Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Solving Puzzles

(l-r)  Jordan, Joanne Cole and Criss Cole, State Capitol, September  9, 1969
Originally, this posting of “Buried Treasures” was intended to be a salute to the 57th anniversary of Brown vs. Board of Education, the 1954 landmark Supreme Court case ruling that declared state laws establishing separate public schools for black and white students were unconstitutional.  There were a few photographs listed in the old photographs inventory of the Jordan Papers that were purportedly of Jordan giving a speech on November 15, 1973 in observation of the ruling, so we thought we could highlight Jordan’s involvement with this historic decision.  However, the five photographs contained no information; thus, no clues to the location, the exact date or the nature of the event were present, other than a handwritten label on the photographs folder stating “Brown Decision Anniversary, November 15, 1973.”  And further, the largest image appeared to be taken in the Texas Senate chambers by the look of the desks and furnishings; this was the first indication that the photos might have been mislabeled, because Jordan had moved on to Congress by that point. Additionally, Jordan’s hairstyle and clothing seemed a bit dated for 1973.  So, we began by checking Jordan’s travel itineraries and appointment schedules to see if we could determine if Jordan had made a speech at a Brown v. Board commemorative event during that period of time, but no luck.  Next, we checked Jordan’s newspaper clippings scrapbooks from the June-December 1973 date range—still nothing.  

Reverse of above image with backing removed.
Notice the double sided masking tape.
We then noticed that the largest of the images (featuring Jordan and an unnamed man and woman) had a cardboard backing affixed to the reverse side of the image; these backings are not uncommon (unfortunately) with photographs collections from this time period.  Many archives would use original photographs for exhibit purposes and would mount the photographs to give them extra stability (and sometimes the original owner of a photograph might also affix a mounting themselves for various reasons).  The problem is that most adhesives, such as glues and tapes, are highly acidic and therefore destructive to photographs.  In most cases, the best thing to do with photographs that are mounted in such a way (such as in scrapbooks and the old “magnetic page” photo albums of the 1970s and 80s) is to simply leave the photographs alone as removing them may cause further damage to the images.

State Capital Review, ca. September 10, 1969.
However, this particular photograph’s backing was somewhat loose, so we were able to expose enough of the back to discover a date, a photographer's stamp and some writing.  What we found indicated that the images were NOT from a Brown vs. Board anniversary event.  Instead, we discovered that the images were taken at the Texas Senate chambers in Austin on September 9, 1969, the last day of the 61st Legislative Session.  A check of Jordan’s clipping scrapbooks revealed a newspaper article that detailed Jordan’s nomination of Criss Cole for president pro tempore of the Texas Senate during the final hours of the session.  Cole was a Houston lawyer and a member of the Texas House of Representatives and Senate (1955-1962 and 1963-1970, respectively) and a former Marine who lost his sight while serving during World War II.  After Jordan’s nomination, Cole was elected president pro tempore and served as Governor for a Day of Texas in 1970; coincidentally, of course, Jordan would be awarded the same honor in 1972.  Thus, the unnamed couple appearing in the main photograph with Jordan are Criss Cole and his wife Joanne.  (You can read more about Cole and the visual-impairment rehabilitation center named for him here.)

This is a great example of the value of archives and why we call this blog “Buried Treasures.”  Taking a second, closer look at an item and doing a little detective work can uncover some surprising stories and truths.  We think Jordan, known for her preparation work and research, would agree. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Another First...

Jordan addresses the Texas Democratic Party, 1970
Houston Post article, 1970
Jordan has been called a "woman of firsts":  the first African American woman to reside over a state body (Governor For A Day, 1972); the first African American woman from the deep South to be elected to the House of Representatives; the first African American to give the keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention; and the list goes on.  It was with surprise and excitement that it was discovered recently (or, more accurately, rediscovered) that Jordan was the first African American to be named to an office in the history of the Texas Democratic Party. On September 15, 1970, Jordan was appointed Temporary Secretary to the Texas Democratic Party during the state convention.  The speech that Jordan delivered that day accepting the job was discovered in a box of speeches pertaining to democracy; a little digging turned up newspaper articles in Jordan's clippings scrapbooks and a few photographs of the event.  What is surprising about this event is that very little mention has been made of this milestone in biographies and histories written about Jordan; Jordan didn't even mention it in her own autobiography!  Yet, as Jordan stated in her speech:

Jordan's speech at the
Texas Democratic Convention
This is a historical moment, and I want all of us to take note that this is the first time in the history of the State Democratic Convention that a black person has been named as an officer of this convention.  I think it is past due that we did this.

Surprises like this are what make archives almost a living, breathing entity:  we are constantly uncovering new things about Barbara Jordan, and thus her legacy of "firsts" continues.  Who knows what other "firsts" will be uncovered by future Barbara Jordan researchers?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Veterans Day 2011 and Dorie Miller

In honor of Veterans Day, the Barbara Jordan Archives would like to share a virtual exhibit about Doris "Dorie" Miller, the first African American to receive the Navy Cross.  The archives has a small collection of photographs and memorabilia of the 1973 commission of the destroyer escort ship USS Miller as well as copies of the speech that Jordan gave in Miller's honor at the ceremony.  It seemed fitting that Jordan, a woman of many firsts for African Americans, be the person to speak on behalf of a man who made his own mark in African American history.

Miller, a Waco native, was one of the first American servicemen to respond when the Japanese staged a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.  Miller, stationed on the USS West Virginia, commandeered an anti-aircraft machine gun (which he'd never been trained to use) and shot down several enemy planes before he was forced to abandon the sinking battleship along with his crew mates.  About a year later, for his valiant performance, Miller was awarded the Navy Cross (at the time, the third highest honor bestowed by the Navy) by none other than Admiral Nimitz.  Miller returned to active duty--which meant he returned to his posting as Cook, Third Class.  Ironically, while some of his ship mates received promotions, Miller did not.  

Miller was reassigned to the USS Liscome Bay and shipped back out to the Pacific in 1943.  On November 24 that same year, the Japanese again staged a surprise attack and the ship was sunk off the coast of the Gilbert Islands.  Dorie Miller died along with over 600 other sailors.  Miller was recognized as a hero, though, and was also awarded the Purple Heart Medal, the American Defense Service Medal, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, and the World War II Victory Medal.  

In 1973, the Navy decided to commission a new destroyer escort in Miller's name.  On June 30, 1973, Navy officials, dignitaries, and Miller's family and friends gathered to witness the commission of the USS Miller in Norfolk, Virginia.  Congresswoman Barbara Jordan gave the keynote speech, in which she honored Miller for giving the ultimate sacrifice "in the defense of freedom."  

The USS Miller stayed in active duty throughout the Atlantic, the Caribbean, the Persian Gulf and the Black Sea regions until it was decommissioned in 1991.  In 1995, the U.S. Navy sold the ship to Turkey, who used it for parts and target practice, finally sinking the ship in 2001.  Even with the USS Miller no longer in existence, Miller's legacy continues.  Dorie Miller's legacy lives on, however--to date, several schools and VFW posts have been named in his honor, and the U.S. Postal Service issued a stamp with Miller as the subject in 2010.  Most famously, Miller was portrayed by Cuba Gooding, Jr. in the 2001 epic Pearl Harbor

If you'd like to learn more about Doris "Dorie" Miller, click here to visit the Dorie Miller Memorial Foundation.   To visit our virtual exhibit about Miller click here.