Reflections from STA 2017

Written by Andrew McMahan, Graduate Assistant

Last week, November 1-3, I had the privilege of attending the Society of Tennessee Archivists conference in Jonesborough. The conference’s theme this year was “Archives in Action.”

I was able to attend some impressive sessions. Jennifer Randles and Allison Griffey from the Tennessee State Library and Archives presented “Streamlining Digital Collections: Getting the Most Out of Your Microfilm” in which they discussed their work on the newly digitized and published Record of Ex-Soldiers in World War I, Tennessee Counties, 1917-1919 collection. They pointed out that these service abstracts are of high value to researchers and will help to fill in gaps in the record left by the National Personnel Records Center Fire in 1973. They also used their experience with this collection to suggest ways for archivists at other institutions to digitize their holdings. Likewise, Sarah Calise’s presentation, “Archives Inaction: Decades of Not Doing Enough,” was both informative and thought-provoking. She asserted that archivists are not doing enough to ensure that archives are an inclusive space. She pointed out that white archivists (the vast majority of professionals in the field) continue to uphold oppressive practices in the acquisition, description, and access of materials. She encouraged archivists to undertake more community engagement and intensive self-reflection in order make our repositories more inclusive of minority groups.

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Panel on student internships at Society of Tennessee Archivists 40th Annual Meeting, November 2017.

While at the STA conference, I was able to participate in a student-led round table in which we discussed internships. We talked about what we look for in an internship, how we find them, how to make the most of professional experience during graduate school, and the dilemma of paid and unpaid internships. We engaged in a lively and constructive discussion with the professionals that were able to attend our presentation, and felt that our views received fair consideration and positive feedback.

The city of Jonesborough provided excellent entertainment for us archivists in between sessions. The downtown historic district is beautiful. I highly recommend that visitors to the area stop in and make time to take a stroll down Main Street and admire the historic buildings of the oldest city in Tennessee. One of the highlights of the trip in my opinion was the tour of Tennessee Hills Distillery just off of Main Street. The building itself is historic and, most importantly, they give out samples!

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Movement ‘68: Honoring 50 Years of Black Student Protests at MTSU

Written by Sarah Calise, Archivist

The Albert Gore Research Center is excited to announce the start of Movement ‘68. What is Movement ‘68? It is a series of events and projects centered on the many waves of black student protests at MTSU that started in October 1968. Movement ‘68 includes: a call for donations, oral history interviews, traveling and online exhibits, primary source interactions on social media using #MVMT68, and a one-day conference called the Movement ‘68 Symposium that will examine the documentation, preservation, and interpretation of campus protest movements at MTSU and throughout Tennessee. We hope that students, staff, faculty, members of the Murfreesboro community and wider public will join us in honoring these courageous black students, and help us all work toward a more inclusive, accepting environment on and off campus.

Look for other announcements this week related to specific events or projects. For more information, please visit the pages on our (new) website related to Movement ‘68.

Movement ‘68: A Historical Overview

On October 21, 1968, Middle Tennessee State University’s student newspaper, Sidelines, published a guest column from Sylvester Brooks, a black student from Memphis, Tennessee. Titled “Dixie: What Does It Mean?” Brooks asked the white student body why they continued to wave Confederate flags, sang the Dixie fight song, and paid homage to Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest. He addressed how these activities alienated black students and, therefore, “should be banned and abolished.” He challenged white students to move forward with a New South that included everybody, which meant ridding the campus of Confederate symbols. As Brooks said, “You cannot seek a newer world while clinging so passionately to the relics of days long given to the past.”[1]

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Sylvester Brooks, left, seated next to Robert Rucker. From the 1970 Midlander yearbook housed at the Albert Gore Research Center.

Brooks’ column caused contentious debate among the MTSU community. Sidelines published a series of letters from students and faculty that directly responded to Brooks’ arguments against the usage of Confederate symbols on campus.[2] For every person in support of Brooks’ ideas, there were just as many people against them. Over the next few years, black students protested the university’s relationship with the Confederacy and Nathan Bedford Forrest. The students’ persistence resulted in a couple of changes, including a new mascot and fight song at sporting events.[3]  Many of these students also got the administration to offer the school’s first black history courses, and they founded the Black Student Union in 1969.

Since 1968, MTSU students have continued to protest against Confederate symbolism on campus. In the 1989-1990 academic year, the university’s NAACP student chapter succeeded in persuading the administration to remove the 600-pound bronze medallion of Nathan Bedford Forrest from the outside wall of Keathley University Center.[4] In 2006, black students protested the name of Nathan Bedford Forrest Hall (the ROTC building). The students, particularly protest leader Amber Perkins, received guidance from Sylvester Brooks on how to handle the backlash from Murfreesboro’s white community and the university’s administration.[5] The university decided to keep the building’s name until a new wave of activism began during the 2015-2016 academic year, which finally resulted in the administration’s decision to seek approval for a name change from both the Tennessee Board of Regents and the Tennessee Historical Commission. However, as of September 2017, the Tennessee Historical Commission delayed the final decision on whether to approve a name change for Forrest Hall, so students continue to protest and demonstrate their frustrations about the deliberately slow process.

[1] Sylvester Patrick Brooks, “’Dixie’: What Does It Mean?” Sidelines (Murfreesboro, TN), Oct. 21, 1968.

[2] “I’ll Take My Stand in Dixieland,” Sidelines (Murfreesboro, TN), Oct. 24, 1968.

[3] Josh Howard, “A Confederate on Campus: Nathan Bedford Forrest as MTSU’s Mascot,” Sport in American History (blog), August 24, 2015, https://ussporthistory.com/2015/08/24/nathan-bedford-forrest-and-mtsu/.

[4] Rusty Gerbman, “ASB Asks for Vote on Forrest Statue,” Sidelines (Murfreesboro, TN), Feb. 22, 1990.

[5] Sarah Lavery, “Amber Perkins Won’t Back Down,” Sidelines (Murfreesboro, TN), Mar. 26, 2007.

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2017 AGRC Graduate Assistants

 

Pictured from Left to Right: University Archivist Donna Baker with Graduate Assistants Kelsey Lamkin, Andrew McMahan, April Blevins, and Zach Kautzman

The Albert Gore Research Center employs four graduate students during the academic year. The center serves as a place for these students to receive hands-on public history experience alongside their classroom work. We would like to introduce this year’s graduate assistants:

Kelsey Lamkin is a second year M.A. student in the public history program.  Originally from West Tennessee, she moved to Murfreesboro four years ago. She received her undergraduate degree in Anthropology at MTSU. Shes focuses her work in the field of historic preservation, and had the distinct honor of interning with the Metro Historic Zoning Commission during the summer. After graduation, Kelsey is hoping to preserve historic structures within the community.

She also has a special interest in women’s history. Her thesis examines the ways that sexual regulations during World War II limited women’s ability to navigate the public sphere.

Kelsey’s Fun Fact: If she could read the diary of any historical figure it would be the diary of Marie Antoinette because she is such a controversial person in history.


Andrew McMahan is a second year M.A. student in public history and a resident of Murfreesboro. He graduated with a B.A. in history from MTSU in May of 2016. His research interests are the American Civil War, World War I, and war memory. He’s studying to be an archivist, and has earned ample experience working at both the Gore Center and the Rutherford County Archives.

In his free time, Andrew enjoys working on cars or reading something that has not been assigned for a class. Much to his beautiful wife’s annoyance, he often spends his weekends at local car shows and cruise-ins.

Andrew’s Fun Fact: If he could sing a duet with any historical figure it would be Molly Hatchet’s “Flirtin’ with Disaster” with Theodore Roosevelt.


April Blevins grew up in Memphis, Tennessee as the third of five daughters. She is currently pursuing a PhD in Public History at Middle Tennessee State University.

April received a B.A. in Classical Studies from Dartmouth College. After leaving Hanover, she moved back to Memphis where she worked for General Electric for 2 years. She then decided to pursue a Masters in Library Science at North Carolina Central University in Durham, North Carolina. While at NCCU, April studied archives and received hands-on archival training through internships at Duke, NCCU, and UNC Chapel Hill.

Her current research interests focus on the construction of Civil Rights memory through the origins of the Civil Rights archives. She also has an interest in gender and its role in the NAACP as well as the black power movement.

April’s Fun Fact: If she could read any historical figure’s diary, she would read Cathay Williams’ diary to find out what her life was like after serving in the U.S. Army.


Zach Kautzman is a second year M.A. student in the public history program. He is from Mandan, North Dakota and received his B.S. in History and Public History with a minor in Anthropology at North Dakota State University. He is focusing on archival work in his graduate program, and interned as the Institutional Archivist at the American Association for State and Local History in Nashville.

Zach’s main research area is Western U.S. studies. His thesis topic explores the relationships between local and national history in the context of state Prohibition in North Dakota.

Zach’s Fun Fact: If he could read the diary of any historical figure it would be Henry VIII, so he can read about the day Henry decided to create the Church of England.


Now that you “know” our graduate assistants, feel free to stop by and say hi! Remember to follow us on Facebook and Twitter to see what our archivists and graduate assistants are up to during the academic year. We look forward to helping you research and preserve the past!

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The Importance of Primary Source Literacy

Written by Sarah Calise, Archivist

Every year on September 8th, UNESCO celebrates International Literacy Day. This year’s conference in Paris focuses on the necessary skills to navigate literacy in a digital world. The rapid change and growth of the Internet has made it harder, not easier, to find quality information, which is why it is important for people to know how to efficiently find sources and evaluate their accuracy.

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An archives user researches original drafts of Albert Gore, Sr.’s World War II radio broadcasts housed at the Gore Center.

Archives and libraries are huge supporters of teaching information and primary source literacy, which is the ability to identify, locate, evaluate, synthesize, and present evidence and data. The Society of American Archivists (SAA) and the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) recently published  “Guidelines for Primary Source Literacy.” These guidelines cover what primary sources are and how valuable it is to know how to use them:

Primary sources are materials in a variety of formats that serve as original evidence documenting a time period, an event, a work, people, or ideas. Primary source literacy is the combination of knowledge, skills, and abilities necessary to effectively find, interpret, evaluate, and ethically use primary sources within specific disciplinary contexts, in order to create new knowledge or to revise existing understandings.

The Albert Gore Research Center is filled with primary sources related to political and social movements, women’s history, Tennessee history, and Middle Tennessee State University history. Our primary sources come in all kinds of formats, too: correspondence, organizational records, government documents, diaries, photographs, born-digital files, objects, and more! Our goal, as archivists and information professionals, is to help you find the primary sources you need to do all sorts of projects, like: connect with the past experiences of your family and culture, research and analyze aspects of American history, be conscious of the historical context for current public policies and legislation, and gain a better understanding of your own identity and place in the world. Take a closer look at some of the primary sources in our collections (click images to view larger):

Primary source and information literacy is important for everyone, not just academics and scholars. These skills allow you to you recognize unreliable or biased news stories that come across your Facebook news feed. They help you figure out how government agencies and politicians are trying to persuade you toward certain ideas. They aid in the problem-solving and critical thinking for every day issues. Having expertise in a subject is good, but an even greater asset is knowing how to find knowledge not already in your possession. Learning how to learn is at the core of literacy. Ultimately, primary source and information literacy makes you a more enlightened and active citizen.

Happy International Literacy Day! Come into the Gore Center and we’ll help you get started!

Other Important Links for Primary Source and Information Literacy:

  1. MTSU’s Teaching With Primary Sources
  2. Gore Center Lesson Plans
  3. Information Literacy Project
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A Still “Inconvenient Truth”

by Louis M. Kyriakoudes, Director, Albert Gore Research Center

Today, the motion picture “An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power” opens in theaters across the country. The film is the follow-up to Al Gore’s 2006 Oscar-winning documentary on the climate crisis, “An Inconvenient Truth.”

Ten years ago on March 21, 2007, Gore testified before a joint hearing of the House Energy & Commerce Committee and the House Science & Technology Committee on the problem of human-induced global climate change. Chairing the hearing was fellow Tennessean, Rep. Bart Gordon, who succeeded Gore in Congress as representative from Tennessee’s sixth district when Gore won election to the United States Senate in 1984.

In both Gordon’s and Gore’s introductory remarks, they lay out the question that future generations will ask of all of us: Were we part of the problem or were we part of the solution?

 

In his comments before the committee, Gore testified that “the ten warmest years on record have all been since 1990” and that “2005 was the hottest of all.”

Unfortunately, this “inconvenient truth” is still with us. Data collected by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) show that 2016 saw the warmest surface temperatures ever recorded since modern measurements began in 1880 with “16 of the 17 warmest years on record occurring since 2001.” You can read more about these temperature measurements and climate issues at the NASA website here.

The transcript of Gore’s complete statement can be viewed a this link.

The video of Gore’s complete testimony is preserved in the Bart Gordon Papers, one of the many archival collections housed at the Albert Gore Research Center on the campus of Middle Tennessee State University.

 

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How Gore and LBJ Won the War for Medicare

Written by Sarah Calise, Archivist

In my previous post, “Gore: Patients, Not Politics,” I outlined how Representative Albert Gore supported President Harry Truman’s five point proposal for a national health insurance program. Although their efforts failed, Gore continued the fight for health care for the poor and elderly as he entered the Senate in 1953.

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Sen. Gore shaking hands with President Johnson on July 30, 1965 after the Social Security Amendments were signed at the Truman Library. Johnson is handing over a ceremonial pen. From the Albert Gore Papers Photograph Collection.

The battle for the passage of Medicare and Medicaid culminated in the 1960s, under President Lyndon B. Johnson. Gore and Johnson had a “complex relationship” in which they would “cooperate on issues such as Medicare, voting rights, and economic development,” but just as easily “clash over taxes, interest rates, and Vietnam.”[1] Gore and Johnson’s collaboration ultimately succeeded in 1965, but how did they get there?

On May 20, 1962, President John F. Kennedy addressed a large crowd at Madison Square Garden where he asserted his support for a medical care program for the elderly. You can watch the speech here, or read the transcript here. In the months before this speech, the Ways and Means Committee conducted hearings on the King-Anderson bill (S. 909 and H.R. 4222), a hospital insurance bill, but did not take any further action on it. Kennedy pushed for the passage of this legislation. In response to the opposition’s argument that national health insurance programs overstepped government boundaries, Kennedy said:

“This bill serves the public interest. It involves the Government because it involves the public welfare. The Constitution of the United States did not make the President or the Congress powerless. It gave them definite responsibilities to advance the general welfare–and that is what we’re attempting to do.”

Opponents, led by the American Medical Association (AMA), believed that such national programs made Americans too dependent and weakened an individual’s self-reliance. Kennedy countered that nothing sapped self-reliance like being “sick, alone, broke.” In the next few months, two more pieces of legislation entered the scene. Neither had enough support, and Kennedy’s assassination brought everything to a halt.

Senator Gore received hundreds of letters, telegrams, and pamphlets opposing the King-Anderson bill, while a small portion supported it. Below are a few examples of responses Gore received (Click the images to view larger):

Many constituents who urged Gore to vote no on the bill called it socialist. These responses were not unique. Opponents to national health care programs used anti-socialist rhetoric since President Franklin D. Roosevelt attempted his own initiatives in the 1930s. Additionally, some Tennesseans wrote Gore believing his support for such health care programs went against his “normal political philosophy.” This was not true. As explained in my previous blog post, Gore often fought for national health care measures that would help the poor, rural, and elderly receive adequate medical services. As many Tennesseans moved toward conservatism and the Republican Party, Gore increasingly supported key liberal efforts, such as Medicare and many of Johnson’s “Great Society” programs.

On February 10, 1964, President Johnson sent a special message to Congress on the nation’s health. He reiterated the messages of Kennedy and other presidents before him when he said, “In America, there is no need and no room for second-class health services.” Despite this speech, things got heated between Gore and Johnson at the Democratic National Convention (DNC) in Atlantic City in August.

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1964 Democratic National Convention. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

In the summer of 1964, Medicare turned into a “severe political liability,” according to Gore.[2] In July, the House passed H.R. 11865. The bill would raise Social Security’s monthly cash benefits, but Gore did not think this plan was viable. This was the bill that the American Medical Association (AMA) and its conservative allies successfully pushed for instead of a national health care program for the elderly. Gore noted that Johnson was “strangely silent” on Medicare, and confronted his vice presidential candidate, Hubert Humphrey, at the convention. In Gore’s own recounting of events, he called the Democratic platform a “piece of namby-pamby” that made the convention look more like a meeting of the AMA.[3] Following this conversation, the updated Democratic platform had a much stronger statement on Medicare to the satisfaction of Gore.

In early September, in a telephone conversation between the two, Gore once again questioned Johnson’s support for Medicare. Specifically, they discussed Gore’s Medicare amendment added to H.R. 11865, which was under review in the Senate. In the telephone call, which you can listen to here, Johnson reassured Gore that he had his support and spent several minutes giving advice on how best to go about getting the amendment passed. Ultimately, however, H.R. 11865 died due to a deadlock in the House-Senate Conference Committee.

After another failed attempt at passing Medicare, Gore felt the political effects. He had little backing in the South among his colleagues and constituents. Yet, he carried on with Medicare as one of its only Southern proponents because “the people of no other region needed Medicare quite so badly.”[4]   In his weekly column from January 11, 1965, Gore presented his intentions to push for the health care measure in light of recent momentum. See below for his draft of the column:

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In July 1965, the House-Senate Conference Committee reconciled the differences between their respective versions of H.R. 6675, or the Mills bill. In his column, Gore hoped “the President will be able to sign this measure into law before the end of the month.” And he did. President Johnson signed the Social Security Amendments, which included Medicare and Medicaid, on July 30, 1965.

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Johnson signs the Social Security Amendments of 1965 with Harry S. Truman sitting to his left. Courtesy of the LBJ Presidential Library.

Johnson and Gore flew out to Independence, Missouri to sign the bill in the presence of Harry S. Truman, who began the battle for national health insurance programs decades before and inspired congressmen like Gore to continue the fight until he succeeded. Gore said he “was so pleased and honored to be asked to accompany President Johnson and to participate in this historic ceremony.”

Both Johnson and Gore returned to Washington at each other’s throats over Vietnam. Although their relationship was turbulent and deteriorated into the late 1960s, they both greatly aided the enactment of one of the most significant pieces of legislation in United States history. Against the wishes of many of his constituents and Southern colleagues, Gore persistently advocated for accessible, federal health care programs for elderly and poor Americans throughout his time in Congress–even when he knew it might (and it most likely did) result in him losing his Senate seat.

For another timely article with a great perspective, see: “The Fight for Health Care Has Always Been About Civil Rights,” by Vann R. Newkirk II.


Works Cited

[1] Kyle Longley, Senator Albert Gore, Sr.: Tennessee Maverick (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2004), 182.
[2]  Albert Gore, Let the Glory Out: My South and its Politics (New York: Viking Press, 1972), 177.
[3] Ibid., 179.
[4] Ibid., 180.

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Remembering Aleshia Brevard, 1937-2017

Written by Sarah Calise, Archivist

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Aleshia Brevard’s graduation photo from the 1967 Midlander yearbook. She graduated from MTSU in 1967 with a B.S. in Theater.

It is with great sadness that the Albert Gore Research Center announces the passing of Aleshia Brevard, a great alumna of MTSU. She died at age 79 in her home in Scotts Valley, California on July 1. You can read a brief summary of her amazing life in The Advocate, and watch a portion of her oral history interview for The Brooks Fund here.

She attended MTSU in the mid-1960s to study theater. In her autobiography, The Woman I Was Born to Be: A Transsexual Journey, Brevard described her time at MTSU as a “wonderful respite,” where she felt “normal, secure, and accepted.” Although, she also explained that the administration was not always pleased with her image. She recalled being asked to come to the Dean of Women’s office to discuss her miniskirts, mesh stockings, and spiked heels. The dean told Brevard “We’re a conservative campus here, and…well, you’re just not.” Brevard scoffed at the dean’s remarks and refused to let such attitudes phase her.

She was a star at the university. Quite the popular student, her peers nominated her to run for the Miss MTSU title and Associated Student Body President, but she declined both offers. She tried to avoid too much attention, and believed the country was not ready for a transgender woman to be crowned Miss America. She was also named “Best Actress” by the theater program in 1967, her senior year, after playing the lead role in several productions. In her book, she discussed how Dorethe Tucker, MTSU’s Director of Theatre, became her first real role model. Tucker was the kind of woman Brevard wanted to emulate–“articulate, talented, and with a zest for life.” In the theater program, she “discovered that life choices do exist,” and that a better life was possible for her. It was at MTSU that she decided she could seriously pursue acting. Below are photographs and articles of Brevard from Sidelines and the Midlander yearbook. Aleshia Brevard left behind an incredible legacy filled with talent, activism, and an immense love for life.

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