Post contributed by Paula Jeannet, Visual Materials Processing Archivist at the Rubenstein Library
Did you know that October is American Archives Month? During this time archivists and their allies take to social media and other outlets to raise public awareness about the importance of preserving the historical record. This year’s theme in North Carolina is “Activism and Social Justice in North Carolina.” To honor that theme, this post highlights an inspiring N.C. activist organization whose records are in the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library.
Officially founded in 1992 in Durham, N.C., Student Action with Farmworkers (SAF) has brought college and high school students and farmworkers together to collectively work for economic justice, consumer awareness, and improved living and working conditions for people who grow and harvest our food.
The long arc of SAF’s activist work, which began in the 1970s, is well-represented in their archives in the Rubenstein library. The collection’s 148 boxes house materials documenting SAF’s founding, its operations, meetings, and planning, and records on every program from inception to launch. There are many photographs, audio, video, and, with the arrival of the 2000s, digital records.
College-age interns, many of them from farmworker families, travel to isolated rural migrant camps to document living conditions through photography, oral histories, and writing. Thousands of SAF student alumni have also gone out into the world to join and found other social justice programs and organizations.
Student projects such as this 2011 video documentary created by three students are housed in the SAF collection at the Rubenstein (student project folders require permission for access). Through Story+, a summer research internship sponsored by Duke University libraries and the John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute, students have created several other SAF video documentaries.
An integral part of SAF’s work is educational programming and outreach for children, teens, and adults. In 2014, SAF’s Levante Leadership program was recognized as one of the most effective programs in the nation that improves educational outcomes for Latino students.
SAF also organized and participated in protest actions, including the Mount Olive Pickle Company and Burger King labor protests. These actions directly led to improved conditions in the factories and fields.
Did you know that many farmworkers are forced to live next to fields sprayed with pesticides? SAF has mounted successful long-term campaigns on specific issues such as pesticide safety that include outreach tools such as this video for children called “José Learns About Pesticides.”
Theater in the Fields brings a powerful message and educational opportunities to the fields where agricultural workers toil. The giant puppet “Big Papa” is also found in the SAF archives! The puppet was created by NC sculpture artist Daniel L. Mathewson (1964-2011) for the play “Gigantes en los Campos/Giants in the Fields,” written by NC writer Cara Page. The Big Papa character had few lines, but loomed ominously over scenes in the play as a method of intimidation and mockery of the farmworker characters.
The mobilization of students and farmworkers originally begun at Duke in the 1970s was in part inspired by a 1960 documentary by N.C. journalist Edward Murrow, “Harvest of Shame.” Today, the same labor, health, and social justice issues continue to plague the U.S. agriculture system, so Student Action with Farmworkers continues its work to improve conditions and to make their vision a reality, that “One day, all farmworkers will have dignity in their work and livelihood.”
During this Archives Month, we salute those who give so much of their energies to justice, and to those who recognize the importance of keeping this history alive in collective memory by placing their records in an archive.
The records of the Student Action with Farmworkers organization span the entirety of their history, and are available at the Rubenstein Library. Learn more by visiting the online collection guide.
To learn more about SAF, view this video. There are more videos on this site, many using archival resources from the collection to tell the farmworkers’ stories. Also, check out their 25th anniversary “More Than One Story” exhibit and web site.
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.
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:
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.”
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:
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.
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”
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
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.
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:
Turning it over, I observed a stamp from the Red Cross Bureau of Photography, and the address of a Madame Bras in France:
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.
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.”
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.
Post contributed by Bennett Carpenter, John Hope Franklin Research Center Intern and PhD candidate in Literature
“Understand, sir, we are not asking for favors but as citizens of the United States and as members of her army we are asking redress for a wrong that has [been] so grievously and so flagrantly perpetrated against us. Yes we are her citizens but seemingly also present in the army of this great democracy are the forces that we might have seen in Nazi Germany when she was at her peak.”
So wrote a group of African American soldiers to their commanding officer to complain about discriminatory practices barring them from using the swimming pool on their military base. Stationed in occupied Japan, the soldiers were tasked, they went on to note, with defending democracy against the threat of authoritarianism; yet it did not seem as if “democracy” always defended them.
The letter, part of the Maynard Miller Photograph Album collection at the John Hope Franklin Research Center, helps document the complexity of the African American military experience. From the Revolutionary War through the present day, African Americans have fought and participated in every war in United States history. At times, military service offered African Americans opportunities for economic, professional and political advancement and escape from segregation and discrimination at home. At other times, however, racially discriminatory practices followed Black soldiers into service and denied them equal opportunities to advance, receive recognition and even to serve.
Now, with the digitization of the John Hope Franklin Research Center’s collection of African American Soldiers’ Photograph Albums, we can witness some of that complex history through the lens of Black soldiers themselves. The eight photograph albums in our holdings grant rich and fascinating insights into the African American military experience across several decades and continents.
Along with the Maynard Miller Photograph Album, four other albums come from soldiers stationed abroad during World War Two. The Henry Heyliger Photograph Album likewise shows images of occupied Japan, while two other albums illustrate the experience of African-American soldiers in India and Italy. Finally, an album from Munich, Germany paints an interesting contrast with the discriminatory practices detailed by Miller, showing Black and white soldiers swimming together in an apparently unsegregated pool.
These contrasting experiences point to tectonic shifts in the Black military experience immediately before, during and after World War Two. Prior to the war, African Americans wishing to serve in the military had been largely restricted to support duties. In 1941, Black labor leader A. Philip Randolph threatened a mass march on Washington unless African Americans were granted equal opportunities, prompting President Franklin Roosevelt to lift racial restrictions on military service. While hundreds of thousands of Black soldiers subsequently served in the war, they were restricted to segregated units, such as the Tuskegee Airmen and the 761st Tank Battalion, popularly known as the Black Panthers. The armed forces would be ordered fully integrated by President Harry Truman in 1948, though the last segregated units persisted until 1954.
World War Two also led to another tectonic shift, as women other than nurses entered the American armed forces for the very first time. Our Women’s Army Corps Scrapbook includes fascinating early images of some of the very first women, both Black and white, to pass through the doors of the WAC Training School in Des Moines, Iowa. The second half of the scrapbook contains images of members of the 404th WAC band, the first and only all-women’s African American band in US military history.
The portraits of Durham photographer Hugh Mangum are the subject of a new exhibit, opening July 22nd at the Museum of Durham History’s History Hub. “Hugh Mangum on Main Street: Portraits from the Early 20th Century” shows Mangum’s largely unknown portraits of Southern society after Reconstruction.
Mangum was born in Durham in 1877 and began establishing studios and working as an itinerant photographer in the early 1890s. During his career, Mangum attracted and cultivated a clientele that drew heavily from both black and white communities, a rarity for his time. Mangum’s photographs are now part of the Rubenstein Library’s Archive of Documentary Arts.
“Although the late-19th-century American South in which he worked was marked by disenfranchisement, segregation and inequality — between black and white, men and women, rich and poor — Mangum portrayed all of his sitters with candor, humor, and spirit. Each client appears as valuable as the next, no story less significant,” said curator Sarah Stacke. “His portraits reveal personalities as immediate as if the photos were taken yesterday.”
“Hugh Mangum on Main Street: Portraits from the Early 20th Century” opens at the History Hub, 500 W. Main St., on Tuesday, July 22 and runs through August. The exhibition will be in the Our Bull City area.
The public is invited to a launch party for the exhibition on Wednesday, July 23, from 5:30pm to 7pm, and a program on Mangum and his work at 3pm on Sunday, August 10.There is no charge for the exhibit, program, or party. The Hub is open Tuesday-Saturday, 10am to 5pm.
Wednesday, April 23 at 12:00pm: A Conversation with Vincent Cianni and Mariette Pathy Allen, Center for Documentary Studies, 1317 W. Pettigrew Street, Durham, N.C. Lunch will be provided.
Thursday, April 24 at 6:00pm: Artist Talk and Presentation, SPECTRE Arts green space, 1004 Morning Glory Ave., Durham, N.C.
Friday, April 25 at 6:00pm: Book Signing and Opening Exhibit, Daylight Project Space, 121 West Margaret Lane, Hillsborough, NC
The series will culminate in a book signing and exhibition of work by the artists to celebrate the release of the artists’ monographs TransCuba and Gays in the Military. The book signing and exhibit will take place at the Daylight Project Space on April 25 from 6 to 9pm. Refreshments will be served and the artists will be on hand to sign books and answer questions. More information at www.daylightbooks.org
About the Artists:
Through compelling photographs and interviews made over three years on road trips across the US, Vincent Cianni (born 1952) has created an important historical record of the struggles of gay and lesbian veterans and service members in the US military. As the Human Rights Commission attests, the US military has a long history of civil rights abuses against homosexuals, with harassment and discrimination frequently resulting in lost careers. In many cases, these men and women—highly skilled, well educated, patriotic, courageous and productive—had attained high rank, received numerous medals and held top-level jobs essential to the military. With essays by Alison Nordstrom, Don Bramer and Alan Steinman shedding light on the cultural, personal and political consequences of the ban on homosexuality, this volume tells the stories of men and women who served in silence and oftentimes were penalized and prohibited from receiving the benefits accorded them for serving in the military.
For more than 30 years, New York based photographer and painter Mariette Pathy Allen has been documenting transgender culture worldwide; in 2004 she won the Lambda Literary Award for her monograph The Gender Frontier. In her new publication, TransCuba, Allen focuses on the transgender community of Cuba, especially its growing visibility and acceptance in a country whose government is transitioning into a more relaxed model of communism under Raúl Castro’s presidency. This publication therefore records a cultural watershed within Cuba. In addition to color photographs and interviews by Allen, the book also includes a contribution from Raúl Castro’s daughter, Mariela Castro, who is the director of the Cuban National Center for Sex Education in Havana. In 2005, Castro proposed a project, which became law three years later, to allow transgender individuals to receive sex reassignment surgery and change their legal gender.
Post contributed by Kirston Johnson, Curator of the Archive of Documentary Arts.
The Library recently acquired a small album of photographs taken in Virginia’s Tidewater region. It contains six cyanotypes depicting work at the freight docks of Newport News and other subjects. Of particular interest is a laid-in cyanotype which appears to be a portrait of Frances Benjamin Johnston, a pioneering female American photographer.
Johnston was a remarkable photographer. She took portraits of American presidents and the high society of the turn of the nineteenth century from her Washington, D.C. studio, but also participated in ambitious documentary projects, such as her architectural photographs of Southern states. For one of her best-known commissions, she traveled to Virginia to document the students of the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute in 1899-1900. Her photographs of this important education institution for African Americans and Native Americans are preserved in her collection at the Library of Congress.
Based on the probable identification of the woman in the photograph as Johnston and the photographs of the area around Hampton in the album, these photographs have been dated to the first decade of the 1900s. However, no information about the photographer is yet known. Were they a student or colleague of Johnston? Is it possible that the photographs (or some of the photographs) are by Johnston herself?
The album is also accompanied by handwritten directions for making “Pyro Developer” and a “fixing bath for platinum prints,” which may provide further evidence that the creator may have been a student or novice photographer. (The large initial “B” on the “Pyro Developer” formula bears some resemblance to Johnston’s handwriting, but the handwriting of the rest of the formula does not appear to be similar to hers.)
If anyone has clues or guesses to contribute to the mystery of the photographer’s identity, please share them in the comments section below!
Post contributed by Will Hansen, Assistant Curator of Collections.
To celebrate the holiday season this week, we’re highlighting a few of the many wonderful books that the Rubenstein Library has received as gifts over the past year. We are truly grateful for the generosity of our donors. A hearty “Happy holidays” and thanks and to all of those who have contributed to making 2013 a wonderful year for the Rubenstein Library!
Funds donated to the Rubenstein Library in 2013 facilitated the purchase of two very different books featuring photographs. One, the Holy Bible published by Eyre and Spottiswoode in 1865, features twenty mounted photographs by Francis Frith. Frith, an Englishman, was a pioneering photographer of the Middle East in the 1850s, and some of the early photographic views of Holy Land sites such as Bethlehem and Jerusalem are included in this Bible. This purchase was made possible by the addition of funds to the Leland Phelps Rare Book Endowment Fund.
A generous donation of funds for materials related to military history facilitated the acquisition of Lee and Amy Pirkle’s work A Real Fighting Man. Published in an edition of twenty copies in 2012, A Real Fighting Man is an artist’s book that combines art based on snapshots sent home by Lee Pirkle (Amy’s grandfather) from the Korean War with text chosen by Amy from an essay that Lee wrote about his wartime experience.
A Real Fighting Man‘s flag book structure, as seen above, allows the reader to juxtapose sections of image and text in many revealing ways.
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! Check out additional posts in the series here.
Some of the most celebrated, recognizable, and graphic images of the American Civil War come from Alexander Gardner’s Photographic Sketch Book of the Civil War and George N. Barnard’s Photographic Views of Sherman’s Campaign, both published in 1866. Among the most important pictorial records of the conflict, together they shed a stark light on the destruction witnessed during the war and its aftermath. As legendary examples of early American photography these albums also help us to understand the history of documentary photography and the emergence of the widespread documentation of war. Look for a feature on these important new additions to the Library’s Archive of Documentary Arts in the next issue of RL Magazine!
The Rubenstein Library is grateful to the B. H. Breslauer Foundation for their generous support of the acquisition of Gardner’s Sketch Book.
Post contributed by Kirston Johnson, Curator of the Archive of Documentary Arts.
I recently began reviewing images from the 1930s and 1940s. In envelopes labeled “football sidelights” are negatives of the Duke University Marching Band, fondly known as DUMB.
In existence since the early 1900s, DUMB is an integral part of Duke sports, providing music and vocal support at games, and has established a reputation for performing creative and highly entertaining halftime shows. For more information, take a look at the finding aid to DUMB’s own records, part of the University Archives’s collections. Below are a few of my favorite images.