My Summer at the Gore Center

Written by Mary DePeder, Intern

It’s my last week as the Bart Gordon Papers intern this summer and that is certainly cause for a touch of melancholy. As MTSU revs up for another semester with students moving into dorms, milling around campus, and Halloween decorations slowly inching their way onto store aisles, I think it’s safe to bid summer and Gordon adieu. When I began in May as the Gordon Papers intern I had very limited hands-on archival experience and even less experience working with congressional collections. I was charged with two main objects: to continue the folder level inventory of the Bart Gordon collection and create a digital humanities project based on the collection. I could not have imagined at that point in time where these two seemingly straightforward directions would lead me. Whether stumbling upon unique archival finds or cruising east toward Oak Ridge, TN for exhibit research, this summer was certainly one for the books and one that has given me the opportunity to put my archival theory knowledge to work.

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Inventorying the Bart Gordon Papers.

Sorting through stacks of constituent mail early on in my internship proved an exciting and memorable feat. While pausing occasionally to read over interesting snippets of letters I found two surprising items: letters to Congressman Gordon from members of my family. One dated from October 2008 was from my mother and her class of fourth graders. At the time, my mother was teaching her students about endangered animals and one of the solutions drummed up by her class to take action against this was notifying their local representative. So, attached to my mother’s initial letter to Congressman Bart Gordon were 30 musings of nine-year old Black Fox Elementary students on animal conservation.

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Letter from Congressman Bart Gordon to my grandparents.

Then, amazingly, I found a second letter from Gordon addressing my grandparents on their concerns of the raising gas prices in Murfreesboro, TN in 2009. Together, these letters, while reflective of so many constituent letters addressed to Gordon on issues relating to the daily comings and goings of Middle Tennessee life, were incredibly valuable to me as a beginning archivist.

When I wasn’t inventorying the Gordon Papers, a significant amount of my internship was spent researching and creating my digital humanities project. Already drawn in by the allure of Oak Ridge’s history as a secret city and passionate about environmental issues, the project slowly came into focus. And, as an added bonus to investigating a city close by this meant Project Archivist, Sarah Calise, University Archivist, Donna Baker, and I could ditch the brick and mortar for a day and road trip it to Oak Ridge to explore. Music playlists, historical research, and good company make for an eventful day adventure.

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At the X-10 Graphite Reactor in Oak Ridge.

In tracking the history of Oak Ridge from 1942 up until today I was able to utilize several of the Albert Gore Research Center’s collections and create a larger narrative of the city’s history. Working primarily with congressional collections for this project has broadened my understanding of how political collections can be used for intersectional work. This concept was also crucial throughout every step of my inventorying process. As a whole, the internship proved to be both a challenging and a rewarding undertaking.

You can learn more about internship and volunteer opportunities at the Gore Center on our website: http://mtsu.edu/gorecenter/opportunities.php 

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Archiving the Gore Center’s Website through the Wayback Machine

Written by Sarah Calise, Archivist

Hopefully, you’ve heard the latest news–we have an updated website: mtsu.edu/gorecenter. MTSU’s department websites were recently switched over to a content management system with unified style and formatting, so now we all truly belong to one True Blue team! For any of you who might catch some nostalgia for the old website, have no fear because the Wayback Machine is here!

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What’s the Wayback Machine? In short, it is a digital archive of the World Wide Web created by the Internet Archive. Launched in 2001, the Wayback Machine allows users to archive snapshots of websites across time. It also revisits sites on occasion and will archive a newer version.

According to the database, website pages from the Gore Center’s old URL “gorecenter.mtsu.edu” were saved 55 times from 2005-2018. Here’s what our website looked like on October 29, 2005:

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This website looks fairly dated according to today’s standards and technology, doesn’t it? You can visit our 2005 archived website here: https://tinyurl.com/yap2fexy. You will notice you can click around and still visit many of the linked pages. This site has minimal graphics and color compared to the second version of our website that launched in early 2012 and closed in 2018. Here’s what it looked like on February 5, 2012:

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Much of the content of the 2012 site was similar to 2005, but we certainly changed up the style and utilized more accessible fonts. You can explore this archived website here: https://tinyurl.com/y7v37h2x.

You may be asking, “that’s cool, but what’s the point of the Wayback Machine?” For one, it’s just fun. It is truly amazing how much technology and website styles have changed since the Internet became more commonplace. At the Gore Center, we could use it for our own institutional records to see how we described or promoted things online in the past. Some scholars use it for research; I used it during graduate school when I was researching Star Wars fanzines and fan fiction from the 1990s and early 2000s. Journalists or lawyers might use the Wayback Machine for accountability, evidence, or older news stories.

We hope our new website offers a more user-friendly experience. If not, let us know!

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Meet Our Intern!

The Gore Center is happy to introduce Mary DePeder, our Bart Gordon Papers intern for this summer! During the spring semester, the Gore Center held a nationwide search for a graduate student in public history and archives to help process the congressional papers of former U.S. Representative Bart Gordon. Like many congressional archives, it is a rather large collection (over 650 boxes), so we hope that Mary can help inventory a significant chunk of the collection to make the important information within the boxes more accessible to the public. She will also be working on a digital humanities project using the Bart Gordon Papers, so stay tuned. That being said…let’s meet Mary!

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Mary poses in the stacks with the infamous Bart Gordon Wheaties cereal box!

Mary is originally from Chicago, Illinois, but she has spent most of her life right here in Murfreesboro. She received her Bachelor’s degree in English with a minor in History from MTSU. She is currently enrolled in MTSU’s Public History program, where she concentrates on archival management.

What are your research interests? Currently, I’m interested in community archives, women’s, and LGBT history. This summer I will be writing my master’s thesis on class and generational tensions in the lesbian homophile movement, the Daughters of Bilitis.

What do you do for fun? Any free time I have–while in school and working full time–I love spending with my partner going to drive-in movies, hiking, or canoeing. But with my current hectic schedule, nap time with my dog and cat are high up there in the fun category.

What interests you about congressional archives? I enjoy tackling new challenges in areas I’m not yet familiar with. I have been told that congressional collections are “magnificent beasts,” so that sounds right up my alley.

What are you looking forward to during your internship? I’m most looking forward to gaining hands-on archival experience, and learning more about local political history.

What are your future career aspirations? I am interested in anything related to archival or library work. Currently, I work with the Nashville Public Library and absolutely love it. I would love to continue on in that field and one day work for their Special Collections department. If we’re talking pipe dreams, however, I would love any opportunity to work at an LGBT archive.

Look out for updates this summer from Mary on processing the Bart Gordon Papers! And the Gore Center would like to give a special thank you to Bart Gordon, who makes this internship possible!

 

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Tennesseans Respond: Poor People’s March of 1968

Written by Sarah Calise, Archivist

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

When civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in April 1968, he and fellow activists were planning the Poor People’s March, which comprised a tent city (called “Resurrection City”) on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. intended to influence Congress and put our nation on the path to achieving economic justice: the idea that each person should be free “to engage creatively in the unlimited work beyond economics, that of the mind and the spirit.” The march occurred under the larger umbrella of the Poor People’s Campaign, an initiative the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) created in December 1967 to address issues that particularly impacted impoverished communities, such as access to healthcare, affordable housing, and living wages. Thousands of people–from all different backgrounds–participated in the march and tent city from May 12 through mid-June.

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Demonstrators on the National Mall. Oliver F. Atkins Photograph Collection, George Mason University. Photo © SEPS

During this time, Tennesseans wrote to Senator Albert Gore, Sr. and expressed their views on the protest. Gore’s reply respected the people’s right to protest and “petition their government.” He agreed to meet with any and all Tennesseans among the marchers, and promised he would “give careful consideration to their requests.”

This response from Gore surely upset many of the citizens who wrote to him. Most of the constituent letters housed in the Gore’s Senate Papers shared negative and racist views of the Poor People’s March. Common beliefs from these people insisted that the marchers disgraced the country, were “lazy no good parasites,” and were going to take away rights from the majority (white Americans). Despite the diversity of the marchers, many of Gore’s constituents targeted black people in these letters. One letter stated, “I feel that this country will eventually be taken over if not already by the negro race….as a white person I am disgusted with our country.” Below is a representative sample of the letters opposed to the Poor People’s March. (Click each image to view larger)

There were a few letters from Tennesseans that sympathized with the march’s cause, and urged their representatives to support actions that would help poor Americans. Loren Houtman from Greenesville, Tennessee wrote letters to both Senator Howard Baker and President Lyndon B. Johnson on May 25, 1968 (Gore was copied on these letters). She was particularly concerned with hunger in schools, especially after watching a CBS television program earlier in the week. While the opposition saw the marchers as a “disgrace” to the United States, people like Houtman thought outrage should be directed toward the need for such a protest in the first place. She stated, “We should hang our heads in shame for allowing hunger to exist in our wealthy nation!”

Charles Johnson, of Knoxville, agreed with this sentiment in his letter to Senator Gore dated May 22. He wrote, “It seems that this great nation, wealthy beyond the dreams of history, can do better for its poor than it has done in the past.” Johnson believed in increased funding for food stamp programs, Head Start, Model Cities, and other Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO) projects. Below are the letters from Houtman and Johnson. (Click each image to view larger)

The Poor People’s March resulted in a few improvements for school lunches, food stamps, and the Head Start program, but, ultimately, many of the movement’s leaders considered it a failure.

Today, 50 years later, there has been a revival of the Poor People’s Campaign. At the time of this blog’s posting, there were demonstrations being held across the nation, including Nashville. You can read more about the current movement in this article from The Nation.

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Tennesseans Respond: The Assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Written by Sarah Calise, Archivist

On April 4, 1968, James Early Ray murdered civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. The city’s sanitation workers and public works employees were in the midst of a strike for fair living wages and safe working conditions. King was in Memphis to support this protest, and, on April 3, he gave his final speech–“I’ve Been to the Mountaintop”–at the Masonic Temple.

After King’s assassination, Tennesseans sent letters to the offices of Senator Albert Gore, Sr. and Representative Richard Fulton expressing a variety of views on the tragedy. This blog post will share samples of these responses

Some Tennesseans wrote Senator Gore asking him about the advancement of civil rights legislation to honor King’s life and legacy. Many specifically referenced the Civil Rights Act of 1968, also known as the Fair Housing Act. Tennessean Fred M. Harris wrote this letter to Gore at 11 o’clock the night of King’s assassination. Harris asked Gore to “assume a outspoken roll [sic] of leadership in the immediate passage of the current civil rights bill.” Click here to read the transcript of Harris’ letter.

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For some Tennesseans, the death of King prompted them to contact Senator Gore for the first time. Similarly, a few constituents mentioned watching the nightly news when civil rights leaders Roy Wilkins and Whitney Young urged White people, who believed in King’s message, to write their representatives about the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1968. Click images to view larger. Click here for the transcript of these three letters.

In their letters to Congress, some White citizens of Tennessee reflected upon their own role in perpetuating racial violence and inequality, mainly through their silence. In late February 1968, President Johnson’s National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders released their final report on the causes for racial unrest in the United States. Often called the Kerner Report, it concluded that “our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white–separate and unequal.” The report stated “white racism” as the cause for such division and inequality. This letter from Mary Ann Leonard of Memphis demonstrated how one self-identified white moderate responded to King’s assassination. Leonard wrote, “I feel that I and many other moderate whites have contributed to the current conditions in Memphis and in the country by our silence when extremists of both races have spoken out….I am afraid that if moderate Americans of any race do not speak and act now, our country will be torn apart.” Click below to view her entire letter, and click here for a transcript.

Senator Gore and Representative Fulton received hate-filled and racist letters, too. There were many constituents concerned about President Johnson’s order to lower the flag at half mast to honor King. Some called it hypocritical. Many thought King was undeserving of such a gesture because they blamed him for riots, looting, and violence. One White woman was so upset that she questioned whether or not she wanted to bring a child into a world that lowered a flag for “a controversial figure” like King. Gore simply replied that “the President, as Commander-in-Chief, has the authority to order the flag flown at half-staff.” Below are some examples of these responses. Click each letter to view it larger, and click here for the transcript of each letter.

As weeks went on and April turned to May, Gore also received letters from constituents asking him to not make any emotional decisions about passing civil rights legislation. Constituents, on the other hand, rarely separated emotions and politics. Examining constituent mail to Senator Gore before, immediately after, and long after King’s assassination shows that emotions and politics constantly intertwined. Before the tragedy, a majority of the letters sent to Gore passionately directed him to vote against the open housing bill. Immediately following King’s death, letters poured into Gore’s offices and pleaded with him to lead the country in progressive civil rights measures. After a few weeks, constituent mail reverted back to asking Gore to be levelheaded in his voting record.

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Dr. Martin Luther King at the March on Washington, 1963. Image courtesy of the Marion Peck Papers, Albert Gore Research Center.

Emotional and tragic events–assassinations, school shootings, police brutality, etc.–prompt political discussions all the time, and sometimes lead to legislation. Although it was well on its way to passing, President Johnson signed the Fair Housing Act into law on April 11–one week after King’s assassination. Of course, constituents should be emotional about politics because the decisions being made at the local, state, and national levels directly affect all of our lives. But maybe we should also strive for being actively engaged year-round, instead of only contacting representatives after these emotional events occur.

The letters that struck me the most when researching how Tennesseans responded to King’s murder were those from people who admitted to writing to their congressman for the first time, or those White constituents who thought that if only they had spoken up earlier and more often, perhaps things would have been different.

As we reflect upon the life, the legacy, and the tragedy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. this week (and every week), let us also reflect upon how each of us makes a difference in our communities, big or small.

Additional resources from the Gore Center on the 50th anniversary of King’s assassination:

For other “Tennesseans Respond” blog posts, see: “Tennesseans Respond: The Revolts of 1967,” and “Tennesseans Respond: The Rosenberg Trial.”

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Movement 68: Black Student Organizing

Written by Sarah Calise, Archivist

The Black student activism that occurred on MTSU’s campus in the late 1960s was part of a larger national movement. According to historian Dr. Martha Biondi, in her book The Black Revolution on Campus, “Black students organized protests on nearly two hundred college campuses across the United States in 1968 and 1969.”1 Many of these Black students used grassroots organizing efforts to reform university policies and to demand better representation on a variety of campuses–public and private, historically black and predominantly white.

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Sylvester Brooks, of C.U.B.E., attends a student club fair. (Sidelines Oct. 21, 1968)

Black students lost patience for “token integration” and set their sights toward “new politics of racial pride and assertion.”2 In 1968 and 1969, MTSU Black students formed organizations like C.U.B.E (Creating Understanding By Effort) and the Black Student Union (BSU). These institutions sought empowerment and transformation on campus and in the Murfreesboro community. Both C.U.B.E. and BSU created change through specific educational goals. C.U.B.E. ran a tutoring program for Murfreesboro’s K-12 students, held trips to cultural heritage sites, sponsored Black film festivals and book clubs, and pushed for the introduction of Black courses at MTSU.3 Meanwhile, BSU focused on creating a safe and supportive environment for Black students. The organization administered Black History Week activities, brought notable Black speakers to campus (like Julian Bond), and also supported the need for Black history courses.

The efforts of the Black student movement came with harsh reprisals, “including criminal prosecution and…violent police invasions.”4 At MTSU, activists like Sylvester Brooks received death threats, intimidating anonymous phone calls, and mail that suggested people were always watching him, much like the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Counterintelligence Program.5 When the Black Student Union started the bureaucratic process of becoming an officially recognized student organization, they received resentment from white students who thought the group was “separatist, bigoted, militant, or even communist.”6 In May of 1969, Carla Neal interviewed several Black students in a column published in Sidelines that directly tackled misinformed viewpoints about BSU. Read her full column below or click here for a transcript.

BSU letter

Despite the backlash, the Black student movement transformed the academic community. Scholar Robert L. Allen noted that these students’ efforts widened educational democracy, and the call for Black Studies programs paved the way for “the introduction of new and revolutionary ideas into the curriculum.”7 Demanded by students, MTSU’s first Black history course began in the fall of 1969. Called “The Negro American,” the objective of the class was “a study of the changing role and status of the Negro in American life and his contributions to the culture and institutions of the United States.”8 The course complemented the work that C.U.B.E. and the BSU conducted with their educational outreach. MTSU’s Black faculty and students continue to implement Black-centered education today–this past fall semester the university became the first in Tennessee to offer an Africana Studies major.

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Founding members of the Black Student Union. (Sidelines May 15, 1969)

Ultimately, the “energy and idealism” of these young Black students in the late 1960s “inspired Latino, Asian American, and progressive white students to launch and intensify their own campus crusades.”9 The Gore Center’s Movement 68 initiative seeks to explore the many ways in which MTSU’s own Black student movement shaped our campus and our community over the past 50 years. How far have we come? And how much further do we have to go to achieve equity in higher education at MTSU, in Tennessee, and across the United States? For more information on Movement 68 programs, please visit our website.

Citations

  1. Martha Biondi, The Black Revolution on Campus (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2012), 1.
  2. Ibid, 6.
  3. Kathy Miller, “CUBE Sponsors Tutoring Program,” Sidelines (Murfreesboro, TN), Oct. 21, 1968.
  4. Biondi, 3.
  5. Sylvester Brooks, interview with Erin Toomey, September 30, 2000, interview MT24, Albert Gore Research Center.
  6. Carla Neal, “Students Must Not Take Misinformed Viewpoint of Black Student Union,” Sidelines (Murfreesboro, TN), May 15, 1969.
  7. Biondi, 11.
  8. Bulletin of the Middle Tennessee State University, Vol. XLII, No. 2, April 1969, Albert Gore Research Center.
  9. Biondi, 2.
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Gore: Freedom of the ballot box is the very essence of democracy

Written by Sarah Calise, Archivist

In 1965, Senator Albert Gore and his colleagues in Congress considered legislation aimed at dismantling the state and local barriers that prevented black Americans from fully exercising their right to vote granted by the 15th Amendment. Leading up to the enactment of the Voting Rights Act in August, Gore received hundreds of letters from Tennesseans about voting rights, including many that discussed the protest marches in Selma, Alabama. Gore responded to these letters with the following:

I believe the right of qualified citizens freely to exercise the franchise is clearly guaranteed by the United States Constitution. Nevertheless, there are areas, as we have seen, where certain citizens have been and are being systematically denied the right to vote. This cannot be tolerated. Freedom of the ballot box is the very essence of democracy.

Gore’s entire response can be read below, with a transcription available on our website:

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As expected, Tennesseans had various reactions to the Voting Rights Act and the marches for voter registration happening in Alabama. Some urged Senator Gore to vote against the bill and “come to the aid” of Alabama’s segregationist Governor George Wallace, who used brutal tactics against Dr. Martin Luther King and other civil rights activists seeking an end to voter suppression. Below are some examples of these letters, with transcriptions available on our website(Click each image to view larger)

For others, the violence Governor Wallace used against the protest marchers demonstrated the immense need for legislation protecting voting rights, and these constituents pleaded with Gore to support the bill. Below are some examples of letters in support of the Voting Rights Act, with transcriptions available on our website. (Click each image to view larger)

In recent years, people of color and other marginalized communities have seen an increase in voting restrictions that undermine the 15th Amendment and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The Brennan Center for Justice is one of several organizations fighting voter suppression. You can learn more about this civil rights issue on their website, which features informative articles, maps, and guides on taking action: https://www.brennancenter.org/issues/restricting-vote.

To research the Papers of Senator Albert Gore contact me at Sarah.Calise@mtsu.edu, or call 615-898-2632.

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