Collection’s Correspondence Unearths Valuable Information about Early 20th Century Apache Students

The Stephen Beauregard Weeks Papers, 1746-1941 (collection #00762) is composed of correspondence, diaries, notebooks/logs, and other volumes related primarily to the history of southern education and religion. Documents cover a wide array of subjects, such as southern Quakers and slavery, the Methodist church in North Carolina and the South, 18th century Moravians in North Carolina, and the formation of the Southern Historical Association.

The collection’s creator, Stephen B. Weeks (1865-1918), was a white North Carolina educator and historian who at the beginning of the 20th century also worked as the superintendent of the San Carlos Boarding School for Apache Indians in Arizona. Coverage of his time and role there largely consists of correspondence between 1899 and 1907. These letters illuminate valuable biographical information about Apache students and their families, as well as provide contextual insight into the nature of other Native American boarding schools at the time.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs, an agency of the Department of the Interior, first initiated their paternalistic campaign for assimilation-through-education in the 1870s. Boarding schools operated both on and off reservations, but each generally shaped its policies and practices from Pennsylvania’s Carlisle Indian Industrial School’s (1879-1918) model. This institution’s guiding slogan was “To civilize the Indian, get him into civilization. To keep him civilized, let him stay” (Native Heritage Project, 2012). Government agents and educators believed it to be in the best interest of Indigenous peoples to “advance” through Americanization, and from this understanding developed an oppressive educational system which forcibly removed them from their families—sometimes as young as five-years-old. These schools then sought to strip Indigenous students of their native identities and culture. A framework as such did not tolerate students’ remnant adherence to Indigenous language, religion, and/or other customs. Failure to comply was often severely punished in the form of physical and emotional abuse. Beatings, labor, confinement, as well as sexual abuse, malnutrition, and disease were common experiences among students.

Below are two photos courtesy of the Cumberland County Historical Society. They capture Carlisle’s mission to replace Indigenous culture and their precedential setting for successive boarding schools with parallel ideologies. Visit the Cumberland Historical Society’s digital collection of more than 3,000 related images for larger views.

Of particular note regarding the series of letters uncovered from the Southern Historical Society’s collection is evidence of an imposed coding system used to identify students. These tag bands, as they were called, were placeholders in the forced transition from Apache to English names. They appear throughout Stephen B. Weeks’ correspondence in various combinations of letters and numbers, such as TE 18, SB 55, and CJ 18 (see Box 17). Government agents instigated this tag band system first by dividing the Apache population into bands—each allocated with a corresponding letter—and from there assigned individuals (married men first) an identifying number.

Seen in this 1903 letter from an agent of the U.S. Indian Service to Stephen B. Weeks is introduction of a new Apache student and her family. Her grandfather is referred to by tag band CJ 28 and her father by English name David Norton. The agent suggests the student be assigned the name of Tina Norton, illuminating the name replacement practices common among such boarding schools.

Another instance of referral to Apache students by their tag band, in this case TA 36.

It’s important to note that this arbitrary system not only undermined Indigenous practices, autonomy, and decision-making, but also inflicted profound emotional harm on students and other Apaches subjected to it.

Keith H. Basso (1940-2013), a notable linguistic anthropologist, focused his research on the Apache people and has many publications which discuss these findings. In his collection of essays Western Apache Language and Culture (1992), Basso frames language as “everywhere a symbolic form without parallel or peer” and posits that “the activity of speaking—of enacting and implementing language—is surely among the most-meaning filled of all” (p. xii). Language is core to one’s identity, both individually and collectively as a people. To remove and replace it with something foreign is to severely deconstruct the person.

Photo courtesy of Goodreads.

Basso goes on to explain that central to Apache language in particular is its significance of placenames—a value transferrable to the significance of more generalized proper nouns. Apaches intimately relate to their environmental landscape, geographic locations often holding noteworthy power in the exchange of stories and resulting sociocultural understandings about the world. These placenames facilitate tribal morality and standards of social interaction. Basso elaborates, “the character of these meanings—their steadier themes, their recurrent tonalities, and, above all, their conventionalized modes of expression—will bear the stamp of a common cast of mind. Constructions of reality that reflect conceptions of reality itself, the meanings of landscapes and acts of speech are personalized manifestations of a shared perspective on the human condition” (p. 140).

From this groundwork, Basso extrapolates that Apache placenames set precedent for the weight of other proper nouns, such as individuals’ names. Outsiders’ neglect of this Apache reality is rooted in an uninformed and over-simplified “view of language in which proper names are assumed to have meaning solely in their capacity to refer […] as agents of reference” (p. 143). Apache students with tag bands and, later, English names were primed for total loss of their native heritage with the initial loss of their native names.
Powerful insight from an Apache woman, known as Mrs. Annie Peaches and who was Basso’s first Apache teacher in 1959, further conveys this tragedy. She observes that “If we lose our language, we lose our breath. Then we will die and blow away like leaves” (p. xiii-xiv).

This collection’s listings of tag band identifiers, as well as Apache students’ English names, provide exciting new pathways into genealogical research and promote discussion about the detrimental effects of deracination practices imposed on Indigenous peoples nationwide. Note that findings listed from Box 17 (see above) may not be a comprehensive account, so we invite you to look through other boxes in the series for even more information on early 20th century Apache students at the San Carlos Boarding School. You can access the Finding Aid for the Stephen Beauregard Weeks Papers, 1746-1941 through this link https://finding-aids.lib.unc.edu/00762/ or visit the Research Room at Wilson Special Collections Library for in-person access to its abundant correspondence.

Additionally, listed below are several links to related collections from the National Archives and Records Administration which provide avenues to supplementary research, as well as resources for more contextual information about the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ boarding schools and Kevin H. Basso’s book on the Apache language. Finally, linked at the bottom is information about a Minneapolis based nonprofit working to collect and connect digitally dispersed Native American boarding school records. Please check out their website below for more information about how to help with this initiative.

Resources/references:

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Last Chance to Explore On the Move: Stories of African American Migration and Mobility

On display at Wilson Special Collections Library since September, one powerful exhibit is nearing the end of its inspired look at the 400+ year history of the African American narrative and accompanying insight into ongoing implications for racial reconciliation today. On the Move: Stories of African American Migration and Mobility showcases personal accounts of several people across time in connection to various modes of transportation and, through this lens, invites patrons to examine the African American experience with physical and social mobility in the United States. Stories include those of enslaved Africans transported to the Americas by ship and escaping plantations on foot, African Americans migrating by train to new lives after the Civil War, traveling by car during the Jim Crow Era, and fighting for equality at Flight Schools and through Freedom Rides on the bus in the 1960s.

A segregated bus station in Durham, North Carolina, 1940

One of the exhibit’s highlighted narratives from the time of the Transatlantic Slave Trade is of special interest because his materials, like the exhibit itself, will soon be out of public circulation for a while. Omar Ibn Sa’id was an educated Muslim captured in 1807 from what today is Senegal. He was brought first to Charleston, South Carolina, but after an escape and later recapture in Fayetteville, North Carolina, was sold to plantation owner General James Owen in Wilmington. It was there he spent the rest of his life.

Portrait of Omar Ibn Sa’id with biographical annotations

Ibn Sa’id’s legacy is perpetuated today among scholars fascinated by his story. He’s merited the role as an impactful topic of discourse for thinkers belonging to a wide range of disciplines. Exhibit curator Chaitra Powell, African American Collections and Outreach Archivist at Wilson Special Collections Library, attributes the reason for Ibn Sa’id’s popularity to his influence in challenging “perceptions of the intellectual history of Black people, educational and language traditions in Africa, the role of religion, and the lived experience of an enslaved person in the United States” (Display Case 2). Ibn Sa’id’s influence is recorded predominantly by way of his writings, including his autobiography published in 1831. As many were scribed in the Arabic language, they further lend support to the debunking of commonly held misconceptions about African people.

Of particular interest to me about his story in relation to the exhibit’s theme, which looks at the (sometimes forcible) transfer and movement of ideas, culture, and people, is Omar Ibn Sa’id’s supposed conversion to Christianity. Records place him as a regular attendee of a Presbyterian Church in Wilmington and confirm that he’d professed having converted. There exist, however, many different interpretations of the motivations behind this decision. Some suggest it was a matter of survival, while others propose he assigned little weight to religious affiliation—perhaps because he interacted with Islam and Christianity on the basis of their vast similarities (rather than focusing on their differences) or because the label itself was inconsequential to his faith in God.

Surat al-Nasr, a verse from the Quran Ibn Sa’id scribed in Arabic, 1857. At the time of this writing, he was attending a Presbyterian Church and professing a conversion to Christianity.

The historical ambiguity of Omar Ibn Sa’id’s conversion creates space to address these uncertainties and ask questions. My own interpretation is that he approached this shift in religious affiliation as something independent of his worldview, a philosophy which strikes me as a powerful model relevant to our current climate of us-vs-them dispositions. It lends value to recognizing our shared humanity amidst a culture hyper-focused on differentiation. While the specificity of identity certainly matters, and labels can serve to communicate important truths about a person, they risk operating as tools for segregation when prioritized above commonalities between us. I believe Ibn Sa’id embraced this understanding in his forced encounter with a new culture, exhibiting strength of mind and character, goodness of heart, and self-autonomy while in bondage. In doing so, he rose above his captors.

This inspired story is but one of many featured throughout the exhibit, so we encourage you to visit On the Move: Stories of African American Migration and Mobility to explore, interpret, and learn even more! Its last day on display at Wilson Special Collections Library is Sunday, February 9th. Follow this link for more information: https://library.unc.edu/2019/09/on-the-move/.

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Announcing the Availability of Newly Digitized Audio from the Howard N. Lee Papers

May of 2019 marked the 50th anniversary of Howard Lee’s election as the first African American mayor of Chapel Hill. In commemoration of this historic event and in recognition of Lee‘s political legacy, we have digitized and made accessible a selection of audio content from the Howard N. Lee Papers in the Southern Historical Collection. These include recordings of speeches from Lee’s political campaigns for mayor of Chapel Hill and lieutenant governor of North Carolina; several political and community organizing events throughout the 1970s; campaign radio advertisements; family interviews; and even songs Lee performed with the Len Mack Trio while stationed with the United States Army in South Korea from 1959-1961.

Howard Lee is sworn into office as mayor of Chapel Hill, 1969

A mayoral portrait of Howard Lee from the 1970s

This week, as we commemorate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, we invite you to listen to Howard Lee’s 1980 speech which celebrates King’s monumental contributions to the Civil Rights movement. Lee’s message remains relevant today. Positioned at the start of a new decade, Lee frames the 1980s as a period during which “conservatism will sweep across the land like we have not experienced for many years […] a conservatism which will say ‘Let’s maintain the status quo. Let’s not rock the boat’” (Audiocassette 46, side 1). These words hold significant weight amidst our own current sociopolitical climate, especially as we, too, enter a new decade forty years later.

Lee adds, “There seems to be an attitude of hopelessness, a willingness to throw up hands in despair, a willingness to become slaves to pessimism and doubt. [But] this system can be saved […] It can be built, not so much on the melting pot form of like a soup, but more in the form of a stew, where people can come together and maintain their identities” (Audiocassette 46, side 1).

Howard Lee delivers a speech, circa 1970s

Related to these poignant considerations are observations made in his analysis of “The Black Experience in Politics” just a few months later. Lee suggests the two broad groups — majority white and minority black — generally share different political priorities and attitudes. The responsibility of the black politician thereby becomes a “dual leadership” in the “constant struggle of trying to communicate with the black community without alienating both the black community and the white community” (Audiocassette 48, side 1). “Politics,” Lee says, “is a game of exchange” (Audiocassette 48, side 1). He laments, however, that regarding the vote, “if somebody has to be sacrificed, […] you sacrifice the minority” (Audiocassette 48, side 1).

But Lee’s words call us to action, to a movement steeped in King’s legacy of racial reconciliation. And he reminds us that Martin Luther King, Jr. Day “must be more than just a celebration. It must be a commitment […] a renewed commitment to justice, to freedom, to equality, and above all, to human rights for all people” (Audiocassette 46, side 1).

This vast collection of now accessible digital materials from Howard Lee’s collection is an excellent resource available to you via the online finding aid at https://finding-aids.lib.unc.edu/05609/. The materials that are not accessible online are available for use in the Wilson Library reading room. We are grateful for the generous support from our audiovisual preservation team for digitizing these materials. This work is a part of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation funded grant initiative, Extending the Reach of Southern Audiovisual Sources.

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Vacationing Amidst the Weight of the Great Depression: The 1933 Chicago World’s Fair

This gallery contains 3 photos.

We are pleased to announce the availability of a new collection: the Smith and Andrew Family Papers (#05800), a new collection documenting two white families from Rowland, N.C., Salem, Va., and other locations across the South between the late 1800s … Continue reading

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Working on the Railroad: A New Collection Offers a Glimpse into the Lives of Those Who Rode the Rails

The Southern Historical Collection preserves large holdings of manuscript materials related to labor and workers, trade unions, industrial relations, labor activism, and more. Known primarily for our collections documenting the piedmont textile industry in the 20th century, we have acquired several new collections that shed light on the lives of those who have labored in other industries – including black coalminers in eastern Kentucky, North Carolina hog farmers, and rural health practitioners in Tennessee.

A new collection, the Laurinburg & Southern Railroad Company Records (#5768), documents the long history of a unique short-line railroad that runs from Raeford to Laurinburg, N.C. The “L&S” collection is primarily an archive of the company’s business records (such as company correspondence, board minutes, financial and legal files, or records of track repair and maintenance) but it also reflects on the lives of those who worked for the company over the years.

The Laurinburg & Southern Railroad Company was incorporated in March 1909 by N.G. Wade, D.M. Flynn, J.F. McNair, J. Blue, A.L. James, and J.A. Jones. J.F. McNair served as its first president until his death in 1927. Over its history, the railroad was primarily used for hauling freight, but it has also offered passenger and mail service. L&S has included several subsidiaries, including the Red Springs & Northern Railroad, Robeson County Railroad, Fairmont & Western Railroad, Franklin County Railroad, Nash County Railroad, Yadkin Valley Railroad, and Saltville Railroad (in Virginia). The company operates a railroad car shop, a track maintenance crew for hire, and a large fleet of rail cars for leasing to other railroads. In 1994, L&S was sold to Gulf & Ohio Railways. Now in limited operation, these days L&S moves about 7,500 cars annually with three locomotives, focusing on shipments of feed, fertilizer, chemicals, and glass.

The L&S collection contains some wonderful images from its 100+ year history. We’d like to share a few, centering the lives of workers, with the hope that it will inspire you to check out the collection and learn more about life on the rails.

L&S railroad shop employees, circa 1891.

L&S employees and executives on a locomotive, circa 1940.

Track construction crew, April 1959.

Track maintenance crew, undated.

Railroad crew (on locomotive) and shop crew, 1980. Pictured: Johnnie Watts, Gene McLeod, Les Ingram, Jimmy Gibson, James Gautier, A.B. Chavis, Ronald Brigman, Simon Peay, John Campbell, Roosevelt McCoy, Alfred McCoy. Photo by Mac Connery.

L&S locomotive in the garage in Laurinburg, 1975.

L&S “hostesses,” 1966. Pictured are Scottie Warren of Macon, GA, and Kathy Cody of York, SC., both juniors at St. Andrews Presbyterian College.

Railroad crew led by engineer Juddie McNeil, 1980. Based on other documents in the collection we believe conductor John Rogers and brakeman Leon Butler round out this crew.

Accident report, 1976. A tractor trailer truck did not slow down at a railroad crossing and was struck by an L&S freight train, despite the crew putting the train “into emergency.”

Photographs from the accident report, 1976. The truck’s trailer was split in half by the oncoming train, scattering its load of mattresses and linens over a 200 square yard area. The driver was not injured.

Retirement ceremony for long-time shop mechanic John Campbell, January 28, 1981.

Retirement of shop mechanic John Campbell, 1981. In honor of his service to the company, L&S christened railroad car LRS-7225 “The John Campbell” and painted his name on the side of the car.

Employee manuals and timetables.

L&S delivery truck drivers, circa 1990.

[Post-script: We would like to recognize the work of our former colleague, Borden Thomas, in making the L&S collection a reality here in the Southern Historical Collection (SHC). Borden worked in our department from 2015-2017 as an undergraduate assistant. One day Borden mentioned that she was the descendant of founding L&S president J.F. McNair, and that her family still had a large archive of the company’s records. Borden took on the Herculean task of organizing and culling the records and then donated the collection to the SHC.]

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2019 BlackCom Challenge: Community Driven Archives Team edition 

I don’t know how many of you have been a part of a grant funded project but we here on the Community Driven Archives Team can attest to how stressful it can be. We’ve got relationships, timelines, and deliverables to manage and sometimes it can be hard to find time to talk about the value of this work and how it is impacting us as individuals. We were grateful for the friendly challenge from the Black Communities social media team in the lead up to the conference this fall. 

Graphic for Promote Black Communities Challenge

    

All four of our pilot communities have ties to African American communities so this challenge was right in our wheelhouse. What follows is some information about who we are and why we chose to represent Black Communities in this way. 

Who: Chaitra Powell, Project Director 

Why: I chose to make my piece about Lil Nas X for a few reasons. I love the way that the music video for his single, Old Town Road, visually references Black cowboys. These cowboys are the Buffalo Soldiers and homesteaders that founded Black towns in the Western States which are related to our work in Historic Black Towns and Settlements. Lil Nas X’s identity is the perfect example of how Black communities are not monolithic and even if we must talk about ourselves in aggregates to fight systemic inequalities, we can’t erase the experiences of the individual, especially young people. Lastly, the controversy around his genre-defying hit single is a reminder to deny the myth of a post-race society and see how race is still being used to exclude people from membership and resources. 

Link to Chaitra’s video

Who: Sonoe Nakasone, Community Archivist 

Why: I wanted to highlight the role archives can play in sharing the rich history and stories of Black communities that have often been excluded from textbooks and prominent institutions.  Archives can also empower those communities to share their history in their own voice. 

Link to Sonoe’s video

A large black dove shape with three poems written on its body, on a blue background

Three Haiku poems inspired by work in Black Communities, written by Sonoe Nakasone

3 "word poems" written over 9 bright colored hands

Three “word poems” inspired by work in Black Communities written by Sonoe Nakasone

Who: Bernetiae ReedProject Documentarian and Oral Historian 

Why: Here was an opportunity to tell about the Community-Driven Archives grant by showcasing the four focal groups of the grant: HBTSA (Historic Black Towns and Settlement Alliances), ASHC (Appalachian Student Health Coalition), EKAAMP (Eastern Kentucky African American Migration Project), and SAAACAM (San Antonio African American Community Archives and Museum). Video clips from events and places were used to provide content and serve as reminders of the importance of our work. 

Link to Bernetiae’s video

Who: Lindsey TerrellGraduate Student  

Why: One of the first things I was able to do on this grant is to travel and meet with the residents of Princeville, North Carolina for an Archivist in a Backpack training. Flood-prone Princeville was impacted heavily by Hurricanes Floyd & Matthew and although the residents have suffered immense loss, they have remained resilient and eager to tell their stories in hopes that it will effect positive change. One of the residents we had the pleasure of engaging with that day was Milton “The Golden Platter” Bullock, former member of The Platters. In highlighting this lovely performance by Mr. Bullock, I wanted to show how these communities have been finding and sharing joy even throughout ongoing trials. 

Link to Lindsey’s video

Who: Leah Epting, Graduate Student 

Why: It’s always been said that that to “put it on the map” is to make something known, to say that it’s important. I get a little misty every time I work on this project for SAAACAM and see all the names and places important to Black History appearing on the map of San Antonio. So I wanted to try and communicate that feeling.  

Link to Leah’s video

I am extremely grateful to all my team members who took this assignment seriously and stretched their comfort levels to share an authentic part of their interpretations of this work. In the best-case community driven archive scenario, institutions will change communities for the better and communities will change institutions for the better – this exercise demonstrates that we are well on our way. 

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Fighting for clean land, energy, and industry since 1974, a story of the East Tennessee Research Corporation

Around 1973, the Appalachian Student Health Coalition (ASHC) recognized that groups working in the east Tennessee area needed additional legal services not initally provided by ASHC. Thus, in the ASHC’s spirit of “comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comforted” the East Tennessee Research Corporation (ETRC) was born in 1974. 

Founded by Vanderbilt law grads and former members of the ASHC, John Williams and John Kennedy, and funded primarily by The Ford Foundation, this organization was a public interest law firm which provided legal and technical assistance to rural community groups in east Tennessee. With the hiring of attorney Neil G. McBride, the group set about collaborating with organizations such as Save Our Cumberland Mountains (SOCM)–now “Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment”) to build a strong alliance that centered the environmental and social but also intersectional interests of the Tennessee Valley in its work. 

ETRC proved to be a powerful instrument for this cause, going on to resist forces which would negatively impact the region. One of their earlier battles was for enforced regulation of weight limits on trucks being used to transport coal throughout the area. This group also put pressure on coal companies who were mixing different coal qualities together—a practice that, at the time, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) said was “standard.” Another meaningful success was waging a vigorous campaign to prevent James F. Hooper III’s placement on the TVA Board of Directors—something for which Hooper later filed a libel lawsuit against them. Later, they received some well-deserved satisfaction in closing this loop when President Jimmy Carter nominated the infamous “green cowboy,” David Freeman, to be Chairman of the TVA. 

Watch two clips of Neil McBride (left) and John Williams (right) discuss ETRC resistance to James Hooper III and the subsequent libel lawsuit he filed against them

One of the foremost issues they dealt with was that of strip mining. The complicated relationship of mining to the region became especially apparent during the debates surrounding the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977 (MSHA). Because coal fields in the region were major employers, many people were wary of measures intended to crack down on the industry. However, some citizens were extremely concerned about the effect strip mining was having on the region’s landscape and water supply. Despite resistance, the MSHA was enacted into law by President Carter in November of 1977. 

Although the ETRC was no longer in existence as of 1978, their successes laid the groundwork for future progress in the South. In fighting these battles both in and outside of the courtroom, they planted themselves squarely in the longstanding but often overlooked tradition of activism in Appalachia. 

newspaper article from the Saturday, June 4, 1977 edition of The Washington Star entitled “Getting Things Done Quietly In Appalachia

“Ralph Nader, longtime politician and Neil McBride’s former employer, wrote about this work in the Saturday, June 4, 1977 edition of The Washington Star.”

You can find out more about the East Tennessee Research Corporation in the Neil G. McBride Papers, 1977-1989 in The Southern Historical Collection. You can also listen to the Southern Oral History Program’s 2010 interview with McBride here as well as read his and John Williams’ description of their worhere on the Appalachian Student Health Coalition Archive Project website. 

Contributed by Community Driven Archives Grant Research Assistant, Lindsey Terrell

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John McFerren of Fayette County, Tennessee — in his own words

Contributed by Community Driven Archives Grant Project Documentarian and Oral Historian, Bernetiae Reed

One of our pilot communities for the community driven archives grant is the Appalachian Student Health Coalition. Members of the coalition are historically and currently dispersed across the country and have lived extraordinary lives, often intersecting with some of the most courageous, hard working, and brilliant people that the world has never heard of. Dana Ellis, a coalition member in 1973-1975, worked with local community activists in West Tennessee (Fayette County) and introduced us to John McFerren’s story.

John McFerren is a World War II veteran and local legend. Both he and his deceased wife, Viola, played strong roles in civil rights actions surrounding Fayette County, Tennessee. In Robert Hamburger’s book “Our portion of hell: Fayette County, Tennessee; an oral history of the struggle for civil rights,” John McFerren’s words are revealing. 

“In 1959 we got a charter called the Fayette County Civic and Welfare League. Fourteen of us started out in that charter. We tried to support a white liberal candidate that was named L. T. Redfearn in the sheriff election and the local Democrat party refused to let Negroes vote.”

Five African American men in suits

Four Freedom Fighters counsel with Attorney J. P. Estes, Source: Special Collections, University of Memphis Libraries, Memphis, TN https://www.memphis.edu/tentcity/movement/fayette-timeline-1958.php

 ”We brought a suit against the Democrat party and I went to Washington for a civil-rights hearing. Myself and [James F.] Estes and Harpman Jameson made the trip. It took us twenty-two hours steady drivin. We met John Doar  . . . they told us they wasgonna indict the landowners who kept us from voting . . .”

John Doar was  assigned to create civil litigation, Fayette County is included. Source: Taylor Branch Papers #05047, Southern Historical Collection, UNC-CH, Series 4, Folder 598, https://finding-aids.lib.unc.edu/05047/

Just after that, in 1960, in January, we organized [timeline] a thousand Negroes to line up at the courthouse to register to vote . . . this county it was 72 percent Negroes . . . So in October and November they started putting people offa the land . . . they took your job . . . in November, we had three hundred people forced to live in tents on Shepard Towles’s land . . . White Citizen’s Counciland Ku Klux Klan started shooting in the tents . . . ”  

An African American family loading household items into a flatbed truck

Photo courtesy of Ernest Withers – In September 1960, after the crops were gathered, white landowners in Fayette and Haywood counties forced black sharecroppers off their land because they were trying to vote. Source:  http://orig.jacksonsun.com/civilrights/sec4_tent_city.shtml

“Tent City was parta an economic squeeze . . . Once you registered you couldn’t buy for credit or cash.”

“. . . I went into business the first of 1960, to supply the Negroes . . . had to haul everything I bought from other towns . . . the White Citizen Council in our district chased me just about every time. I had a ’55 Ford with a Thunderbird motor in it and two four-barreled carburetors on it. And it would run about 135. The sheriff told me one day, he says “Every time we get after you, I just sees two balls of fire goin over the hill. . . “ 

a black car parked on the grass

1955 Ford Thunderbird BYT568.jpg. (2015, June 21). Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository. Retrieved 14:50, February 13, 2019 from https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:1955_Ford_Thunderbird_BYT568.jpg&oldid=163946028.

During and after the late 1950s, John Doar, in his role within the Justice Department, was very involved with civil rights struggles across the South. Additionally, Black veterans were often in the forefront. Re-entry into their marginalized communities after service created a will to act. John McFerren fits this mold. But of note here, the meeting with Doar in DC probably acted as a significant catalyst for the massive voter registration events afterwards; which in turn, lead to the development of Tent City and garnered national attention, including support from Martin Luther King Jr 

A white man walks toward the camera with a crowd of policemen behind him

John Doar walks toward protesters during unrest that followed the 1963 funeral of slain black leader Medgar Evers in Jackson, Miss., Newspaper, Taylor Branch Papers #05047, Southern Historical Collection, UNC-CH, Series 4, Folder 599, https://finding-aids.lib.unc.edu/05047/

You can learn more about Tent City, Fayette County, and John McFerren on the University of Memphis website, Tent City: Stories of Civil Rights in Fayette County, TN. We also have some mentions in the Taylor Branch Papers here in the Southern Historical Collection.  John Doar Papers in Princeton’s Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library will open to researchers in June 2019 and the University of Maryland’s Thurgood Marshall Law Library has historical publications of the United State Commission on Civil Rights, which could also shed light.

An African American man standing in front of a crowd of African American men

Early photo of John McFerren smiling as he stands outside his grocery store” , Hamburger, Robert.1973. Our Portion of Hell: Fayette County, Tennessee: An Oral History of the Struggle for Civil Rights. (Photo by Michael Abrams)

 “McFerren stated the Justice Department “brought suit against the big landowners, but yet and still they did not break the boycott against me. They did something and then left and did nothin’ more.”  

 

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