08 August 2022
The Eccles Centre recently hosted a one-day symposium on Black Women’s Activism in the Americas, in collaboration with the Society for the History of Women in the Americas (SHAW). The day included a Show and Tell for the delegates, inspired by some of the topics under discussion. Here are some highlights from the display.
A few years ago the Library acquired a number of issues of Spotlight magazine. Produced by American Youth for Democracy during World War Two (formerly the Young Communist League), it was edited by Claudia Jones, the Trinidad and Tobago-born journalist and activist who emigrated to the US as a child.
Following the persecution of Communists by the US Government, Jones was deported to Britain in 1955. She continued her Communist activism in the UK and went on to found Britain’s first major black newspaper, the West Indian Gazette, in 1958, and played a major role in founding the Notting Hill Carnival. You can read more about Jones’ life and work in the British Library’s Windrush Stories online exhibition here. As with many histories of activism by women of colour, Jones’ legacy was maintained for many years by community activists and historians, through works such as Claudia Jones, 1915-1964: A Woman of Our Times [researched and compiled by Jennifer Tyson], published by Camden Black Sisters Publications in c1988.
Later US Communist activist and scholar Angela Davis was also represented with the Show and Tell including a number of works produced around her imprisonment in 1971 on murder and kidnapping charges. The case generated interest around the world and the display included items published in the UK and Germany demonstrating solidarity with her case, as well as a booklet produced by the United States Information Service and distributed by the US Embassy in London which endeavoured to present the ‘legal background’ to the case.
Alongside Official Government Publications, such as the USIS booklet shown above, another type of collection item which may be less familiar to British Library researchers are examples of political ephemera. The Library continues to acquire a range of this type of material including this striking broadside “I Am A Black Woman Communist”, featuring a portrait of Angela Davis, which was produced for the 20th Convention of the Communist Party USA in New York in February 1972. The following quote is printed beneath her portrait: "I am a black woman Communist / the corrupt government of this country could not accept such a combination / this is why they launch an effort to murder me." The artist's signature, identified only as ‘Sherman,’ is printed at upper right corner.
The political ephemera continued with election pamphlets produced by the Worker’s Party (PT, Partido dos Trabalhadores) during Brazilian federal elections in 1982. Included amongst those standing for office was Lélia Gonzalez, the leading Afro-Brazilian feminist, intellectual, politician, professor, anthropologist and Black and women’s rights activist. Her influential concept of Amefricanidade or ‘Amefricanity’ references both the black diaspora and indigenous populations of the Americas, signalling their histories of resistance as colonised peoples. Among a long career in activism and education, she ran as a federal candidate for the Worker’s Party in 1982. The broader context of the PT slate of candidates (included at the same shelfmark) provide fascinating insights in to the range of social justice concerns active in Brazilian politics in the early 1980s, including gay rights.
An underused part of the Library’s holdings, the Philatelic Collections offer a fascinating way into many different aspects of social and political histories. The Show and Tell was enriched by items from our Philatelic colleagues which illustrated the way black women’s activism has been commemorated on stamps, in turn helping to construct national and international conversations about women’s history and achievements. To find out more about Philately at the British Library, visit their subject page or their social media channels.
By Cara Rodway, Eccles Centre, August 2022 (with thanks to my Eccles and Americas colleagues for their help developing and mounting the Show and Tell)
11 April 2022
As we continue our series highlighting the breadth of electronic resources available for researchers at the British Library, this blog will discuss some of the collections which can support those exploring US Politics and Political History. All resources can be accessed from our Electronic Resources page, and some are available remotely once you get your free Reader Pass. All previous posts in the series can be found here.
There are many resources which can help uncover the operation of government, with Congress being especially well represented. The Congressional Record Permanent Digital Collection 1789-1997 and the US Congressional Serial Set 1817-1994 provide impressive levels of insight into the legislative process. The Congressional Record is a substantially verbatim account of the remarks made by Senators and Representatives while they are on the floor of the Senate and the House of Representatives (the equivalent of the UK’s Hansard). It also includes all bills, resolutions, and motions proposed, as well as debates, and roll call votes. The Serial Set is comprised of the numbered Senate and House Documents and Senate and House Reports, bound by session of Congress. There is also a dedicated selection of maps with the Serial Set. The Serial Set, and its maps, can be accessed remotely by registered Readers. The maps can be browsed by State as well as topic. The image below shows the Indian Reservations in the United States in 1940.
The Library’s selection of electronic resources is very wide, and it is worth looking at resources which may not seem immediately ‘Political Studies’ yet may still hold relevant material. For example, the American History, 1493-1945 resource is drawn from the diverse collections of the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History in New York, and has some fascinating collections including materials related to the private lives of First Ladies, and Presidential Pardons. Below is part of the pardon by President Polk of an elderly counterfeiter, Samuel Howard, convicted of passing counterfeit coin and sentenced to three years’ imprisonment, who was pardoned due to age, previous honesty, his family’s dependence on him, the small amount of counterfeited money involved, and the judge’s recommendation for clemency.
Similarly, there are many aspects of US domestic politics which are well-covered in other thematic resources focused on different identity groups, such as women’s suffrage campaigns, LGBTQ+ political activism, and African-American civil rights campaigns and political activism. For example, the African American Communities resource holds legal papers of justices and policymakers which shed light on the politics around busing and school desegregation, including the Algernon Lee Butler Papers, 1928-1978, from the Southern Historical Collection at the Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The Butler Papers consist of Butler's political, legal, and personal papers from 1928 until 1978. Featured are a wide variety of writings and speeches Butler produced on political, educational, and civic topics, including materials relating to school desegregation and civil rights cases.
There are many full-text US newspapers available in the electronic resources, which were covered in this earlier post. These newspapers are a fantastic resource for many aspects of US social and political life. Importantly, these don’t just include historical newspapers. The British Library subscribes to the excellent NewsBank: Access World News resource, which is available via Remote Access for registered Readers. This is an extraordinary database and an excellent resource for events from the 1980s to the present, including full-text coverage of more than 1300 American dailies such as the Boston Herald (1991 to the present) and the New York Post (1999 to the present); transcripts of more than 200 major TV news and radio programmes including 60 Minutes (2004 to the present) and Fox News Channel (2003 to the present); full-text coverage of more than twenty news magazines; output from more than 300 web-only sources; and access to more than 80 newswires.
Finally, our electronic resources are very strong on US foreign policy and international relations, particularly how other countries viewed the US. These include the Confidential Print: North America, 1824-1961 collection which comes from the National Archives at Kew and contains British Government documents covering the US (as well as other parts of the Americas). The collection covers topics such as slavery, Prohibition, the First and Second World Wars, racial segregation, territorial disputes, the League of Nations, McCarthyism and the nuclear bomb. For a broader global perspective, researchers can explore the excellent Foreign Broadcast Information Service (also available via remote access). FBIS was a US government operation which translated the text of daily broadcasts, government statements, and select news stories from non-English sources. The idea was to understand more about foreign opinion of the United States and its policies. It is an archive of 20th century news from around the world, offering global views on US foreign and domestic policy after World War II. The documents cover the Cold War, the Middle East, Latin America, the Soviet Union and more. Below is an example from the Soviet Home Service criticising America’s perceived plans in Asia as it ended the official postwar occupation of Japan.
This whirlwind tour of the Library’s e-resources has just scratched the surface, but it does give an indication of the wide range of collections which include materials helpful for both historic and contemporary US Political Studies. For those interested in diving further into US politics at the Library, do check out the Collection Guide for US Federal Government Publications.
By Cara Rodway, Eccles Centre, April 2022
23 July 2021
This blog by Timothy Peacock is part of a special Summer Scholars blog series highlighting the recent research scholars and creatives associated with the Eccles Centre, including those supported by the Centre’s awards, have undertaken across the Library’s Americas collections.
75 years ago in July 1946, Operation Crossroads involved the first postwar nuclear weapons tests, at Bikini Atoll in the Pacific. These consisted of two Bombs, codenamed Able, which was dropped from an aircraft, and Baker, positioned underwater, both targeting a fleet of over 90 decommissioned US and captured WW2 ships.i Further examination of the British Library’s holdings, which include the Official Pictorial Report on Crossroads, highlights not only the destructive force of the weapons and their multiple impacts, but also the ‘power’ and paradoxes of the images themselves. Such paradoxes vary from the photography and ways in which images were used, to scientific planning being accompanied by choices based on luck rituals, to the wide range of what was tested beyond the ships themselves.
Figure 1 is a stark example, a composite near the end of the book which superimposes New York’s skyline onto the Crossroads Baker nuclear cloud, to give readers some frame of reference as to the potential scale of the blast. This image echoed contemporary practices of newspapers, which printed maps of US cities with circles on them to indicate potential radii of atomic destruction.ii Nevertheless, while generating contemporary interest, this is one of the images which has, ironically, not been nearly as widely circulated in subsequent years as those of the unobscured originals (including, for instance, Figure 2). These pictures, which showed the growth of the cloud itself, whether from closeup or afar, seem to have had an even more powerful impact and reusability, possibly by not being tied to any skyline or context, and the even greater psychological visual disparity they display, engulfing the tiny dots at their base which were full-sized battleships.
A significant paradox is that Crossroads was, at the time, one of the most photographed events in history, but many of the pictures were not made public. The Record itself is a mere 200 still images out of over 50,000 taken. Half the world’s film footage was used to capture the event, leading to shortages in Hollywood and film studios elsewhere for months. However, much footage remained (and remains) classified, some material only released in recent years. Those images which are available illustrate a fraction of the different perspectives and cameras used, including the self-referential pictures of the camera equipment itself. A further paradox is that only a few thousand televisions existed in the US in 1946, so many people would have experienced Crossroads either via the shared ritual of watching on newsreels in cinemas or through pictures in newspapers or in this Record.
While Crossroads involved highly scientific and rigorous planning, it is interesting to see the extent to which photos also captured human rituals of betting and chance and how these shaped parts of the exercise. However, these rituals either echoed previous responses to such scientific uncertainties or were considered fair methods of selection. In some cases, this involved decisions prior to Crossroads: the former German battleship Prinz Eugen, for example, pictured in the Report and one of the three non-US target vessels, had originally been awarded as a war prize to the US by drawing lots with the British and Soviets for other vessels.iii At Bikini Atoll, there were informal pools among military personnel and scientists (Figure 4), betting on such aspects as “how many ships would be sunk [by Crossroads], or as to the exact time” of bomb detonation for the air-dropped weapon. Similarly, while those few journalists documenting Crossroads Able from the air were selected by their peers (Figure 5) “the radio commentator was chosen by lot”. That these latter details and images are even contained in the Record shows something of them being regarded as significant in the ‘human’ stories behind the tests, while also reminiscent of the very first nuclear bomb test ‘Trinity’ a year earlier, when scientists took bets, including on whether they were going to set the atmosphere on fire!iv
While Crossroads mainly involved testing atomic bombs against ships, the images also highlight, paradoxically, the wide variety of equipment loaded onto the decks of target vessels to assess how atomic bombs would impact these, from tanks and aircraft parts to clothing and rations.
75 years on, perhaps the greatest paradox from these images is that Crossroads’ story, which was foundational in the history of nuclear weapons development and was intended to have the widest possible photographic/filmic dissemination, remains relatively unknown. Its history is, ironically, overshadowed by its most visual legacy in popular culture, the mushroom cloud itself.
Dr Timothy Peacock, Eccles Fellow 2019, is a Lecturer in Modern History at the University of Glasgow. He is on Twitter @DrTimPeacock
i The source material for this blog is drawn from Joint Task Force One. Operation Crossroads: The Official Pictorial Record. New York: Wm. H. Wise & Co. 1946, p. 71. British Library shelfmark: W67/5211. This item is also available digitally courtesy of the Biodiversity Heritage Library. For further information about the Operation, see Jonathan M. Weisgall, Operation Crossroads: The Atomic Tests at Bikini Atoll (Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, 1994) British Library shelfmark: Document Supply 94/14429
ii Rosemary B. Mariner, The Atomic Bomb and American Society: New Perspectives (University of Tennessee Press, 2009), p. 4.
iii Fritz-Otto Busch, Prinz Eugen (London: First Futura Publications, 1975), pp. 212-13. British Library shelfmark: General Reference Collection X.708/41193
iv US DOE, ‘The Manhattan Project’ - https://www.osti.gov/opennet/manhattan-project-history/Events/1945/trinity.htm
19 June 2021
Yesterday marked the first observance of Juneteenth as a national holiday in the US, following President Joe Biden signing the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act into law earlier this week. Today, Saturday 19 June, is actually Juneteenth, and marks the 156th anniversary of the day when enslaved people in Texas learned of their freedom. Whilst the Emancipation Proclamation delivered by President Abraham Lincoln in 1862 had officially outlawed slavery in all the rebel states, enforcement generally relied on the arrival of Union troops. Texas was the most remote of the slave states and it wasn’t until 19 June 1865 that General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, and issued General Order Number 3 at locations around the city, informing Texans that all slaves were now free.
Juneteenth was marked by African American residents of Galveston in 1866 and annual celebrations gradually spread across Texas, then the south and eventually to other parts of the country, often thanks to Texans migrating. Celebrations are typically locally organised. In the early years they combined religious, civil and community elements.
In 1895 the community of Parsons, Kansas, a railroad town which would have had many black residents with connections to Texas, held its first community Juneteenth celebration. The ‘Local and Personal News’ column of the Parsons Weekly Blade, an African-American newspaper, reported that:
Last Wednesday the citizens of this city and vicinity, native Texans, assembled in the fair grounds to commemorate the thirtieth anniversary of the liberation of the bonded Afro-American of Texas. After indulging in various pleasures, they were called to the sumptuous repasts that were spread by our energetic ladies […]. At 3:30 the people were called together in the amphitheater to hear the speakers of the day.1
There were songs, including ‘Hold the Fort’, a gospel hymn inspired by a Union victory in 1864, which melds martial and Christian imagery, and ‘John Brown’s Body’, a popular song commemorating the executed abolitionist John Brown and his attack on Harper’s Ferry in 1859. Both songs had been popular with the Union army during the Civil War. (They still held currency in 1895 and would continue to have a place in the gospel and folk traditions, as well as within protest and workers movements in the 20th century: you can find Pete Seeger, for example, performing both songs on YouTube if you’d like to hear them.)
Following the music and speeches by religious leaders, ‘an animated game of base ball was witnessed; when the happy throng repaired to their homes expressing themselves as highly pleased with their first Juneteenth celebration.’
Well into the 20th century, Juneteenth celebrations continued to have a regional flavour and were generally still associated with Texas. In 1941 The Negro Star, a black newspaper from Wichita, Kansas, ran an Associated Negro Press story, ‘Texas Preparing for “Juneteenth” Celebration’. Reporting from Houston, Texas, the item noted that, ‘This city, together with the rest of Tan Texas is busily preparing for the annual “Juneteenth” celebration, most colorful and all inclusive holiday celebrated by Negroes in the Lone Star state. Held on June 19th, civic, social and fraternal organizations join hands in celebrating their day of deliverance from slavery.’2 The article went on to explain that ‘most people use [the day] as a means of being excused from work. Few if any of them can be found on their jobs on that day. White employers have found it expedient to overlook their colored employees’ absence on Juneteenth.’ The main events were to be held in Emancipation Park, an area of the city originally solely used to mark Juneteenth but later donated to the city, and which, from 1922 to 1940 was the only park for African-Americans during segregation.3 There was to be ‘a traditional program of speaking and singing of spirituals […], and guests were to include ‘World war vets, Spanish-American war vets, and the few remaining ex-slaves.’ The inclusion of the formerly enslaved in an event taking place during the Second World War is a stark reminder, even now, of how near the experience of slavery is in human terms.
The popularity of Juneteenth celebrations dipped during the Civil Rights era, when campaigning energies were put towards integrationist efforts and making space for black Americans within existing social, political and cultural structures. However, with the rise of Black Power and renewed interest in African American history and culture in the late 1960s and 1970s, Juneteenth saw a resurgence across the US. This revival saw large celebrations take place in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Milwaukee, Wisconsin during the 1970s.
In 1974 the Milwaukee Star, an African American newspaper, reviewed the inner city Juneteenth celebrations of the previous week, giving a sense of the vibrancy of the event with people ‘dancing, laughing and singing’ in a heavily-illustrated article.4 Black arts and culture had taken a larger role in the celebrations by this point: the article noted ‘on one side street a poet stands speaking to a small crowd on Black love, while next to him a local DJ tries hard to drown him out with a very loud James Brown record.’ The journalist, Michael Holt, also noted the political tensions encapsulated by the day, describing a pull between those who felt the anniversary should be a solemn occasion and those ‘who look at the festivities as a vehicle to relieve the inner frustrations, if only for a day.’ Holt quoted a University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee professor who had told his class the previous year that the ‘so-called Juneteenth Day celebration “was nothing but a modern day version of the practice in slavery days of masters giving slaves the day off to get drunk and release tensions upon themselves.” But despite the explanation by the professor, many of his students could be seen roaming the streets on the so-call Black Fourth of July celebration.’
The connection to the Fourth of July Independence Day celebrations has often prompted reflection on the broader significance of Juneteenth. A thoughtful editorial by Paula Harris-White in the Afro-Hawaii News in July 1991 noted that the Fourth of July holiday ‘often serves as a reminder of the position that people of color have held in America. They have been slaves, coolie workers, “savages”, foreigners, in spite of the fact that this was their place of birth. For many Americans, actual independence came long after July 4, 1776. Sometimes people who thought they were free, could have that freedom arbitrarily revoked, even in the 20th century, because their name was Wantanabe or Yamada.’5 Harris-White went on to explain the origins of Juneteenth to her readers and observed, ‘I share this information with all of you because sometimes we need to put our history in perspective. While I do acknowledge those leaders who chose to liberate the thirteen colonies from England, as a woman of color, I can quite never forget that their act of declaring freedom did not include people like me.’
As Kevin Young, Andrew W. Mellon director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, noted in the New York Times on 18 June 2021:
What Juneteenth and other Emancipation days commemorate is both the promise of freedom and its delay. For June 19, 1865, doesn’t mark the day enslaved African Americans were set free in the United States but the day the news of Emancipation reached them in Texas, two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation. It is a holiday ringed, like a good brisket, though not in smoke but irony. Out of such ironies Black people have made the blues, made lemonade, made good. The lesson of Juneteenth is both of celebration and expectation, of freedom deferred but still sought and of the freedoms to come.6
For those interested in researching African American history at the British Library, the African American Newspapers 1827-1998 digital resource from Readex is an excellent starting point, and is available for registered readers to access remotely. You can find out about the range of remote access e-resources here, including the US Congressional Serial Set, American Broadsides and Ephemera, and Early American Newspapers.
-- Cara Rodway, Eccles Centre
1. ‘Local and Personal News,’ Parsons Weekly Blade (Parsons, Kansas), June 22, 1895 (p.4)
2. ‘Texas Preparing for "Juneteenth" Celebration,’ The Negro Star (Wichita, Kansas), June 6, 1941 (p.3)
3. ‘Emancipation Park, Written Historical and Descriptive Data’, Historic American Landscapes Survey, HALS No. TX-7, HABS/HAER/HALS Collection at the Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division (available here)
4. ‘It Happened: June 19,’ Milwaukee Star (Milwaukee, Wisconsin), June 27, 1974 (p.5)
5. Editorial, Afro-Hawai'i News (published as Afro-Hawaii News) (Honolulu, Hawaii), July 31, 1991 (p.3)
6. Young, Kevin, ‘Opinion: Juneteenth Is a National Holiday Now. Can It Still Be Black?,’ New York Times, June 18, 2021 (accessed online)
11 February 2017
Eighty years ago today – following a 44-day sit-down strike at their plant in Flint, Michigan – General Motors (GM) formally recognised the United Automobile Workers (UAW) as the sole bargaining authority for the striking workers.
It is almost impossible to over-estimate the impact this recognition had upon both the unionisation of the American automobile industry and the labour movement across the United States.
In the early years of the Great Depression, increased workloads and cuts in pay were commonplace across the auto industry. In 1935, the average auto worker’s income was barely half that deemed by the government to be a minimum for a family of four. The following summer, hundreds of workers died in Michigan auto plants due to the heat wave and on-going poor working conditions. Theoretically, such conditions made these plants ripe for union organisation. However, strikes in 1930 and 1934 had been viciously broken up by the Flint police, aided by company informers; indeed, GM paid $839,000 for detective work in 1934 alone (1).
In 1935, the passage of the National Labor Relations Act – which legalised strikes – invigorated the Congress of Industrial Organizations' efforts to unionize industrial plants across the US. The following summer, UAW officials unaffiliated with existing (GM-infiltrated) locals began organising in Flint – an audacious plan, given it was essentially a company town; yet, they recognised the pay-off could be enormous. To avoid detection, they met with workers in their own homes and encouraged them to join; many did so. General Motors’ reaction was swift. On 29 December union leaders learned that over the New Year’s holiday the company planned to remove the huge and vital ‘dies’ used to make car bodies. If this happened, cars could be made elsewhere, thereby weakening the union’s strategic position. Recognising what was at stake, the workers refused to leave the plant.
The next 44 days were unprecedented in the history of American labour. Inside the plant, the workers organised themselves into committees for cleaning, defence, entertainment and exercise, while supporters outside brought them food and supplies.
Wikimedia Commons, provided by Farm Security Administration (LC-USF34-040031-D).
Finally, on 11 February 1937, GM signed an agreement recognising the UAW, and agreeing not to discriminate against those workers who had struck. The following year, nearly one-hundred sit-down strikes took place in auto plants across the country; UAW membership rose from 50,000 to 300,000; and auto worker wages rose by as much as 300%. This historic sit-down strike presaged a decade of intense union activity across American industry, and an extraordinary improvement in the lives of ordinary workers.
The British Library holds a wide variety of materials documenting the labour movement within the United States, including: reports, newspapers and recruiting pamphlets by individual unions, the CIO and the American Federation of Labor (AFL); Congressional hearings, reports, and federal legislation; publications by political parties, including the Socialist Party and the Communist Party of America; and reports by civil rights organisations. Additionally, the rise and activity of the unions may also be documented through our extensive collection of American newspapers, secondary sources, and electronic databases.
George E. Novack, Witch-hunt in Minnesota: the federal prosecution of the Socialist Workers Party and Local 544, CIO. New York: Civil Defense Committee, [1941?]. Shelfmark: YD.2005.a.6863; The CIO: what it is and how it came to be. Washington, DC: Committee for Industrial Organization, 1937. Shelfmark: YD.2009.a.1501
Communist Party of the United States. For a Powerful, United A.F. of L. New York: Workers Library, 1936. Shelfmark: YD.2007.a.1654; Communist Party of the United States. Greetings to the American Working People on the Occasion of the First Anniversary of the Great Labor Merger, AFL-CIO! New York: Labor Committee, Communist Party, USA, [195?]. Shelfmark: YD.2009.a.1322
John G. Kruchko, The Birth of a Union Local: the history of UAW Local 674, Norwood, Ohio, 1933 to 1940. Ithaca, NY: New York State School of Industrial and Labor Relations, Cornell University, 1972. Shelfmark: q72/20497
1. "The 1936 - 37 Flint, Michigan Sit-Down Strike," BBC, Retrieved May 18, 2012, from http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/place-london/A672310
16 November 2016
Have you visited the British Library in Boston Spa yet? Did you know that you can access millions of books, journals and newspapers from the Boston Spa Reading Room? If you live in the north of England, the British Library at Boston Spa may be the most convenient way to view our collections.
Last Friday the Americas Team and the Eccles Centre for American Studies joined forces for a special training session on resources for American Studies at the British Library at Boston Spa.
50 students from the universities of Leeds, Chester, Birmingham, York, Northumbria, Sunderland, Central Lancashire, Sheffield and Dundee, among others, joined us on a misty autumnal morning in North Yorkshire to explore the British Library’s North American holdings.
The British Library at Boston Spa from the sky (we went by train)
The day began with an introduction to the British Library holdings and the history of the American collections within the Library. We had a look at the different catalogues for printed items, manuscripts, and the sound archive, as well as our collection of e-resources. This was followed by a virtual show and tell of highlights in our American collections (take a look at our American Revolution and American Literature in Europe sites to see a few of the items we discussed).
Our day continued with a fascinating presentation about the Boston Spa site and the UK newspaper collections by our colleagues Joanne Cox and David Clayforth, where we heard about how the Library’s different sites and collections have been reconfigured over time. The Eccles Centre’s Fran Fuentes illustrated how the newspaper collections holds vast potential for researchers working in the Americas, and guided students through a case study focussing on holdings of regional US newspapers. This was followed by two parallel sessions: one on resources for the study of American literature, where we looked at the research potential of comparing UK and US editions as well as our wonderful collection of fine press books, and one on US official publications, where Jennie Grimshaw helped students navigate our immense and sometimes challenging collection.
We are hoping to organise a similar training day in 2017 and we will advertise it widely on the blog and our twitter accounts @_Americas and @BL_EcclesCentre. Do let us know if there are any areas in the collections about which you would like to learn more!
07 April 2015
President Nixon celebrating FBI Director Hoover's birthday on Air Force One with Secretary of State William P. Rogers and Mrs. Rogers, 12/31/1971 National Archives Identifier: 194400 Local Identifier: NLRN-WHPO-C8156-2 Creator(s): General Services Administration. National Archives and Records Service. Office of Presidential Libraries. Office of Presidential Papers. (01/20/1969 - ca. 12/1974) https://www.flickr.com/photos/nleomf/8466362812/sizes/l/in/photostream/
It was a great pleasure last month to hear Alexander Butterfield in conversation with Professor Iwan Morgan at the Library. Butterfield was a trusted member of the Nixon's inner circle since the President's inauguration in 1969. By February 1971, Butterfield was instructed to oversee the installation of the now infamous White House taping system. In 1973, he revealed its existence to the Senate Select Committee and the Watergate investigation was transformed.
Now in his late eighties Butterfield provided clear and humorous insight into life in the Nixon White House. For me, the talk reminded me of a long shadow that hung over the U.S. Executive until 1972, that of J. Edgar Hoover. Hoover was brought to mind, not because he was mentioned directly, but in 1937, a Richard Milhous Nixon applied to join the FBI. From the documents available in the FBI online Records, it appears that Nixon passed all the various tests required. Nor did the extensive background checks flag up anything untoward. Nevertheless Nixon was not appointed a FBI field agent, though no explicit reason was given. However, a memorandum to Hoover, on the 18th March 1954, stated that:
“[T]he reason for the cancellation of the appointment is not reflected in the file. It may be assumed that the view of the fact that Mr Nixon was not immediately available for appointment, and based on our needs in August of 1937, that the appointment was cancelled.”
It is no coincidence that this memo was written at this juncture. By 1954 Nixon was in his second year as Vice- President in the Eisenhower administration. Indeed, from November 1946 when Nixon was elected as Representative for California, along with John F. Kennedy for Massachusetts and a Senator Joseph R. McCarthy for Wisconsin, all of the aforementioned would have received a fresh FBI file as newly elected legislators. Clearly in the subsequent years of Congressional service, Nixon and Hoover’s relationship must have developed, not least because Nixon’s anti-communist views were closely aligned to those of Joseph McCarthy’s who courted Hoover’s friendship from his arrival at the Capitol.
As McCarthy’s recklessness “threatened to the respectability of Republican anti-Communism”, Eisenhower used Nixon as a go-between in an effort to restrain the maverick Wisconsin Senator. Nevertheless, the closeness of the Nixon/Hoover relationship over the years was possibly best illustrated by Hoover’s bragging in FBI circles that he had created Nixon. This would have been reinforced in Hoover’s own mind when as President–elect Nixon met with Hoover early on at his transition headquarters in New York, promising him, 'Edgar, you are one of the few people who is to have direct access to me at all times.'
Inevitably Hoover held the whip hand in their relationship since on the two occasions when Nixon came under pressure to force Hoover to resign and summoned him to the Oval Office, he always left with his position as Director of the FBI intact. It was heart disease and not the Executive which ended J. Edger Hoover’s tenure.
Ironically, it was at that meeting in the Hotel Pierre in New York where Hoover planted the seed that would ultimately result in Nixon’s downfall.
Hoover warned Nixon, who as President-elect would attend the White House as the guest of the incumbent, then President Johnson, that he should be careful what he said, because 'Johnson had installed elaborate electronic equipment which enabled him secretly to record conversations in the Oval Office.'
On Nixon’s orders his deputy assistant Alexander Butterfield instructed the Secret Service to install recording devices in various locations around the White House, including five microphones fitted into the fabric of the Oval Office desk.
- Jerry Jenkins
A collection of Nixon’s recordings are freely available online: http://www.nixontapes.org/index.html
Presidential Campaign Activities of 1972, S. Res. 60. Watergate and Related Activities Phase 1: Watergate Investigation. Book 5. Accessible via the Congressional Hearings Digital Collection, 1824-1979
Morgan, Iwan, Nixon Arnold. London 2002 BL.Shelkmark : YC.2002.a.23723
Gentry, Curt, J. Edgar Hoover: the Man and the Secrets. WW. Norton: London 2001 BL Shelfmark : YA.1992.b.4224
The Watergate investigation index: Senate Select Committee hearings and reports on presidential campaign activities, compiled by Hedda Garza, Wilmington : Scholarly Resources, 1982. BL Shelfmark : X:205/1531
04 February 2014
Wikimedia Commons, provided by the National Archives and Records Administration
The Federal Writers’ Project was established by President Franklin D Roosevelt in 1935 – six years into the Great Depression. At its peak it provided employment for more than 7,500 writers, editors, historians and other white collar workers.
Yet while its primary aim was to provide economic relief, the Project’s highly ambitious first Director, Henry Alsberg, regarded it as a means by which to vividly document America’s rapidly changing cultural landscape.
Today, the Project is perhaps best known for its American Guide Series – a set of travel guides to the 48 states, plus Alaska territory, Puerto Rico and Washington, DC. Unlike traditional guides, these included not only driving tours documenting what could be found at every stop, but long photographic essays detailing the economic, cultural and historical resources of each state. All but a few of these are held by the British Library, as are many of the regional, county, city and town guides that were also produced.
Festivals of San Francisco, James Ladd Delkin [in association with] Stanford University, 1939. Printed at the Grabhorn Press. This particularly fine edition was part of a gift of 90 American imprints to the Eccles Centre in 2002 from Princeton University Library to celebrate the 90th birthday of Lady Eccles.
In addition to the guides, the Project produced ethnic studies such as The Italians of New York (shelfmark: L.70/641) and The Armenians of Massachusetts (shelfmark: YA.1991.a.15502); urban and rural folklore collections, including Nebraska Folklore (shelfmark: X.700/21082) and Drums and Shadows: Survival Studies among the Georgia Coastal Negroes (shelfmark: 010007.h.70); and nature studies.
The Project also collected the narratives of more than 2,300 former slaves in seventeen states, although most of these remained unseen until the multi-volume The American Slave: A Composite Autobiography was published in the 1970s (refer to guide below).
The Library’s extensive holdings are listed in The Federal Writers' Project: a guide to material held at the British Library.
Americas and Oceania Collections blog recent posts
- Black Women’s Activism in the Americas
- Electronic Resources for US Politics
- The Paradoxes of Power: Photographic records and postwar nuclear testing
- Celebrating Juneteenth
- The Flint Sit-down Strike, 1936-37
- American Studies Training Day in Boston Spa
- Nixon and Hoover
- Federal Writers' Project publications
- Eisenhower and European Integration
- Bert the Turtle: or, how they learned to stop worrying and love the bomb