Meet Our 2019 Summer Intern!

Written by Sarah Calise, Archivist

The Gore Center is pleased to introduce our 2019 Bart Gordon Papers summer intern, Sarah Coffman! 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. Sarah will be focused on developing an efficient workflow for processing the Gordon Papers, as well as creating a public history project of her choosing.

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Sarah is originally from Soddy Daisy, Tennessee which is a town just outside of Chattanooga. She received her undergraduate degree in History with a minor in Anthropology from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, and then completed her M.A. in Public History and Archival Science from Illinois State University. She is currently pursuing her Master of Library Science from the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee.

What are your historical and archival interests? Why do you want to enter this professional field?

I spent my two years of graduate school working as a graduate archivist for the Jo-Ann Rayfield Archives at Illinois State and the Milner Library working to help digitize faculty research notes. I had a wonderful mentor and boss who helped to spark my archival passion. I knew I would never have the patience to teach history, so becoming an archivist/librarian is my way of educating people.

I have a wide range of focus when it comes to history interests–from the rise of nation-states in 1848 to the end of WWI to urban development history and how our choices have affected us today. My archival interests seem to be tied to my history interests. I am drawn to the Russian archives and their vast amount of information and structure.

What interests you about congressional archives?

Since I have never worked with a congressional collection, I am super curious to see the differences between processing a university collection and an individual on a larger platform.

What do you do for fun? Any cool experiences you wish to share?

I am a dog mom to Chuck. He’s a 9-year-old West Highland Terrier/Shih Tzu mix. I love him a lot. Also, my best friend (Shayla) and I want to visit every MLB stadium over the course of our lives. Our next stop is Wrigley Field this summer.

What are you looking forward to during your internship?

Honestly? Learning! Each research center or archive are different, and the more I visit and learn, the more beneficial I can be for the future archival field. Congressional collections themselves are new for me, too, so the exposure to political materials will be a helpful insight.

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Tennesseans Respond: Brown v. Board of Education

Written by Sarah Calise, Archivist

Today, May 17, marks the 65th anniversary of the 1954 United States Supreme Court decision in the landmark case of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, which overturned Plessy v. Ferguson and determined “separate but equal” education services are unconstitutional.

Albert Gore, Sr. was newly elected to the Senate when the Supreme Court decision came down, and his office received a hearty stack of letters from Tennesseans expressing their views on the desegregation of public schools. Similar to other issues on race during the 1950s and 1960s, a majority of the constituents who sent letters to Senator Gore were against civil rights for black Americans.

CONTENT WARNING: The following letters contain racist language and thoughts. 

Transcriptions for these letters available here.

Gore’s Tennessee constituents often made accusations of communism and encroachment on states’ rights in response to the Brown v. Board ruling. Some Tennesseans also perpetuated the racist hypersexualization of black boys by writing to Gore that they feared what school integration would mean for their white daughters. Indeed, white supremacists have long used the protection of white womanhood as an excuse for violence and discrimination toward black Americans and other people of color–the 1915 silent film The Birth of a Nation exemplified this thinking.

Senator Gore’s views on school integration, influenced by his past experience as a school superintendent and law school graduate, slightly shifted in the span of a few years. In December 1953, Gore wrote to a constituent:

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Gore packing his belongs to move into his Senate office, January 1953. (Albert Gore, Sr. Papers)

“I have been reared to believe that it would be better for white children to go to white schools and be taught by white teachers…I still believe that is the best.”

He was also weary of pushing “too far, too fast” on civil rights and race relations issues, which he thought would cause more harm than good. He cited Nashville’s two black city council members as signs that the South was progressing at its own pace, and need not be ruined by any “dangerous provocation” from federal legislation or court decisions.

Following the Supreme Court’s Brown ruling in 1954, Gore was less forthcoming with his personal views in his responses to constituents. He urged Tennesseans to accept the court’s decision as “the law of the land,” but did admit that it would probably take some time to adjust and implement desegregation. He said, “We must find ways to progress in peace and harmony under the law.”

In March 1956, Gore distanced himself from Southern conservatives by not signing the Southern Manifesto, a document that attacked the Supreme Court for undermining states’ rights in the Brown decision and commended those southerners who intended to lawfully resist forced integration. Many Tennesseans wrote into Gore’s office upset with his decision to not align with these principles. In one letter dated March 28, Gore said that affixing his signature to the manifesto “would have been the easy and, at least for the moment, the politically appealing course of action.” Instead, he called the manifesto a “serious mistake” and declined to sign it because it would not “bring any improvement in a delicate and dangerous situation.”

The threat of white violence and backlash disrupted many efforts to integrate schools. In September 1956, in Gore’s own state of Tennessee, Clinton High School was the first public high school to undergo court ordered desegregation. The black students who integrated the school, often referred to as “The Clinton 12,” faced groups of hateful white people who spat on them and used racial slurs. Watch the video below from the National Education Association on the experiences of The Clinton 12.

 

What is the legacy of Brown v. Board today? It is an important historical event that continues to demonstrate its relevancy for present education issues. School desegregation is very much a contemporary history, especially for those school districts that took decades to even fully integrate. Currently, many scholars, journalists, civil rights activists, and educators have argued that American public schools are on the path to serious re-segregation. In 2014, PBS Frontline investigated the re-segregation of public schools. Using data from UCLA’s Civil Rights Project, Frontline summarized some of the major issues in eight charts, which explain the damaging effects of re-segregation. Overall, integrated schools are better for students of every race; integration typically means access to better education resources, greater funding, greater cultural competency, and higher graduation rates. The legacy of Brown v. Board lives on in those parents and activists who continue to fight for equal education opportunities for all American children.

To research this topic and others in the Albert Gore, Sr.. Papers, please contact us at the Albert Gore Research Center.

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Albert Gore Research Center’s 25th Anniversary

Written by Sarah Calise, Archivist

As we wrap up the 2018-2019 academic year, the Albert Gore Research Center’s 25th anniversary celebrations will also come to a close. Starting today through the beginning of May, we will post 25 highlights from our collections across our social media platforms, specifically Facebook and Twitter. Look for the hashtag #GoreCenter25. Additionally, Director Dr. Louis Kyriakoudes and Gore Center staff invite the public to our Open House this Friday, April 12 from 9AM-4PM. We will display highlights from our collection in our research room, we will conduct small group tours of our archival storage, we will provide information on how to donate to our archive, and there will be some refreshments in our conference room from 1:00-3:00PM, so come join us!

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Senator Albert Gore, Sr. speaks passionately before an audience.

How did the Albert Gore Research Center get its start? The answer is in our name! Middle Tennessee State University acquired the congressional papers of Albert Gore, Sr. (MTSU Class of 1932) following his retirement from politics in 1970. Two professors from the Department of Political Science, Dr. Norman L. Parks and Dr. David Grubbs, were instrumental in persuading Gore to donate his papers to his alma mater. The papers first found a home with Dr. Jim Neal of the History Department, who started the archiving process. In 1992, the papers moved to the Learning Resources Center (LRC), where the Albert Gore Research Center began opening its doors to the public in February 1993 under the leadership of Dr. Neal as the first director. During this time, the Gore Center began expanding its collections to include university and regional history. Space and storage issues pushed the Gore Center out of the Learning Resources Center and into the newly renovated Andrew L. Todd Hall in the spring of 2005. Dr. Lisa Pruitt, the director after Dr. Neal retired in 1999, oversaw the move to the new space.

Since moving to Todd Hall, the Gore Center’s collections and outreach initiatives have grown richer and more expansive. Our oral history collections greatly increased over the years, and we currently preserve thousands of audio files that cover stories of Tennesseans from all walks of life. Betty Rowland, former Gore Center secretary, was a crucial figure in collecting oral histories for the Middle Tennessee Oral History Project. She conducted over 200 interviews between the years 2000 and 2004. In 2003, Don and Sheryl Jones donated some of the oldest-known photographs of Murfreesboro. These photographs are dated between 1865 and 1870, and show vestiges of the Union encampment on the town’s Public Square.

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Union encampment on Murfreesboro square, ca. 1860s. Don and Sheryl Jones Photograph Collection.

The third Gore Center director, Dr. Jim Williams, called 2010 a “transformative year” for our archive for a number of a reasons. Additional compact shelving units were added to the storage area, which came in handy when U.S. Representative Bart Gordon donated his congressional papers to the Gore Center following his retirement from politics. In total, we received over 600 cartons of papers and an electronic database from Gordon. That same year, we acquired another large donation to our collections, this one specifically for the Margaret Lindsley Warden Library for Equine Studies. Joan Hunt donated over 900 books and 5,500 magazines. Today, the Library for Equine Studies is housed in the Special Collections at James E. Walker Library. Lastly, in 2010, the Gore Center participated in the planning for MTSU’s Centennial Celebration that occurred the following year.

Perhaps the most important event that happened around this time was the hiring of Donna Baker, MTSU’s first University Archivist. She has been an instrumental figure in collecting and preserving MTSU’s history, and her knowledge and leadership has been vital to the Gore Center’s daily operations and public history training. Donna trained me as a graduate student from 2014 to 2016, and I am eternally grateful for her mentorship in these early years of my professional career.

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An undergraduate history class discusses what they have found in some of the Gore Center’s archival documents.

Since 2014, the Gore Center has continued its dedication to providing the public and MTSU students with access to our many political, regional, university, and oral history collections. We have opened up our doors to classes across MTSU’s campus for hands-on primary source learning, and we have taken the archives into the classrooms of local Murfreesboro public schools. Our graduate assistants have developed countless physical and online exhibits using our collections. We also started a partnership with Walker Library to create and manage more digital collections, including the Forrest Hall Protest Collection. We have built relationships with communities and institutions across the state of Tennessee, like Humanities Tennessee and MTSU’s Teaching with Primary Sources. We continue to sponsor public programs such as Congress to Campus, and we have developed successful programs of our own, like the Movement 68 Symposium held in October 2018.

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Participants in the Movement 68 Symposium: Honoring 50 Years of Black Student Activism, left to right: Sarah Calise (moderator), André Canty, Arionna White, Sylvester Brooks, Dr. Michael McDonald, Dr. Phyllis Hickerson-Washington, Dr. Vincent Windrow, Lae’l Hughes-Watkins (keynote speaker), and Barbara Scales (moderator).

We can’t know for sure what kind of exciting adventures await the Albert Gore Research Center and the archives world in the future, but we do know that our archivists and archivists-in-training will be here when you need us–for your next research paper, class assignment, exhibit, documentary, oral history, public program, community project, or even if you are just looking for some cool historical documents and artifacts. We have been honored to serve the Middle Tennessee community for the past 25 years, and we cannot wait to serve the public for 25 more years and beyond!

Visit our website or contact us to start your next project with the Gore Center.

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Archive Spotlight: Charity Circle of Murfreesboro

Written by Marley Abbott, Graduate Assistant

Marley previously created a resource guide on “Women’s Groups, Clubs, and Organizations in Murfreesboro,” which included Charity Circle of Murfreesboro. It is a great document to explore all year long, but especially during Women’s History Month. 

For Women’s History Month, we wanted to put a spotlight on some of our collections related to the important work of women. This week’s spotlight is on the Charity Circle of Murfreesboro. Founded on October 1, 1910 as the “Girl’s Charity Circle” with over 20 original members. Under its first President, Ellen Douglas, dues were agreed upon to be 15 cents per month. From the time of their founding, Charity Circle has worked to serve their community and various progressive efforts as much as possible.

One of their first major projects was the construction of a Mission Church on Thanksgiving Day in 1912, made possible by donated time, money, and materials. Members of the Charity Circle worked to provide Mission Church residents with food, clothing, and various educational lessons to help better their living situation.

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Two women and four young children playing on a slide at Charity Circle’s integrated daycare center in 1967. Source: Charity Circle of Murfreesboro Records

In 1967, they opened the Circle Day Care Center at 216 N. Spring St. The Center was incredibly beneficial for working-class parents, as fees and scheduling were tailored to work schedules and financial abilities, and children were provided with food, educational activities, and supervised recreational time with their peers.

Throughout the year, Charity Circle holds numerous fundraising events and parties, including a holiday luncheons, Christmas caroling parties, a “Cupcakes and Cocktails” summer event, and a tailgate party. The Charity Circle’s annual gala, the Ugly Duckling Ball, is their biggest event each year, providing a fun and formal night of socialization and fundraising. All proceeds and donations collected from the event are given back to the community through various charitable efforts that benefit many local organizations.

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Six women working on a large papier-mâché duck for an Ugly Duckling Ball, circa 1960. Source: Charity Circle of Murfreesboro Records

The Charity Circle of Murfreesboro is active today, and recently elected their new President, Anne Davis, in February 2019. They have only grown in numbers and continue to expand their community service projects.

For more information, please visit their website, or research the Charity Circle of Murfreesboro Records housed at the Albert Gore Research Center at MTSU.

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The Ole Miss Incident: Examining the Past in the Present

Written by Marley Abbott, Graduate Assistant

*Disclaimer: some of the words and images cited in this post may contain offensive language and sentiments.

This past Valentine’s Day, I had the privilege of attending MTSU’s Unity Luncheon with keynote speaker James Meredith. As a massive figure of the civil rights movement, it was an honor to hear him speak during Black History Month, and learn about his work as an activist as we also recognized heroes in our own Murfreesboro community. To some, the civil rights movement seems like a figure of the past, but it has only been 55 years since the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Many of the struggles and bigoted beliefs that activists faced during that time are present in 2019. Hearing firsthand the experiences that Meredith went through as the first African-American to integrate the University of Mississippi was an especially emotional moment. Many of those involved on either side of the fight for civil rights are still alive, and their words and actions continue to impact the world that we live in.

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Alissa Kane, myself, and Casey Swank at the Unity Luncheon held in the Student Union Building ballroom on February 14, 2019.

As part of my work as a graduate research assistant at the Albert Gore Research Center, I have been researching the career of Senator Albert Gore, Sr. for an upcoming exhibit. Much of the material that I have sorted through has been constituent mail sent to Senator Gore over the course of his congressional career. One of the largest parts of his collection covers constituent mail concerning civil rights. In the materials that I have gone through, the vast majority of letters oppose civil rights, and their writers seem to find any way to convince themselves that those in support are working against the progress of our country. Some people believe we should not judge those in the past because they were “products of their time,” but shouldn’t freedom, equality, and opportunity be universally understood values as Americans, no matter the time or place?

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James Meredith holding a newspaper with the headline that reads, “Meredith off to enroll; Barnett action blocked.” Photo credit: Bettmann/Corbis/AP

The opportunities and human rights that African-Americans fought for during the 1960s are things that many of us in the present may take for granted. An African-American man wanting to attend university, something that should be without controversy in our current day, caused a huge stir during the 1960s. After riots broke out at the Ole Miss campus in opposition to integration on September 29, 1962, President Kennedy mobilized the National Guard and other authorities to maintain order among the students and the local community. When Meredith began attending Ole Miss on October 1, he was met with harassment yet he persevered and would go on to receive his degree in 1963.

As the riots and controversy surrounding Meredith’s university attendance grew, many outside of Mississippi wrote to their respective representatives to share their opinions on the matter. Here at the Gore Center, we have an entire folder dedicated to Senator Gore’s constituent mail concerning the “Ole Miss Incident.” Included below are several images of these letters that we have in our collection. Click here for the transcripts, or click each image to view larger.

Many who wrote such letters likened any action in favor of integration as “communist tyranny” or evidence of an encroaching “dictatorship.” Some people believed that integration was an attack on white southerners and a loss of southern heritage. While many of the letters voiced concerns over the assumed loss of freedom through the power of the individual states, they did not extend that idea of freedom to African-Americans wishing to pursue the same opportunities as whites. In light of the burgeoning tensions of the Cuban Missile Crisis, many also felt that President Kennedy’s use of force to integrate Old Miss was misguided. One constituent, David Jacks, expressed his strong support for the President’s actions and saw it as a worthy cause toward the principles of “liberty and justice and equality” that our nation was founded upon.

While this folder of constituent mail is just one drop in a sea of thousands of other papers, it is a strong reflection of the opportunities that historical research presents. Having the opportunity to work in an archive and interact with these materials firsthand was a unique experience for me. Attending an event featuring James Meredith and then returning to the archives and reading mail discussing a period in his life was an almost strange sensation; what might seem to others as just another event in history had become a very real, very present story for me.

Reading through the hundreds of letters sent to Senator Gore throughout the civil rights movement made an otherwise far away period in time all the more accessible. Being only 24 years old in comparison to James Meredith’s 85 years, I can understand the tendency for many my age to consider a previous period in history as a relic of the past. However, after reflection, the fact of the matter is simple–this was not that long ago. The people who both supported and opposed this struggle for equality are still present. I’ve asked two of my grandparents, both born in 1948, about their experiences growing up in a small Kentucky town, and they both remember segregation quite clearly. Something that was considered normal for part of their generation at one point is now an almost unfathomable concept. This is why historical research is important. This is why we need to take care to understand where we have come from and where we still need to go. If we do not make an effort to understand our past, we cannot progress into the future.

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Burn It Down: Finding Nitrate Film in the Archive

Written by Casey Swank, Graduate Assistant

The archivists and graduate assistants here at the Albert Gore Research Center have a running joke: if things in the archive start going south, just burn it down (truly, we ARE kidding). Little did I realize at the time how real that saying would become when I started working on the Robert Alexander Papers a couple weeks ago.

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Robert Alexander

Robert Alexander served in the 17th Photo Intelligence Detachment of the Army Air Forces/Corps during World War II and was stationed in Calcutta, India, from the end of 1943 through 1945. In 2003, he donated a small collection to the Gore Center that included correspondence, diaries, an autobiography, and photographs that related to his military service.
The photographs and negatives were originally digitized in 2003, but they were scanned as low-resolution JPEG files rather than high-resolution TIF files. Sarah Calise, Political and Regional Collections Archivist, asked me to re-scan Alexander’s photos and negatives at a higher quality for both preservation and access. At the time, this seemed like a quick assignment to tide me over until after Thanksgiving break when we could sit down and determine my next big project.

I methodically scanned the images that were stored in individual paper envelopes before moving on to the hardcover binder filled with print and negative strips. The strips were stored in plastic sleeves, with prints at the front of the binder and negatives at the back of the binder. I scanned the strips as a whole, making sure to capture everything, including the sprocket holes and any text written or embossed along the film’s edges. When I was almost finished scanning the strips, my eyes finally focused on two words printed along the edge of the strip: NITRATE FILM.

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I took my first archives class last semester, and we discussed the preservation issues presented by nitrate film. Produced commercially between 1889 and 1951, cellulose nitrate film is unstable and incredibly flammable. As the film decomposes, it releases nitrogen dioxide that can be converted to nitric acid when it mixes with moisture in the film. Nitric acid is highly corrosive and can irreparably damage the film if it is not stored in optimal conditions. Additionally, nitrate film catches fire easily, burns quickly, and releases a poisonous smoke as it burns. The best way to preserve nitrate film is to store it somewhere that can be kept at 50 degree Fahrenheit or cooler with a relative humidity between 30 and 40 percent. Ideally, the safest way to store nitrate film is to freeze it, but many archives do not have the financial or environmental means to do so.

As soon as I read the words NITRATE FILM, alarm bells started going off in my head. Donna Baker, the University Archivist, immediately picked up the phone and called Jonathan Trundle, an associate professor in the Media Arts department at MTSU who specializes in photography. We asked him to help us determine whether or not the nature of the film. We consulted the book Photographs: Archival Care and Management, and it stated that nitrate negative strips were sometimes copied onto safety film with the label “NITRATE” transferring onto the new strip. We believed there was a possibility that none of the negatives were printed nitrate film. However, we still believed it was best to call in an expert like Trundle.

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He inspected a number of negative strips pulled from different parts of the collection, and he also looked some of the digitized images. Based on the texture of the film and the time period in which the images were captured, he believed that there was a strong possibility I was indeed working with nitrate. There was only one way to know for certain, though: a burn test. Nitrate film will catch fire and burn rapidly; safety film (which replaced nitrate film in the 1950s), on the other hand, will melt slowly. I cut off a few small strips of run off film to test from some negatives that did not contain any images. Baker, Trundle, myself, and the other graduate assistants went outside to conduct the test. I held the strips with a small pair of metal pliers while Trundle used a lighter to ignite the film.

The strip immediately caught fire and burned down to the pliers. We tested a few different strips just to make sure this reaction wasn’t a fluke (and because it was fun), and we quickly realized that I was definitely dealing with an unstable, highly flammable collection of nitrate film. So, how do we care for such a collection?

We determined that Robert Alexander’s physical image collection should no longer be stored in the stacks along with all of our other collections because of the threat it poses to their safety and integrity. For now, we will isolate it in a storage cabinet on the other side of the archive’s fire doors. I have since finished scanning all of the negatives as high-resolution images, so we have digital copies of every image should something go wrong with the physical collection. I rehoused the images into paper envelopes so that any nitrogen dioxide released will not be trapped and speed up decomposition. Baker is currently determining the Gore Center’s options for requesting funding to purchase a cold storage unit, but there is a chance that we may have to dispose of the collection entirely. It poses a threat to the entire archive if we cannot acquire the means to store it correctly, and the digitized images ensure that the historical content of the collection would not be lost entirely.

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Moving forward, Trundle will help us review our photo collections to determine if any of them also contain previously-undetected nitrate film. If you have not reviewed your photo collections recently or are unsure of what it contains, conduct a thorough inventory and consult with an expert in the field. You might save your archive.

Sources:

Ritzenthaler, Mary Lynn and Diane Vogt-O’Connor. Photographs: Archival Care and Management. Chicago: Society of American Archivists, 2006.

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Reflecting on the MT Lambda Exhibit

Written by Alissa Kane, Graduate Assistant

Warning: Some of the content in this blog post and the exhibits contain hateful speech and descriptions of violence toward LGBT+ people.

I am grateful that I have the opportunity to work for the Albert Gore Research Center because they highly encourage their Graduate Assistants to pursue projects in all areas of public history, not just archives. Early on, I indicated to Sarah that I had an interest in curation; that same day I was assigned a project to create exhibits on the history of MT Lambda, an LGBT+ group on MTSU’s campus. This October was the 30th anniversary of MT Lambda’s establishment, and they wished to create an exhibit commemorating the many experiences of this group. I was thrilled to be put on a project relating to this because, as public historians, we need to work hard at telling everyone’s story.

Walking into the first planning meeting for the exhibit, I didn’t know what to expect. I had never been a part of putting an exhibit together and I was nervous, but also incredibly excited. From this meeting I learned that I would be choosing the objects and documents to put on display, and that I would also be writing text panels to interpret these items. Joshua Rigsby, who is the LGBT+ Program Assistant at Intercultural & Diversity Affairs, had been a member/president of MT Lambda when they attended MTSU. Joshua and Donna became the people I touched base with while planning these exhibits. Joshua knew the most about MT Lambda’s history, while Donna helped me with the fabrication of the exhibit displays.

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Alissa Kane with the MT Lambda exhibit on display at the Albert Gore Research Center in Todd Hall 128. Photograph taken by Sarah Calise.

There were a total of three exhibit spaces, and Joshua laid out what they wanted each case to cover thematically. It was my job to choose what went into each case. As I was rummaging through the MT Lambda collection looking for items and documents to put on display, I was struck by how much hate the group was receiving and how recent it was. As I was searching for newspaper articles for the Gore Center exhibit (which focused on print media) I was blown away by the amount of homophobia that was present at the time. A quote from one of these articles is on prominent display at the Gore Center exhibit and it reads, “God knows I would rather have both of my arms cut off than be gay.” This quote was from a Sidelines article published in 1993, only five years after MT Lambda’s founding. There are many more examples of hateful articles on display at the Gore center, but there are also articles displaying triumphs such the group’s founding, and a march for rights in Washington, D.C.

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MT Lambda exhibit at One Stop. Photograph taken by Alissa Kane.

The second exhibit space at the MT One Stop tells the story of the Uniform Equality Committee (UEC) and their fight to have MTSU include sexual orientation in their non-discrimination policy. One of the cases at this location contains testimony from students and other people in support of amending the policy. Some students spoke of fearing for their lives due to the intensity of harassment they were enduring. Some spoke of being afraid to come out because of the hatred they were seeing towards LGBT+ people in general. Some people were LGBT+ allies who wanted those within the community to be equal and feel supported. The non-discrimination policy eventually passed in 2001, six years after the formation of the UEC. In 2009, gender identity/expression was added to this policy as well. This was not met with nearly as much contention as the 1995 effort.

The third exhibit space was located at James E. Walker Library. This exhibit space covered MT Lambda’s history and the many events they have hosted since the group’s founding. One story that impacted me from this exhibit space was the story of Matthew Shephard, who was an LGBT+ college student at the University of Wyoming in 1998. Matthew was 21 when he was brutally attacked, tied to a fence and tortured. He died from his injuries five days later. As a result of his death, protest for LGBT+ rights erupted throughout the United States. Matthew Shephard’s mother, Judy, was a guest speaker at MTSU for MT Lambda’s annual Spring Out! event. This October was the 20th anniversary of Matthew’s death. Much more recent events, such as the Pulse night club shooting in Orlando, cast a dark shadow and make us question how far we have really come.

Our main goal in creating these exhibits was to show that LGBT+ students at MTSU have seen this hatred, have lived through it, and have had to overcome it. The LGBT+ community has seen great triumphs in working toward equality, like the 2015 United States Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges that declared protection for same-sex marriages under the 14th Amendment. Times have changed for the better since 1980s, when this group was first founded, but achieving true equality is an uphill battle, even today. All we can do is hope and work towards a better future.

See the slideshow below for images of the exhibit at Walker Libary:

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