Because Thomas Jefferson Said So

And now for a brief history lesson. George Walton was the governor of Georgia for two months in 1779 and then from 1789 to 1790. We found this letter (click image to enlarge) from then-Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson among the small collection of Walton’s papers housed at the RBMSCL. Jefferson writes that he is sending Walton “two copies duly authenticated of the Act providing for the enumeration of the inhabitants of the United States.” Jefferson is referring, of course, to the Census Act of 1790, which authorized the first census of the inhabitants of the new United States.

The census, you see, is very dear to the archivist’s heart. We often use census records, whether it’s to learn about families from long ago whose papers we’re processing or to help researchers discover information about their great-great-great grandparents. So we hope you won’t mind our appeal to you to carefully fill out and mail your census forms. After all, we have Thomas Jefferson’s authority behind us.

Women’s Education Symposium Redux: Scholarship Panel

Date: Friday, March 26, 2010
Time: 12:00 PM
Location: Perkins Library Room 118
Contact Information: Kelly Wooten, 919-660-5967 or kelly.wooten(at)duke.edu

Bring your bag lunch to the library and join the staff of the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture to watch videos from their 30 October 2009 symposium, “What Does It Mean to Be an Educated Woman?”

This month, the “Scholarship and Education” panel will be shown. The full list of speakers, which include University Librarian Deborah Jakubs, is available at the online symposium schedule. Desserts will be provided!

A viewing of the third panel has been scheduled for 23 April. Stop by The Devil’s Tale in the coming weeks for reminders and more information.

We’ll miss you if you can’t attend, but—just in case—the videos are also available online.

Q & A with Andrew Kahrl

Tomorrow, the Franklin Research Center will host Dr. Andrew Kahrl, who will present”Losing the Land: African American Ownership of Coastal Property.” We asked him a few questions in anticipation of his talk, which is based on his research in our Behind the Veil oral histories collection.

Q: Could you give us a preview of your talk?

Andrew: I’m going to trace the history of African American coastal land ownership from the late 19th century to the present in order to better understand the relationship between race and real estate development in the making of the modern Sunbelt South and the long civil rights movement.

I plan to discuss the rise of coastal black landownership in the post-emancipation era; African Americans’ economic and emotional investment in coastal property and leisure space under Jim Crow; and the impact of changes to the region’s political economy on black landownership and notions of land-based empowerment. I’ll highlight some of the more revealing interviews in the Behind the Veil collection that speak to the struggle of African Americans to acquire and defend coastal property under Jim Crow and the role of black-owned leisure spaces in shaping class and culture behind and along the color line, as well as the various strategies of expropriation black coastal landowners faced—and continue to face—at the hands of real estate developers, the courts, and public officials from the 1970s to the present.

Overall, I hope to use the story of African American beachfront property to offer new insights into the intertwined stories of Jim Crow, civil rights, and the making of the Sunbelt, and to stimulate discussions on the spatiality of race, wealth, and privilege in modern America.

Q: Tell us more about your research in the Behind the Veil oral histories. Have you made any surprising discoveries?

Andrew: I have made some fascinating discoveries in the Behind the Veil collection. Two years ago, I listened to a small sampling of interviews conducted with residents of coastal cities. Interviewees recounted stories of the places that are the subject of my research that I simply could not have found elsewhere, and offered clues to the hidden history of places and cases of land acquisition and expropriation that led me to pursue other records and, in the end, make fascinating discoveries. In particular, their personal stories of the different strategies real estate developers and their allies in public office employed to seize valuable, black-owned coastal property have helped me piece together a broader set of land-use practices and legal strategies that transformed America’s coastlines in the second half of the 20th century.

The Behind the Veil Collection offers rich and moving stories of African Americans’ struggles to carve out spaces for pleasure and relief under Jim Crow, and reinforces, in my mind, the importance of land ownership in the black freedom struggle and the impact of African Americans’ steady loss of land in recent decades on relations of political and economic power in the South and the nation.

Thanks, Andrew!

RBMSCL Scholars: Emily Herring Wilson

We’re beginning a new feature today! We’ve asked some of the wonderful authors and scholars that the RBMSCL has hosted over the years to contribute a few words on their new books and research projects. We’re going to start with an essay from Emily Herring Wilson, editor of the newly-released Becoming Elizabeth Lawrence: Discovered Letters of a Southern Gardener.

Years of research for a life of North Carolina garden writer Elizabeth Lawrence (1904-1985) led me many places, but none more inviting than my trips to Duke’s Special Collections Library, where I found hundreds of letters in the Ann Preston Bridgers Papers that brought Lawrence to life as no other materials, including interviews with family and friends who had known her. As I went through box after box of letters from Elizabeth to Ann (all beautifully catalogued by Janie Morris), I discovered a collection that not only informed the biography I wrote about Lawrence (No One Gardens Alone) but gave vivid testament to the importance of women’s friendships. (Bridgers, a successful playwright and a founder of the Raleigh Little Theatre, was teaching young Elizabeth how to write and how to live, all vividly revealed in the letters.) This month John F. Blair, Publisher, released my edited collection, Becoming Elizabeth Lawrence: Discovered Letters of a Southern Gardener. Among the books I have been privileged to write or edit, it is my favorite because of the charm and intelligence of a private life.

These letters from Elizabeth to Ann are lively with gossip, anecdote, reflection, regret, aspiration, and love—the love of friends, the love of gardens, and the love of literature. I still regard it as a miracle that they were not destroyed after Ann’s death in 1967 but ended up in the Bridgers Papers. I hope that you will read them and enjoy them as much as I did.

New Audubon Birds on Display

We’ve just turned the pages of our double elephant folio edition of John James Audubon’s Birds of America.

This month, stop by the RBMSCL’s reading room (103 Perkins) during open hours to view these new prints:

Red-headed Woodpecker (Picus erythrocephalus)
Hooping Crane (Grus americana; at left)
Rough-legged Falcon (Buteo lagopus)
Blue Jay (Corvus cristatus)

Visit this earlier blog post for a brief explanation of the monthly page turning.

Rights! Camera! Action!: The Self-Made Man

Date: Tuesday, 16 March 2010
Time: 7:00 PM
Location: Rare Book Room
Contact Information: Patrick Stawski, 919-660-5823 or patrick.stawski(at)duke.edu, or Kirston Johnson, 919-681-7963 or kirston.johnson(at)duke.edu

The Self-Made Man, the fifth film in the Rights! Camera! Action! series, Bob Stern decides to end his life after being diagnosed with a potentially terminal illness.

Susan Stern, the film’s director (and Bob’s daughter), will lead discussion following the film.

The Rights! Camera! Action! film series, which is sponsored by the Archive for Human Rights, the Archive of Documentary Arts, the Duke Human Rights Center, the Franklin Humanities Institute, and Screen/Society at Duke’s Arts of the Moving Image Program, features documentaries on human rights themes that were award winners at the annual Full Frame Documentary Film Festival. The films are archived at the RBMSCL, where they form part of a rich and expanding collection of human rights materials. Additional support for this screening is provided by the Kenan Institute for Ethics and the Divinity School Institute on Care at the End of Life.

Ashkar-Gilson Manuscript in the News

The RBMSCL’s Ashkar-Gilson Manuscript is currently on display at Jerusalem’s Israel Museum where it has been reunited with another fragment from the same 1,300-year-old scroll.

The story of the reunion of these two manuscripts, which contain portions of the Song of the Sea, was picked up on the AP wire. Here’s a link to the article as it appeared in the Jerusalem Dispatch.

This photo of the Ashkar-Gilson manuscript was taken with special lighting so that the writing on the aged manuscript could be seen.

“Losing the Land” with Andrew Kahrl

Date: Wednesday, 17 March 2010
Time: 3:00 PM
Location: Rare Book Room
Contact Information: Janie Morris, 919-660-5819 or janie.morris(at)duke.edu

From the Davis Family Papers.

Dr. Andrew Kahrl will discuss the rise and demise of black beaches and coastal property ownership from the early 20th century to the present. Kahrl’s talk, titled “Losing the Land: African American Ownership of Coastal Property,” is based in part on his findings in the Behind the Veil oral history collection at the RBMSCL.

This event is part of the celebration of the 15th anniversary of the RBMSCL’s John Hope Franklin Research Center for African and African American History and Culture.

Kahrl is assistant professor of history at Marquette University and a former fellow at the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard University and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation/American Council of Learned Societies.

Dispatches from the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Duke University