Looking for a Thanksgiving side dish…how about some monster corn?


Just for fun. This photograph comes from the Bryan Family Papers (Collection #96, finding aid). Unfortunately, this photograph is undated, unattributed, and unidentified. But it’s still undeniably unrelenting in its agricultural intrigue.

Holdings on minorities in NC libraries

Readings on minorities
“Readings on minorities in the United States, with emphasis on the negro,” 1948

The North Carolina Commission on Interracial Cooperation Records (finding aid) contains a group of surveys done in 1948 to assess the holdings of NC public libraries related to minorities, especially African Americans. A list of titles was sent out to white and black libraries around the state, and librarians indicated which titles they had in their collection and sent them back.

Some libraries had none of these materials, though a few of them responded saying that they would turn the list over to their book committee. After thumbing through the surveys, the library with the most titles by far was the Stanford L. Warren Library of Durham (a page from their survey results is pictured at right). This should come as no great surprise, as Stanford L. Warren was North Carolina’s second black library, established in 1916 (the first was the Brevard Street Library for Negroes, which opened in Charlotte in 1905). The Stanford L. Warren Library is pictured at its former location in the postcard below (from North Carolina Postcards).

Durham Colored Library, ca. 1916-1930

Roaches & garlic

Whiskey and turpentine? Sounds a bit like the homemade cough syrup my mother used to fix for me when I was young. While we’re on the subject of strange prescriptions, here’s an excerpt from a 1930s pamphlet in the Delta and Providence Farm Papers (finding aid), titled, “Why a Doctor is Needed on the Delta Cooperative Farm:”

A baby was born on the Farm. A member of the farm who was a registered mid-wife in the state of Mississippi was in charge of the case. The Mother developed an infection, due, probably, to none too clean instruments. The mid-wife mixed a concoction of roaches and garlic and applied it to the infection.

Was this remedy effective? The pamphlet doesn’t say, though I’m happy to report that the Delta Cooperative Farm was soon joined by physician David R. Minter.

Roaches & garlic

Whiskey and turpentine? Sounds a bit like the homemade cough syrup my mother used to fix for me when I was young. While we’re on the subject of strange prescriptions, here’s an excerpt from a 1930s pamphlet in the Delta and Providence Farm Papers (finding aid), titled, “Why a Doctor is Needed on the Delta Cooperative Farm:”

A baby was born on the Farm. A member of the farm who was a registered mid-wife in the state of Mississippi was in charge of the case. The Mother developed an infection, due, probably, to none too clean instruments. The mid-wife mixed a concoction of roaches and garlic and applied it to the infection.

Was this remedy effective? The pamphlet doesn’t say, though I’m happy to report that the Delta Cooperative Farm was soon joined by physician David R. Minter.

October 13,… 1863

Letter: 13 October 1863, from Rhoda Casey to her husband.
Letter: 13 October 1863, from Rhoda Casey to her husband.

Here is a portion of a letter that was written 145 years ago today (October 13, 1863).  Due to time constraints, we provide here only a partial transcript. We welcome you to visit us in order to read the entire letter in person. The letter comes from our collection of “Confederate Papers”, from Unit #23 and is labeled as “Letter, 13 October 1863, from Rhoda Casey in Pendleton, S.C., to her husband noting a wagon accident and other news.”

[Note: Punctuation and capitalization have been added for the sake of the reader. Other mistakes appear here as they occur in the original letter.]

Pendleton So. Ca.

Oct. the 13th. 1863

Dear Rowland,

I’ve again seat myself to write you a few lines but then I can not say that we are all well. Walter has got his foot hurt very bad. He was at Mrs. Burnes'[?] last Thursday and Friday a helping to haul in corn and just [?] as he was going in with a load, the oxins scard and turned and threw the wagon againts a tree and his foot was smash up betwixt the tree and wagon and was hurt right bad. He has not walked after since – only on chruches. But it is a great deal better now and I think he will be walking again soon.

Then I have had no letter this week. I must know. There come one last night but it has bin raining all day so that I could not go to the office and daddy went to Pickens last Sunday and has not come back yet I think maby he will come by the time I git done writing and if he does he will will come by the office.

Then I went to Anderson last Saturday and took some things and left with Mr. Dobbins for Capt. Moore to take to you. I did not take so much for I could not git them ready. I took your one shirt and pair of drawers and two pairs of socks and some thread and two twist of tobackco and then I sent your old yellow vest that you sent home. I thought it would do you a little good maby. I did not think of sending it till a few minits before I started or I would have washed it. Then I don’t know that the clothes will suit. The drawers are very coarse, I did not make it for that, but I thout it would be very warm and would last a little while. I intend to make you some more clothes just as soon as I can. […]

Nell Battle Lewis scrapbook

Page from Nell Battle Lewis scrapbook
Page from Nell Battle Lewis scrapbook

As we’ve stated before, one of our major goals in publishing this blog is to bring to the forefront smaller collections, lesser known items, and interesting gems embedded within larger collections of manuscript materials here in the Southern Historical Collection.

An example of the “embedded gem” variety has just reemerged and been called to our attention. It’s a wonderful scrapbook that was kept by a woman named Nell Battle Lewis. The scrapbook is embedded within the Kemp Plummer Lewis Papers, Collection #3819 (Nell’s brother’s papers).

Nell Cornelia Battle Lewis (1893-1956) was a journalist, feminist, lawyer, educator and a strident human rights advocate in Raleigh, N.C., in the early twentieth century.

In 1918, Nell Battle Lewis, joined the YWCA’s canteen service with the American Expeditionary Force in France. Her scrapbook from this year in Nice, France, contains Nell Battle Lewis’s passport, the Nice area “leave rules” for women, ration cards, portions of love letters and pictures from servicemen whom she met during service, photographs and post cards of Nice, and a fragment of a flag.

1000 Words Isn’t Enough

Unidentified children, circa 1880-1900
Unidentified man holding accordion, circa 1880-1900.
Unidentified man holding accordion, circa 1880-1900.

Today we would like to share two photographs with you. These images come from a photograph album of tintypes out of a collection called the Lester-Gray Collection of Documents Relating to Joseph Glover Baldwin, 1838-1949.

This collection, including the photo album of tintypes, was received by the SHC in 1954. Very little is known about the album’s origins. Actually, not much is known about the album’s connection with the greater Lester-Gray collection. The album holds 17 tintypes and one carte-de-visite picturing African Americans — women, men, and children — well-dressed and formally posed. The album arrived with this curious label: “Negroes, born and Bred on Gen. Lee’s Land, 1862.”

Over the years, many people have inquired about the accuracy of this description and date on the album. More importantly people have often asked us about the identity of the individuals portrayed in these photographs. Could these individuals really have lived at Arlington House (the historic home of the Lee and Custis families of Virginia, and home to the Robert E. Lee Memorial)?

In fact, it was one of our researchers who helped us more accurately date these photographs. Several years ago a researcher, who is a maker of historically accurate dolls, agreed to give us her expert opinion of the dress and hairstyles. Her assessment dated the majority of these images to the time period between 1880 and 1900. Following additional research and consideration, our staff then updated our description to include the following statement: “Despite the label on the album, most of the images appear to date from 1880-1900, and there is no direct evidence of connection with Robert E. Lee.”

We have long believed that someone else out there might have additional knowledge that could help to identify some or all of these individuals. Or, perhaps, with some work between the archives at the Arlington House and these materials here in the SHC, more could be unearthed.

Any ideas?

Thar She Blows

We recently uncovered a single-item collection with this intriguing title: “Sailor’s Journal, 30 March-24 April 1847” (#5219-z). Although not completely unheard of, this is a bit of a strange one in that it’s totally unattributed.

19 April 1847: Entry from an unknown sailor's journal.
19 April 1847: Entry from an unknown sailor

Normally, our collections are tied to a definite creator (a person, or perhaps an organization), but here we have an example of one of our collections whose connection to its creator has been lost. The question of who penned this journal is only a part of the overall mystery of this 161 year old item. Why did the entries end on the 24th of April? Are the numerous empty pages that follow this last entry merely because he lost interest in maintaining a journal? If not, what happened to him? Here’s what we do know about it…

The writer was a sailor on the Memphis during its passage from New York to New Orleans between 30 March and 24 April 1847. The journal provides a daily record of the weather conditions at sea, the speed and position of the ship, the wildlife sighted around the ship, and other vessels encountered during the voyage. The sailor mentioned passing Cape Hatteras, Cape Florida, and Key West.

In one passage of the journal, April 19th, the sailor notes the damage that a hurricane had inflicted on Key West the previous year.

“…passed Key West a place belonging to the U.S. and used as a navel depot, was partly destroyed by the Water last year a blow from the South demolishing the lighthouse, also passed at 10 o’clock a.m. Sand Key light House on [Island] which was blow down in a tornado last year, part of the Is[land] is washed away and they have erected a liberty Pole in the Center of the Isl’d to show the spot on which it once stood. The U.S have now a Light ship placed, at Key West, also a substitute for the Light House, destroy’d.”

Any guesses on the author of this journal? Does anyone know anything about this hurricane that hit Key West in 1847? Know anything more about this lighthouse that was destroyed?  Of course, digging into the journal itself would be the best place to look for clues.  As always, it’s here in the SHC (carefully preserved) and we’d love to have you in to take a look at it!

Did you know we also have a minor in Public Health?

Circa 1890: Milton J. Rosenau in uniform.
Circa 1890: Milton J. Rosenau in uniform.

You may have heard that the Southern Historical Collection (SHC) has “a couple” of collections of manuscript materials relating to the Civil War, Civil Rights, Southern politics, literature, and business (among other bread and butter subject areas). But, you may not have known that we also preserve a number of great collections in several smaller subject nodes. These minor focuses have sprouted and thrived over the years due to a variety of reasons. One such minor subject strength is public health.

Due in large part to the prestige of UNC Chapel Hill’s School of Public Health right down the road, and other strong connections, the SHC has been the beneficiary over the years of several great acquisitions of the papers of noted public health officials and organizations.  We were recently reminded of one very rich public health collection, the Milton J. Rosenau Papers. We thought we’d share a bit on Rosenau’s interesting life.

Milton J. Rosenau was commissioned as an assistant surgeon in the United States Marine Hospital Service (now the United States Public Health Service) in 1890. In 1899, he was appointed director of the Hygienic Laboratory of that service. He was instrumental in 1922 in the establishment of the Harvard University School of Public Health and, in 1940, became first dean of the School of Public Health at the University of North Carolina. (In fact, the School of Public Health’s building is named for Rosenau).

Circa 1920: Milton Rosenau in laboratory.
Circa 1920: Milton Rosenau in laboratory.

The SHC’s collection of Rosenau material includes correspondence, writings, lecture notes, pictures, and other items documenting his career as a public health official, chiefly 1900-1924. His activities at the Marine Hospital Service, the Hygienic Laboratory, and Harvard University are covered, as is his work in such areas as milk hygiene, typhoid fever, other diseases, and relief to European Jews.

The one topic that comes up again and again throughout the Rosenau collection is: MILK! Rosenau was a bit of a milk connoisseur. No, that’s not quite right…he was more of a milk saint. The way we understand it, it was Rosenau that took the pioneering work of Louis Pasteur to a whole new level. It seems that the “Pasteurization” process of milk had a small flaw in that it made the end product taste like, well, cooked milk. Rosenau tweaked the process, reducing the temperature and advocating for slow-cooking.  Perhaps a little North Carolina barbeque played a role in this eureka moment? Anyway, the effect of such a change was a much more pleasing taste and, as a result, much wider adoption of consumption of pasteurized milk. We suppose “Rosenauzation” doesn’t have the same ring. Google Books has made available this copy of his landmark work on the subject, called “The Milk Question.”

So, if you feel the spirit move you today at lunch, raise a glass of milk, “To Milton Rosenau! To germ-free and tasty milk!”

Langston Hughes in Chapel Hill, December 1931

December 1931: Langston Hughes (left) and Anthony Buttitta standing on Franklin Street in downtown Chapel Hill. From Contempo Records (#4408), Southern Historical Collection, UNC-Chapel Hill.
December 1931: Langston Hughes (left) and Contempo co-publisher Anthony Buttitta standing on Franklin Street in downtown Chapel Hill. From Contempo Records (#4408), Southern Historical Collection, UNC-Chapel Hill.

Chapel Hill has seen its share of notable visitors throughout its history. Some of these notables have been welcomed to town with open arms, others…not so much. In December 1931, writer Langston Hughes received one of these colder varieties of welcomes to the Hill.

Hughes had been invited to Chapel Hill by Milton “Ab” Abernethy, one of the publishers of a short-lived journal of literary and social commentary called Contempo, based in Chapel Hill. Abernethy, an avowed communist who, before settling in Chapel Hill, had been expelled from State College (now North Carolina State University) for publishing some rabble-rousing words about the college administration, is quite an intriguing figure in his own right – perhaps we’ll add more about Abernethy in a later post.

Although only lasting from 1931-1934, Contempo was able to build a strong reputation among critics for expanding the boundaries of literary work in the 1930s and was able to attract submissions from the likes of William Faulkner, Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, Sherwood Anderson, Erskine Caldwell, Hilda Doolittle (H.D.), e.e. cummings, William Carlos Williams, and many other luminaries of the day.

[The Southern Historical Collection is proud to be the home of a 720 item collection of Contempo Records (#4408) which includes letters to and from authors, typescripts of literary works, photographs, clippings and other items. The photograph above-left comes from this SHC collection.]

Throughout October and November 1931, Abernethy and Hughes corresponded to discuss including some of Hughes’ work in the December 1 issue of Contempo. The publishers had decided that this December issue would be a special issue on the events surrounding the case of the Scottsboro Boys – a special issue that would include opinion pieces on the case from those in the literary community, as well as poems and other works in response to the Scottsboro case. Hughes submitted several items to Abernethy for publication, including: a poem called “Christ in Alabama,” an accompanying drawing called “Black Christ” by artist Zell Ingram of Cleveland, Ohio, as well as an essay he called, “Southern Gentlemen, White Prostitutes, Mill-Owners, and Negroes.”

These titles alone would have caused a stir in the American South of the 1930s, but the content was also quite daring. The essay began with the sentence, “If the 9 Scottsboro boys die, the South ought to be ashamed of itself — but the 12 million Negroes in America ought to be more ashamed than the South.” The poem, “Christ in Alabama,” was even more pointed. Click here to view an image of the front page of the December 1931 issue of Contempo.

The publication of the Scottsboro issue of Contempo was timed to appear several days before Hughes was to visit Chapel Hill for a public reading. Citizens of the town of Chapel Hill were incensed. UNC President Frank Porter Graham and Chapel Hill town officials received a flood of letters denouncing Hughes as “sacrilegious” and calling for his engagement to be canceled (to put it softly). Graham did not interfere and the reading went on as planned.

Later, during Graham’s hard-fought 1950 Democratic primary in the campaign for U.S. Senate, the Hughes case was used quite effectively by Graham’s opponent, Willis Smith, as an example of Graham’s longstanding left-leaning (read: Communist) tendencies.

There is more of this story to discover in several of the SHC’s collections, as well as in various resources in the North Carolina Collection. There are letters and clippings relating to Hughes’ visit in the Guy Benton Johnson Papers, the aforementioned angry letters written to Frank Porter Graham in the Frank Porter Graham Papers, and other items. This is definitely an episode in Chapel Hill’s past that deserves further scholarly treatment – and it just so happens that we’ve got the raw material for said treatment right here in the SHC stacks!