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. 

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