Tag Archives: African American history

Duke’s May Queen

Post contributed by Theodore D. Segal, guest contributor1

On September 26, 2020, Duke University announced that the Sociology-Psychology Building on its West Campus was renamed the Wilhelmina Reuben-Cooke Building to recognize Reuben-Cooke’s role as one of the “First Five” Black undergraduates at Duke and her many contributions to the university. A fitting honor, this recognition recalls a different time at Duke, one when Reuben-Cooke’s election as the school’s first Black May Queen stirred controversy.

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Although by 1967 a number of longstanding traditions at Duke had been set aside, the annual practice of crowning a “May Queen” endured. Selection of the “Queen” was a centerpiece of popular “May Day” celebrations, a holiday whose origins date back to the ancient world. Villagers throughout Europe would collect flowers and participate in games, pageants, and dances throughout the day. It became customary to crown a young woman “May Queen” to oversee the festivities. During the early 20th century, selection of a May Queen became common at women’s colleges in the United States and had acquired a special meaning in the South. “The crowning of the May Queen as the ritual incantation of Southern society’s ideal of femininity,” historian Christie Anne Farnham wrote, “was a traditional event at Southern female schools. . . . The queen was usually elected by the students on the basis of ‘sweetness’ and beauty,” Farnham explained, although the father’s status often played a role.

May Queen traditions at Duke dated back to 1921 when the school was still known as Trinity College. The Trinity Chronicle reported that 2000 spectators attended May Day festivities that first year, and that the two-day celebration was spent “in gaiety and amusement.” Undergraduate Martha Wiggins was crowned Queen of May that year. The school newspaper wrote that she, “wore a lovely costume of shimmering white, bearing a corsage of white roses with her golden hair cascading in waves down her back, making a charming picture of perfect grace and absolute loveliness.”

Wilhelmina Reuben-Cooke poses at the Anderson Street entrance to the Sarah P. Duke Gardens in 1967. She wears a cardigan and skirt, and the Duke Chapel is visible in the distance behind her.Given this context, it was newsworthy when Wilhelmina Reuben, a member of Duke’s first class of Black undergraduates, was selected as the Woman’s College May Queen in spring 1967. As runners up in the voting, white coeds Mary Earle and Jo Humphreys were designated to serve as Reuben’s “court.” The Associated Press picked up the news, reporting that “Mimi, as she is known to her friends, is a Negro—the first of her race to receive the honor at the women’s[sic] college of the university.” Chosen for her character, leadership, campus service, and beauty, Reuben had been selected May Queen by a vote of students in the woman’s college. A fact sheet on Reuben prepared by Mary Grace Wilson, dean of women, described her as “warm, friendly, perceptive and sensitive to the feelings of others.” Wilson called her “one of the most admired and highly respected students on the campus.” Reuben was a member of the freshman honor society and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa as a junior. A student intern at the State Department, she was listed in “Who’s Who Among Students in American Universities and Colleges. For her part, Reuben was pleased by her selection. “I’m still trying to adjust to it,” she told the Associated Press. “I’ve been walking around in a delightful haze of disbelief and excitement.”

Many at Duke were pleased with the news. Randolph C. Harrison, Jr., an alumnus from Richmond, Virginia, wrote to Douglas Knight, Duke’s president, that the “undergraduates’ choice of Miss Reuben as May Queen attests once more to Duke’s greatness. What a step towards inter-racial accord.”

If Reuben’s election represented progress to some, however, the prospect of a Black May Queen flanked by two white members of her “court” felt like a violation of the established social order to others. Jonathan Kinney, president of the Duke student government, saw the reaction when he had the responsibility of “crowning” the queen and her court. “I kissed all the rest of the panel,” he recalled, “so I kissed [Wilhelmina Reuben]. There were a lot of boos in that stadium at that time.” An anonymous alumnus sent the Duke president pictures of the “pretty May Queens chosen at Peace, St. Mary’s, and Meredith Colleges,” all of whom were white, along with a picture of Reuben, “a colored girl who was chosen May Queen at our Dear Ole Duke University.” The alumnus noted the “deplorable contrast between the May Queens of other colleges and the stunning representative from Duke.” He told Knight “Duke Alumni everywhere were stunned and several in South Carolina had strokes.” One correspondent, identified as a “lifelong, respected citizen of Wilmington, North Carolina,” outlined with exasperation the problems that Reuben’s election was creating at the city’s annual Azalea Festival where May Queens from throughout North Carolina were invited to attend:

The Sprunt’s annual garden party at Orton [Plantation] for the college queens (held for the past 20 years) has been cancelled; the Coastguard Academy, which was supposed to furnish her escort, says they don’t have a colored boy available; the private home in which she was supposed to stay is not now available; and there are all sorts of complications.

“The crowd who elected her has done a disservice to her,” the writer opined, “and placed a no doubt nice girl in an embarrassing situation.”

Finally, two trustees weighed in. C. B. Houck told Knight that he liked and respected “the colored people” and wanted them to have “every opportunity that the white people have.” Still, he thought Reuben’s election was in “bad taste” and that the “East Campus girls were leaning over backwards to be nice.” For Houck, the symbolism was deeply troubling. “To select a colored person for May Queen and have white maids of honor flanking her on either side,” he concluded, “makes for poor and critical relationship [sic] among many people, particularly in the South.” Trustee George Ivey was also deeply concerned. Writing from Bangkok, Thailand, he called Reuben’s selection “very upsetting to me.” Even if the selection was by Duke’s coeds, Ivey regretted “that the University has attracted the type of students that would vote for a Negro girl as a ‘beauty’ to represent the student body. It is nauseating to contemplate.”

By spring 1967, Duke had eliminated most of the school’s de jure discriminatory policies and practices. Reuben’s election as May Queen could be seen as another positive sign of racial progress. But the episode also shined a spotlight on the depth of attachment some still had to traditional racist ideas. These attitudes would become even more pronounced in the months to come as Black student activism accelerated on campus.

1Ted Segal is a Duke graduate (A.B. 1977), retired lawyer, and a board member of the Center for Documentary Studies at the school.  His book, POINT OF RECKONING: The Fight for Racial Justice at Duke University, will be published by Duke University Press in February 2021. Special thanks to the Duke University Archives for preserving the historical records quoted in this piece and for making them readily accessible.

New Exhibit: “No One Can Suppress Archie Boston”

Post contributed by Kasia Stempniak, John W. Hartman Center intern for 2018-2019 and Ph.D. student in Duke’s Romance Studies department. 

The Hartman Center’s new exhibit, “No One Can Suppress Archie Boston,” on display through October in the Stone Family Gallery, focuses on Archie Boston, a graphic designer whose innovative and socially-conscious designs shed valuable insight into the intersections of race and identity in the advertising world.

Raised in segregated St. Petersburg, Florida in the 1940s, Archie Boston moved to Los Angeles in the 1960s to pursue a career in graphic design. In 1963, Boston and his brother Brad started their own advertising agency, Boston & Boston. As one of the first African-American owned advertising agencies, Boston & Boston faced difficulties securing clients in an almost exclusively white industry. Rather than hide their identity, Boston and his brother confronted the industry with provocative self-promotional ads that made explicit references to slavery and racism. “We wanted our potential clients,” Boston remarked in an interview, “to know that we were a black firm.”

Archie Boston's Pentel ad, featuring an image of him with a display of Pentel pens. The larger text reads: "I told Pentel what to with their pens. And they did it."Boston later worked at the ad agency Botsford & Ketchum where he developed one of his most famous ads for Pentel that boasted the caption, “I told Pentel what to do with their pens.” By placing himself at the center of the ad, Boston subverted the usually invisible presence of the advertising executive. At a time when very few African-Americans worked in advertising, the ad also announced a subtle shift in the demographics of the industry.

In the late 1970s, Boston left the agency to pursue a career as a professor at California State University-Long Beach (CSULB) where he developed the design program for the next thirty years all while still operating his own graphic design firm, Archie Boston Graphic Design.

The first African-American recipient of the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA) Fellow Award, Boston served multiple terms as president of the Art Directors Club of Los Angeles where he was the first African-American elected to this position. In his final lecture at CSULB, Boston articulated how design, teaching, and social activism shaped his career: “I want to be remembered as a professor who cared about his students and did what he thought was best for them. I want to be remembered as someone who stood up against criticism and spoke out on controversial issues. And finally I want to be remembered as a designer and educator, someone who documented my experience as an African American.”

Book jacket image from "Fly in the Buttermilk," showing Mr. Boston drinking out of a milk carton through a red-and-white striped straw.
Book jacket image for Fly in the Buttermilk

The Archie Boston Papers offer a comprehensive view of Boston’s wide-ranging career including early student sketches, self-promotional ads for Boston & Boston, corporate ads for Lloyd Bank, Pentel, and Yamaha, awards and university materials related to Boston’s tenure at CSULB as well as Boston’s two published texts, his memoir Fly in the Buttermilk: Memoirs of an African American in Advertising, Design & Design Education (2001) and Lil’ Colored Rascals in the Sunshine City (2009).

Some of Boston’s most important designs, including Boston’s famous Pentel ad, are on display in the exhibit. Other highlights of the exhibit include Boston’s most recent work that engages directly with race and identity, including poetry and designs that Boston created after being inspired by Black Lives Matter, the 2014 events in Ferguson, Missouri, and the 2017 event in Charlottesville, Virginia. These recent works convey a growing sense of urgency and frustration with the treatment of African-American communities in the United States.

The Archie Boston Papers are available for the public research at the Rubenstein Library.

Exhibit Talk and Tour, 11/6: “If We Must Die”: African Americans and the War for Democracy

Date: Tuesday, November 6, 2018
Time: 12:00-1:00 PM
Location: Holsti-Anderson Family Assembly Room, Rubenstein Library 153
Contact: Elizabeth Dunn, elizabeth.dunn@duke.edu
Register here!

Join the Duke University Libraries for a lunchtime talk with Professor Adriane Lentz-Smith and take a tour of the new exhibit marking the centennial of the end of World War I, “Views of the Great War: Highlights from the Duke University Libraries.” A light lunch will be provided.

Adriane Lentz-Smith is Associate Professor of History, African & African-American Studies, and Gender, Sexuality & Feminist Studies at Duke. Her book, “Freedom Struggles: African Americans and World War I” (Harvard, 2009), won the Honor Book Award from the Black Caucus of the American Library Association. Her current book project, “The Slow Death of Sagon Penn,” examines state violence and the remaking of white supremacy in Reagan-Era southern California. A Ford Foundation fellow, Professor Lentz-Smith holds a B.A. in History from Harvard-Radcliffe and a Ph.D. in History from Yale University.

Following the talk, attendees will be invited to enjoy the exhibit in the Mary Duke Biddle Room.

Color photo of Adriane Lentz-Smith. Photo by Rahoul Ghose/PBS.
Photo by Rahoul Ghose/PBS

 

The Allen Building Study-In

Post contributed by Valerie Gillispie, University Archivist

Most Dukies know about the Allen Building Takeover of February 13, 1969. It proved to be a watershed moment for Duke, and led to real change in the curriculum and in social and academic support for students of color. What many don’t know, however, is that there was a protest in the Allen Building just 15 months earlier, the Allen Building Study-In. Although less dramatic than the Allen Building Takeover, it was also organized by African-American students, and it also had real impact on Duke.

The Allen Building Study-In took place on November 13, 1967. The purpose was to protest the use of segregated facilities by Duke student organizations. One year earlier, the local chapter of the Duke Alumni Association had held a banquet honoring the football team at the all-white Hope Valley Country Club—thereby excluding the black players. Two hundred picketers protested the event. The Duke administration took no immediate action, and no prohibition was in place around the use of such facilities.

In September 1967, President Douglas Knight agreed to a policy that banned the use of such facilities by faculty and administrative groups, but did not require student groups to comply. In early November of that same year, the Associated Students of Duke University (ASDU, precursor to today’s DSG) conducted a student-wide referendum on a proposed ban on such facilities, but this motion was defeated. Frustrated with the lack of action by the student body and the administration, the students issued a statement and demands on November 10. They demanded that action be taken on the policy immediately.

With no immediate response from the administration, three days later a group of around 30 students entered the president’s office, staying for seven hours and blocking the entrance to Knight’s office. Reporters from radio stations and newspapers were also present to cover the event. Shortly after the conclusion of the protest, two major university committees recommended the passage of a complete ban on the use of segregated facilities. On November 17, just four days after the Study-In, Knight issued a statement in which he extended the existing policy to cover all student groups, in addition to faculty and staff groups.

Monday, November 13, 2017, will mark the fiftieth anniversary of this peaceful but powerful action by a small group of students. A small exhibit commemorating the Study-In is currently installed near the service desk of Perkins Library.

Photo of students participating in the Allen Building Study-In, November 13, 1967
Students participate in the Allen Building Study-In, November 13, 1967

Author Scott Ellsworth on “The Secret Game”

Date: Tuesday, March 31, 2015
Time: 4:00 p.m.
Location: Edge Workshop Room, Bostock Library
Contact: Valerie Gillispie, valerie.gillispie@duke.edu or 919-684-8929

Cover of "The Secret Game" by Scott EllsworthPlease join us on Tuesday, March 31, at 4:00 p.m. for a special reading by historian and Duke alumnus Scott Ellsworth. He will be reading from his new book The Secret Game: A Wartime Story of Courage, Change, and Basketball’s Lost Triumph.

The Secret Game tells the incredible story of a Sunday morning in 1944 when the all-white Duke University military team from the Medical School traveled across town to North Carolina Central College for Negroes (now North Carolina Central University) and played a secret interracial basketball game. Under legendary coach John McLendon, the NCCU Eagles won the match-up. The players then continued to socialize and play a pick-up game that mixed players from each team.

Scott EllsworthAgainst the backdrop of World War II and the Jim Crow South, Ellsworth explores the way this extraordinary game came about, what it meant for the players involved, and how the details of this game were forgotten—and remembered. Ellsworth conducted research in the Duke University Archives, Duke University Medical Center Archives, and NCCU archives in writing the book.

Ellsworth will be introduced by Timothy B. Tyson, Duke University faculty member and author of Blood Done Sign My Name. The event will be followed by a book signing and reception in the Edge Lounge. Copies of The Secret Game will be available for sale by the Gothic Bookshop.

This event is sponsored by the Duke University Archives, the Center for Documentary Studies, the Gothic Bookshop, the Duke University Libraries, and the Office of Public Affairs and Government Relations.

Post contributed by Valerie Gillispie, Duke University Archivist.

In Memoriam: Charles Stone, Jr. (1924-2014)

Chuck Stone. From the Chuck Stone Papers.
From the Chuck Stone Papers.

Charles “Chuck” Stone Jr. died on April 6 at the age of 89. Stone was a pioneering journalist, a long-time columnist with the Philadelphia Daily News, and co-founder and first president of the National Association of Black Journalists.

Among his notable career accomplishments, Stone was a Tuskegee Airmen during World War II, served as special assistant to Congressman Adam Clayton Powell Jr. from 1965-67, and was a key mediator between alleged criminals and the Philadelphia Police Department. Stone served as Walter Spearman Professor of Journalism at the University of Carolina-Chapel Hill from 1991-2005.

The Chuck Stone Papers were donated to the John Hope Franklin Research Center for African and African American History and Culture in 2004.

Post contributed by John Gartrell, Director of the John Hope Franklin Research Center for African and African American History and Culture.

The African Americans: Rubenstein Recap #3

Each Tuesday, PBS is showing the next installment of a six-part series, The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross. Written and narrated by Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., the documentary traces African American history from the shores of West Africa to the election of Barack Obama. Join us each week as we feature documents from the John Hope Franklin Research Center that resonate with the previous week’s episode.

Episode 3: Into the Fire (1861 – 1896) traced the tumultuous journeys of African Americans from slavery to freedom in the second half of the nineteenth century. The Civil War opened as a battle to preserve the Union, but as enslaved men and women flocked to Union lines searching for freedom, their actions transformed the war into one for emancipation.

Kate Foster, a white woman from Adams County, Mississippi, kept a diary during the Civil War. In this entry from July 16th, 1863, she writes about the slaves who abandoned their masters in pursuit of freedom with the union army.

AAMR 3 FosterKate003blog
“The negroes are flocking to the enemy in town and the Yanks are cussing them and saying they wished they had never seen a negro. They are an ungrateful set and we are all tired of them.” (Kate D. Foster Diary)

At the conclusion of the war, freed black men and women set out to build new lives learning to read, buying land, building institutions, and raising families.

In this 1869 letter, African American minister Charles R. Edwardes introduces the Colored Men of the Mechanics and Laboring Men Association to John Emory Bryant, editor of radical Republican newspaper in Georgia. Rev. Edwardes explains how the organization wanted to help freed people buy land and homes.

John Emory Bryant Papers
John Emory Bryant Papers

After the 15th Amendment guaranteed black citizens’ right to vote, they used the ballot to elect African American city councilmen, state legislators, and congressmen to office. But white southern Democrats swiftly retaliated against these challenges through lynch mobs and violence at the ballot box, eroding African Americans’ newfound citizenship.

Mr. P. Joiner writes to Editor John Bryant in 1868 reporting the shooting of a black man by white democrats near Albany, Georgia. The white mob then continued on a rampage through the countryside, warning African Americans that it was “their country and they was going to rule it.” (John Emory Bryant Papers)

Mr. P. Joiner writes to Editor John Bryant in 1868 reporting the shooting of a black man by white democrats near Albany, Georgia. The white mob then continued on a rampage through the countryside, warning African Americans that it was “their country and they was going to rule it.” (John Emory Bryant Papers)
John Emory Bryant Papers

The 1890s brought a wave of state constitutional conventions across the South, aimed at systematically disfranchising black residents. These actions were buttressed by the Supreme Court’s Plessy v. Ferguson 1896 decision, supporting the principal of a separate but equal society and paving the way for legal racial segregation. As the twentieth century dawned, the full citizenship black Americans had so briefly experienced seemed like a distant hope.

Charles Hunter was born a slave in Raleigh in 1851 and spent his life pushing for the advancement of African Americans. In 1889, Hunter writes to the Postmaster General in Washington, D.C., protesting the white Raleigh postmaster’s refusal to appoint Hunter due to his race.

Charles N. Hunter Papers
Charles N. Hunter Papers

Post contributed by Karlyn Forner, John Hope Franklin Research Center Graduate Student Intern and John Gartrell, John Hope Franklin Research Center Director.

 

“Soul & Service”: The North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company, 115 Years and Counting

MutualJohnMosesAveryBlogExhibit Dates: October 24-December 20, 2013
Opening Reception: October 24, 2013, 6:00 p.m.-8:00 p.m.
Location: The Porch of the Center for Documentary Studies, 1317 West Pettigrew Street, Durham (directions)
Contact: John B. Gartrell, john.gartrell(at)duke.edu

The John Hope Franklin Research Center for African and African American History and Culture and North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company present, “Soul & Service,” a historical exhibition celebrating the 115th anniversary of North Carolina Mutual. This Durham institution is the nation’s oldest and largest insurance company with roots in the African American community. The photos and documents featured in the presentation were drawn from the North Carolina Mutual Company Archives, jointly held by the Rubenstein Library and the University Archives and Records Special Collections at North Carolina Central University. “Soul & Service” will be on display of the porch of the Center for Documentary Studies from October 24-December 20, 2013.

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

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

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

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

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

 

Remembering the March before the “March”

As the nation pauses and acknowledges the 50th anniversary of the August 28, 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, it is important to remember that this was not the first African American organized mass march movement on the National Mall. The leaders of the March on Washington of ’63, Bayard Rustin, Andrew Young, Roy Wilkins, and others, used a blueprint established by another notable African American leader, A. Phillip Randolph, only a generation before them.

Bennett Lerone_mow_005While serving as head of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, Randolph proposed a March on Washington on July 1, 1941 to protest the lack of opportunities given to African Americans in a recovering American economy. As World War II waged in Europe and Asia, American industry saw remarkable growth as suppliers of arms and supplies to their diplomatic allies, but African Americans were largely shut out of both federal and private jobs. Randolph believed that a march on the nation’s capital would provide a stage to give voice to African Americans suffering from both economic and social prejudice. As the March on Washington movement grew, Randolph threatened President Franklin Roosevelt that close to 100,000 people would descend on the nation’s capital if change did not occur. The March was ultimately called off by Randolph after Roosevelt passed Executive Order 8801, ordering the prohibition of discrimination in defense industries.

LSC 6865_004E Pam 12mo_12551_003Albert Parker’s Negroes March on Washington (1941) and The March on Washington, One Year After (1942), recount the MOW movement from that time. Parker, a staunch socialist, was indeed excited at the prospects of the March in 1941 and continual organization of African Americans against the federal government. But his 1942 publication reflected disappointment with Randolph’s actions in cancelling the march and acceptance of the Executive Order that was slow to desegregate the military and open jobs in the private sector.

Post contributed by John Gartrell, John Hope Franklin Research Center Director.