Monday, January 31, 2011

Treasures from the Vertical Files: Fritz Pollard’s Brown Bombers

Just in time for Super Bowl XLV, today’s treasure is a collection of football programs for the Brown Bombers, an all-black professional football team based in Harlem in the 1930s. Although many people are familiar with the Negro Baseball League, less well-known is the brief period of segregation in professional football (1933-1946), which led to the creation of all-black teams such as the Brown Bombers and Chicago Comets.

Professional football began in the 1890s in local athletic clubs. While these local teams had a small base of fans, football remained relatively obscure compared to nationally prominent pro sports, such as baseball or boxing. In an effort to popularize football, teams encouraged all talented athletes, regardless of color, to join them. Star African American players, such as Charles Follis, Paul Robeson, and Fritz Pollard, pictured below, were sought after to win games and draw spectators. Nevertheless, black players faced verbal and physical abuse from white fans and opponents. Hotels and restaurants that excluded black players caused indignities and logistical problems when teams travelled.

By the late 1920s, as football became more accepted nationally and white players vied to join teams, team owners began releasing black players. The high unemployment rates of the Great Depression put additional pressure on teams to hire white players. In addition, owners wanted to avoid the controversy of integrated teams in order to retain their new-found audiences. As a result, in 1933, white team owners in the National Football League (NFL) formed an unwritten, “gentleman’s agreement” to bar black players from the league. Although a few regional leagues continued to hire a handful of black players, the NFL dominated the sport.

In response, Fritz Pollard, a former pro football player and coach, assembled and coached the all-black Brown Bombers in 1935. Based at Dyckman Oval in Harlem, the Bombers provided a showcase where talented black players could compete professionally. Pollard hoped to counter the obviously false claims by white team owners that they could not find capable black players. Pollard also attempted to schedule exhibition games against local white teams to show that black and white football players could compete without incident. Pollard recruited former top African American players from white and black colleges, as well as some non-college players. At one point, Howard “Dixie” Matthews, pictured below, a former end for the Providence Steam Roller, anchored the Bombers.

Despite the talented roster, the Brown Bombers struggled to overcome low attendance. In order to draw audiences, Pollard instituted stunts and unusual plays. The Bombers’ truckin’ and singing as they proceeded to the scrimmage line became a trademark of the team. The Bombers also developed unorthodox formations, such as the “aeroplane shift” to mystify their opponents and entertain crowds. Although the Bombers’ showmanship was popular with Harlem fans and increased game attendance, the team still did not make enough money to generate a profit.

In 1938, a competing team gained exclusive use of Dyckman Oval, leaving the Bombers without a suitable stadium in which to play their home games. Discouraged by the loss of their home and white team owners’ continued failure to sign his players, Pollard resigned as coach of the team. The Bombers continued as a road team until the early 1940s.

Efforts by civil rights organizations eventually led to the desegregation of professional sports, including the reintegration of the NFL in 1946. Unfortunately, by that time, most of the great black players of the 1930s were too old or too injured to play in NFL. However, by creating opportunities for African Americans to play pro football and by battling segregation, Fritz Pollard and the Brown Bombers formed an underappreciated front in the Civil Rights Movement.


John Carrol, Fritz Pollard: A Pioneer in Racial Advancement (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1992)

Charles K. Ross, Outside the Lines: African Americans and the Integration of the National Football League (New York: New York University Press, 1999)

Posted by Krystal Appiah, Brown University, former AARL Archives Intern

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Archives and Publics: Rebecca Burns + "Burial for a King" + Research

On Thursday, February 24, 2011, author and journalist Rebecca Burns will discuss her new book, Burial for a King: Martin Luther King Jr.'s Funeral and the Week that Transformed Atlanta and Rocked the Nation. Read about it here. The event takes place at 7:00 p.m. in the Authors’ and Writers’ Lounge on the 3rd floor and is free and open to the public. If you are in the area, it will be an amazing opportunity to see Burns, as AARL is one of the many research libraries she used to write the book. Copies will be available for purchase.

If you aren’t familiar with Rebecca Burns, spend a few moments here. While well-known as former editor in chief and, now, interactive director at Atlanta magazine, she also is a prolific writer who has published three books in a relatively short amount of time. In addition to Burial for a King, Burns is author of Rage in the Gate City: the Story of the 1906 Atlanta Race Riot, now in its second edition, and Atlanta: Yesterday & Today.

While an accomplished journalist and author, Burns is featured in this post for another reason. She’s an advocate and user of archives. Pick up any of her books, and you will find evidence of exhaustive research through lists of primary and secondary sources, which sometimes include informative notations. I witnessed firsthand the countless hours Burns spent researching AARL collections for Atlanta: Yesterday & Today and Burial for a King; some weeks she worked concurrently on both projects. Throughout months and months of research, Burns exhibited great rigor, thoroughness, and passion.  

The relationship between archivist and researcher is often a collaborative process filled with leads, dead ends, and discoveries. But there’s more to research than this one-to-one relationship. As the editors of Beyond the Archives: Research as Lived Process note, “the process [sic] of research itself creates new knowledge, not just published results” (p. 6). It is generative, transmissive. In other words, those involved in the process are changed as a result of new information and, in turn, change others through intellectual exchange. Examples at hand are an author’s talk or an archivist’s blog post. Both become settings through which findings and information are delivered and meaningful conversations can occur, whether it’s through a question and answer session or comments section.

Please join us Tuesday, February 24th, for what promises to be a wonderful evening of learning and dialogue.


Rebecca Burns, Rage in the Gate City: The Story of the 1906 Atlanta Race Riot, 2nd ed., (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2009)

_______, Atlanta: Yesterday & Today (Lincolnwood, IL: Publications International, Ltd., 2010)

_______, Burial for a King: Martin Luther King Jr.'s Funeral and the Week that Transformed Atlanta and Rocked the Nation (New York: Scribner, 2011)

Gesa E. Kirsch and Liz Rohan, eds., Beyond Archives: Research as Lived Process (Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 2008)

Posted by Wesley Chenault, Library Research Associate

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Opening of the Andrew J. Young Papers


On Sunday, March 6, the Auburn Avenue Research Library will host an event to celebrate the opening of the Andrew J. Young Papers.

In 2009, the archives received a grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources to process the collection. It documents the various aspects of his career and family life spanning more than 50 years, including his positions as a minister, civil rights activist, Congressman, Ambassador to the United Nations, Mayor of Atlanta, Co-Chair of the 1996 Atlanta Committee of the Olympic Games, and his involvement with Law Companies Group, Inc. and GoodWorks International.

The collection contains correspondence, speeches, press releases, calendars, books, minutes, reports, publications, articles, photographs, artifacts, textiles, trophies and awards, artwork, posters, programs, invitations, campaign memorabilia, manuscripts, travel documents, notes, sermons, ephemera, and audio-visual material.

More details to come soon. We hope you can join us to celebrate this momentous occasion!

Posted by Cheryl Oestreicher, Project Archivist

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Archives and Publics: J. (Joseph) Richardson Jones Update

This Archives and Publics post provides an update to Dr. Barbara McCaskill and Christina L. Davis's continuing research on J. (Joseph) Richardson Jones.  Pictured below is a revised timeline of Jones's early involvement in radio and vaudeville, which was compiled by Davis based on her research of historic black newspapers. If any blog readers have access to transcription discs or memorabilia from of any of these performances please contact Dr. McCaskill, who's information can be found here.

In addition to the updated timeline, AARL Archives Division is also proud to present a link to the New Georgia Encyclopedia article on J. (Joseph) Richardson Jones, authored by McCaskill and Davis.  See here. The article is proof of the dedication and collaborative spirit they have exhibited through their research, and we congratulate them on its publication!

Posted by Nicole Carmolingo, AARL Archives Intern

Monday, January 3, 2011

Roscoe Conkling Simmons family papers

Pictured above is Anita Martin of the Archives Division as she processes the Roscoe Conkling Simmons family papers. AARL Archives recently acquired the collection and would like to ring in the New Year by giving our blog readers a preview. Roscoe Conkling Simmons (1881-1951) was born in Mississippi and died in Illinois. Simmons was well known during his life as an African American orator, journalist, and political figure. He was a columnist for the Chicago Tribune, making him the first African American columnist working for a daily newspaper in Chicago. His oratorical skills were often employed by the Republican Party, of which he was a devoted member. When needed, the GOP called on Simmons to marshal black votes to support its causes. He was also the nephew of Booker T. Washington, whose third wife was his aunt. He married Althea Merchant Simmons and had three sons, William Murray Simmons, Thomas Murray Simmons, and Roscoe Conkling Simmons Jr (by a former marriage).

The Roscoe Conkling Simmons family papers consist of a variety of documents and materials. One of the largest segments of the collection is the correspondence, which contains approximately 645 letters, cards and telegrams. Many of the letters were authored by William and Thomas and sent to their mother, Althea, between 1952-1962. Coinciding with the Civil Rights Movement, they were written while the sons were at college and when William served as a captain in the United States Air Force. Another significant portion of the collection is the approximately 600 photographs, which date from the 1860s through the 1950s. About 100 of the photos document Althea’s college years at the University of Illinois. In addition to the many photographs and letters, the Roscoe Conkling Simmons family papers also contain eight books from his personal library, thirty pieces of historical ephemera, a 1916 diary written by Althea during her freshman year of college, as well as a painting of her.

The Archives Division is very excited about the opportunities this collection will offer researchers and historians. While it's currently unavailable for use, the Division hopes to announce its opening very soon. Those interested should note that the Harvard University Archives also has a Roscoe Conkling Simmons collection.


Boulware, Marcus H. The Oratory of Negro Leaders, 1900-1968. Negro Universities Press, 1969.

Lentz-Smith, Adriane Dannette. Freedom Struggles: African Americans and World War I. Harvard University Press, 2009.

Posted by Nicole Carmolingo, AARL Archives Intern