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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Tennesseans Respond to the Revolts of 1967

WARNING: Some of the archival documents featured in this post contain racist language and beliefs.

Written by Sarah Calise, Archivist

This week marks 50 years since the black community in Detroit protested police brutality, segregated housing and schools, and rising unemployment in a five-day rebellion from July 23-27. Over 150 similar revolts occurred throughout the year, especially during June and July. Some historians dubbed this time period as “the long, hot summer of 1967.”

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Stokely Carmichael speaks at the IMPACT Symposium at Vanderbilt University on April 8, 1967. Courtesy of The Tennessean.

Earlier that year, in April, Nashville experienced its own revolt. The Nashville Banner and other news outlets were quick to blame the days of unrest on Stokely Carmichael, a leader in the Black Power movement and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Carmichael and other members of the Black Panther Party arrived in Nashville in early April for the IMPACT Symposium held at Vanderbilt University. Following Carmichael’s appearances at colleges and universities throughout Nashville, many black students and members of the black community protested the city’s police brutality and racial discrimination. In an interview, available for viewing in this Vanderbilt University online exhibit, Carmichael discredited The Nashville Banner claim that he and his aides planned the revolts. Instead, Carmichael asserted that the police instigated violence against him and members of the black community. There were a few people, like Vanderbilt student Frank Allen Philpot, who spoke out about how white supremacy and oppression were the real causes of all the uprisings. Read Philpot’s opinion piece on Carmichael below:

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Opinion piece from The Vanderbilt Hustler, April 11, 1967. Courtesy of Vanderbilt’s Jean and Alexander Heard Library.

For several months after IMPACT, the local government and Nashville newspapers continued to accuse Carmichael and Black Power activists of inciting riots across the country. In late July, following deadly revolts in Newark and Detroit, hundreds of Tennesseans from across the state wrote to Senator Albert Gore asking him and his fellow Congressmen to preserve “law and order,” and Gore agreed. He replied to the letters with this statement:

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Below are three representative examples of the kind of letters Gore received from constituents. (Click images to view larger)

Many of the letters directly mentioned Stokely Carmichael, H. Rap Brown, and SNCC as reasons for concern. The constituents referred to these individuals and organizations as communists, terrorists, and unworthy recipients of President Johnson’s “Great Society” programs. Most of the Tennesseans who wrote Gore believed black civil rights leaders and activists were at fault for the looting, property damage, and unrest. But that was a racist conclusion. Inequalities in housing and education, rising unemployment, unequal access to health care, police brutality, oppressive structures, and the every day microagressions experienced by all black people in the United States were the causes of the revolts.

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President Lyndon B. Johnson with some members of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Congress and Johnson’s administration went through the bureaucratic process to consider solutions. On July 28, 1967, President Johnson established the eleven-member National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders to investigate the uprisings and to provide recommendations for future action. The commission had to answer three questions: What happened? Why did it happen? And, what can be done to prevent it from happening again?

The commission released their 426-page final report in February of 1968 (it is also known as the Kerner Report)–you can view its summary here via the Eisenhower Foundation. In the report, the commission condemned the uprisings for their violence but recognized that oppression from white people and institutions created such violence. The summary reasoned that “White racism is essentially responsible for the explosive mixture which has been accumulating in our cities since the end of World War II.”

In spring of 1968, Gore received constituent letters about the commission’s report following its nationwide distribution. Below is a letter that made some particularly exceptional points about how the government seemed more focused on suppressing the uprisings rather than addressing the causes:

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In his responses to many of these constituents, Gore stated that he and other Members of Congress were working on legislation to address the underlying issues of “civil disorder.” He underlined his previous support for “most of the five” civil rights bills (he voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964). However, he also stressed that the passage of laws did not and could not necessarily bring about abrupt change in white people and their racist beliefs. Seen in the excerpt below, Gore wrote candidly that “…one cannot legislate brotherly love, human decency or compassion and, frankly, I do not know what the Congress can do about…aspects of so-called white racism emphasized in the Kerner report.”

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By 1970, Gore was out of politics. He lost his seat to Republican Bill Brock, and some historians believe the loss was due to Gore’s anti-Vietnam stance and increasingly progressive support for civil rights legislation.

As we reflect upon the rebellions of 1967 through these archival documents, our nation must consider what has and has not changed over time. Many of the constituent letters to Gore held similar racist beliefs of those today who want to squash protests against police brutality and racial discrimination. What can we learn from these historical documents? How can they improve our understanding of current situations?  In what ways do they inform how we address present and future concerns so that we are not having the same discussions another 50 years from now? Archives don’t preserve old stuff collecting dust. They preserve the ideas, people, and events that shaped our past and brought us to the present. The Gore Center shares these documents with the public to demonstrate how history is a tool for advocacy and enacting change.

We encourage you to share with us in the comments section how archives have helped you in your life! If they haven’t yet, then what can we, as archivists and historians, do better to connect you with the power of historical materials?

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Gore: Patients, Not Politics

Written by Sarah Calise, Archivist

Bumper sticker in support of President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, nicknamed “Obamacare,” from the Political Ephemera Collection.

Healthcare legislation seems to always create contentious debate among Members of Congress, the President of the United States, and the American people. During his time in Congress, Albert Gore, Sr. typically supported health care measures that served poor, rural, and elderly communities. His support for the passage of Medicare in 1965, along with his support for an expanded government role in the economy and social programs, placed him firmly in the realm of what some historians call southern liberalism.

Gore, and other southern liberals, believed that the U.S. government had a responsibility to the people to provide adequate health insurance, education, and other programs that guaranteed a good quality of life. Coming from a modest rural background himself, Gore knew firsthand the immense needs of underdeveloped and impoverished communities in Tennessee and similar areas across the South.

In November 1945, President Truman proposed a national health insurance program, partially a reaction to the 5 million men found unfit for military service during World War Two. Representative Gore, greatly moved by Truman’s call to action, dedicated one of his weekly WSM radio broadcasts to the need for national health insurance. In the broadcast, he gave an overview of the proposal and dismissed its opponents, like the American Medical Association, who deemed it “socialized medicine” and played off Americans’ fear of Communism. Gore cited this portion of Truman’s speech that demonstrated how patients and doctors would still have choices:

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Gore mainly focused his broadcast on the unequal distribution of health care that poorer and rural communities faced, as seen in the excerpt below. (Read the full broadcast here.)

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Gore went on to explain his own understandings of how difficult it was for many Tennesseans to access quality medical services and doctors. To strengthen his position, Gore read a letter to his radio listeners about a constituent living in Lafayette, Tennessee, a small town with a population of approximately 1,100 in 1950. In the letter, the constituent discussed his concern about Macon County only having three licensed physicians, all of whom were above the age of 65 and in poor health themselves. He stressed the need for a government-sponsored program to develop hospitals in areas like Macon County. He wrote, “Where is there a section in Tennessee with so large an area and in such plight for medical service?

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Excerpt from a constituent letter to Rep. Albert Gore, Sr. about the lack of proper health care facilities and doctors in Macon County, Tennessee. From the Albert Gore, Sr. House Papers.

This question hit one of the three problems that Gore wanted to “attack vigorously.” He sought to increase the number and distribution of doctors in hospitals, strategically construct more adequate hospital facilities to reach a greater number of people, and bring medical, dental, surgical, and hospital care “within financial reach of everyone.”

In 1946, Congress passed the Hospital Survey and Construction Act (also known as the Hill-Burton Act). The law responded directly to the first of Truman’s five proposals by allocating funds to improve and construct hospitals. Gore fully supported the measure and fought for its success for years. He gave a speech to Congress on April 4, 1950 demanding restoration of the $75 million cut from the bill’s funds. He reiterated how these cuts would affect rural communities struggling to provide vital health care. He stated, “Efficient service to the patient–not politics–should be the ultimate goal of all hospitals, medical training, research and practice, prevention, diagnosis, and treatment.”

Did “patients not politics” extend to black people, as well, according to the Hill-Burton Act? Hospitals could not receive funding under the law if they discriminated based on race, color, national origin, or religion. However, “separate but equal” facilities were allowed. Below is a letter from Dr. W.S. Martin, the superintendent of a black hospital in Memphis, asking Gore if they qualified under the law.  In his response, Gore did not outright answer the question about building a new hospital for black patients in Memphis. Instead, he passed the buck to Tennessee’s Department of Health. According to some historians, though, the Hill-Burton Act “materially benefited black southerners as a group more than any other Roosevelt-era program” because it met “the South’s immediate health needs and provided a transitional infrastructure to promote the acceptance of black patients and health professionals into the mainstream health care system until integrationists achieved their goals in the mid-1960s.” [1] (Click the images to view larger.)

 

The Hill-Burton Act was one direct result of Truman’s 1945 five-point proposal. The most ambitious and complete conversion of Truman’s call for a national health insurance program was the Social Security expansion bill introduced by Congressmen Robert Wagner (D-NY), James Murray (D-MT), and John Dingell (D-MI). The bill ultimately died after Republicans regained control of the Senate and the House in 1946. Although Truman failed to pass a national health insurance program during his presidency, Democrats like Gore continued the fight into the 1950s and ’60s.

Stay tuned to our blog and social media accounts for the story on the roles Gore and President Lyndon B. Johnson’s played in the passage of Medicare in 1965.

Works Cited

[1] Thomas, Karen Kruse. “The Hill-Burton Act and Civil Rights: Expanding Hospital Care for Black Southerners, 1939-1960.” The Journal of Southern History 72, no. 4 (2006): 823-870.

 

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How the Greenway Got Its Start

Written by Sally Smith, Intern

With the May 18th announcement of an extension of the Murfreesboro Greenway System toward Barfield Park, it is an appropriate time to reflect on the 1980 environmental statement that would contribute to the construction of Murfreesboro’s thirteen miles of Greenway. Such document is the National Park Service’s 185 page “Final Environmental Statement for General Management Plan and Development Concept Plan for the Stones River National Battlefield and Cemetery,” from March of 1980.

In 1980, Murfreesboro had a population of 32,845 and was developing rapidly, especially near and around the Stones River National Battlefield. This development was concerning for the battlefield because at the time only 351 acres were within its boundaries, which was less than a tenth of the 3,700 acres that defined the Battle of Stones River fought from 1862–1863. The extension of Thompson Lane and Manson Pike was particularly worrisome as it cut through what had historically been the battlefield and brought about a significant increase in residential neighborhoods. In response, the National Parks Service drafted plans for the expansion of Stones River National Battlefield’s boundaries. The plans for the acquisition of historic lands were split into nine proposals as they related to particular acquisitions. The draft plan was to acquire 185 acres through simple fees and 77 acres through easement for an expansion of 262 acres.

 

There is record of legislation authorizing the extension of Stones River National Battlefield going back to 1976, but no legislation regarding the expansion of the battlefield would be passed until over a decade later. On December 23, 1987, A Bill to amend the boundaries of the Stones River National Battlefield, Tennessee, and for other purposes, H.R.1994 (1987) would be signed into law by President Ronald Reagan. Sponsored by Representative Bart Gordon (D-TN-6), H.R. 1994 was the first of five bills he introduced in Congress relating to the boundaries of Stones River National Battlefield. The passage of this bill allowed the Secretary of the Interior to enter an agreement with the City of Murfreesboro to construct and maintain a trail linking the battlefield with Fortress Rosecrans, which is located within Old Fort Park. Another bill, H.R.3881, was signed into law on December 11, 1991. This bill increased the authority of the Secretary of the Interior over the lands adjacent to the Stones River National Battlefield in addition to expanding the boundaries of the Battlefield.

Within the “Final Environmental Statement on the Stones River National Battlefield,” the City of Murfreesboro’s plan to develop a “historic hike and bikeway trail to connect Old Fort Park with the Union Artillery Site,” is elaborated upon. This biking and hiking trail would become a portion of the Murfreesboro’s 13 mile system of Greenways with 11 trailheads, 2 of which are owned by the battlefield. The cooperation between the National Parks Service and the City of Murfreesboro that allowed for the success of The Murfreesboro Greenway Systems would not have been possible without the expansion of the Stones River National Battlefield.

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From the Bart Gordon Papers.

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Courtesy of the Murfreesboro Parks and Recreation Department.

 

Sally Smith is a junior at Central Magnet School, and she is interning with the Albert Gore Research Center this summer. Her career aspiration is to work for the U.S. Department of State.

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Seeing History through the Trees: Celebrate National Arbor Day at MTSU with Walnut Grove

Written by Bradley Harjehausen, Graduate Assistant

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In addition to paper and other products, oxygen, beauty and shade, trees provide a window into history. An example on the campus of MTSU is a group of trees, pictured above, called Walnut Grove that originally had its roots in Mount Vernon. Located between present-day Peck Hall and Cope Administration Building, the walnut trees were the result of Julius H. Bayer, then the university’s custodian of the property, visiting the home of George Washington in 1930. He collected fallen walnuts and subsequently planted them on campus, then known as Middle Tennessee State Teachers College.

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Bayer was far from alone by transplanting Mount Vernon’s history, also including a community in Louisiana in 1932. He, however, is notable in being one of the first educators in the country to implement work-study for students. He paid students to pick fruits and vegetables as well as clean and maintain the dormitories (Sidelines, January 8, 1942). Oral histories discussing Bayer’s influence on the campus can be found on our website and more information about Arbor Day can be found on the Arbor Day Foundation’s website.

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