Tag Archives: African American history

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.

New Acquisitions: Family Letters from the Segregated Armed Forces

In June and July we’ll celebrate the beginning of a new fiscal year by highlighting new acquisitions from the past year.  All of these amazing resources will be available for today’s scholars, and for future generations of researchers in the Rubenstein Library! Today’s post features a new collection in the Library’s John Hope Franklin Research Center for African and African American History and Culture.  Check out additional posts in the series here.

The Dykes Family Letters are an intimate exchange of correspondence between two African American servicemen during World War II. Nearly 40 letters from Private Leo Dykes, 5th Marine Ammunition Company to his brother Lawyer Dykes of Akron, Ohio describe his experiences serving from Camp Lejeune, NC to San Francisco to the Asian Pacific Islands from 1943-1945. The collection is augmented by a separate batch of 26 letters from Corporal Benjamin Peavy, 51st Aviation Squadron, to his sister Hattie Dykes, wife of Lawyer Dykes, while stationed at the Greenville Army Flying School in Greenville, MS from 1942-1944.

Letter from Private Leo Dykes to Lawyer Dykes, 1 January 1944.
Letter from Private Leo Dykes to Lawyer Dykes, 1 January 1944.

The letters are an exceptional display of the close familial ties shared by both men to their relatives back at home during a time of war. Though neither Dykes nor Peavy saw active duty during the war, the two share their experiences serving as African Americans in a still segregated military.

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



New Acquisition: Adventures in Negro History

This year, Duke commemorates the 50th anniversary of racial integration at the university, when in 1963 five African American students matriculated into the undergraduate program. Also in 1963, Pepsi sponsored the production of a record album, “Adventures in Negro History,” recently acquired by the John W. Hartman Center as part of the Douglass Alligood Papers. Alligood was one of the first black executives in the advertising industry, and is currently a Senior Vice President at BBDO agency. Long a champion for minority inclusion in the advertising business, Alligood chairs the BBDO’s Diversity Council, which advises management on diversity policies. He has also worked at RCA and for the minority-owned agency UniWorld Group. The record album contains dramatic readings by Detroit-based actors, including Jerry Blocker, Burniece Avery and Jiam Desjardins, which depicts the contributions of people of color to American history. Included are both the famous (Crispus Attucks, Phyllis Wheatley, Ralphe Bunche) and lesser known figures: Christopher Columbus’s pilot, Pedro Nino; Revolutionary War hero Salem Poor; and philanthropist Paul Cuffe.

adventures in negro history in alligoodPost contributed by Rick Collier, Technical Services Archivist.

Family “Letter” Donated to the Franklin Research Center


Braun Family
Marley and Jason Braun donate Slave Bill of Sale to the Rubenstein Library

Marley Braun recently contacted the Rubenstein Library because she wanted to find a proper home for a very peculiar “letter” that belonged to her great-grandmother, Mrs. Edna Balderston. Perhaps Mrs. Balderston was shocked when she opened the “letter” envelope to find that it actually contained two bills of sale for 3 slaves in Baltimore dated October 11, 1805. The slaves listed in the bills were named Elizabeth, age 20, Harriet (her daughter), 6 months, and Delilah, age 14, for a total of $493.

Bill of Sale, October 11, 1805
Bill of Sale, October 11, 1805

The slave bills stayed in the family for a few generations behind glass until Marley, a former 10-year Duke employee, and her husband Andy, ’92 Duke alum, decided the bill deserved a place where it could not only be cared for but shared with people interested in its history. Marley and her son Jason came to the Rubenstein this past week to donate the bill of sale and view other bills of sale currently held by the Rubenstein in the African American Miscellany Collection. The bills within this collection span from 1757-1863 and this new addition will further help document the experience of African Americans during the era of slavery; thanks to the Braun family, Marley, Andy, Jason, and Hayley for this fascinating addition to our collections.


Bill of Sale, Delilah, age 14
Bill of Sale, Delilah, age 14


Bill of Sale, Delilah, age 14
Bill of Sale, Delilah, age 14


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

Black Presence in the Picture File

The Picture File is a collection that covers an expansive scope of visual history. With over 6,000 items spanning the 17th to 20th centuries, it is the kind of collection that makes mining the African American experience both exhaustive and exciting. This reality is best exemplified by the presence of this photograph located in the Geographic Series.

From Picture File, 1600s-1979, Box 4, folder m162.1
From Picture File, 1600s-1979, Box 4, folder m162.1

At first glance, the photograph is rather striking, if not disturbing. An African American man standing with hands shackled, surrounded by four uniformed white men. The back of the photo however describes a different story, “Members of the Georgia Hussars with [unidentified African American man] at Clyo, GA in 1908(?) to prevent lynching of prisoner.” The inscription further notes, “This negro afterward died of tuberculosis and syphilis in Chatham County Jail while awaiting a new trial on appeal.”

Note on back of photoraph
Note on back of photograph

The historical record of local protection against the lynching of African Americans is indeed a controversial one. But this interesting image at least captures the actual presence of authorities standing guard against violence against this incarcerated man.

Post contributed by John Gartrell, Director of the John Hope Franklin Research Center for African and African American History and Culture.  This is the third in a series of posts on interesting documents in our collections to celebrate Black History Month. 

John Hope Franklin’s Grownup School List

We are in the middle of processing the John Hope Franklin Papers, and it has been inspiring to see Franklin’s wide range of intellectual interests and community engagements. He was a very busy man! One recent discovery, mixed in with folded programs and family correspondence, is Franklin’s “Grownup School List,” an all-encompassing list he created of must-reads in African American history. Always a humble scholar, he omitted his own monumental works. We’ve reproduced the Grownup School List here, along with Franklin’s annotations. You can find all of these books, along with Franklin’s own extensive scholarship, online or in the Duke Libraries.

PicMonkey Collage

Post contributed by Meghan Lyon, Technical Services Archivist.  This is the second in a series of posts on interesting documents in our collections to celebrate Black History Month.

“Let Their Names Go Down in the World”

While researching a reference request among the William Mahone Papers, an interesting piece of ephemera was discovered that gives us a peek at the opinions of one African American politician regarding the lingering shadows of the Confederacy almost 15 years after the Civil War ended. On December 20, 1879, a letter was sent to Mahone, who was the recently elected US Senator for the state of Virginia.

Letter in William Mahone Papers 1853-1895, Box 17, folder 1879, Dec. 16-20.
Letter in William Mahone Papers 1853-1895, Box 17, folder 1879, Dec. 16-20.
Portion of clipping attached to above letter, in William Mahone Papers.
Portion of clipping attached to above letter, in William Mahone Papers.

The author of the letter, who decided not to sign their name, seemed to take issue with Mahone and the idea that he had turned his back on the Confederacy. He/she noted, “…you who once so nobly lead the Virginia troops to battle could now turn against them is a shame…The wrath of God is upon you.” What could have stirred up such vitriol from the sender of this brief but contemptuous letter? The answer lies in the article that was attached to the letter.

The clipping, though undated, was likely printed in the same year. The bold call of State Senator Cephas Davis, himself a former slave, for a resolution “prohibiting the use of the words one-legged, two-legged or four-legged Confederate soldier,” was undoubtedly newsworthy. Davis would only serve one year in the VA State Senate, but it is interesting that he not only saw himself a victor in the Civil War, but also an agent to ensure the Confederacy would not be remembered.

Post contributed by John Gartrell, Director of the John Hope Franklin Research Center for African and African American History and Culture.  This is the first in a series of posts on interesting documents in our collections to celebrate Black History Month. 

Researching an Important Duke Milestone

Logo for the Commemoration of 50 Years of Black Students at Duke UniversityIn 2013, Duke will mark 50 years since the desegregation of the undergraduate student body.  The campus-wide theme, “Celebrating the Past, Charting the Future: Commemorating 50 Years of Black Students at Duke University” will be woven into annual events, like commencement, reunion, and Founder’s Day, and will also be a topic of reflection through exhibits, speakers, and service opportunities. Working together across the University, this milestone year offers all of us the opportunity to learn more about Duke’s history.

The University Archives has a rich photographic collection, and we have added a number of photos on Flickr as part of the anniversary celebration. They show us moments of protest and performance, as well as celebration. The photographs are featured on a new website dedicated to this fiftieth anniversary commemoration.

The University Archives contains many collections that provide historical context and primary source documentation on the desegregation of the school, the black student experience at Duke, and much more. Interested in diving in? A new guide to conducting research on African-American history at Duke is now available, and the UA staff is glad to consult on particular questions or projects. (Contact us here!)

Post contributed by Val Gillispie, University Archivist.

Black Feminist Filmmaking: The Early Works of Cheryl Dunye

Black Feminist FilmmakingDate: Thursday, April 19, 2012
Time: 5:00 PM **Please note new time!**
Location: FHI Garage, Bay 4, Smith Warehouse, Duke University
Contact: Kelly Wooten, kelly.wooten(at)duke.edu

Cheryl Dunye’s work as a Black lesbian filmmaker has challenged, transformed and sometimes even stood in for a conversation about race, feminism, lesbianism, the archive and the practice of contemporary film.

This program will include a screening of selected shorts from the often neglected early work of Cheryl Dunye followed by a panel discussion featuring local Black lesbian and queer filmmakers Yvonne Welbon, Katina Parker and Julia Roxanne Wallace, moderated by Alexis Pauline Gumbs. This program coincides with the public launch of Eternal Summer of the Black Feminist Mind‘s new Black Feminist Film School. Light refreshments will be served.

Co-sponsored by African and African American Studies, the program in Women’s Studies, the program in the Study of Sexualities, the program in the Arts of the Moving Image, and the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture.

Charles N. Hunter Papers: Full of Surprises

When I began processing the Charles N. Hunter Papers, I had just completed my work on the N.C. Mutual Collection, which was full of incredible material concerning Durham’s Black business community throughout the 1900s. The Hunter papers constituted a much smaller collection and, as such, I was not prepared to find such a rich and varied amount of information regarding a time period (mainly 1870s-1930s) that is often under-explored and underrepresented in general historical accounts of African Americans in the United States.

The collection paints a broad picture of the evolution of race relations and racial thought during Hunter’s lifetime, including a change in the tone of his beliefs concerning the best way for Blacks to seek equality and dignity within the United States (a change which appears to coincide with increasingly strained race relations in the 1920s). Given Hunter’s extensive experience as an educator in North Carolina, the collection also provides unique insights into the daily workings of the education system for Black children in the post-war, rural South. Additionally, Hunter’s extensive personal correspondence can be found intermingled with the amazing sociological and historical perspectives that are present within his business and community papers. The placement of his personal triumphs and tragedies amidst his professional and community commitments gives his papers a uniquely human dimension. In examining the collection, it was personally difficult for me to see so many personal family tragedies unfold in what seemed like a short period; however, this allowed me to connect with the Hunter by way of seeing the relationship between his public and private life.

Birchbark letter
The bark from a Birch tree, collected and used as writing paper.

Within the Hunter papers, there are a wide variety of interesting artifacts, some of which include: a letter from a friend written on Birchbark (an amazing piece that is now quite thin and fragile); letters that provide greater elucidation of the daily business aspects of the operation of NC Mutual during the early 1900s; Hunter’s affectionate correspondence with the Haywood family, which owned his family prior to emancipation; and a blank 1850s “Slave Application” for the N.C. Mutual Life Insurance Company of Raleigh.

Slave Policy Insurance Form
An application for an insurance policy covering a slave, 1850s.

The latter company is one that was distinct from the N.C. Mutual that began its operations in Durham just before the turn of the 20th century, and the history of the Raleigh company is largely unknown or forgotten. In addition to offering general life and property insurance,  N.C. Mutual of Raleigh also allowed slave owners to take out policies covering their slaves for a limited number of years. It is unclear how or when Hunter came by this form, but the presence of this document within the collection brings forth the great irony of both a pre-Civil War N.C. Mutual that insured the lives of slaves and a completely separate post-Civil War N.C. Mutual that was created, owned, and operated solely by former slaves and the children of former slaves.

Post contributed by Jessica Carew, a Ph.D. candidate in the Political Science Department at Duke University and an intern in the John Hope Franklin Research Center for African and African American History and Culture.