Thursday, July 5, 2012

To Keep or Not to Keep: What's Really in the Archives

Andrew J. Young Papers, AARL Archives Division

You never really know what you might find in the archives. This is part of the excitement- both for a researcher looking at a collection for the first time, but also for the archivist processing the collection before it is open to the public. Researchers hope for that special something that will help strengthen their thesis or that document they weren’t expecting that might set their work apart from other previous work. It is not the job of the archivist to interpret documents for future researchers, but, in deciding what to keep and what not to keep- what we call appraisal- it is important to consider what kinds of questions future researchers might be interested in. In Gregory S. Hunter’s Developing and Maintaining Practical Archives, Hunter argues that “the archivist must be aware of current research trends and interests, using this information to extrapolate what may be of interest to future researchers. This is a weighty responsibility” (Hunter, 52).

This responsibility is one that archivists at Auburn Avenue Research Library, like all archival repositories, take very seriously. When donors give collections to a repository, they typically sign a deed of gift agreement that lays out the guidelines for the collection. Donor agreements vary widely- some donors give archives free reign to open anything found in the collection to the public. Other agreements may specify that any sensitive information, such as documents containing personal information, remain closed for a period of time. These agreements are necessary because donors are entrusting our archives with their papers- whether they are family or individual papers, or their life’s work. Often, even if a person is donating his/her own papers, one may not realize everything that it is in the collection. Some collections are so large and, in the case of politicians or business collections that have been handled by many people, the donor may not realize that someone’s family photos or birthday cards or cigarette cartons, may be hiding in a box. In these cases, the archivist may refer to the deed of gift agreement for clarification, or, in the case of the cigarette carton or candy wrapper, simply discard it; unless the carton is very old and in good enough condition that it might make an interesting exhibit piece. You can see where this gets complicated, even with items that might seem like everyday trash.

Of course, there are times when an archivist may find documents of greater concern, either because of privacy issues or because the document’s potential research value is outweighed by its salacious nature. Medical records, adoption records, and disturbing or violent photos are just a few examples- in these cases, archivists would close or destroy the items to protect the parties involved. If the donor is still alive, the archivist may even return the items in question.

As Hunter said, appraisal is a “weighty responsibility” indeed. Every repository is constrained by space and storage concerns and even if we want to, we just can’t keep everything. That is why archivists at AARL spend a great deal of time processing collections, thinking about what visiting researchers might be interested in, and doing our very best to honor those whose papers we’ve collected.

Developing and Maintaining Practical Archives: A How-to-do-it-Manual. 2nd edition. Gregory S. Hunter. New York: Neal-Schuman Publishers, Inc. 2003.

Jessica Perkins-Smith, LSU MLIS graduate student, AARL Archives Intern

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Donald L. Hollowell Papers at AARL

Donald Hollowell, Rev. Samuel Williams, head of the Atlanta NAACP, and Hamilton Holmes, at the University of Georgia. January 1961. The UGA Arch seen here is just to the left of the admissions building where Holmes and Charlayne Hunter had just become the first African American students to register at the University. Forty years later, the building would be named the Holmes-Hunter Academic Building.
Photo courtesy Donald L. Hollowell Papers, AARL Archives Division.
The Auburn Avenue Research Library’s Archives Division recently acquired Donald Hollowell’s papers, which will soon be open to the public for research. Donald Hollowell was an Atlanta attorney who practiced for over fifty years and, most notably, argued many high profile civil rights cases successfully during the 1960s. Hollowell was born in 1917 in Kansas, served in the military during World War II, and graduated law school from Loyola University in Chicago. According to University of Georgia History professor Robert Pratt’s book, We Shall Not be Moved: The Desegregation of the University of Georgia, Hollowell decided to set up his practice in Georgia in the 1940s, in part because he’d met his future wife Louise there, but also because there were very few African American lawyers in the South at the time, and Hollowell was interested in “using the law to break down racial barriers” (53). In 1956, Hollowell became a part of the NAACP legal team defending Horace Ward, an African American student who for years had been repeatedly denied entrance to the University of Georgia’s law school for no apparent reason other than the color of his skin.

The Ward case later grew to include two other African American students who’d been denied entrance to UGA’s undergraduate program, Charlayne Hunter and Hamilton Holmes. In the 1960 complaint Hollowell and the NAACP filed on behalf of the students, he explains that the suit was being brought because the University has refused to “consider the application of Negro residents of Georgia for admission to the University of Georgia upon the same terms and conditions applicable to white applicants; and from failing and refusing to act expeditiously upon applications received from Negro applicants; and from refusing to approve the applications of qualified Negroes for admission to the University of Georgia, solely because of the race and color of such applicants.”

While Hollowell’s case files are fascinating on their own, research on Hollowell also shows that he had a compassionate, humane side that helped to make him an even better attorney. In his book, Pratt quotes Charlayne Hunter-Gault: “Hollowell was like a father figure; he was very close to my family, very avuncular, and very reassuring, always slow and deliberate in his speech. I never hesitated to call him at home, because he really felt like a family member. He always appeared to be in total control; he never panicked. He was attentive to little things, like making sure that I was eating right” (129).

Hollowell’s own papers further illuminate his humanity and concern for his clients and for people in general. Through correspondence between Hollowell and Mary Blackwell, another African American student who was admitted to UGA in 1962, the semester after Hunter and Holmes won their case, it is apparent that, for Hollowell, helping these students gain admission to college was not the end of the road. He was genuinely concerned for their well being and was willing to do whatever he could to help ensure that they would be able to graduate. Between 1963 and 1965, Hollowell corresponded with Blackwell, who, though she’d been admitted to college, was struggling to pay for her school expenses with no help from her family. Hollowell found financial help for Blackwell from a Baltimore businessman who was actively interested in civil rights cases in the South and wanted to help. Through these letters, Blackwell expresses her ongoing appreciation to Hollowell for finding her assistance, and Hollowell shows his continued support for Blackwell and his concern for her safety and success in school.

It should be noted that Mary Blackwell Diallo went on to graduate from UGA in 1966 and later received an MA from the school in 1973. Diallo is currently a professor of French at Florida A&M University. Through Hollowell’s papers, researchers will be able to gain insight into Hollowell’s case history, but also will be able to see his concern for people and what made him such a successful civil rights attorney.

-Jessica Perkins Smith, LSU MLIS graduate student, AARL Archives Intern

Diallo, Mary. “Fear was rampant.” “Celebrating Courage: 50th Anniversary of Desegregation at UGA.” Georgia Magazine. March 2011.

Pratt, Robert A. We Shall Not be Moved: The Desegregation of the University of Georgia. Athens, Georgia: The University of Georgia Press, 2002.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Documenting Sports: 100% Wrong Club of Atlanta

Mrs. Margaret Jacobs donated the historical records of the 100% Wrong Club to the Auburn Avenue Research Library. The majority of the records were collected by her late husband, Joseph H. Jacobs, a member of the club.  Established in 1934 by the Sports Department of the Atlanta Daily World, the club’s members surveyed college teams and athletes for recognition and awards. The club has expanded its scope by continuing to recognize and award college and high school athletes, local community leaders, and national pioneers in the field of sports and social justice. Each year, after the college bowl games, the club selects college and high school student athletes to attend the annual "Sports Jamboree" weekend. The collection includes photographs, minutes, news clippings, correspondence and ephemera.

The collection is now available for use:;query=wrong;brand=default

Posted by Kerrie Cotten Williams, Archivist and Manager of the AARL Archives Division

Friday, June 8, 2012

Meet Our New AARL Archives Intern for Summer 2012

The AARL Archives Division hosts graduate interns who desire practical experience in special collections.  This year we have another dynamic student, Jessica Perkins Smith.  I asked her a few questions about her background and interests...

KCW:  What is your academic institution?

JPS:  Louisiana State University School of Library and Information Science.  I will graduate in December '12 with an MLIS, with an archives focus.

KCW:  Why did you select AARL as an internship site?

JPS:  I have a history and archival research background, and the Civil Rights movement has always been my main area of interest. Interning at Auburn Avenue is allowing me to work with collections that interest me, but I also knew that I would learn from the archivist here by getting great hands on experience in processing, writing finding aids, and helping researchers.

KCW:  What is your internship assignment/project?

JPS:  I am currently working on processing the papers of Atlanta attorney Donald L. Hollowell. Hollowell was instrumental in several prominent Civil Rights cases in Atlanta and throughout Georgia.

KCW:  What is the most interesting item you've handled?

JPS:  Hollowell represented Preston Cobb, the 15 year old African American teen convicted and sentenced to death for killing a white man in 1961 in Georgia. Hollowell succeeded in getting Cobb's execution stayed and, eventually his death sentence was commuted and Cobb served 18 years in prison. In processing Hollowell's papers I found correspondence between Hollowell and a Baltimore businessman, Abe Blumenthal, who had taken an interest in Preston Cobb's case and wanted to help. Blumenthal wanted to help Cobb continue his education while in prison and helped by sending money and writing Cobb letters.

Posted by Kerrie Cotten Williams, Archivist and Manager of the AARL Archives Division

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

What Does a Picture Say to You?

Ellie Weems photograph collection, ca. 1951

When I attended an open house for the Auburn Avenue Research Library’s archives I knew I wanted to become a volunteer. As an aspiring archivist, I was very interested in learning about the profession. I was placed on the Ellie Weems photograph collection in which I had expressed interest. Weems was a local Atlanta photographer who later moved to Jacksonville, Florida where the majority of his large collection was created. Over the years, however, the collection became jumbled and needed organization. So far my job has been simple: taking the photos and placing them into envelopes to help preserve and organize them.

Rehousing the photographs offers a unique look into the past. The images provide a window into people’s homes, into their schools, and into their happiest and saddest moments. I have seen hundreds of photographs of simple portraits, church functions, school events, weddings, and even funerals. All of the pictures have a story to tell about the lives and realities of black Americans. Most of the photos are self-explanatory but every so often my work is livened up by photos I cannot explain.

On my first day with the collection, I came across a picture from 1951 that has intrigued me ever since.  In it a group of school children are dressed in white t-shirts with Confederate battle flags while they are waving American flags. While such a picture would no doubt cause a visceral reaction today, I do not have such a context from this time period. I have speculated on what could possibly be going on in the picture. Could it be a form of self-racism or a form of protest? Was the Confederate battle flag not as controversial then as it is now? Or perhaps things were just different in Florida. As a historian, I am very curious to know what the photo depicts because it would add another dimension to black history.

So far, my time in the archives has been informative and interesting. If anyone happens to know what the context of the picture might be, feel free to share.

Posted by Jasmine Talley, AARL Volunteer

Friday, February 17, 2012

First Encounters: Atlanta and the KKK

Southern Regional Council Collection
Auburn Avenue Research Library Archives Division

I don’t know much about the Ku Klux Klan.  Today at the Auburn Avenue Research Library, I saw a photograph from the 1940s of members of the Klan in buses.  They were on their way to perform initiation rites on Stone Mountain.  The buses were chartered from the city of Atlanta.  The Klansmen look normal in their suits and hats.  The buses are all lined up and waiting for their last passengers before leaving.  It seems eerie that this photo was taken right downtown in Atlanta.  The Klansmen surprise me that they were en masse in public and that their buses were assisted by policemen who cleared traffic.
From watching footage of Klansmen in documentaries and in movies, I’ve learned to be wary of them.  But looking at this photo, where they appear like regular people, I don’t fear them.  However, if I had been there on the day that this photo was taken, I would have been in awe of these men who chose to be part of the Klan.  I would hope that they wouldn’t attack me physically or with verbal insults.
As a former New Yorker, I can say that the majority of the people of New York have reservations about the South due to perceived racism, former slavery, and other things that divide the North and the South culturally.  Before moving to Georgia, I was worried about encountering bigotry and racism.  Georgia has its share of problems, but it is like anywhere with people who try live together in harmony.
I am blind to many bad things that happen.  I tend to concentrate on what is positive than on what is negative.  Bigotry and racism are still problems of the world, but the Ku Klux Klan seems to be less of a problem these days.
I don’t know how I would react if I suddenly encountered a Klan member today.  Would I even believe the person?  Does the Klan still act today or are they… dead as an organization?  I know it is better not to fear others, but having never witnessed Klan activity, I will only know my reaction if I encounter them.  I hope that I could counter them with peace, love, and justice.

Posted by Aaron Brown, San Jose State University/MLIS Graduate Student
AARL Intern