Tag Archives: World War II

War in Black and White: African American Soldiers’ Photograph Albums

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.

African American Soldiers in Occupied Japan

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.

Soldiers at Pool Facility in Munich, Germany

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.

Members of the 404th Women’s Army Corp Band

Building the Gottmensch: The Library of Ordensburg Sonthofen

A grim symbol is stamped inside nearly 60 books at the Rubenstein Library: the eagle and swastika; symbols of the German Nazi Party. The markings also indicate that the volumes belonged to “Ordensburg Sonthofen.” What was this place, what constituted its library, and furthermore, what happened to its holdings?

KIC Image 1
Der Wille zum Kind

In 1933, the same year Adolf Hitler’s party came to power, the Ordensburgen were built as elite training facilities for high-ranking officers in the military called Junker. The program was under the direction of Robert Ley, and the purpose of instruction was, as he stated in Der Weg zur Ordensburg, for the “spiritual and philosophical education of the NSDAP.” Qualifying candidates between the ages of 25 and 30 were sent to three facilities and spent a year at each: Vogelsang in the Eifel, Krössinsee in Pomerania, and Sonthofen in Allgäu. Each facility had its own training focus. The focus of instruction at Sonthofen, intended to be the third and final year of training, was diplomacy and administrative tasks. The libraries at each location would have facilitated such research and instruction.

Construction of the main building at Sonthofen, from Der Weg zur Ordensburg by Robert Ley, 1936
Construction of the main building at Sonthofen, from Der Weg zur Ordensburg by Robert Ley, 1936

Although the exact story of how Sonthofen’s books ended up at the Rubenstein is unknown, Nazi-related material did come to the United States through the efforts of the Library of Congress and were then distributed to institutions throughout the country, including Duke University. The program was called the “Cooperative Acquisitions Project for Wartime Publications,” and details about the program can be found in Volume 16, number 2 of the Duke University Libraries magazine. Parts of German libraries and archives, if not destroyed outright at the end of the war, were broken up and distributed. Tracking down the remainders of the collections, which can be aided by the ownership stamps, and analyzing the content, is invaluable for understanding the operations of facilities such as Sonthofen.

Rohstoffe und Kolonien
Rohstoffe und Kolonien

Analyzing the stamps and markings in the Rubenstein’s collection can help to at least partially recreate the library at Sonthofen and give insight into its functioning. Some books are marked “Hauptbücherei” (main library), while others are marked with specific group or class designations such as “Seminar Völkische Behauptung” (racial assertions). This shows, for example, that the instruction at Sonthofen was not strictly limited to understanding military strategy. Titles in the collection also indicate a variety of subjects, including Was wir vom Weltkrieg nicht wissen (What We Don’t Know About the World War), a justification of rapid militarization after World War I, and Der Wille zum Kind (The Will to Child), part of a series called “Political Biology,” which encourages procreation to build the perfect Aryan race.

The opening of Vogelsang in 2006, held until then by the Belgian military, created the opportunity to investigate the ultimate destination of its library. For example, Michael Schröder (article in German) reveals that of what is thought to be almost 70,000 items, 40,000 were probably plundered or destroyed, and the rest ultimately ended up at the University of Bonn. The opportunity is here for a similar investigation to be conducted regarding Sonthofen, also now a historical site, and its 57 books held by the Rubenstein present a window to view its history. This material is also just a small part of the rich German language holdings at the Rubenstein Library, which also include the extensive Harold Jantz collection.

Post contributed by Sarah Carrier, Research Services Coordinator

Preserving a Cork-Covered Scrapbook

I’ll soon be meeting with Conservation staff to discuss the preservation issues surrounding a few collections I’ve cataloged recently, including this one, a scrapbook I felt I had to catalog before it absolutely fell to pieces.

rothholz cover
It is likely that Marianne “Nan” Rothholz created this unique cork cover for her scrapbook that contains 69 letters, 22 V-mails, 6 postcards, and 37 black-and-white photographs.

Nan Rothholz began this scrapbook during World War II, when she served as a member of the National Jewish Welfare Board and the Baltimore United Service Organizations (USO). She and her family hosted servicemen, generally medical professionals stationed at Fort Meade, in their Baltimore home. She became especially close to and followed 5 of the men during the final years of the war in Europe, and to me this scrapbook represents her “filing cabinet” for their V-mail, letters, photographs, postcards, and clippings, rather than a traditional scrapbook.

rothholz page
Rothholz recorded personal details about each serviceman in ink, then pasted in their related material around it. The paper in the scrapbook is of astoundingly poor quality, and breaks into pieces as the pages are turned.

Our challenge here will be how to keep related material together yet preserve the individual items, all before these brittle pages crumble to bits. Conservation staff will advise me on this, and perhaps digitization will be considered to help preserve the relationships in material that Rothholz initiated. Both the National Jewish Welfare Board and the USO commended her on her work, and our work will honor her as well.

Post contributed by Alice Poffinberger, Original Cataloger.

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.

 

 

From the Rubenstein Wire

Korean Man Reading, ca. 1917-19. From the Sidney D. Gamble Photographs.

Before we dive into another exhilarating semester, it’s high time we caught up on some recent articles about the Rubenstein Library and its collections.

In the Lens blog at the New York Times, David Gonzalez explores William Gedney’s photographs of the Myrtle Avenue El in New York.

University Archivist Valerie Gillispie was introduced to the Durham community in a Durham Herald-Sun article.

NPR featured an interview with Robert Korstad and Leslie Brown about Behind the Veil: Documenting African-American  Life in the Jim Crow South.  The interview includes selections from a few of the one hundred oral histories now available online.

Neil Offen wrote an article about the exhibit “From Campus to Cockpit: Duke University During World War II.”  (The exhibit will be on display until January 29!)

Gamers far and wide noticed the opening of the Edwin and Terry Murray Collection of Role-Playing Games with our first-ever Game Night, including the blogs Robot Viking and 88 Milhas por Hora (in Portuguese) as well as more local sources.