Juneteenth, Black Lives Matter, and Archival Collections

by Rachel Bohlmann, American History Librarian and Curator

In honor of Juneteenth (the June 19th celebration of freedom from slavery) and Black Lives Matter (BLM), RBSC highlights several collections about African American life in the United States over the last century. We also reflect on how social and cultural changes—some of them the result of protest movements like BLM—have reformed and are reforming collecting and practices in special collections libraries and archives.

One important collection is the National Ideal Benefit Society records, an African American cooperative and fraternal organization that spanned more than 50 years during the early to mid-twentieth century. Another is a late 1920s ledger book for the Birmingham Black Barons, an elite Negro League professional baseball team, that recorded the team’s financial transactions with players. The collections provide sources about the economic and working lives of African Americans and the unequal labor and social contexts of twentieth-century America.

National Ideal Benefit Society advertisement, 1913.
National Ideal Benefit Society advertisement, 1913.
Advertisement for a concert by the National Ideal Benefit Society's choir, 1914.
Advertisement for a concert by the National Ideal Benefit Society’s choir, 1914.

The National Ideal Benefit Society was an African American insurance cooperative whose benefits supported people through illness, offered cultural events, and provided death benefits for survivors to assist with burial costs. The society was established in 1912 in Richmond, Virginia, by Alexander Watson Holmes (1861-1935). The collection holds correspondence from policy holders, official society publications and records, and letters to Holmes from individuals and institutions.

Convention program for the National Ideal Benefit Society, 1916, with portrait of A. W. Holmes.
Convention program for the National Ideal Benefit Society, 1916, with portrait of A. W. Holmes.

The Birmingham, Alabama, Black Barons were a professional baseball team during the sport’s long period of segregation. The ledger book records the club’s financial transactions with players over five seasons (1926-1930). The accounts include credits (monthly salaries) and debits (cash advances, equipment charges, fines, extra meals, taxi fare, phone calls, and so on). Satchel Paige was one of many notable players on the team.

These collections underscore the shift in collecting that has occurred over the last 40 years in special collections libraries.

Special collections such as ours, and archives also, collect unique and rare manuscripts and books to preserve our society’s cultural record. Until the late 1960s and early 1970s in the United States that cultural record largely consisted of the records of elite, white men, mostly from the Northeast with ancestors who came from the British Isles. A number of changes in American society led to a major shift away from this cultural identity in archives and special collections libraries.

Social reform movements that culminated in the 1960s and 1970s—for the rights and full participation of African Americans, women, Native Americans, Latinx, LGBTQ, and others in American life—fueled demands for archival collections that more accurately reflected and included the diversity of American society.

At the same time the rise of social history demanded new sources. Focused on writing the history of ordinary people and changes that came from the many rather than the few (history from the bottom up), social historians relied on documents of everyday life as well as social movements—letters, diaries, ledger books, and scrapbooks of the non-famous, as well as ephemeral printed materials like posters, broadsides, menus, annual reports, and programs.

More recently, archivists and special collections librarians have, as a profession, begun seriously to grapple with questions of power in archives: who is represented and who is left out in our collections? Are collecting decisions made independently, or under institutional or donor guidelines? How are people of color and non-elites and their accomplishments described in catalogs and finding aids? Is the archive open to community members, or are there professional or membership requirements to use the collections? Do staff working in the archive represent the diversity of the collections and their users? As we honor Juneteenth and confront Black Lives Matter’s challenge to truly achieve the promises of American freedom and democracy, these questions become even more sharply relevant.

For reading on Black Lives Matter, see Lauren Michele Jackson’s “What is an Anti-Racist Reading List For?” and the New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture’s Black Liberation Reading List.

For archives and power, see the American Library Association’s Rare Books and Manuscripts Section’s Statement on Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion and Randall C. Jimerson, “Archives for All: Professional Responsibility and Social Justice,” The American Archivist, Vol. 70 no. 2 (Fall – Winter 2007): 252-281.

Upcoming Events: February and early March

Please join us for the following event being hosted in Rare Books and Special Collections:

Thursday, March 1 at 5:00pm | The Italian Research Seminar:  MA Presentations — “Alessandro Blasetti’s Cinema and the Fantastic: A Closer Look at the Unmarried Woman” by Genevieve Lyons, and “Representations of Self: Dante’s Use of First Person in the Vita Nova” by Katie Sparrow. Sponsored by Italian Studies at Notre Dame.

 

The spring exhibit, In a Civilized Nation: Newspapers, Magazines, and the Print Revolution in 19th-Century Peru, officially opens on February 9. The exhibit is curated by Erika Hosselkus and draws on strengths of Rare Books and Special Collections’ José E. Durand Peruvian History collection. Together these items offer diverse perspectives on Peruvian political events and cultural and religious practices and preferences from the colonial era, through the country’s birth in 1825, and beyond the turn of the twentieth century.

The spotlight exhibits during February are Reading the Emancipation Proclamation, curated by Rachel Bohlmann, and Baseball and Tin Pan Alley: Sheet Music from the Joyce Sports Collection, curated by George Rugg.

Current Exhibits in Special Collections

The January-February spotlight, Reading the Emancipation Proclamation, highlights a print acquired by Rare Books and Special Collections in 2017.

Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. This 1864 steel engraving by James W. Watts was adapted from a drawing, Reading the Proclamation of Emancipation in the Slaves’ Cabin, by New York City artist Henry Walker Herrick. Very few pictorial depictions of the proclamation were made before Lincoln’s assassination in 1865 and this is the only contemporary image that offers an interpretation of how it might have been received by the people it was intended to free.

This exhibit is curated by Rachel Bohlmann, American History Librarian.

 

The winter spotlight, Baseball and Tin Pan Alley: Sheet Music from the Joyce Sports Collection, continues through February.

In 2015 RBSC acquired a collection of more than 450 examples of baseball-related sheet music, dating from before the Civil War to the late 20th century. On display in this spotlight exhibit is a small sampling of the collection, with items ranging from the early days of baseball to the end of the Tin Pan Alley era. The examples on display in this spotlight exhibit are selected from Special Collections’ Baseball Sheet Music Collection.

This exhibit is curated by George Rugg, Curator, Special Collections.

 

The fall exhibit, Elements of Humanity: Primo Levi and the Evolution of Italian Postwar Culture, was extended into January and closes on Tuesday the 23rd.

The spring exhibit, In a Civilized Nation: Newspapers, Magazines, and the Print Revolution in 19th-Century Peru, will open in early February — watch for more information on the blog!

Upcoming Events: January and early February

Please join us for the following event being hosted in Rare Books and Special Collections:

Thursday, January 25 at 5:00pm | The Italian Research Seminar: “Giovanni Pico della Mirandola’s Afterlife: the Two Picos and Later Transformations of Renaissance Humanism” by Denis Robichaud (University of Notre Dame). Sponsored by Italian Studies at Notre Dame.

 

The fall exhibit, Elements of Humanity: Primo Levi and the Evolution of Italian Postwar Culture, has been extended into January. If you are planning to bring a group to Special Collections or would like to schedule a special tour, please email rarebook @ nd.edu or call 574-631-0290.

The monthly spotlight exhibit for November and December, Building A Colonial Mexican Tavern: Archive of the Pulquería El Tepozán, has also been extended through mid-January. Watch for a new exhibit to be installed later in January and continue through February.

The winter spotlight exhibit is Baseball and Tin Pan Alley: Sheet Music from the Joyce Sports Collection, curated by George Rugg. This exhibit features highlights from the department’s collection of approximately 400 pieces of baseball related sheet music.

Upcoming Events: November and early December

Please join us for the following events being hosted in Rare Books and Special Collections:

Thursday, November 16 at 5:00pm | The Italian Research Seminar: “Alberti and Poetry” by Maria Sole Costanzo (PhD candidate, Notre Dame). Sponsored by Italian Studies at Notre Dame.

Rare Books and Special Collections will be closed for Thanksgiving Break (November 23-24, 2017). In addition, RBSC will be closed December 5, 11:00am to 2:00pm due to the Hesburgh Libraries Christmas lunch.

 

The fall exhibit, Elements of Humanity: Primo Levi and the Evolution of Italian Postwar Culture, continues to be on display through December 15, 2017. Public tours of the exhibit are offered Tuesdays at noon and Wednesdays at 3pm, and are also available by request for classes or other groups, including K-12 audiences. If you are planning to bring a group to Special Collections or would like to schedule a special tour, please email rarebook @ nd.edu or call 574-631-0290.

The monthly spotlight exhibit for November and December is Building A Colonial Mexican Tavern: Archive of the Pulquería El Tepozán, curated by Erika Hosselkus. This exhibit features a manuscript archive which includes real estate, licensing, and planning documents for the pulquería El Tepozán. It was one of four such establishments built by nobleman don Pedro Romero de Terreros, the Count of Regla, in Mexico City, beginning in the final years of the 1770s.

The summer spotlight exhibit, “Which in future time shall stir the waves of memory” — Friendship Albums of Antebellum America remains open for one more week. The winter spotlight exhibit, Baseball and Tin Pan Alley: Sheet Music from the Joyce Sports Collection, will open in mid-November and highlights the department’s collection of approximately 400 pieces of baseball related sheet music.

Color Our Collections: Baseball digital exhibit

Today’s coloring sheet comes from our most recent digital exhibit, “Words on Play: Baseball Literature before 1900 from the Joyce Sports Collection”. This online exhibition displays early printed and manuscript matter on baseball held in Rare Books and Special Collections, Hesburgh Libraries of Notre Dame, and is curated by George Rugg.

“Words on Play: Baseball Literature before 1900” digital exhibit

Among the harbingers of spring here in RBSC is the introduction of a newly completed digital exhibit of early baseball publications and manuscripts drawn from the holdings of the Joyce Sports Collection. “Words on Play: Baseball Literature before 1900” brings together recreational manuals, guidebooks, histories, biographies, fiction and other forms, including many of the subject area’s great rarities. The exhibit was created by RBSC’s Americana curator, George Rugg.

Over the course of the nineteenth century, American baseball evolved from a localized folk game of English origin to a codified sport of broad popular appeal, commonly cited as the “National Pastime.” Clubs of young men dedicated to playing the game began to appear in earnest in the New York City area in the second quarter of the century; the rules they established became the basis for the sport as we know it today. In the post-Civil War years baseball became thoroughly commodified: crowds of paying spectators gathered in enclosed “parks” to watch celebrated professionals compete at an elite level. By 1900 baseball had entered the mainstream of American popular culture, and had been imbued with many of the mythologies that would persist in the minds of its celebrants well into the twentieth century: baseball as pastoral ideal, baseball as an exercise in democracy, baseball as secular religion. As a recreational form, then, baseball originated in England, but as a form of sport it is American, for it was in America that the game became standardized, organized and popular—and, one might add, the subject of a literature.

The printed word both recorded baseball’s growth and stimulated it. In the first few decades of the nineteenth century the game is mentioned mainly in children’s recreational manuals. Baseball’s rapid rise after mid-century was accompanied by a growing commentary, mainly in sporting newspapers and paper-bound annual guides, describing, discussing, and otherwise publicizing the game. By the 1880s and 90s coverage of professional baseball in urban daily newspapers had became routine, and many of the familiar genres of baseball book had made their appearance. Baseball journalists—who authored many of the books in this exhibit—never tired of emphasizing their contribution to the game’s success, and that contribution was no doubt great. Still, the number of baseball monographs published in the nineteenth century was not large; “Words on Play” brings together copies of most of the key publications of baseball’s early history.

Questions and comments may be directed to George Rugg, Americana curator.

 


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