Friday, September 23, 2011

MLK and Monuments

September 21st has been designated by the United Nations as International Day of Peace, an event that highlights the legacy of one of the most famous peacemakers in American history: Martin Luther King, Jr. In August, the monument commemorating his life and legacy was opened in a place of prominence in between the Lincoln and the Jefferson Memorials, comprising what the National Memorial Project Foundation’s website terms “a line of leadership." Despite setbacks surrounding the fund-raising efforts for the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial and differing opinions about its final design, its opening is a landmark achievement. Dr. King’s standing likeness almost mythically emerges from the “Stone of Peace,” which is encompassed by an ample tree-lined space, prompting reflection. While this statue features a stance of power that symbolizes the agency of African Americans in the fight for Civil Rights in the 1960s, Thomas Ball’s Freedman’s Memorial, or Emancipation Monument, in Lincoln Park (Washington, D. C.), remains a testament to the movement towards national conciliation at the expense of equal rights, a circumstance underscored by its dedication on the centennial of the nation’s founding. 

An 1863 Currier and Ives lithograph from the Print Collection of the AARL demonstrates “the standard representation of emancipation” from which Ball’s grouping is derived (Savage 1997, 56). As Kirk Savage explains in his monograph, Standing Soldiers, Kneeling Slaves, “The Freedman’s Memorial became the nation’s monument to emancipation even though the design might have better commemorated slavery” (129). Like Ball’s statue, this image also features a standing Abraham Lincoln and a kneeling enslaved African American man, but, unlike the Ball grouping, a mother figure with her children, presumably the formerly enslaved man’s family, are featured in the middle-ground of the composition. In the lithograph, Lincoln’s authority is reinforced through his positioning as the tallest figure, a stance that is exaggerated through the exaggerated through the extension of his right arm into the air and his upward-pointing index finger.
"Freedom to the Slaves," Lithograph, Currier and Ives (1863)
Proclaimed January 1st 1863, by Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States

“Proclaim liberty throughout All the land unto All the inhabitants thereof.” Lev XXV.10

Though similar to and resonant of the juxtaposition of Lincoln’s erectness against the subservience of the newly emancipated man in Ball’s Freedman’s Memorial, as a production of print culture, this image had the potential for a wider circulation and would be produced perhaps to ornament the home; by the mid-nineteenth century, the names of Currier and Ives were synonymous with pictorial reproductions that were meant to be available and affordable to all Americans. In the caption, a quotation from Leviticus frames the announcement of “Freedom to the Slaves,” as “Proclaimed” by Lincoln, conflating national events with biblical narratives, a rhetorical device that would have been welcomed by and comforting to many nineteenth-century viewers. The presence of the family grouping would thus possibly mirror the sacred place of home and family, negotiating a nuanced layering of God, nation, and home.
Engraving of The Freed Slave, Illustration for  Frank Leslie's Historical Register of the Centennial Exposition (1877)
At the Centennial Exposition in 1876, the same year that Thomas Ball’s statue was unveiled, however, Francesco Pezzicar’s The Freed Slave presented a very different picture of how the “freedman” could be represented. In his sculpture, a black man with outstretched arms looks upward, clutching a copy of the Emancipation Act in his left hand. Along with the Currier and Ives print, the collections of the AARL contain the reproduction of this statue in the pages of Frank Leslie's Historical Register of the Centennial Exposition. This picture also features a family combination of mother and children, but the most prominent member of this grouping is an African American boy, gazing up at the active and assertive man represented in the statue before him. The contrast between the Currier and Ives lithograph and the illustration in Frank Leslie’s Historical Register displays the prevailing sentiment promoting racial inequality during the Civil War and Reconstruction that would prompt the need for drastic social change one hundred years after emancipation; as King stated in his 1963 “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” These two images are among the many such examples of the richness of print and periodical culture located in the Print Collection at the AARL.


Brown, Josh. "Another View of the Statue of Emancipation." Picturing U.S. History. Accessed September 23, 2011.

National Memorial Project Foundation. "Build the Dream." Accessed September 23, 2011.
Savage, Kirk. Standing Soldiers, Kneeling Slaves: Race, War, and Monument in Nineteenth-Century America. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997.

Posted by Joy Bracewell, AARL Intern

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Questionable verdict reminds some of Ga.'s flawed judicial past

Atlanta Civil Rights Attorney, Donald L. Hollowell 1917-2004

Troy Davis is a name that many will never forget. Convicted in 1989 for killing a Chatham county police officer, Davis was sentenced to death by lethal injection. After 20 years of proceedings, appeals, and denials, Davis was scheduled to be executed on September 21, 2011. The state, nation, and world waited on pins and needles as the U.S. Supreme Court halted the execution for one more appeal; although eventually, it was denied.

But this is not the first time Georgia has made headlines for questionable judicial rulings. Davis’s story is quite similar to Preston Cobb. Preston, a native of Monticello, GA, was accused and convicted in 1961 of killing Frank Coleman Dumas, a 70-year-old white farmer, who owned the land on which he and his family worked. At the time Cobb was just 15 years old. At the mercy of an all-white jury, he too was sentenced to death.

Cobb’s case went through the Georgia courts and was appealed to the US Supreme court by the NAACP’s General Counsel Robert L. Carter and an NAACP Atlanta lawyer, Donald L. Hollowell.

The same outrage and concern Pope Benedict XVI, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and many other human rights organizations expressed over Davis’s case, was also reflected in the support Cobb received.
Women’s societies protested the sentencing and the judicial decision to transfer Cobb to a facility for “hardened criminals.” Also many international student groups created petitions and campaigns requesting his clemency. A Dutch delegation even came to the states to plead on Cobb’s behalf to the governor.

At the time of Cobb’s case, Georgia law permitted the execution of convicted children as young as 14 years old. But global attention surrounding the case persuaded Georgia Gov. S. Ernest Vandiver to recommend the law’s revision, setting precedence for those under the age of 18 convicted of crimes and sentenced to death. With the unrelenting help of the NAACP and global support, Cobb’s fate as being the youngest to die by execution in Georgia was never realized. Although he still served a substantial sentence of 18 years in jail.

Though many are saddened or conflicted over Troy Davis’s execution, we remain hopeful that the Davis case will be just as influential as Cobb’s in reforming the justice system and our penal legislation.

If you are interested in seeking more information on this historic case and the tireless work of Donald L. Hollowell , please visit the Auburn Avenue Research Library to access primary and secondary sources in the Reference & Research and Archives Divisions. The Donald L. Hollowell Papers are currently being processed and will soon be available for research.


"Ga. Legislature to Decide Boy's Future." Atlanta Daily World, October 10, 1961, p. 1.

"Hearing in Cobb Case October 26." Atlanta Daily World, October 24, 1961, p. 4.

"The Curtains Fall on The Preston Cobb Case." Atlanta Daily World, February 25, 1968, p. 4.

Posted by Yewande Addie, AARL Intern

Thursday, September 15, 2011

From Natchez to Buckingham Palace

Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield

Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield became the first and one of the most celebrated African American singers to gain recognition in both Europe and the United States. Her determination, talents, and gifts took her to places beyond what anyone could imagine for a slave from Mississippi during the 1850's. Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield, also known as The Black Swan, possessed an incredible and powerful clear 27-31 note voice range. She sang soprano, tenor, and bass. James Trotter, one of her vocal contemporaries, described her as having “remarkably sweet tones and wide vocal compass.” She worked hard and persevered to overcome the challenges surrounding her.

Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield was born a slave in Natchez, Mississippi as Elizabeth Taylor in 1824. At the tender age of one, she was taken to Philadelphia by her namesake and owner Mrs. Elizabeth Greenfield, who she was named for. Once settled in Philadelphia, Mrs. Elizabeth Greenfield joined the Society of Friends and freed the slaves she owned. However, Miss Elizabeth continued to serve as a maid and companion. A self-taught vocalist and musician Miss Elizabeth learned to play the piano, guitar, and harp, often providing entertainment for Mrs. Greenfield’s guests. After Mrs. Greenfield’s death, she supported herself by giving public and private performances, gaining significant recognition throughout the Northeast.  

On March 31, 1853, in a landmark engagement, Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield made her New York City debut at Metropolitan Hall, drawing an all-white audience that exceeded nearly 4,000 people. Though she had quite a following among white audiences, some of her contemporaries were not as favorable of her success. In a very critical review, well-known abolitionist and orator Fredrick Douglass, stated: “We marvel that Miss Greenfield can allow herself to be treated with such palpable disrespect; for the insult is to her, not less than to her race. She must have felt deep humiliation and depression while attempting to sing in the presence of an audience and under arrangements which had thus degraded and dishonored the people to which she belongs...She is quite mistaken if she supposes that her success, as an artist depends upon her entire abandonment of self-respect…We warn her also, that this yielding, on her part, to the cowardly and contemptible exactions of the negro haters of this country may meet her in a distant land in a manner which she little imagines.“

Nevertheless, a few days following her recital, she traveled to Europe for engagements in England, Scotland, and Ireland, in hopes of finding a good teacher to further develop her vocal technique. Shortly after her arrival in England, she was abandoned and left penniless by her manager in London. Luckily Greenfield crossed paths with Harriet Beecher Stowe, a zealous American abolitionist and author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, while in London. With Stowe’s assistance, she was able to sing for the Duchess of Norfolk, the Duchess of Argyle, and the Duchess of Sutherland.  She even received a royal invitation to sing for Queen Victoria at Buckingham Palace.

Illustrated News, 2 April 1853
The Prints Collection at AARL

Upon returning to America, Greenfield received anything but the royal treatment. She was refused entrance to a university music class because of her race. Determined, Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield opened a music studio in Philadelphia, where she created and directed an opera troupe in the 1860s. Greenfield used music and her opera troupe to fight the oppressive systems of American slavery and racism. Her troupe traveled the world singing for integrated audiences and donating proceeds to colored nursing homes and orphanages. Ironically, Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield’s efforts brought her side-by-side with one of her harshest detractors, Frederick Douglass. Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield continued to perform until she died suddenly in Philadelphia on March 31, 1876 of paralysis.

 Check out the Auburn Avenue Research Library’s archives to learn more about the artistic and socially conscious contributions of people like Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield. 


Southern, Eileen. The Music of Black Americans: A History. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1997.

Trotter, James. Music and Some Highly Musical People. New York: General Books, 1997.

Posted by Debra Coulter & Yewande Addie, AARL Interns

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Remembering a Labor Day Hero: Dorothy Lee Bolden Thompson

Dorothy Lee Bolden Thompson, circa 1970

Although many of us enjoy celebrating the Labor Day holiday weekend with cookouts, parties, or restful leisure activities, reflection over the holiday’s purpose is often the last thing on our minds. The federal holiday was made official in the 1890s to atone for the country’s violent response to the infamous Pullman Strike. It was also a way to commemorate the hard work of American employees and the courage of labor organizations that lobbied to improve ill-working conditions, reduce work hours, increase wages, and to act as mediators between profit-driven industries and neglected employees.

There is evidence of the undeterred efforts of labor unions and the people that were instrumental in creating union branches within our very own archive. Dorothy Lee Bolden Thompson mobilized community members and organized protests with her then neighbor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., during the Civil Rights movement. As a community activist, she drew from her Civil Rights organizing experience and personal employment past to develop the National Domestic Workers Union of America, Inc., which successfully improved the wages and working conditions of domestic workers in Atlanta, and other U.S. cities.

With bestsellers and blockbuster hits like “The Help” reminding today’s moviegoers of the daunting task of caretaking for Southern white families in the 1960s, it is empowering to know one of Atlanta’s very own was instrumental in improving the lives of domestic workers who really did in fact endure challenges and inequalities. Let us never neglect to remember our labor champions, the reason for the holiday.

For more information on the life and achievements of Dorothy Lee Bolden Thompson and her work with the National Domestic Workers Union of America, Inc., visit AARL to view the Dorothy Lee Bolden Thompson Collection. Also have a look at a recent blog post from one of our researchers, Daniel Horowitz Garcia, which features even more additional resources.


Green, James. Death In the Haymarket: A Story of Chicago, the First Labor Movement and the Bombing that Divided Gilded Age America. New York: Anchor Books, 2007.

Posted by Yewande Addie, AARL Intern

Thursday, September 1, 2011

AARL home to Amelia Boynton-Robinson papers

Left to right, Dick Gregory and Amelia Boynton-Robinson, Auburn Avenue Research Library, August 2011

The Auburn Avenue Research Library is now home to the Amelia Boynton-Robinson papers. At 100 years old, Mrs. Boynton-Robinson, pictured above right, is an activist/organizer, speaker, playwright and author. Born in Savannah, Georgia, she is the oldest living graduate of Tuskegee University. Mrs. Boynton-Robinson worked closely with civil rights leaders to plan and strategize rural and regional efforts. Her home in Selma, Alabama, was a meeting place for leaders during the 1960s, including Martin Luther King, Jr., Joan Baez, John Lewis, and Andrew Young. Mrs. Boynton-Robinson along with her husband, Samuel, organized Alabama residents in voting rights campaigns and civil rights activities. Mrs. Boynton-Robinson’s collection reflects her wide range of activities and includes, newspaper clippings, awards, letters, ephemera and photographs. The collection is approximately 8 cubic feet and will be open for research once processed. 

Posted by Kerrie Cotten Williams, Archivist