We the People
The pursuit of freedom, justice and democracy has been the heartbeat of our nation since its founding. Join us as we explore our shared identity through tales of individuals and events from our past. Here you’ll find all the content you may have missed from past weeks – or the content you want to see again!
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A Duck to Water
Until 1936, the President was sworn in on March 4, as the Constitution mandates. A President who is leaving office is called a “lame duck” during the period from the election until the new President is sworn in because he or she generally can’t accomplish much in that short time. Furthermore, in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, news traveled much more slowly than it does now, so the four-month lag between Election Day and the inauguration was not especially troublesome then. That situation had changed by the time Abraham Lincoln was elected in 1860 – news of his victory traveled swiftly, and consequently, nearly all the Southern states had seceded from the union by the time he took the oath of office in March.
The 20th Amendment, which changes the date of the ceremony to January 20, was ratified in 1933 and went into effect for the next presidential election.
Fourth Time’s A Charm
Franklin Delano Roosevelt was an unusual President for many reasons, not the least being that he was elected to the office four times. Consequently, he took the oath of office at four different inaugural ceremonies, the first three of which were conducted at the U.S. Capitol. Because World War II was still raging in 1944, FDR’s fourth inauguration took place very quietly at the White House. FDR was also the first president to take the oath in January rather than March.
MLK and JFK
When he took the oath of office in January 1961, John F. Kennedy was the youngest man ever elected to the presidency. His youth, charisma and eloquence were all powerful attractions, but for much of the presidential campaign, he was running neck and neck with Vice President Richard Nixon.
During the campaign, the nation was being rocked by protests aimed at advancing civil rights, especially in the South. In late October 1960, less than a month before Election Day, Martin Luther King, Jr., was jailed in Georgia for leading a protest in Atlanta. Most of Kennedy’s advisors felt the candidate should not try to intervene—they feared doing so would alienate white Southerner voters. Others argued that Kennedy had to do something, and in the end, he agreed. He called Coretta Scott King, who was pregnant at the time, at her home and offered her his support.
When he was freed from jail, King credited Kennedy with having used his influence to secure his freedom. The election results were extremely close, but Kennedy defeated Nixon by a very narrow margin. Many historians credit Kennedy’s support of King with having won him vital support among black voters across the country.
Both John Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., were passionate about advancing the cause of civil rights in the United States, and both were gifted orators. Kennedy’s inaugural address and King’s “I Have a Dream” speech are among the most frequently quoted speeches in U.S. history.
When he signed the proclamation authorizing the official observance of the Martin Luther King, Jr., federal holiday in 1996, President William Jefferson Clinton noted, “But despite the great accomplishments of the Civil Rights Movement, we have not yet torn down every obstacle to equality.” A great deal of work remains to be done to guarantee every person in the United States the same freedoms and opportunities.
When you have to give a speech or act in a school play, do you ever worry that you’ll forget your lines? Don’t fret – it’s extremely unlikely you’ll make as big a public gaff as Chief Justice William Howard Taft did when he administered the oath of office to presidential incumbent Herbert Hoover in 1929. Instead of instructing Hoover to say he would “preserve, protect, and defend” the U.S. Constitution, Taft said Hoover should promise to “preserve, maintain, and defend” it. Considering that Taft had been President from 1909 to 1913 and thus had taken the oath himself, that’s a pretty big mistake. Unfortunately, at the inauguration, you don’t get do-overs.
the Cowboy President
No, it wasn’t Wonder Woman – it was cowboy Montie Montana who threw a lasso around President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s shoulders as he reviewed the inaugural parade in 1953. Fortunately for Montana, he had gotten clearance from the Secret Service to pull this stunt.
History-making Memos STOP
Morse’s telegraph was used to send any number of important messages, both personal and official. Morse sent the first official one in the United States from just outside the Supreme Court Chamber in the Capitol building on May 24, 1844: “What hath God wrought?”
During the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln used the telegraph to communicate with his generals. When the city of Savannah, Georgia, surrendered to General William Tecumseh Sherman, he sent the commander-in-chief a telegraph stating: “I beg to present you, as a Christmas gift, the city of Savannah, with 150 heavy guns and plenty of ammunition, and also about 25,000 bales of cotton.”
And the completion of the Transcontinental Railway on May 10, 1869, was announced by telegraph in a single word: “Done.”
Wings for War
If you are at war and can’t be sure a message would get to headquarters by land, how about sending it by air? During World War I, the humble carrier pigeon was often the hero, transporting messages to military headquarters and other units on and behind the front lines. One of them, Cher Ami, flew through withering friendly fire to deliver a message to military headquarters that the shells were falling on their own men. He was wounded, but he recovered. For his bravery, Cher Ami was awarded the Croix de Guerre with Palm by the French government.
On July 10,1962, NASA launched Telstar I – the first active communications satellite in space. Thirteen days later, it relayed the first-ever transatlantic TV signal, showing Europe pictures of the Statue of Liberty, the Eiffel Tower, part of a baseball game and remarks by President Kennedy on the value of the American dollar.
CBS news anchor Walter Conkite, also on the broadcast, later said, “We all glimpsed something of the true power of the instrument we had wrought.”
Do you ever wish you could send a message that only the recipient could read? During World War I, the Germans created invisible inks so they could safely communicate their battle plans. In collaboration with the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, documents in the National Archives about the formulas for the ink were declassified in 2011. One formula (written in French with translation) is described in this June 14, 1918 Office of Naval Intelligence document. The invisible ink’s ingredients – compressed or powdered aspirin mixed with “pure water” – and the method of causing it to appear are provided.
During both World War I and II, the U.S. military needed a fool-proof way to communicate with their troops—one that the enemy could not decipher. The solution was the Code Talkers, Native Americans who were trained to encrypt the messages they sent over the radio in their native tongues. The Code Talkers were members of the Choctaw, Cheyenne, Comanche, Cherokee, Osage, Yankton Sioux, Navajo, Kiowa, Hopi, Creek, Seminole, and other tribes. Their “code” was never broken, and the Code Talkers are credited with helping win both wars.
During World War II, Philip Johnston was the initiator of the Marine Corps’ program to enlist and train the Navajos as messengers. Although Johnston was not a Navajo, he grew up on a Navajo reservation as the son of a missionary and became familiar with the people and their language. Johnston was also a World War I veteran and knew about the military’s desire to send and receive messages in an unbreakable code. He hit upon the idea of enlisting Navajos as signalmen early in 1942 when he read a newspaper story about the Army’s use of several Native Americans during training maneuvers with an armored division in Louisiana.
Ban Bars! Open Polls!
The Women’s Christian Temperance Union was founded in 1874 with the aim to win the prohibition of alcohol consumption because of its ill effects on domestic abuse and child abuse. Soon after its founding, however, the union began supporting other issues that were important to women.
One of the union’s most important actions was supporting the movement for women’s suffrage in the United States. In 1886, members of its chapters from all over the country signed petitions in aid of a proposed constitutional amendment guaranteeing votes for women. The petitions were then sent to the Committee on the Judiciary. The legislation failed, but the fight for women’s suffrage persisted.
A Whiskey A Day…
Hooch is just like vitamins…right? According to the U.S. Treasury Department during Prohibition, apparently it is. The Department authorized physicians to write prescriptions for medicinal alcohol to treat ailments ranging from cancer to indigestion to depression. Learn more here.
But a visit to the doctor wasn’t the only way to get around the 13-year ban on the production, sale and distribution of alcohol. Farmers were allowed to produce wine for their own consumption and priests, ministers and rabbis were allowed to serve it during religious ceremonies. Hello self-described spiritual leaders!
Undercover Hooch Hunter
Because of the federal responsibility of enforcement, the National Archives holds records of some pretty creative enforcers of prohibition.
Sometimes called the “lady hooch hunter,” Prohibition Bureau agent Daisy Simpson was known for her acting ability and her skill at disguises, which allowed her to bust many bootleggers in the act. Special Agent Simpson posed as a variety of characters and attempted to buy liquor at speakeasies, hotels and restaurants. Learn more here.
Save the Sugar
Alcohol isn’t the only beverage Americans have been discouraged from drinking throughout history. During World War I, there was a Coca-Cola shortage due to the conservation of sugar for the war effort.
This item is a poster from the Coca-Cola Company that appeared on a Clark Street streetcar line in Chicago. It comes from a file about Coca-Cola’s compliance with food regulations during World War I.
Archives from Sea to Shining Sea
Where can you find the National Archives of the United States? If you said “Washington, D.C.,” you are right – but the Archives has many partner facilities located all over the country, from New York to California.
The Archives has research facilities and federal record centers in states across the nation.
Also, the National Archives’ Presidential Libraries and Museums house documents and artifacts of the administrations of 13 Presidents, starting with Herbert Hoover and running through George W. Bush (with the Barack Obama Presidential Library on the way).
Finally, the National Archives partners with eight archival repositories across the country: the Library of Congress and the U.S. Government Printing Office, both in Washington, D.C.; the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD; the New Mexico State Records Center and Archives in Santa Fe, NM; the Oklahoma Historical Society in Oklahoma City, OK; the Pennsylvania State Archives in Harrisburg, PA; the United States Military Academy in West Point, NY; the University of North Texas Libraries in Denton, TX; and the Yellowstone National Park Archives in Yellowstone National Park, WY.
On the Road
Between September 1947 and January 1949, more than 3.5 million Americans had a unique opportunity to view some of the most important artifacts of American democracy. On September 17, 1947, the Freedom Train, a specially designed seven-car train, pulled out of Philadelphia bound for New York City. Over the next 16 months, the train carried 133 historically significant objects—127 documents and six flags—to more than 300 cities in the 48 continuous states.
The brainchild of Attorney General Tom C. Clark, the train was comprised of three exhibition cars, three cars for personnel and one car for equipment.
The documents aboard the train included the Bill of Rights, George Washington’s personal copy of the Constitution, the Treaty of Paris, the Emancipation Proclamation and the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, which granted women the right to vote. Specially designed cases housed the documents, and the displays were organized so that the most famous and important documents were visible to all the viewers. Temperature and humidity levels were carefully controlled to protect the objects from damage.
From the outset of the project, the American Heritage Foundation, which was financing the Freedom Train and its tour, mandated “that no segregation of any individual or groups of any kind on the basis of race or religion be allowed at the exhibition of the Freedom Train held anywhere.”
When the train turned southward, only two cities had refused to agree to those terms: Birmingham, AL, and Memphis, TN. Despite intense lobbying by both cities’ officials, the foundation refused to back down, cancelling the planned stops in those two cities. Several prominent citizens in both cities hailed the foundation’s actions, declaring them important developments in the ongoing battle for civil rights in the United States.
Painted white and emblazoned with a red and blue stripe that down its entire length, the train enjoyed Presidential priority, so it had the right of way on any track it was traveling.
A Home Down the Street
In 1934, one architect’s bold design for a new building to house our nation’s most important documents was complete – except for the documents themselves! The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States didn’t debut in the building designed and constructed in their honor for another 16 years. The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States had been transferred from the Department of State to the Library of Congress in 1921, and Herbert Putnam, the Librarian of Congress, had no intention of handing them over to the new agency.
Prior to 1934, the Declaration, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights had been housed, both separately and together, in several different places. When he presided over the cornerstone-laying ceremony for the new National Archives building in early 1933, President Herbert Hoover stated that the Declaration and the Constitution would be moved there from the Library of Congress. However, Putnam begged to differ, stating very plainly that Hoover was mistaken.
This made R. D. W. Connor, the first Archivist of the United States, furious, but he and President Roosevelt agreed in private conversation not to press the issue of moving the Charters to the Archives.
In 1938, the Bill of Rights, which was stored at the Department of State, was moved to the new National Archives building.
World War II put a halt to all discussions about the permanent home for the Charters of Freedom. For the duration of the war, the Library of Congress sent the Declaration and the Constitution to Fort Knox for safekeeping, where they stayed until 1944. It was not until December 13, 1952, that the two documents were formally transferred to the National Archives, where they joined the Bill of Rights. All three were unveiled two days later, on Bill of Rights Day, in the Rotunda of the National Archives.
Archivists in Action
Since President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the legislation that authorized the establishment of the National Archives and Records Administration, 10 individuals have served as the Archivist of the United States. Learn more about them here.
In addition to their role of protecting our nation’s most important documents, they also have some lesser-known jobs – i.e. administering the Electoral College, certifying new amendments to the Constitution and flipping famous chocolate chip pancakes at the National Archives sleepover. Meet the current Archivist of the United States, David S. Ferriero, and discover his many important jobs here.
More Time for Shopping
President Franklin D. Roosevelt was only trying to help when he broke with the decades-old tradition of holding Thanksgiving on the last Thursday of November. Because most Americans waited until after Turkey Day to begin their holiday shopping, business owners would lose out on much-needed revenue during those years when November had five Thursdays.
But President Roosvelt’s change came with its fair share of opposition, like this strongly-worded letter from Arnold’s Men’s Shop, Inc. As opposition grew, some states took matters into their own hands and defied the Presidential Proclamation. Some governors declared November 30th as Thanksgiving. And so, depending upon where one lived, Thanksgiving was celebrated on the 23rd and the 30th. This was worse than changing the date in the first place because families that lived in states such as New York did not have the same day off as family members in states such as Connecticut!
Gifts Gone Missing
The Washington Monument has been held in high regard across the world. The Masons, the International Order of Odd Fellows, the states and even foreign countries sent gift stones to help create the monument from the ground up. But these gifts didn’t always make it in; in fact, more than half have actually gone missing over the years.
Check out the journey to discover the estimated 196 stones that were lost compared to the 193 that are currently in the Washington Monument.
The Thought that Counts
President Harry S. Truman’s relationship with a member of the Parliament of Iraq earned him a nice shipment of fresh dates, the country’s largest export. Truman never got to enjoy the gift, however, after the results of the Department of Agriculture’s inspection determined that the dates had to be destroyed. It was found that the fruit contained a nasty plant disease and a number of date stone beetles. Nevertheless, it was the thought that counted, and the gift was much appreciated by the President.
Pro Gift Givers
December isn’t the only time for gift giving at the National Archives. The Office of the Archivist assists the Protocol Office in the Department of State in putting together unique gifts for heads of state. From architectural plans of the White House given to the Prime Minister of Libya to a patent application for a polo stick given to Prince Charles, there seems to be something for everyone in the National Archives.
As American as Apple Pumpkin Pie
Although Thanksgiving was certainly not a new American tradition, President George Washington officially made it one in 1789 with the first Thanksgiving Presidential Proclamation (are those grease stains we see 🧐?). Proclaiming the first Thanksgiving celebrated under the new Constitution, Washington’s words give insight into the state of the country that year; something which following Presidential Proclamations have come to institute as well.
Feathered Friend Turned Food
Only recently did the annual White House turkey actually end up living out its life on a rural Virginia farm. Up until 1989, it actually became part of the President’s Thanksgiving dinner! President George H. W. Bush was the first to actually begin the formal turkey pardoning tradition, deciding then and there that his new feathered friend would be more enjoyed roaming the fields than in the White House kitchen.
Learn more about the Presidential turkey pardoning tradition.
Don’t Take the 🦃 Out of Turkey Day
President Harry S. Truman’s poor turkey didn’t even make it until Thanksgiving of 1947, as the Truman family enjoyed their holiday meal the day before instead. That year, Americans were urged to eat less poultry, so that grain that would normally go to feed the livestock could be shipped overseas to the hungry and needy in Europe. “Poultry-less Thursday” became a thing, and so the Trumans went all out with the turkey and trimmings on Wednesday night instead. How they were able to enjoy such a hearty lunch before the evening’s dinner feast still remains a mystery.
Although Thanksgiving is a uniquely American holiday, many individuals cannot always be in America to celebrate––including our troops. Members of the U.S. military often partake in their own ways, by catching their own food and enjoying group dinners. Take a look at some images of our Armed Forces having an overseas Thanksgiving of their own.
People have kept track of their family lineage in a variety of interesting ways over the years––including the fraktur. These family records were hand-drawn and illustrated in a German calligraphic style, often showing the names as well as important dates from birth to marriages. Bethyah Hopkins used this fraktur from her 1872 marriage to Abraham Requa to support her claim for pension after her husband’s service in the Revolutionary War. She received $80 per year beginning in 1834.
Despite being the President of the United States, John F. Kennedy took such pride in his Irish heritage that he once said of the country of Ireland, “This is not the land of my birth but it is the land for which I hold the greatest affection.” Here are a few relics of his Irish ancestry at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library.
Explosion of Interest
The National Archives holds a vast collection of genealogical records. After the 1977 miniseries “Roots” hit primetime, interest in studying family history exploded. There was a 300 percent increase in inquiries about genealogical research, and since then, the National Archives has increasingly focused on digitizing these records and making them accessible to the public.
The decennial census started as a way for the Founding Fathers to allocate an appropriate number of Congressional seats per district, but over time, it has become one of the greatest tools for genealogical research.
The Constitution requires that Congress conduct a census every 10 years to determine the representation of each state in the House of Representatives. When the authors of the Constitution allocated seats in the House for the First Congress, they had no census data to guide them. As a result, the sizes of the first congressional districts varied dramatically. A Massachusetts congressman represented 96,550 people, while one from Georgia represented only 16,250.
To solve this problem, Congress had to determine how to conduct a census. The new nation was the first to institute a national, periodical census. The size of the United States made the task rather daunting. The Senate census committee worked for eight months before they decided to start from scratch in January of 1790.
Armistice Day to Veterans Day
After serving in World War II, Navy veteran Raymond Weeks fought to have the Armistice Day holiday changed to recognize all those veterans who had served, not just those who served in World War I as it had originated. Seven years of his tireless dedication to the cause saw President Dwight D. Eisenhower make the change to what we now celebrate today as Veterans Day.
Corporal Albert Racine of the Blackfoot Tribe from Browning, Montana drew from his Native American heritage to see him through World War II. The artist and soldier brought with him drawings that connected the Blackfeet community and the troops overseas, and reinforced his legacy as an artist even after the war ended.
Racine’s drawings of the Blackfeet figure Napi, a local Indian gremlin, created a connection between Montana and troops overseas that resonated with the Blackfeet community in Browning and left an enduring mark. This juxtaposition between playfulness and seriousness would become characteristic of Racine’s legacy as an artist.
Napi went with Racine to North Africa, where he drew sketches of the figure in uniform to entertain his fellow soldiers and to send back to the local newspapers.
A Soldier’s Story
Every veteran has a unique story and experience from their time serving in the U.S. military; six of these are highlighted in the online exhibit, “World War I: A Soldier’s Story,” such as 24-year-old Russell Hoag who suffered from neurasthenia, a common diagnosis for shell shocked soldiers after returning home to the U.S. One of many shell-shocked veterans, Hoag spent time after the War at the Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, just one of countless organizations that was created to provide care for veterans returning from the battlefield.
Working 2x As Hard
Minnie Spotted Wolf contributed to American society in not just one but two extremely hardworking and deserving professions: becoming the first Native American to serve in the U.S. Marine Corps in WWII and becoming an elementary school teacher. Spotted Wolf’s time spent growing up on a Montana ranch doing manual labor prepared her for the Marine Corps so much so that she said boot camp was “hard, not not too hard.” After four years in the Corps, she earned a degree in Elementary Education and was a schoolteacher for 29 years.
The War After the War
After Jimmie King and Howard Nez fought for their country as Navajo Code Talkers in World War II, they found themselves back on American soil once again fighting for their democracy. Though a 1924 law officially granted citizenship to all American Indians, state and local municipalities came up with their own rules and regulations that barred Native Americans from registering to vote. Because those living on nearby reservations in Arizona and New Mexico were wards of the government and did not pay taxes, the courts determined they would not be allowed to vote. The issue continued nationwide until 1957; explore the records which show the lengthy battle to achieve civil rights for Native Americans.
Beginning of Promises
The many treaties between the Native Nations and the U.S. government began with the 1778 Treaty between the United States and the Delaware Indians signed at Fort Pitt. During the American Revolution, Native Americans often tried to stay neutral, but some took the side of the British, as they believed they posed less of a threat to their land. One tribe, the Delaware, took the side of the Americans in the war, and thus the first treaty between the United States and a Native American tribe was born. It is also the only treaty to have been signed by the Continental Congress. Check out this treaty and others that depict the history of Native American rights through the online interactive Records of Rights exhibit.
Treaties & Maps Reveal the Past
This 1826 map of the U.S. created by the Office of Indian Affairs in the War Department shows populations of Native American tribes throughout the nation. Curious about the tribes who once occupied the land where you live today? With DigiTreaties you can dig deeper and search by location, zip code or state to discover documents related to treaties in your area.
What Sweet History
One of the best parts of Halloween trick-or-treating is the exchange process as kids barter and trade their candy stash. During World War II, the U.S. Marines did this too. But rather than trading for other candy, their chocolate bars scored them swords, flags and other souvenirs from abroad.
The Death Mask
One of the more curious oddities in the National Archives’ holdings has got to be this death mask of former Secretary of State Walter Q. Gresham. After his passing in May of 1895, officials determined that the popular, beloved executive would be highly sought after to create commemorative statues and monuments of. A sculptor created this plaster death mask of Gresham (there’s even a few beard hairs stuck in it!) and delivered it to the Department of State. While no statues (or Halloween costumes) were ever created from the mask, it eventually found itself at the National Archives.
Less Gleeful, More Ghoulish
There are images upon images in the National Archives holdings: beautiful photos of the National Parks, pictures from every single White House administration and even images from space. But some more ghoulish photos lurk in the dark corners of the Archives.
This collection from the Works Progress Administration’s Federal Theatre Project shows a group of performers from the entertainment industry that benefited from the program: clowns. The 65 employed circus clowns were well loved in New York City at the time, though it appears that opinions about the profession may have changed a bit since 1935.
Up until a 1970 amendment to the Voting Rights Act of 1965, states were allowed to require literacy or civic knowledge tests as a precursor to being able to register to vote. These were often done so in order to prevent those who they did not want to vote from voting, often minorities, as they had free reign over the difficulty of the tests and who would judge them. Mary Hampton of Mississippi ran into this issue in 1958 when a clerk told her she failed the test––and because she believed “because of race or color I have not been allowed to register” she submitted an affidavit to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.
We Vote as Free Men
On the eve of his unprecedented third term election as President of the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered an address to the American people from his home in Hyde Park, New York about the necessity for each individual to cast their ballot. Speaking not just on voting for the Presidency, President Roosevelt stressed the urgency of voting for local officials too, as that is also when the people have “the right to determine for themselves who should be their own officers of government,” at any level.
Student activists during the Vietnam War took up the effort to lower the voting age in the U.S. to 18, using the World War II-era slogan, “old enough to fight, old enough to vote.” After the 26th Amendment was pushed through Congress and ratified in 100 days, faster than any other amendment, President Nixon signed it as a witness, and he even invited three 18-year-olds to sign with him.
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Roots in the Soil
The turning of the leaves from green to yellow not only signifies the beginning of autumn, the new school year, and the start of the holiday season, it also signifies one of the busiest times of year for those in agriculture: fall harvest. Many of our Presidents spent a number of years on the farm before heading into the capital city for a life of politics. President Harry S. Truman worked on his family’s farm in Missouri, President Lyndon B. Johnson had his Texas cattle ranch, and President Jimmy Carter is, of course, known as the peanut farmer from Georgia.
Beer = mc2
Perhaps the biggest fall festival of all time is Oktoberfest, which takes place every autumn in Munich, Germany. This festival is so old that at one point, beer drinkers had to celebrate from the light of day into the darkness of night––that is, until Albert Einstein himself screwed in the first lightbulb. Granted, it may have been his father and uncle who are truly due the credit (Albert was a six-year-old at the time), but the math whiz was there checking wiring and ensuring that the Einstein Brothers lights stayed on at the world’s largest fair. Learn more about Albert Einstein’s early years.
Putting the Puzzle Together
How Naval History Becomes the Climate Science of Tomorrow
Handle with Care
Centuries-old logbooks are handled with the utmost care by the National Archives Innovation Hub. Each logbook is thoroughly inspected for mold, torn pages or obscured words and sent to the conservation team if that’s needed. Then an imaging team images and processes the Navy records, which are audited and delivered for inclusion to the National Archives online catalog. From there, it’s up to citizen archivists to transcribe the information within the log books from handwriting to a digital format computers can understand. Not as easy as it sounds to digitize these hundreds of logbooks, huh!
Black Men in Navy Blue
Thanks to digitized U.S. Navy muster rolls, we have access to new information about the crew members of each naval vessel. These muster rolls include a full list of the onboard sailors, including “contraband,” which referred to black crew members who escaped slavery and served in the Navy.
One World War II naval vessel, the USS Mason had a majority all-black crew, and their responsibility as a protection escort ship can be seen through the many deck log pages that are now available online. The USS Mason (DE-529) was commissioned on March 20, 1944, with a crew of 150 African-American enlisted men and six officers. The vessel was part of the Evarts-class destroyer escort, with the responsibility of providing protection for other naval vessels in the Atlantic Ocean.
The USS Mason was involved in several convoys across the Atlantic Ocean during the war. A few of the escorts included journeys to Belfast, Ireland and Plymouth, England. On one particular convoy in the Atlantic, the USS Mason was damaged during a severe storm in 1944. The African-American crew repaired the ship and was able to continue with their voyage. These men did not received any letters of commendation for this act until 1994.
New Year’s Day Deck Log
The Navy had a longstanding tradition of writing the first deck log of the New Year in verse. Some used Edgar Allen Poe’s style, some opted for “T’was the night before Christmas style, and some even tried their hand at writing in their own (sometimes even throwing in a doodle or two). But whatever their style, they always managed to communicate the day’s information about the ship’s location, weather conditions and observations.
Withstanding the Test of Time
U.S. Navy deck logs dating as far back as the late 1700s are a treasure trove for climate scientists. But the great amount of time spent poring through their individual pages can sometimes yield rather unusual data. This 1891USRC Corwin entry mentions flora and fauna from its Pacific expedition––including some actual flowers! Perfectly preserved, the pressed dried flowers even made their way into the digitized records.
The National Archives working with the American Horticultural Society and the Department of Agriculture to identify the flowers.
The Seas of Knowledge Digitization project is supported by the Digitizing Hidden Collections grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR). The grant program is made possible by funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
Bat to Baseball, Pen to Paper
MVP and Baseball Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson is one of the most highly regarded baseball players of all time. But Robinson’s legacy is bigger than baseball. He was the first African-American to play in the major leagues, fighting everyday for civil rights just by stepping onto the field. Robinson leveraged his position in the American limelight to advocate for civil rights, even writing a letter to each American President who held office between his retirement from baseball in 1956 to his death in 1972. These letters can be found in the National Archives holdings, like this one sent to President Dwight D. Eisenhower in response to the events surrounding the Little Rock Nine.
Put Me In, Coach
Good old sibling rivalry exists in all shapes and sizes––including on the football field at the annual Army-Navy game. Sports were (and still are) a way in which members of the military come together to build camaraderie and patriotism. Just a few years into the long-standing tradition, the Military Academy at West Point became so consumed with beating the Navy, that they wrote to the Adjunct General of the Army requesting the services of three officers to be football coaches for the fall of 1916. Spoiler alert: the request was approved and Army took home the W.
One Point for Women’s Rights
Seventeen-year-olds Cynthia Morris and Emily Barrett wanted to spend their last years of high school playing the sport they loved: tennis. But because they were women, they were barred from playing interscholastic sports when a boy was present on the same or competing team. Cynthia and Emily filed a complaint on this discrimination in April of 1972, just two months before Title IX would be passed. Cynthia and Emily filed a complaint on this discrimination in April of 1972, just two months before Title IX would be passed. The monumental bill made it illegal to discriminate based on sex in educational programs that receive educational funding, opening up a world of opportunity for women to play in sports that did not exist before. It was game, set, match for Cynthia, Emily, and women all across the country to finally have their turn on the court.
The Great Jazz Legends
Jazz emerged as a major form of musical expression in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and its influence can be felt and heard throughout American history. The National Archives holds an incredible number of jazz-related records, from Louis Armstrong to Benny Goodman to Lionel Hampton. Records even tell the tale of Hampton’s illustrious time serving as the “Ambassador of Goodwill” on his Far East tour in the 60s. Jazz became even more important during this time as he used it to bridge gaps across cultures; everyone could speak the same language of jazz.
The Right to Sing
Renowned American contralto singer, Marian Anderson, was no stranger to concerts after performing throughout the U.S. and Europe since 1925. But after Howard University petitioned to use the Daughters of the American Revolution music hall for a concert with Anderson, their request was denied because the singer was black and they had an all-white performer policy. This gained national attention when First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt stepped in. Instead of the music hall, Anderson ended up performing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to a crowd of 75,000 and becoming an important figure in the fight for equality among African-American artists.
Peace, Love, and… Nature Calls?
The Woodstock Music Festival brought together nearly 400,000 people to see 32 different acts. The “3 Days of Peace and Music” solidified the counterculture generation and was a high point for 1960s youth culture. But with so many people gathered in one place, you can imagine some logistical snafoos ensued. One such instance lasted for years after the concert. Read about the stinky situation here.
A Guitar Like No Other
Coming from a musically-inclined family in Genoa, Italy, young Pasquale Taraffo felt the call to follow in his family’s footsteps. Beginning with guitar concerts, Taraffo eventually graduated to the harp guitar––an interesting looking device with fourteen strings that had to be mounted on a pedestal. The virtuoso brought his music to many world tours, where he even ended up in the United States on more than one occasion.
World Famous Friendship
President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s special relationship went down in history books as a necessary effort in defeating the Axis powers. But this dear and cherished friendship all started because Roosevelt simply wanted to get a little networking with the promising First Lord of the Admiralty across the pond. In this first letter, Roosevelt congratulates him on his appointment, connects their common interests, and lets him know that he’d love to chat anytime. Roosevelt saw the potential in Churchill and surmised that he may become Prime Minister someday, leading him to establish those strong diplomatic ties early that would eventually become so famous.
Learning More of Each Other
When President Eisenhower established the People-to-People program in 1956, he said, “If we are going to take advantage of the assumption that all people want peace, then the problem is for people to get together and to leap governments––if necessary to evade governments––to work out not one method but thousands of methods by which people can gradually learn a little bit more of each other.”
“Her Excellency Eugenie Anderson” certainly had a nice ring to it when the Minnesota woman became the first female U.S. ambassador in 1949. She would serve as ambassador to Denmark for four years and coin what was to be called “people’s diplomacy.” She instituted many firsts, including inviting all of her residence staff to a housewarming party and learning the Danish language within only six months of moving to the country. Becoming the first woman to be presented the Grand Cross of the Order of Dannebrog by the King of Denmark prior to her departure, she assuredly had a large impact on the diplomatic ties between the two countries. But she didn’t stop there. Check out the full story of her work in international affairs here.
Setting Sail for Peace
On July 2, 1959 LIFE Magazine published an article advocating for a reimagined Great White Fleet. Unlike its predecessor under Theodore Roosevelt, the idea first suggested by Commander Frank Manson was that this new fleet would not carry weapons, but rather, acts of peace and goodwill toward other countries to combat communism. Learn more about the vision for the “New Great White Fleet.”
Diplomacy and Daiquiris
Marrying into the Bacardi family meant three things for Jose Pepín Bosch: maintaining the Bacardi company, supporting revolutionaries against communist Cuba, and of course, unlimited rum for his daiquiris. Bosch succeeded in the first two, as he moved ownership of the company away from the island and worked with the Department of State and CIA to keep them informed of the movement in Cuba. As for the third, we can only imagine that this man of diplomatic action kicked back and with a good beverage once in a while!
A Homefront Battle
As many Americans answered the call to serve their country overseas during World War II, those at home were left to support the war effort in other ways. Most labor unions collectively agreed to hold off on striking during the war, but the United Mine Workers were facing such harsh and unfair working conditions that they communicated to President Roosevelt that they were unable to abide by that promise. Five hundred thousand coal mine workers went on strike in April 1943, despite the President’s Executive Order placing coal mines under control of the federal government. Though miners eventually won wage increases and travel pay, there were many complexities which led to them obtaining these rights; take a look at the full story here.
Women at War
When World War II began, many women stepped into new roles at home. However, many women also felt the call to serve their country as soldiers, and so the Women’s Army Corps was born. Because of the WAC, the War Department began to follow Army policy of admitting African American women at a 10 percent quota. Recruitment of African American women was difficult, as discrimination proved to be a large issue, and many were turned away even before recruitment and training began. Fighting for equal training and assignments and to be stationed overseas, African American WACs opened up opportunities for women of color in a field previously dominated by men.
Living a Nightmare
Marie Adams had just one job during World War II: to stay alive. As one of thousands of American civilians living in the Philippines just after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Adams was held captive by the Japanese until the end of the war. Adams not only fought for her life, but also for the lives of her fellow internees. While her own physical condition declined, she continued to work in the compound’s medical center, caring for others until the camp was liberated in February of 1945, for which she was eventually awarded the Bronze Star Medal. This report, which she wrote just four months later, described the rapidly deteriorating conditions of the camp and her calculations at survival.
Rightfully Hers: The Asterisk
The 19th Amendment was a milestone moment for women’s voting rights but it did not make all women voters. In the sixth video in our Rightfully Hers series, we explore why, for millions of women, the fight for women’s suffrage did not end in 1920.
Mary Church Terrell devoted herself to the women’s suffrage movement and the fight for justice. She was a founding member and president of the National Association of Colored Women. Terrell is one of many Black women who tirelessly worked toward equality for all. Join us on August 27 at 1 p.m. ET as we sit down with another important African American suffragist, Ida B. wells. Following the presentation, join A’Lelia Bundles in a special conversation with Ida B. Wells’ great-granddaughter Michelle Duster.
Advocate for Mental Health
Having spent nearly 50 years working in mental health issues, Rosalynn Carter continues to be one of the most outspoken advocates even after she left the White House. After acting as a key member in the passage of the Mental Health Systems Act of 1980, she went on to create the Carter Center’s Mental Health Task Force. Recognizing that back in 1971 when she began working in the mental health field, there was so little she and others knew about mental illness, she updated her book twelve years later in order to reflect the discoveries and advancements that had been made. Carter even now hosts a symposium each year that brings together top mental health organizations to discuss key issues in the ever-evolving field.
The Great Question
“Where, after all, do universal human rights begin?” Eleanor Roosevelt posed this great question to the United Nations as the first woman delegate to represent the U.S. Assigned to Committee 3 because others in the delegation assumed she would be content to do the least harm there, she proved them wrong and earned the title of chairperson for the newly-formed Human Rights Commission. Later calling her role in drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights her greatest achievement, Eleanor Roosevelt was a trailblazer in setting an example for the standard of how all nations should treat their citizens. Take a deeper look at the behind-the-scenes of drafting this Declaration in this online exhibit!
Champion of Women’s Rights
Betty Bloomer was only two years old when the 19th Amendment was ratified, giving women the right to vote. But in the White House as First Lady some fifty years later, Betty Ford dedicated her platform to speaking out about women’s rights. Not only did she support passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, but she also supported the U.N. International Women’s Year in 1975 and encouraged government agencies to appoint more women to senior positions, while also supporting a woman’s right to choose to work in the home. In the bicentennial issue of Women’s Work magazine, Betty Ford remarked on women’s rights and the work they do – whether that be in the home or in a profession. “Pride, self-respect, and doing the best job possible is the key here.”
Life of Service
Pat Nixon dedicated her time as First Lady to the cause of volunteerism––supporting and uplifting those organizations who focused on providing service for others. She made it known numerous times that “people are my project,” volunteering for the American Red Cross and leading earthquake relief efforts in Peru. She was even given The Grand Cross Order of the Sun, the highest decoration the Peruvian government can bestow. Visiting over 80 countries during her time of public service, many of them solo, she made it a priority to visit orphanages, hospitals, and schools. Her example led many to take a role in volunteer service.
Rightfully Hers: Change Isn’t Easy
First Ladies have been pivotal in pushing the boundaries of influence and opportunities women can have in American society. They stand on the shoulders of suffragists who fought so that all women could have the right to vote and make their voices heard.
Don’t miss the fourth video in a series about the women’s suffrage movement and its lasting impact on future generations. Check out our upcoming centennial programs this month.
The Pole at Last
Arctic explorer Robert Peary became famous for reaching the North Pole in his historic 1909 expedition. Less well-known, however, is his right-hand man and friend of 20 years, Matthew Henson. Henson was the first African American polar explorer, and an integral part of the North Pole expedition, taking on the role of navigator, driver, craftsman and translator. He was even the first person to physically reach the spot of the North Pole (brrr!). Henson’s achievements went unacknowledged outside of the African American community until nearly 30 years after they returned home, when he was invited to join the Explorers Club and was awarded a US Navy medal.
Louise Arner Boyd’s interest was sparked in polar exploration in 1926, when, in addition to 11 polar bears, she captured valuable scientific information about arctic ice. She would go on to self-finance six more expeditions (including searching for missing explorer Roald Amundsen), publish three books of photographs, and charter the first private flyover of the North Pole. Most of her time in the arctic can be seen through her self-made films that are now housed in the Center for Polar Archives.
A Frigid Courtroom
Perhaps the coldest war of all occurred in the summer of 1925, between the inventors of the Popsicle and the Good Humor Bar. Both gentlemen claimed to be the original creator of ice dessert on a stick. After a lengthy legal battle, the court decided that Popsicle Corporation would have the rights to water ices on a stick, while Good Humor Corporation would have the rights to ice cream on a stick. There would be peace in the frozen treat market once again. That is, until Popsicle Corporation dipped their popsicle sticks in “ice milk.” Cue another battle of the frozen treats!
Officers (and Dogs) Reporting for Duty
The U.S. Navy has a long history in groundbreaking polar exploration. As early as 1839, Captain Charles Wilkes led the first U.S. naval expedition into Antarctic waters. In the early 1900s, Admiral Richard E. Byrd established an Antarctic naval base known as Little America I and conducted the first flight over the South Pole. On Byrd’s third Antarctic voyage, the goal was exploration and the establishment of U.S. bases in Antarctica. Accompanying Byrd and his crew, a fearless team of sled dogs made the trek in the name of the U.S. Navy.
Arctic exploration depended heavily on dog sled teams and Byrd had specific requirements for the dogs. In fact, there are more than twenty-five communications solely about acquiring the right sort of dog, the numbers, their names, leader experience, weight and gender!
Reforming the Promised Land
Mabel Ping Hua-Lee is not unlike many suffragists we’ve featured previously––a brave woman who fought for something she had no hope of immediately or directly benefiting from. But her path to the cause of women’s suffrage took a slightly different path. Lee immigrated to the United States in 1896 with her father, and because he was a missionary, their family was able to enter based upon the exception outlined in the Chinese Exclusion Acts. While they were allowed to move to the U.S., Chinese immigrants were not allowed to become U.S. citizens, rendering them unable to vote. After fighting for women’s suffrage since she was a teenager, Lee was still not able to vote when the 19th Amendment was ratified in 1920. Beyond her suffrage work, she accomplished much in the U.S., including becoming the first Chinese woman to obtain a Ph.D. at Columbia University.
Honor Your Ancestors
The National Archives helps us remember those who came before us and made us who we are. This summer, a generous member of our Board of Directors has offered to match all individual gifts received by the Foundation up to $25,000. We need your support, and you can double your impact today to help us continue to connect Americans to the stories of their past.
Private Mohammed Kahn
Born in Persia and raised in Afghanistan, Private Mohammed Kahn had already experienced many life challenges by the time he was 31 years old. Shortly after immigrating to the U.S., he enlisted in the 43rd New York Infantry Regiment and was one of only about 250 known Muslim soldiers to serve in the Civil War.
In Kahn’s approved pension file, we can see details of the situations he experienced while serving, including when he was arrested after being separated from his Infantry; the guard insisted that because he was not a white man, he could not have been part of a white unit.
An Orphan of the Holocaust
Like far too many immigrants to the U.S., 12-year-old Michael Puppa experienced tremendous hardship before calling America home. Michael’s parents were killed during the Holocaust when he was just four years old, and he and his uncle spent the next two years living in a forest, waiting out the end of World War II. After moving from one Displaced Persons camp to another, at age 12 Michael immigrated to the United States. He became a U.S. citizen at 19.
Dress of Dreams
Held in the JFK Presidential Library, First Lady Kennedy’s iconic wedding gown may be one of the best preserved out there. While this wedding gown was featured in many magazines and newspapers, the story of the woman who designed the dress is less well-known. Ann Lowe spent just a few years in the segregated schools of Alabama, taking sewing lessons from her mother and grandmother, until she was able to move to New York to open her own dress salon. Lowe made a name for herself as the first African American premier dress designer, and sewed dresses for the Rockefellers, the Roosevelts, and the Bouviers, and was asked to be the seamstress for the wedding of the century. While uncredited at the time, Lowe’s legacy lives on today with her work shown in many museums around the country.
For Feminine Safety
Before World War II, fashion was glamorous and flashy – a ripple effect of the Roaring Twenties. When the U.S. entered World War II in 1941, fashion changed drastically as men left to serve in the military and women took on civilian jobs at home. Functionalism and safety were valued more than standard femininity, and certain materials were rationed for military purposes. Learn more about how practicality became a trendsetter during the war.
At the Polls
Nearly 48 years before women won the constitutional right to vote, Susan B. Anthony was arrested for illegally voting in the 1872 presidential election. Mr. Beverly W. Jones, an election official at the polling place, testified in U.S. vs. Susan B. Anthony about his encounter with Anthony. Take a deeper look at his recollection and mark your calendars to commemorate women’s suffrage with the Archives next month.
Our New Destructive Force
From inside the B-29 Superfortress, the Great Artiste, Dr. Luis Alvarez, recounts his experience on the observation aircraft just minutes after the bombing of Hiroshima in a letter to his son. Alvarez tells his son that he hopes his involvement in creating this “new destructive force” will bring together countries of the world and put a stop to future wars.
From the Trenches
Upon their return from the frontlines during World War I, soldiers from the 36th Division of the American Expeditionary Forces were asked to write letters reflecting on their war experiences. Corporal W. R. Cox harrowingly describes his 23 days at the front under “hellish shellfire.” In his 1918 letter, he explains that there are truly no words to describe what he and his comrades went through, and expresses belief that if every human being could live through those same experiences, that Earth would have peace and goodwill forever.
An FBI Case File from Selma
As hundreds of Black Americans marched from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama on March 7, 1965, they couldn’t have predicted that the day would go down in history as “Bloody Sunday.” In the FBI case file of the attack on the civil rights demonstrators, there are countless documents detailing the brutal moment. Read 17-year-old Arzula Sanders’ statement about that day.
Learn more about that day and the eyewitness account from U.S. Representative and civil rights crusader John Lewis here.
Man (and Others) on the Moon?
As the 51st anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing nears, we look back on the many photographs and records in our holdings from that monumental moment. This flight profile shows the path that Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins took 51 years ago. But were they alone in their infamous moonwalk?
A Game of Eye Spy
In the Appendix of the Project Blue Book Report, the U.S. Air Force tracked the frequency of unidentified flying object reports in June, July, August and September 1952. You’ll notice that many spikes in UFO sightings over these four months correlate with media articles published about UFOs.
POTUS and UFOlogy
Apparently, even Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter were drawn into the flying saucer craze. In a 1966 memorandum, then-Congressman Ford of Michigan proposed that “Congress investigate the rash of reported sightings of unidentified flying objects in Southern Michigan and other parts of the country.”
Then, in October 1969, the governor of Georgia, Jimmy Carter, saw a UFO over the skies of Leary, Georgia. The Jimmy Carter Presidential Library has the full report that he submitted to the International UFO Bureau.
Fifty Years in the Making
The first Declaration of Independence reading ceremony at the National Archives was held on July 4, 1970. Although some things have changed––we’ve swapped confetti cannons for real cannons and the crowd sports different fashions––more remains the same. The spirit and pride Americans bring to the July 4th celebration with the National Archives have become constants we can count on.
Take a look at July 4th at the Archives through the years:
- – 1952: The Library of Congress, transferred the document to the National Archives. The first Independence Day it was on display at the Archives was July 4, 1953.
- – 1969: The National Archives Fourth of July became more extensive. In the early afternoon, the U.S. Army Band played a concert on the Constitution Avenue side of the Archives.
- – 1970: Visitors listened to the annual reading of the Declaration of Independence in the Rotunda.
- – 1976: Celebrations reached new levels when the Declaration turned 200 years old and the Archives established its annual July 4th event. On July 2, 1976, President Gerald Ford spoke in the Rotunda to honor the Bicentennial.
- – 1977: The National Archives created the National Bicentennial Time Capsule, which will be opened on July 4, 2075.
- – 1990: The Declaration’s 15th annual birthday party included a reading of the document, Revolutionary-era music, a simulation of musket fire on Constitution Avenue, and a parade.
- – 2001: The 225th birthday of the Declaration marked the last day until July 4, 2004, that the Declaration would be on display for the holiday.
- – 2002–2003: The National Archives’ Fourth of July festivities took place at Union Station in Washington, DC, while the National Archives Rotunda underwent renovations.
- – 2009: The National Archives exhibited a rare print on parchment of the Declaration of Independence—made from the original copperplate engraved by William J. Stone in 1823—which was on loan from David M. Rubenstein.
Descendant of the Declaration
Civil Rights lawyer Laura W. Murphy has spoken several times at the National Archives July 4th celebration. Her connection to our nation’s founding? She is a descendant of Founding Father Philip Livingston, who signed the Declaration. But Murphy is also a descendant of Barbara Williams, a woman enslaved to the Livingston family. Murphy said if she could go back in time and speak with Livingston, she’d say, “You should make sure that all people, regardless of race, gender or religion, should enjoy life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Learn more about the descendants of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.
Long before people came to see the Declaration of Independence at the National Archives, the Declaration came to the people. Without televisions and high-speed internet, the colonists learned about America’s independence through a broadside––a large poster hanging in public spaces and town squares. This was the first public version of the Declaration, and you better believe we have an original copy at the National Archives!
Pomp and Parade
How did the Founding Fathers envision the nation would celebrate its independence from Britain? John Adams had a pretty good idea when he wrote a letter to Abigail Adams on July 3, 1776, proclaiming that American independence “ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.” That’s right––from fireworks to parades and festivities, our wise Founding Father predicted many of the traditions that are still in place on July 4th!
The Roosevelt Boys in WWII
The sons and daughters of thousands of American families heeded the call to serve their country during World War II––including the four sons of America’s First Family. President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s four sons all joined the U.S. Armed Forces and served with distinction and honor for the duration of the war. As was the case with many wartime GI’s, the Roosevelt boys left behind a loving father to worry about their safety. Learn about their stories.
My Wish for U.S.
Right now, history and democracy are taking center stage and we all have a role to play in shaping what comes next. Check out My Wish For U.S., a platform for contributing our vision for the future. For the first time in history, more than 65 history and civic engagement organizations from around the country have joined forces to engage the public in a conversation about what’s next. Add your wish and then explore what others are saying across the nation by searching location, demographics or topic. There are even some historical wishes. Share your wish with your social network or pass it along to your local representative so your voice is heard. What’s your Wish for U.S.? Learn more and submit your wish today.
It Is My Desire to Be Free
Letters written to the President often give a voice to the voiceless and provide snapshots of the political and cultural landscape of the past.
This letter was written by an enslaved woman from Belair, Maryland, Annie Davis, to President Lincoln 20 months after he signed the Emancipation Proclamation.
Despite the expansive wording of the proclamation, which stated ”that all persons held as slaves” within the rebellious areas “are, and henceforward shall be free,” the Emancipation Proclamation was limited in many ways. It applied only to states that had seceded from the Union and it excluded parts of the Confederacy that had already come under Northern control. Most importantly, the freedom it promised depended upon a Union military victory.
The Emancipation Proclamation did not apply to the slave-holding border states that had remained loyal to the Union, including Maryland, where Annie Davis was from. In Ms. Davis’s letter to President Lincoln, she stated:
- Mr. President It is my Desire to be free. to go to see my people on the eastern shore. my mistress wont let me you will please let me know if we are free. and what I can do. I write to you for advice. please send me word this[?] week. or as soon as possible. and oblidge. Annie Davis
Fighting for Rights You’ve Been Denied
In this photograph, an 87-year-old man named Ike Sims from Atlanta, Georgia, holds up two signs with 11 stars to represent his 11 sons who enlisted in the service during World War I. While African Americans fought Jim Crow laws, legal segregation and racism on the homefront, many black men were eager to emphasize their status as American citizens and fight for their country during World War I. By the war’s end, roughly 370,000 African Americans had served our country. [Learn More]
Higher Education during the Great Depression
Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) have played an important role in empowering and educating African American students for more than 180 years. During the New Deal era, HBCUs were critical. In a 1936 speech at Howard University, President Franklin D. Roosevelt underscored the importance of HBCUs. A collection of photographs from the National Archives tells a story of an underrepresented and unique time in American history––one of black students attending college during the Great Depression.
(Transcript for President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s address at Howard University, given on 10/26/1936. National Archives Identifier 197359)
Excerpt from President Roosevelt’s speech:
“Its founding, many years ago, as an institution for the American Negro was a significant occasion. It typified America’s faith in the ability of man to respond to opportunity regardless of race or creed or color. …Today, we dedicate this new chemistry building, this temple of science, to industrious and ambitious youth. May they come here, to learn the lessons of science and to carry the benefits of science to their fellow men.” – President Franklin D. Roosevelt, October 26, 1936
Flour Sack Art
Here’s a head scratcher for you: the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum has one of the largest collections of flour sacks in the world. What’s more peculiar? These are no ordinary flour sacks. During World War I, these cotton bags were stenciled, embroidered, painted and remade into pillows, clothing and accessories.
The sacks were decorated by Belgium citizens to be sold in England and the United States to raise funds for food relief and to help prisoners of war.
During World War I, Herbert Hoover was chairman of the Commission for Relief in Belgium (CRB). Through donated money and voluntary contributions of food, this commission fed over 11,000 Belgiums. Between 1914 and 1919, about 697,116,000 pounds of flour was shipped to Belgium.
But once empty, the flour sacks were dangerous. The German military could use them in producing ammunition. Therefore, the empty sacks were sent to schools, convents, and sewing workrooms, where women and girls transformed the sacks into works of art. Hundreds were sent to Herbert Hoover as thanks for the work of the Commission for Relief in Belgium and are now part of the Hoover Presidential Library.
Freedom Is Not Free
There is perhaps no more sobering depiction of the human cost of war than this photograph from the National Archives holdings of a grief-stricken American infantryman whose friend had just been killed in action. In the Haktong-ni area, Korea, another soldier comforts the infantrymen, while in the background, a corpsman methodically fills out casualty tags.
Discover how the work of the Archives in St. Louis has helped identify missing soldiers from the Korean War and send them home for burial.
The Story behind the Vietnam Veterans Memorial
Visit the two-acre granite wall inscribed with 58,195 names in Washington, D.C., and you’ll see everything from flowers, family members tracing engraved names on parchment paper, and perhaps on very rare occasions, even a motorcycle. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial was designed as a symbol of America’s recognition of the men and women who served and sacrificed their lives in the Vietnam War. Learn about the story behind the wall with an online exhibit from the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.
Poetry from the Front Lines
Walt Whitman is known as one of the greatest writers of the 19th century. But in addition to his poetry, he also used his pen in a lesser-known but important way. During the Civil War, he visited thousands of soldiers at the military hospitals, providing company, morale boosts and, most importantly, a helping hand to soldiers writing letters to their loved ones. Throughout the war, he drafted letters on behalf of soldiers who were not able to write themselves and sent them home to wives, mothers and fathers, and sons and daughters.
Below is the transcription of a letter Whitman wrote on behalf of Nelson Jabo, a soldier serving in the 96th New York infantry throughout the Civil War.
My dear wife,
You must excuse me for not having written to you before. I have not been very well, & did not feel much like writing—but I feel considerably better now—my complaint is an affection of the lungs—I am mustered out of the service, but am not at present well enough to come home—I hope you will try to write back as soon as you receive this & let me know how you all are, how things are going one on—let me know how it is with mother—I write this by means of a friend who is now sitting by my side—& I hope it will be God’s will that we shall yet meet again—Well I send you all my love, & must now close.
Your affectionate husband
The Tomb of Unknown Soldier
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was established in 1921 at Arlington Cemetery. The unknown soldiers laid to rest at the tomb signify all the missing and unknown who gave their lives and their identities to protect our nation. Throughout history, Presidents of the United States have traditionally laid a wreath at the tomb in honor of those who have served our nation.
The National Archives also holds a sketch from the original plans for the tomb over the vault at Arlington Cemetery.
Nine from Little Rock
As we celebrate our school systems today, we remember our nation’s long and ongoing path toward justice and the individuals who paved the way for equal access to education. These individuals included the Little Rock Nine. Watch the 1964 Academy Award-winning short subject documentary produced by the United States Information Agency about the students who integrated Central High School in 1957. The film was restored by the National Archives Motion Picture Preservation Lab.
Hats Off to the Grads
Commencement season includes serious knowledge dropped by academics, inventors, authors, artists, business people, and of course, political leaders. Some of these commencement speeches have eventually gone down in history.
In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson officially unveiled his “Great Society” in his commencement speech at the University of Michigan. “The challenge of the next half century is whether we have the wisdom to… advance the quality of our American civilization,” Johnson told the graduates. “For in your time we have the opportunity to move not only toward the rich society and the powerful society, but upward to the ‘Great Society.’”
President Ronald Reagan’s commencement speech at Notre Dame University in 1981 reflected his vision of America and evoked great pride and optimism for the United States.
And he made a prediction: “The West won’t contain communism, it will transcend communism. It won’t bother to dismiss or denounce it, it will dismiss it as some bizarre chapter in human history whose last pages are even now being written.” A decade later, the Soviet Union collapsed.
Moms Know Best
When Tennessee became the final state needed to ratify the 19th Amendment and grant American women the right to vote, it should come as no surprise that a wise, strong mother was at the helm of the monumental legislative decision. The vote in the House of Representatives was tied, and Harry T. Burn, a 24-year-old representative, provided the infamous “aye” that broke the tie and ratified the amendment. Burn had hoped the issue wouldn’t rest with him—he supported suffrage himself, but his constituents were opposed, and he faced an election that fall.
Why did he vote for ratification at the last second? His mother had sent him a letter asking him to be a good boy” and vote for suffrage. When explaining his vote, Burn said, “I know that a mother’s advice is always safest for her boy to follow, and my mother wanted me to vote for ratification.”
After the infamous Tennessee vote, Governor Albert H. Roberts sent notice of the ratification to Washington, D.C., and on August 26, 1920, Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby certified the ratification of the 19th Amendment effective August 18, 1920. Learn more about the road to ratifying the 19th Amendment and the women’s suffrage movement with our Rightfully Hers online resources.
From her Supreme Court writing to the videos of her pumping iron, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has become a cultural icon. Did you know that RBG is a longtime fan of the National Archives? Just 16 days after she was sworn in to the Supreme Court in 1993, she came to the Archives to see the original 19th Amendment. In 2018, she visited the Archives Rotunda to swear in new citizens in front of the Constitution and for the D.C. movie premiere of “On the Basis of Sex.” So grab your popcorn and get ready to learn about the life of RBG!
Sinbad the Sailor Dog
Believe it or not, we didn’t invent the concept of four-legged coworkers during the time of social distancing. In fact, sailors aboard the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter CAMPBELL commissioned Sinbad the sailor dog as their on board mascot during World War II. His morale-boosting smile, bravery and fighting paws earned him several awards for his service.
His 11 years at sea were immortalized in film!
But his late nights gallivanting with the guys and ladies at each port also landed him in the doghouse more than once! Apparently, after one particularly raucous night out with the boys, Sinbad failed to muster and stayed sacked in his specially made sea hammock.
A Space for Women
Throughout American history, women have fought for equal opportunities in STEM fields in general and space exploration in particular. The women of NASA are a group of many firsts––the first American woman in space, Sally Ride, the first African American in space, Mae Jemison, and first woman to manage a spacecraft launch for NASA, Marjorie Townsend.
These brave trailblazers made it possible for young girls today to dream of being anything they want to be when they grow up––even astronauts.
Sneaky Spies, ChapStick Lies
It’s no secret that the Watergate scandal had its share of eavesdroppers and bugfinders. A lesser-known piece of the puzzle, however, is that some of these bugs were found in the most unlikely places—even inside the tubes of ChapStick! The lip balm with hidden microphones were one of many bugs on display at the trial of the Watergate burglars.
Can’t get enough Watergate-era sneakiness? Check out the Watergate Files online exhibit from the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library and Museum.
Hey, Batter Batter
Nothing says spring like a day at the ballpark. Though baseball is on hold this season, we can look to our past and explore how our nation’s favorite pastime has made history. Presidents throwing out first pitches or hosting World Series winners at the White House are familiar images from each baseball season.
The connection between Presidents and baseball stretches back as far as Abraham Lincoln. According to research conducted for the 1939 Major League Baseball Centennial Celebration, Lincoln was playing baseball in Springfield, Illinois, when he was informed that the Chicago Republican Convention had nominated him as the Presidential candidate. Lincoln is reported to have responded, “They will have to wait a few minutes until I get my next turn at bat.”
How are you communicating with friends and family during quarantine? While virtual happy hours and zoom conference calls might feel new, Americans have been redefining how we communicate for centuries.
April 3, 2020 marks the 160th anniversary of the first ride of the Pony Express, a mail service delivering messages, newspapers, and mail using relays of horse-mounted riders that operated between Missouri and California. With its young riders and horses delivering mail faster than ever before, it became a symbol of American individualism and the adventures of the American West.
In World War I, communication was extremely important. Unfortunately, technology—like the telephone or the telegraph—was not as reliable as the commanders of Europe would have liked.
In an attempt to improve combat communications, the leaders of World War I turned to a much older form of communication: the carrier pigeon. These pigeons were used by both the Allied and Central Powers to pass on important messages from the front lines.
To highlight women’s history, hear from former National Archives Foundation Vice President Cokie Roberts, Virginia Kase, CEO of the League of Women Voters, and more to find out what some of our nation’s female leaders think about the future of women’s rights in America in the third video in our Rightfully Hers series.
This video is part of our Rightfully Hers initiative. Click here to learn more about the project and who made it possible.