, which opened in 1883, extended credit too liberally, and subsequently closed in 1889. This new addition has earlier material, documenting the rise of Blackwell’s fortune during the 1870s, as he and business partners James R. Day and Julian Shakespeare Carr built their factory, manufacturing and selling smoking tobacco through the W.T. Blackwell and Co Tobacco Company. The addition includes a notable cache of letters from Carr (yes, that Carr), documenting his and Blackwell’s partnership and their legal strategies during the Bull Durham trademark litigation through the 1870s.

These new records with the details of the W.T. Blackwell and Co. business operations would be exciting enough, but the rest of the addition is fascinating too. In fact, the nature of the collection has changed so significantly that we have opted to rename the collection to be the William T. Blackwell Family Papers. This better reflects the range of the materials now held – in addition to William T. Blackwell’s business materials, there is now correspondence, receipts, invoices, and other documentation of the daily life of the Blackwells, both W. T. and Emma Exum Blackwell, whom he married in 1877.  W.T. Blackwell’s sister, Lavinia Blackwell, later married J.D. Pridgen, who owned a shoe company in Durham and whose daughters attended Durham High School in the early 1900s. Their scrapbooks, which include snapshots and printed ephemera from their social activities and education in local Durham schools, have amusing, endearing captions. Mary Blackwell Pridgen, one of the daughters, kept scrapbooking as an adult, and her later marriage to Chester B. Martin explains the inclusion of Martin family materials in this collection as well. In 1927, Chester B. Martin co-founded and operated Durham Dairy Products, Inc., which was Durham’s first milk delivery service. Materials from Durham Dairy include a nearly-complete run of company newsletters – Durham Dairy Doings – with great hand-drawn cartoons, profiles of staff and workers, local Durham news, and insights into the company’s marketing and delivery of milk. The multi-generational aspect of this collection has been challenging but fun to sort out – especially since it is all Durham history, and not just about tobacco (or banks!) anymore.

Following are images of some of my favorite items from the collection. See the newly published collection guide to explore further.

Children in cart pulled by two goats.
An original (but damaged) mounted photograph of the William T. and Emma Blackwell home, once located at Chapel Hill and Duke Streets, Durham. This is now the site of the Duke Memorial United Methodist Church. There is additional information about this site on OpenDurham.org.

 

Smoking farm animals
An empty 19th century Durham tobacco pouch, featuring smoking animals.

 

Envelope with engraving of warehouse
W.T. Blackwell & Co. had amazing stationary. This is the back of one of the company’s envelopes.

 

Colorful letterhead with cow
More W.T. Blackwell & Company letterhead can be seen on this statement where William T. Blackwell formally apologizes for offending Mr. C.B. Green during the Raleigh State Fair in 1872.

 

Three black and white photos of three women.

Ticket to 1920 state fair
Two pages from Mary Blackwell Pridgen’s scrapbook; one includes a ticket to the 1920 Raleigh Fair, which was hopefully less scandalous than the 1872 Fair.

 

Man leaning on log with two possums.
An (unfortunately) uncaptioned loose snapshot of a man and two possums.

 

Cats wearing tiny gloves in a ring boxing.
A scrapbook page from Mrs. C. B. Martin, dating from the 1960s, with an article about boxing cats.

 

Cartoon of anthropomorphized cows.
A cover from a 1946 issue of Durham Dairy Doings, published by Durham Dairy Products, Inc. These serials are being cataloged separately as a new title in Rubenstein Library.

Event: Radio Haiti Culminating Event with Haitian Journalist and Human Rights Activist Michèle Montas

What: Radio Haiti Project Culminating Event: A Conversation with Michéle Montas

When: 5:30 PM, Thursday, April 11

Where: Ahmadieh Family Lecture Hall, Bay 4 (C105) Smith Warehouse, 114 S Buchanan BLVD, Durham, NC 27701

Haitian journalist and human rights activist Michéle Montas discusses the legacy of Radio Haïti-Inter, Radio Haiti’s archive at Duke’s Rubenstein Library, and the past, present, and future of justice and impunity in Haiti. With additional remarks by Laurent Dubois, Radio Haiti project archivist Laura Wagner, and AV archivist Craig Breaden. Light refreshments. Free and open to the public.Poster for Radio Haiti Event

Event: Why Did the United States Medical School Admissions Quota for Jews End?

Why Did the United States Medical School Admissions Quota for Jews End?

Date: Thursday, April 11

Time: 5:30 p.m.

Location: Holsti-Anderson Family Assembly Room, Room 153, Rubenstein Library

Contact: Rachel Ingold, rachel.ingold@duke.edu, (919)684-8549

Professional photo of Dr. HalperinPlease join the History of Medicine Collections for our next Trent History of Medicine Lecture Series event. Edward C. Halperin, M.D., M.A. will present “Why Did the United States Medical School Admissions Quota for Jews End?” At the end of World War II anti-Semitic medical school admissions quotas were deeply entrenched in the United States. Twenty-five years later they were gone. Why did that happen and what are the implications for the current controversy regarding alleged quotas directed against Asian-Americans?

Dr. Halperin is Chancellor/Chief Executive Officer of the New York Medical College, Valhalla NY.

All are welcome and encouraged to attend. No registration is needed. A light reception will follow.

Radio Activism and the Politics of Grassroots Change

Post contributed by Jennifer Garcon, Bollinger Fellow in Public and Community Data Curation at Penn Libraries

One morning in July 1965, an unfamiliar voice radiated from the transistor radios of Port-au-Prince residents. Rather than hearing pre-recordings of President-for-Life, François Duvalier, residents heard the dissenting voices of exiles based in New York. The program, La Voix de l’Union Haïtienne Internationale, would become known as Radio Vonvon.  While they must have immediately recognized the dangers of tuning in, people unearthed radios hidden in kitchens and in bathrooms, and continued to listen to the clandestine program each Sunday, “to listen to words of hope about one day ending this nightmare, in the words of New York-based Haitian journalist Ricot Dupuy. This, I argue, was a political act.

My doctoral research explores how journalists deployed various media strategies to mobilize their audiences against dictatorship in Haiti. I centralize broadcasting because, I argue, 1) radio was, and in many places, remains a powerful cultural force; 2) the medium was easily accessible and widely available, and thus had unparalleled democratic appeal and influence; and 3) radio, unlike print media, does not require literacy as a prerequisite for participation. Radio, particularly Kreyòl language broadcasting, was a platform that embodies equity and democratized politics; and vernacular radio archives reflect this inclusion.

From a material culture standpoint, reduced cost and increased post-WWII supply transformed radio technology into a crucial instrument of struggle in Cold War Latin America, and elsewhere in the Global South. As historian Alejandra Bronfman reminds us in Isles of Noise: Sonic Media in the Caribbean, “the sounds of radio are [by their very nature of production and dissemination] ephemeral.” For that reason alone, the comprehensiveness of the Radio Haiti Records are indeed exceptional.

Using a sampling of the approximately 5300 recordings and 191 boxes of paper documents that constitute the Radio Haiti archives —  spanning  field reports, editorials, investigative reports, in-studio interviews, and special programming —  I built an argument that reframes the everyday activities of ordinary people as political activity and agitation.

Investigating radio listening as a form of political engagement allows for a more granular examination of the transformation of civil society that I argue occurred between 1971 and 1987, during the presidency of Jean-Claude Duvalier and in the immediate aftermath of his fall from power. This, I contend, challenges the scholarly interpretations that mischaracterize peasants as politically inert throughout much of the Duvalier era, until the killing of three schoolboys in Gonaïves on November 28, 1985 (the Twa Flè Lespwa, or Three Flowers of Hope). In contrast, my research charts broad domestic ferment on the air-waves. Radio media, in addition to independent vernacular print outlets, offered a space where dispersed sectors of the Haitian population could critique and challenge state power. Radio records have helped to offer insights into patterns of open opposition to government excess that predate the 1985 killings. These included reactions to the murder of the young journalist Gasner Raymond, who was killed after investigating workers’ strikes at the state-owned cement factory in 1976;  rice farmers’ revolts against repressive local Macoutes in the Artibonite between 1977 and 1979; peasant farmers’ and workers’ opposition to Reynolds Haitian Mines in Miragoâne; attempted coups in 1981 and 1982, and anti-government bombings between 1980 and 1983.

Radio programming offered a discursive public space in which to practice one’s politics, where few other avenues remained. Having grown used to practicing forbidden forms of citizenship on the airwaves, this radio activism soon moved onto the streets. In the popular movement that uprooted Duvalierism, the Haitian majority– Kreyòl speaking peasant farmers, agricultural day laborers, and urban workers—who had once formed bases of support for the regime now demanded the end of the dictatorship. I plot the emergence of a nearly decade and a half long grassroots political movement against Jean-Claude Duvalier by examining radio media to show  how ordinary people first negotiated the terms of their citizenship within an authoritarian system, and later struggled to uproot that system in its entirety.

The complete audio archive of Radio Haiti will soon be available to the public via Duke’s Digital Repository, which will be an unparalleled resource for historians and other researchers interested in radio, political resistance, and the circulation of information in Haiti and in the Haitian diaspora.

When Beale Street Spoke in Haiti: From Port-au-Prince to the Oscars

This is a guest blog post by Nathan Dize, a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of French and Italian at Vanderbilt University specializing in Haitian literature and history.

Cover of Baldwin's novel, "If Beale Street Could Talk"
First edition of James Baldwin’s If Beale Street Could Talk.

Twenty-eight days after the passing of James Baldwin, on December 28, 1987, Haitian writers Jan J. Dominique and Yanick Lahens and their cohost, bookseller Monique Lafontant, paid homage to the African American writer with a discussion of the significance of his novel If Beale Street Could Talk on Radio Haïti Inter’s weekly cultural program, Entre Nous. Set in New York City, the novel focuses on the lives of childhood friends-turned-lovers Tish and Fonny as they prepare to welcome their first child. The two are suddenly separated when Fonny is arrested and accused for the alleged rape of a Puerto Rican woman. Tish narrates the story as both her and Fonny’s families attempt to prove the young Black man’s innocence. Yanick Lahens begins with her review of the book, followed by a brief discussion of Baldwin’s literary career.

For Lahens, Beale Street is a “faithful and realistic portrait” of the generation of the Great Migration where African Americans moved to northern and industrial cities in the Midwest as a response to the tightening of Jim Crow legislation and racial violence in the South. More importantly, Lahens explains that the literary strength of the novel lies in the way it presents an “evolution of hope or extreme despair” as the plot unfolds. She argues that readers never completely slip into despair, yet readers cannot enjoy hopeful moments long enough to sustain a sense of optimism that Fonny will ever be freed from prison.

Photograph of James Baldwin.
Back cover of James Balwin’s If Beale Street Could Talk.

In recent weeks, If Beale Street Could Talk has again been on the tips of critics’ tongues as Barry Jenkins’ adaptation of the novel was nominated for three Oscars, including Best Adapted Screenplay. Critics of Barry Jenkins’ Oscar-nominated adaptation of Beale Street have also focused on Baldwin’s ability to productively operate between the poles of hope and despair. While some reviewers bristle at how some of the novel’s more severe moments, like Tish and Fonny’s first sexual encounter, “shimmer romantically in Jenkins’ film,” other parts of the film faithfully reach for Baldwin’s depth of blues and melancholy. Back in 1987, Yanick Lahens explained that readers immediately encounter despair “from the first lines [of the novel] we see that this young man will never leave prison.”[1] Baldwin’s novel exposes the “judiciary machine” in the United States that gives the semblance of hope, but that will ultimately never let him go or leave the two families unscathed.[2]

Towards the end of her review, Lahens explains that the accents, the sounds, the feelings of the blues permeate Baldwin’s writing. These “accents of the blues” in Beale Street are found in the characters’ despair and bitterness in the face of Fonny’s imprisonment. In an essay from his collection Nobody Knows My Name, James Baldwin writes about his discovery of the language of the blues through the music of Bessie Smith, which Lahens reads in French:

“It was Bessie Smith, through her tone and her cadence, who helped me to dig back to the way I myself must have spoken when I was a pickaninny, and to remember the things I had heard and seen and felt. I had buried them very deep […] I had never listened to Bessie Smith in America (in the same way that, for years, I never touched watermelon), but in Europe she helped me to reconcile myself to being a ‘nigger.’”

Photo of audio cassette tape.
Tape from the Radio-Haiti show Entre Nous. The title reads “Prix Deschamps 1987” (Jacques Godart) et Baldwin.

Some critics have claimed that Barry Jenkins’ adaptation is a failure, that Baldwin deserves better. “Is [Jenkins’] movie too beautiful?” Doreen St. Félix writes for the New Yorker. St. Félix agrees that film adaptations do not have to remain faithful to the text; they are adaptations, after all. But, the point where Lahens’ reading of Baldwin’s blues coincides with Jenkins’ film is perhaps best captured when Fonny’s old friend, the good-natured and affable Daniel, played by Brian Tyree Henry, tells Fonny about his arrest. St. Félix explains that this scene “is washed in a darkness that is incongruous with the rest of the film’s palette.” In the novel, Baldwin sounds the depths of despair as Daniel confesses that he was gang-raped in prison, instead Jenkins renders this aesthetically with color saturation. In his own right, Henry’s portrayal of Daniel’s character had many critics calling for him to be nominated for the Best Supporting Actor category. Brian Tyree Henry expertly contrasts moments of superficial cheer with sullen, vacant looks through clouds of cigarette smoke to convey Daniel’s fractured dignity. Beyond Henry’s performance, Regina King’s wails from the streets of Viejo San Juan also supremely express what Lahens describes as “all the accents of the blues,” earning her the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.

Still image of Brian Tyree Henry.
Brian Tyree Henry in If Beale Street Could Talk (2018) (Photo courtesy of Awardscircuit.com)

Baldwin’s discovery of the blues in the Swiss Alps is remarkable for Lahens, Dominique, and Lafontant who consider James Baldwin as a writer of the African American Diaspora. The three conclude the segment by comparing Baldwin to Haitian writers forced to flee the successive dictatorial regimes of François Duvalier and Jean-Claude Duvalier. For many of the journalists and employees of Radio Haïti Inter, forced exile remained an open wound as the station had just re-opened the previous year in October 1986. Decades later, when the radio station finally shuttered its doors, Jan J. Dominique herself would also eventually go into exile in Montreal in 2003, fleeing a violent climate towards the press that led to the assassination of her father, Radio Haiti director Jean Dominique, on April 3, 2000.

As I listened to this review on the eve of the 91st Academy Awards, I was reminded of the importance of James Baldwin in global expressions of Blackness in literature, how artists and writers have thought through and with Baldwin even after his passing. I am also reminded of the significance of the recording’s survival through the efforts of project archivist Laura Wagner and the other archivists, librarians, and graduate and undergraduates working at the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. The review of If Beale Street Could Talk is but the tip of the iceberg, so to speak, as a search in the Duke University Libraries Digital Repository leads to more than 4,000 individual recordings of cultural, historical, literary, and journalistic reportages from 1957-2003. At present, an excess of 4,800 of an approximate 5,300 recordings have been described and are either available or will be available online for listening this spring. So, as you process the results of this year’s Academy Awards, be sure to make a visit to the Radio Haiti Archives catalog and browse their collection that has just as much to do with Haiti’s past as it does with our cultural and historical present in 2019.

[1] “Dès la première ligne [du roman] on voit que ce bonhomme ne sortira pas de prison…”

[2] Yanick Lahens refers to the US judicial system a “machine judiciaire.”

World War I Orphans and American Red Cross Photographers

This post is contributed by Paula Jeannet, Visual Materials Processing Archivist, and is part of “An Instant Out of Time: Photography a the Rubenstein Library” blog series.

My work as a photographic archivist often includes improving the housing of the thousands of photographs found in older collections in the Rubenstein Library.  One such group of seventy-eight photographs was recently discovered in the Isabelle Perkinson Williamson Papers, a collection of letters chiefly between Isabelle and her mother.  The Perkinsons were residents of Charlottesville, Virginia, where several family members served on the faculty at the University.  Isabelle married a civil engineer, Lee H. Williamson, in 1917 and traveled and lived abroad with her husband.  World War I found Lee Williamson serving in the 55th Engineers of the American Expeditionary Forces in France.  The collection includes his military ID card as well as some wartime correspondence.

As I sorted and sleeved the bundle of photographs, I came across a single studio portrait of three children that didn’t seem to fit in with the others, chiefly because of the children’s dress:

Three children standing for a portrait.
Photograph from the Isabelle Perkinson Williamson papers.

Turning it over, I observed a stamp from the Red Cross Bureau of Photography, and the address of a Madame Bras in France:

Writing and stamp on back of photograph.
Back of photograph from the Isabelle Perkinson Williamson papers.

An online investigation using the negative number on the print and key words such as “Red Cross photographs” quickly turned up a matching digitized glass plate negative, part of the Library of Congress’s American Red Cross negative collection of over 19,000 scanned images.

The caption reads: “Jeanne Le Bras, adopte.  Address: Mme. LeBras, Haut du Bourg Plogastel St. Germaine (Finistere Pres Guimper) protégé of: 302 Ambulance Co. Sanitary Train, Care Company Clerk.  American Expeditionary Forces .”  The photographer is recorded as Joseph A. Collin, who took many of the images found in the Red Cross collection.

Here’s what I learned from the Library of Congress site and other resources: in the aftermath of World War I, whose events we continue to commemorate in 2019, thousands of refugee families and orphaned children were “adopted” by American troops and cared for by American Red Cross staff.  The Red Cross hired professional photographers to document the organization’s efforts in Europe; they took hundreds of portraits of refugees and orphan children.  The images may have been used in many ways: to find lost families; to publicize children available for adoption, or to record their successful adoption.  As an interesting sidelight, I discovered that one of these photographers was Lewis Hine; his camera recorded over 1100 images for the Red Cross and are also part of the Library of Congress collection.

Lewis Hine was a gifted portraitist, reflected in his work for the Red Cross.

Some of the images in the Library of Congress Red Cross collection show signs of heavy editing: children were erased from group portraits, perhaps because they had already been adopted, and in some cases, adult figures blocked out.  The latter was a common practice of the 19th century – explore this phenomenon by searching online for “hidden mothers photography.”

Child with partially erased adult.
Photograph with erased adult from the Library of Congress Red Cross photograph collection. Title: “Deverge, Simmone Brux (Vienne) Depot Q.M., APO 702,” 1919.
Young child and erased child.
Photograph with erased child from the Library of Congress Red Cross photograph collection. Title: “Marie Brunel. Address: 67 route d Bourbourg Cordekerone (Nord) protege of: Battery A.3 Anticraft Bn. CAC, American Expeditionary Forces,” 1919.

 

The Library of  Congress caption for the single image found in the Rubenstein collection names only one child out of the three, Jeanne; it is not clear which one was Jeanne, but one hopes that all three were adopted and raised by kind families.  Also a mystery is how the photograph came to live with the others in the Isabelle Williamson collection.  It may have originated from Isabelle’s husband, who served in World War I, or from a friend of the family, Mary Peyton, who was a field nurse in World War I.

There is an abundance of primary source material on World War I in the Duke Libraries – images as well as papers.  “Views of the Great War,” a Rubenstein Library online exhibit, is a great way to learn more about this world-changing event as revealed through our collections.

For more information on the Isabelle Williamson collection, see the collection guide.

Library of Congress, American Red Cross Digital Collection

Gilded Age Cures for Soldiers Suffering from Opiate Addiction

Post contributed by Jonathan S. Jones, historian and PhD candidate at Binghamton University

In the Civil War’s wake, thousands of veterans became addicted to medicinal opiates. Hypodermic morphine injections and opium pills were standard remedies in the Civil War era for amputations, sickness, and depression, and they often lead to addiction. Take, for example, the case of A.W. Henley, a Confederate veteran, who recalled in 1878 that, “In the army, I had to use opiates for a complication of painful diseases.” The medicine soon “fastened its iron grip on my very vitals, and held me enchained and enslaved for near fifteen years.”[i]

Historians have long recognized the causative link between Civil War medical care and the high rate of opiate addiction among veterans. However, although we know that doctors were in many ways the originators of the postwar addiction epidemic, we know surprisingly little the about the medical response to the crisis. Did American doctors ignore the opiate addiction among veterans, or did physicians seek to help veterans suffering from addiction? And if so, what did those efforts look like?

These are questions I seek to answer in my dissertation, “A Mind Prostrate”: Opiate Addiction in the Civil War’s Aftermath.” My research benefited greatly from a History of Medicine Collections Travel Grant, awarded by the Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library. The History of Medicine Collections at the Rubenstein Library includes several manuscripts and rare items that suggest answers to elusive questions about the medical responses to Civil War veterans’ opiate addiction.

THE BLAME GAME

Physicians fell under a wave of criticism after the Civil War for causing opiate addiction crisis. Veterans and observers in the media accused doctors of overprescribing opiates to ailing old soldiers and other patients, resulting in widespread opiate addiction. This criticism posed a problem for physicians—so-called “regular” doctors—because it undermined their precarious position in the hyper-competitive Gilded Age medical marketplace. Physicians had been struggling to out-compete alternative healing sects and “quacks” for decades. Being labeled the culprits for the crisis only weakened the regulars’ footing in this struggle.

CHANGING PRESCRIBING PATTERNS

In response to this professional crisis, some physicians advocated for a move away from prescribing medicinal opiates. During the 1870s and 1880s, ex-military surgeons, in particular, exhorted their colleagues in medical journals and scientific studies to prescribe fewer opiates, to substitute the drugs with supposedly less-addictive painkillers, and even to refrain from prescribing opiates altogether. As the ex-Union surgeon Joseph Woodward surmised in 1879, “The more I learn of the behavior of such cases [of overprescribing] under treatment, the more I am inclined to advice that opiates should be as far as possible avoided.”[ii] Such proposals were truly radical, considering that opiates were the most commonly prescribed medicines of the nineteenth century up to that point.

But did physicians heed these warnings? Were radical proposals merely hypothetical, or did physicians implement them in practice? To answer these questions necessitates the close analysis of late nineteenth century clinical records. I was fortunate enough to stumble across one such record in the History of Medicine Collections at the Rubenstein Library, a rare casebook from the Philadelphia Orthopaedic Hospital and Infirmary for Nervous Diseases, professional home of the physician Silas Weir Mitchell.

Pages with handwriting in ink.
Casebook from the Philadelphia Orthopaedic Hospital and Infirmary for Nervous Diseases, professional home of the physician Silas Weir Mitchell.

An eminent neurologist, Mitchell was one of the most vocal members of the anti-opiate camp. Mitchell—whose infamous “rest cure” inspired the feminist Charlotte Perkins Gilman to write The Yellow Wallpaper, a feminist critique of Mitchell’s methodswas a prolific writer. In many of his medical works, he railed against the habit-forming potential of medicinal opiates and doctors’ role in facilitating opiate addiction. As Mitchell explained in an 1883 work about pain management, “often, in my experience, the opium habit is learned during an illness of limited duration, and for the consequences of which there is always some one to be blamed.” He blamed doctors who were “weak, or too tender, or too prone to escape trouble by the easy help of some pain-lulling agent” for causing their patients to develop opiate addiction.[iii] Doctors must refrain from prescribing opiates empathetically, Mitchell warned, lest the medical profession continue to be blamed for the opiate addiction crisis.

Accordingly, Mitchell’s clinical records confirm that he stopped prescribing opiates to chronic pain patients, those at greatest risk for addiction, in his own clinic. Mitchell’s clinic, the Philadelphia Orthopaedic Hospital, was the cutting edge of American neurology in the late nineteenth century. Doctors working there alongside Mitchell specialized in treating chronic nervous pains, headaches, and other symptoms classified under the diagnostic category of neuralgia. During the previous decades, most of these individuals would have been treated with opiates. Indeed, Mitchell prescribed opiates heavily during the Civil War, witnessing the genesis of opiate addiction in several of his patients. Yet by the 1880s, Mitchell reversed course. The clinic’s casebook reveals Mitchell did not prescribe opiates to a single patient among the 62 individuals for which he recorded clinical notes between 1887 and 1900.  Other physicians, I suspect, mirrored Mitchell’s increasingly conservative approach to prescribing opiates during the Gilded Age.

THE COMPETITION

But physicians like Mitchell were not alone in responding to the Gilded Age opiate epidemic. Ailing Americans could choose from a vast spectrum of treatments and healers to remedy their medical woes during late nineteenth century. Unlike today, regular physicians were often outcompeted by alternative healers during the Gilded Age. So-called “quacks”—at least, that is what physicians dubbed them—often impinged on physicians’ customer bases.

Dozens of entrepreneurial healers spotted new commercial opportunities amidst the rising rates of opiate addiction. They invented and marketed a diverse array of treatments for opiate addiction between the late 1860s and the turn of the twentieth century. John Jennings Moorman, the proprietor of a nineteenth century West Virginia hot springs resort, exemplified this trend. I encountered a rare copy of Moorman’s 1880 advertising pamphlet for his White Sulphur Springs resort in the Rubenstein Library. Founded in the late 1830s, Moorman marketed his exceedingly popular hot springs as a cure for a diverse spectrum of diseases during the antebellum years, from rheumatism to neuralgia, jaundice, scurvy, and others.

Blue pamphlet
Front cover of Dr. J. J. Moorman’s pamphlet about the curative properties of White Sulphur Springs in West Virginia, 1880.

Always looking to expand his enterprise, Moorman perceived an opportunity in the rising rates of opiate addiction after the Civil War. Naturally, he expanded his operation to cater to opiate addicted customers desperate for a cure. Moorman began marketing White Sulphur Springs as a treatment for “opium eating” in 1880. Prior versions of Moorman’s marketing material do not include references to opiate addiction.[iv]

Paragraph titled "Use of the Water b Opium Eaters"
Page from Dr. J. J. Moorman’s pamphlet: White Sulphur Springs, with the analysis of its waters, the diseases to which they are applicable, and some account of society and its amusements at the Springs, 1880.

As Silas Weir Mitchell’s casebook and John Jennings Moorman’s advertising pamphlet indicate, Gilded Age medical practitioners responded to the opiate addiction crisis in diverse ways, from prescribing fewer opiates to marketing hot springs therapy for addiction. The rare medical manuscripts held by the History of Medicine Collections at the Rubenstein Library thus made significant contributions to my research, unlocking answers to elusive questions about the various medical responses to Civil War veterans’ opiate addiction.

—————————————————————

[i] Basil M. Woolley, The Opium Habit and its Cure (Atlanta: Atlanta Constitution Printer, 1879), 30.

[ii] Joseph Woodward, The Medical and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion, Pt. II, vol. I (Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1879), 750.)

[iii] S. Weir Mitchell, Doctor and Patient (Philadelphia: Lippincott Company, 1888), 93.

[iv] J.J. Moorman, White Sulphur Springs, with the analysis of its waters, the diseases to which they are applicable, and some account of society and its amusements at the Springs (Baltimore: The Sun Book and Job Printing Office, 1880), 25-26.

 

A Look at the El Pueblo Inc. Records: Serving the Growing Latinx Population of North Carolina

Post contributed by David Dulceany, Marshall T. Meyer Human Rights Intern and PhD candidate in Romance Studies

El Pueblo Inc. is a Triangle area Latinx organization based in Raleigh, NC. They strive for the local Latinx community “to achieve positive social change by building consciousness, capacity, and community action.” [1] El Pueblo Inc. has been involved in policy change by lobbying state and national politicians and pushing for legislation that benefits the Latinx community, raising health awareness, and especially, spearheading public safety campaigns. For example, in past campaigns, they have focused on reducing drunk driving and encouraging the proper use of child car seats. The organization also specifically focuses on youth issues and youth leadership. They have a separate Youth Program division tasked with running programs for Latino youth that are youth-led. One example is Pueblo Power, a social justice and community-organizing program.

La Fiesta del Pueblo is the organization’s major annual cultural event and it was also the founding event of the organization. [2] La Fiesta del Pueblo features live music, food, arts, and information booths. The event, as well as El Pueblo Inc. itself, has grown exponentially since its inception in 1994. Over the past 25 years, the event has gone from just a few tents and booths to a massive cultural festival spanning several blocks of Downtown Raleigh and boasting tens of thousands of attendees.

Flyer with pinata.
A promotional logo for La Fiesta del Pueblo, 2004. From the El Pueblo Inc. Records, 1994-2018, Digital-materials RL11105-SET-0012.

 

North Carolina, similarly, has seen a tremendous growth in its Latinx population since El Pueblo’s founding. The Latinx population of North Carolina grew by 943% from 1990 to 2010 and it continues to grow: on average, 25% per county from 2010 to 2017. [3] [4] North Carolina now has the 11th largest Latinx population in the United States. [3] Naturally, El Pueblo expanded to meet the needs of the growing community and developed a wide array of programs and campaigns as a result.

I felt an immediate affinity for the material in the archive because of my studies and previous work with Latinx communities and with Latinx literature, art, and culture. As a doctoral candidate in Spanish and Latin American studies, I have had the opportunity both as a student and an instructor to engage in experiential and service learning projects with a number of Latinx organizations. I admired seeing how El Pueblo tirelessly fought for the promotion of Latinx culture and the rights of Latinx workers, students, and families in the state.

One joy of working on an archive containing records from recent history is the ability to directly connect to the ongoing development and work of the organization. For example, I attended La Fiesta del Pueblo 2018 and saw firsthand the successful growth of the event, especially comparing it in my mind to the many old photographs of the early years. Through this experience, I had a more intimate and direct sense of the archival material, being able to engage with it in the present.

One example of an interesting item from the collection is the Public Service Announcement ads created by El Pueblo as part of their Nuestra Seguridad Public Safety campaign, a collaboration with the NC government. These ads were the direct response to the rise in DWI incidents among the Latinx population and the resultant xenophobic and racist backlash from concerned citizens and local government officials. Their message is clear, one person’s bad judgment or mistake affects the whole community and closes doors to everyone. The aggressive tone of the ads is strongly expressed in its rhyming slogan in Spanish “¿Manejar borracho? ¡No seas tonto muchacho!” or “Driving drunk? Don’t be dumb, man!”. I find these ads fascinating because they show the success of mobilizing a community to create change, to both increase Public Safety and defend against discrimination.

Ads against drinking and driving.
Newspaper ads from the Nuestra Seguridad campaign. El Pueblo Inc. Records, 1994-2018 Digital-materials RL11105-SET-0015.
Ad showing the impact of drinking and driving.
Newspaper ads from the Nuestra Seguridad campaign. El Pueblo Inc. Recods, 1994-2018, Digital-materials RL11105-SET-0015.

I believe that this collection would be of interest to any artists, educators, researchers, students, activists, or non-profit workers that want to learn more about the history of the Latinx population in North Carolina and Latinx culture, non-profit organizations in North Carolina, Youth leadership, and the debate on immigration reform post 9/11. The breadth of audiovisual material could also be used in exhibits or as part of book projects.

In our current context of rising anti-immigrant sentiment and policy, El Pueblo Inc.’s ongoing work is ever more relevant and needed. [5] [6] Their records offer a look into the recent history of the state and how the organization has impacted and strengthened Latinx communities in North Carolina.


Sources:

[1] www.elpueblo.org

[2] https://library.duke.edu/rubenstein/findingaids/elpueblo/

[3] Office of the Governor of North Carolina, Hispanic and Latino Affairs –

https://cnnc.uncg.edu/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/Demographic-trends-of-Latinos-in-NC-12-2011.pdf

[4] “Hispanic population continues to rise in NC as white population trails” –  https://www.charlotteobserver.com/latest-news/article213539719.html

[5] “’North Carolina is becoming our nightmare:’ Undocumented mom speaks out against ICE raids” –

https://abc11.com/undocumented-raleigh-mom-speaks-out-against-ice-raids/5141384/

[6] “7 NC mayors say ‘ICE raids have struck terror in the hearts of many’” –

https://www.newsobserver.com/news/local/article226258145.html