August 2012

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In This Issue
From the Director
Guide to John O'Neal Papers Globally Accessible
Countee Cullen Biography and Exhibition
Center Completes "Working for Freedom" Project
Masonic Records Donated
Ed Pincus Film Collection
Reuben A. Sheares II Papers Open for Research
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From the Director

With proper tribute to the lyrics of the great Nat King Cole, we assert that there were few, if any, lazy hazy days of summer at Amistad. Large numbers of local, national, and international researchers visiting the Center and communicating online were as unfailing and predictable as the daily rainfall. Summer scholars, mostly affiliated with institutions of higher education, were joined by local researchers, genealogists, students, and groups of cultural tourists.


In addition to assuring measures to accommodate visitors attending the annual Essence Music Festival, our staff began initiating plans last summer to introduce Amistad and to interact with visitors attending the 2012 national meetings of the Urban League and National Medical Association (NMA). Noted activity in which the staff was involved included program assistance provided to organizational groups with whom we worked to offer access to original manuscripts, photographs, and image production. The volume and urgency of such requests were of significant challenge, but the staff willingly accepted and produced complimentary results.


NMA is the nation's oldest and largest medical association representing the interests of more than 50,000 African American physicians and their patients. Amistad is privileged to be the repository for papers of the Auxiliary to the National Medical Association, which date from 1937-1997. In recognition of the Auxiliary and the 110th annual convention and scientific assembly in New Orleans of the NMA, we featured an exhibition of works from our collections entitled "Solely on Account of Color: Jim Crow and African American Medical Training." The exhibition, which continues through September 27, examines the history of African Americans in the medical fields by highlighting selected materials from the Center's various medical-related collections.


This edition of e-Amistad Reports highlights recent summer activity in addition to updating progress. We wish to thank the many visitors and constituents from diverse locations who visited and were introduced to the nation's largest repository of original documents that chronicle the history of African Americans and other ethnic minorities. 


Executive Director
Lee Hampton
Guide to John O'Neal Papers Globally Accessible 
Project Archivst Felica Render and John O'Neal review portions of his papers
Project Archivist Felicia Render and John O'Neal review portions of his papers at Amistad. 

In the May 2012 edition of e-Amistad Reports, staff reported on the processing of the personal papers of John M. O'Neal Jr., one of the leading figures of Black Theater in the South and co-founder of the Free Southern Theater (FST). The Center has completed the organization of the collection and its online finding aid, and recently hosted O'Neal and his wife, Bertha, for a review and discussion of the processed papers, which document O'Neal's artistic style and vision as an African American actor, director, playwright, and civil rights activist.


Immediately after inclusion of the collection's finding aid in the Center's online database, Southern Illinois University, where O'Neal studied playwriting and earned a B.A. degree in English and Philosophy, expressed interest in the release. They indicated plans for an alumni magazine story about the collection and its public accessibility at Amistad.


With deep sentiment and strong convictions about the nonviolent civil rights movement in the South, O'Neal moved to Jackson, Mississippi, shortly after graduating from SIU in 1962. He became a field secretary of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in Georgia and Mississippi. O'Neal also served as the Committee Chairman and Coordinator for the 1964 Freedom Summer in Mississippi Project.


After extensive contributions to SNCC, the Congress of Racial Equality, and other civil rights organizations, O'Neal helped to establish the Free Southern Theater. Co-founded with Doris Derby and Gilbert Moses, FST became active in October 1963 as the Tougaloo Drama Workshop at Tougaloo College in Mississippi. The theater relocated and established headquarters in New Orleans in 1965. FST played a pivotal role for African Americans and oppressed people in the South by using theater as a tool of social justice. Cast members of the touring repertory company were activists as well as actors. FST produced its last play in 1980, the same year in which its successor, Junebug Productions, was created. John O'Neal also headed Junebug for many years.


The O'Neal papers are an array of personal and business correspondence, press releases, field reports, minutes of meetings, notebooks, writings, and collected publications. The bulk of the theater files highlight Black Arts theater groups in the South and other theater groups to which O'Neal contributed as a playwright, director, and performer. The writings series is comprised of drafts of his plays, including "Hurricane Season" and the renowned "Don't Start Me to Talking or I'll Tell Everything I Know: Sayings from the Life and Writings of Junebug Jabbo Jones."


Project Archivist Felicia Render, who organized the collection, reported that "it is a wonderful feeling to complete the processing of the John O'Neal papers and to provide access to the many historical treasures found within his papers through the online finding aid and sampling of digitized materials that have been added to Amistad's public database."


Processing of the papers was made possible by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services in partnership with Chicago-based HistoryMakers.
New Biography and Exhibition Celebrate the Legacy of  Countee Cullen

When the Harlem Renaissance is discussed today, the names of Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston come to mind for most people. However, in the midst of the 1920s, during the time of the "New Negro Movement" as it was called then, the poet Countee Cullen was one of the leading contenders for the title of "Poet Laureate of Harlem." Indeed, it has been argued that Cullen's popularity and readership among both black and white readers was surpassed by only that of Edna St. Vincent Millay. Along with five books of poetry, Cullen's oeuvre included the first translation of a Greek tragedy by an African American, two children's books, and plays.


Following Cullen's early death at the age of forty-two, his status as one of the leading African American poets of the twentieth century began to wane. Although Cullen's work continues to be anthologized and printed in school textbooks, his legacy today rests largely on a small number of oft-printed poems. Until now no authoritative biography has ever been published on the poet. However, renewed interest in Cullen is expected with the publication of a new biography by Charles Molesworth entitled And Bid Him Sing: A Biography of Countee Cullen, which will be published by University of Chicago Press in September 2012. Based largely on research conducted with Cullen's personal papers at the Amistad Research Center, the biography will provide the first full-length critical look at the life and legacy of Cullen.


In celebration of the forthcoming biography and Cullen's legacy, the Amistad Research Center will hold an exhibition entitled "Yet Do I Marvel: Countee Cullen and the Harlem Renaissance" from October 2-December 22, 2012. The exhibition will be available for viewing during Amistad's public hours (Monday-Friday, 8:30-4:30) and will be free of charge. In addition, the Center will host biographer Charles Molesworth on October 29th beginning at 6:00pm for a book talk and discussion on the research and writing of his book. More information on the exhibition and book talk are available by calling (504) 862-3222 or emailing the Center.

Center Completes "Working for Freedom" Project
CORE workers making signs, circa 1960s
CORE workers making signs, circa 1960s. From the Ronnie Moore Papers. 

The Amistad Research Center is pleased to announce the completion of a three-year, grant-funded project to process and catalog nine collections of personal papers documenting civil rights era organizational history. The Center received funding from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) in 2008, not only to arrange and preserve the selected collections, but also to create increased access by implementing use of innovative collection management software that facilitates global access to the archival collections at Amistad.


One of the goals of this project was to provide access to branch and local chapter records of key civil rights organizations, such as CORE and SNCC, that were located within the personal papers of individuals who were participants or officers. The collections selected for arrangement and preservation included the James Egert Allen Papers (1925-1974), Lloyd Davis Papers (1950-2007), Arnold de Mille Papers (1950-1993), John Wesley Dobbs Family Papers (1873-1993), Rose Carver Fishman Papers (1965-1968), James H. Hargett Papers (1918-2007), Ronnie Moore Papers (1960-1999), Marr-McGee Family Papers (1951-1974) and the A.P. Tureaud Papers Addendum (1903-1970).


The second focal point of the project was the implementation of the Archon Collection Management System to open up Amistad's collections for research online and provide access to collection descriptions to people around the globe regardless of location. The staff has aggressively populated the Archon database to make it a viable resource for accessibility to the Center's collections. The database currently includes descriptions for all archival donations to the Center received from 1966-2005, totaling 1,195 records. Remaining descriptions up through 2011 will be online by the end of the year. Along with the accession records, the database has 889 creator links and descriptions, 175 new and legacy collection records (finding aids), 945 subject and genre headings, and over 100 digital items. The link to Amistad's online database can be found through our website or directly at


Online expansion of access to the Center's collections has resulted in an extensive increase in reference and research requests. Reference statistics reveal that registered researchers increased by 40% from 2008 to 2011; distant researchers increased 44% during the same period. The staff attributes this growth, in no small measure, to the establishment and expanded use of the Archon database. Indicators are that there will be continued growth in research requests and use of the collections as Archon is increasingly populated with finding aids and other data.


This generous award from CLIR has enabled Amistad to provide access to 201 linear feet of manuscript collections documenting individuals and organizations involved with the modern civil rights era. All of these collections were previously unarranged with very limited or non-existent accessibility for research. Today, they are searchable and available for use by the Center's global patrons.

Masonic Records Donated to Amistad Research Center
Masonic records at the Amistad Research Center
Recently acquired records of the M.W. Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Louisiana. 

The Amistad Research Center is pleased to announce that the records of the M.W. Prince Hall Grand Lodge, F. & A. Masons of Louisiana (50.0 linear feet) are to be arranged and preserved this fall, culminating in an exhibition starting in January 2013 to celebrate the organization's 150th anniversary. Working with the current Grand Master, Dr. Ralph Slaughter, Amistad archivists have retrieved two deposits of records dating from 1870 to 2002. These records are a rich source of documentation about Louisiana's African American community in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, as well as the work of the Lodge and its members during the modern Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s.


The Grand Lodge of Louisiana was established in New Orleans in 1863, and a leading political figure in New Orleans, John Parsons, was elected first Grand Master. The Grand Lodge was distinguished from the white-only lodges by the title of "Eureka" from the time of the second meeting in 1864 until 1944, when the act of incorporation was amended and the title of the organization became the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge, Free and Accepted Masons of Louisiana.


John G. Lewis Jr.
Grand Master John G. Lewis Sr.

The records of the Prince Hall Grand Lodge consist of an extensive collection of Masonic and collected publications, correspondence, proceedings of meetings, financial records, and photographs. The collection also houses a significant amount of personal papers for the Lewis family of Grand Masters: John G. Lewis, Sr. (1902-1931); Scott A. Lewis (1931-1941); and John G. Lewis, Jr. (1941-1978).


The bulk of the collection documents the administration of Grand Master John G. Lewis, Jr., and focuses on the topics of Louisiana politics, elections, and civil rights activities. Lodge activities, including funding and collaborative work with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the Louisiana Education Association, are also highlighted.


Additional information about the records and detailed descriptions of the collection can be found in the Center's archival finding aid database.
Work Progresses to Inventory Ed Pincus Film Collection

Audiovisual Archivist Brenda Flora is currently overseeing a project to inventory the Ed Pincus Film Collection at the Amistad Research Center with funding from a Lower Mississippi Delta Region Initiative Grant provided by the National Park Service. Brenda shares some personal insight into working with this wonderful collection...


For the past few months, I have had the pleasure of inventorying the Ed Pincus Film Collection. Mr. Pincus is a documentary filmmaker who worked in the 1960s to document the Civil Rights Movement in Natchez, Mississippi. Our collection contains two complete documentaries produced during this time period (Black Natchez and Panola), and many hours of footage that never made it into a completed film.


A view of footage shot by Ed Pincus
A view of footage shot by filmmaker Ed Pincus

While examining the films, I have had the opportunity to watch much of this unused footage. Some of the material I have spent the most time with has been the reels he shot for an intended sequel to his feature Black Natchez. It has been an eye-opening look into life in Natchez in 1967. The film was shot the week following the murder of Wharlest Jackson, the treasurer of the Natchez branch of the NAACP. Jackson had been working in the Armstrong Tire and Rubber Plant, and had recently been promoted to a position that had been previously held by white workers. On the evening of February 27, a bomb detonated in Jackson's pickup truck and killed him. He had received threats at the plant, and the incident highlighted the continued presence of the Ku Klux Klan in Natchez. In the week that followed, the African American community, along with local and national civil rights activists, gathered to address the problem.


What Pincus captured were the protest marches, community meetings, and general public sentiment following Jackson's death. The rolls of film he shot are genuine, often candid, portrayals of a city at a time of turmoil. At times, Pincus and his partner, David Neuman, turn the camera on an individual and interview him. Everyone from a prominent civil rights leader like Charles Evers to the average man in the street is asked to express his thoughts and feelings about the racial tensions and violence in the city. Some of the most engaging rolls to watch, however, are shot in a more "fly on the wall" style. My favorite scenes are the ones shot in a local barbershop, where the camera simply looks on and listens in while members of the community discuss the murder and the state of the city while having their hair cut and socializing. They talk about leaving the city, and consider if it is worth staying for jobs or not. They discuss law enforcement and the judicial system. They debate the effectiveness of the tactics of marching and protest being used by the civil rights community. The conversation is casual, often cracking jokes and dissolving into laughter in the midst of serious conversation. The NAACP and Deacons for Defense and Justice meetings are fascinating, but it is these conversational scenes that bring the civil rights struggle home to me in a very real way.


It is easy to have respect for the tremendous work done by the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, but a historical respect and personal empathy are very different things. With the perspective of history, it is easy to forget that these men and women didn't know what was going to happen next. They didn't know if they were safe, or who among them would be the next target of violence. But they still marched publicly, made speeches, and worked to foster communication with the white community, despite the jeopardy it put their lives in, because they knew that it needed to be done. It is the way these films bring such an important historical era to life that will make them invaluable to researchers. I feel inspired by the individuals portrayed in them, and it makes me feel that my own work is that much more important. Amistad continues working to make these films accessible, and to share these very personal stories with future generations. Look for more updates on our efforts to preserve the Ed Pincus Film Collection in future blog posts and newsletter articles.

Reuben A. Sheares II Papers Now Open for Research
Reuben Sheares
Dr. Reuben A. Sheares II
Amistad staff recently completed the processing of the Rev. Dr. Reuben A. Sheares II Papers, which were donated through the generosity of Rev. Sheares' wife, Mrs. Ora Myles Sheares. Rev. Sheares was born in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1933.  He received his B.A. from Talladega College in 1955, his B.D. from Colgate-Rochester Divinity School in 1959, his M.P.A. from Roosevelt University in 1972, and his D. Min. from Chicago Theological Seminary in 1973. He served as Executive Director of the Office for Church Life & Leadership (United Church of Christ) from 1973-1988.  He also worked as Secretary, Associate Executive Director, pastor, and teacher, and was a member of Alpha Phi Alpha. Rev. Sheares died in 1992.


The bulk of his papers include newsletters and publications from various organizations of which Rev. Sheares was a member or supporter, as well as publications from UCC congregations all over the country. The papers focus mainly on theological issues and programs, including 123 audiocassettes of sermons presented by Rev. Sheares at the Congregational Church of Park Manor in Chicago, from 1989-1992. Also included are notes and essays from classes in which Rev.. Sheares was enrolled during the 1970s, mostly at Roosevelt University and the Chicago Theological Seminary. 


A couple of highlights that emerged through Rev. Sheares' papers include mid-1980s materials on the AIDS epidemic and how churches across the nation responded to the challenge, as well as materials from the Time Tellers Project of the 1960s. The latter project began in Los Angeles in 1964 and developed as a learning and witnessing experience for lay people through direct involvement in and confrontation with the major issues of urban life during this tumultuous time. As Rev. Sheares wrote, the program's goal was to "enable the laity to become as completely as possible representatives of Christ in their engagement with society, help the Church find renewal and clarity of mission in our time, and to make the Church an instrument of reconciliation."


An online finding aid to the Reuben A. Sheares II Papers will be available soon.