BMRC Processing Project Blog
By: Elise Zerega (BMRC Processing Intern)
You don’t have a name like Eugene Pieter Romayn Feldman and not live up to it. That it was I discovered while processing arguably my favorite collection at the DuSable Museum of African American History, the Eugene Feldman papers. Since my time at DuSable is now at a close, I felt it fitting to detail what made this collection stand out as an intern archivist.
Eugene P. R. Feldman was a co-founder of the museum and held half a dozen different jobs there until his death in 1986. Now, every collection I have had the pleasure of processing at DuSable has contained some golden nugget worth discussing. What marks the Eugene Feldman papers as unique and noteworthy in my mind is that it is the first collection I have processed where the personality of the subject shines through. A quick perusal of the papers and you will find a charming, funny, and truly loving man who cared deeply about the work he did. In case you dare not to believe me, here are some of my favorite aspects from Eugene Pieter Romayn Feldman’s papers that encapsulate who he was.
For starters, in the subseries “DuSable Administration” you will find some timesheets employees clocked in and out on. What is so joyous about a timesheet, you ask? Well, every now and then Eugene would write in the comment box next to his time of departure, “LOVE!” This is the quickest and easiest way to get to know the heart of Eugene: he loved love and wasn’t afraid to let anyone know, even in an everyday timesheet.
In the “Correspondence” series you’ll get to know Eugene pretty quickly. He was the type of guy who after typing up a letter to his father, niece, brother, sister, nephew, friend, prison inmate, among many others, would doodle on the last page, filling it up with hearts and giant “LOVE!”s and flowers. In a job that can occasionally get tedious, Eugene’s letters never ceased to lighten up my day. He was always thoughtful, always exuding the joy he found in life to those he wrote to.
I hesitate to share with you one of the most humorous findings in hopes you’ll go to the collection to figure out it yourself. But for those that will never get a chance to meet Eugene, aside from his mural in Founders Hall at DuSable, which wonderfully depicts him and his goony smile, I’ll go ahead and tell you about Ted Lemmon. I came across the name Ted Lemmon perhaps every other day while processing Eugene’s papers. He was either referenced in letters, authored a poem or two, or filled out his own time log at DuSable. The mystery of Ted Lemmon plagued me, for he was sparsely in the collection to get enough context as to who this man was. A letter to poet Will Inman revealed that Ted Lemmon was Eugene’s alter ego: a naughty-joke telling prankster to Eugene’s sweet and loving nature. Yes, Eugene was such a nice guy that he had to create an alter-ego to tell a dirty joke.
Yet my favorite aspect of Eugene is seen in his own writings in the second series, especially his poems. In his poems his dedication and belief in civil rights is evident. One poem I feel sums up his drive for equal rights is the following, entitled “I am human first of all”:
I know that there are categories, clear and well-defined,
I know that there are plans and places nicely all designed.
But I am man and I am woman I am child too
And I am white and I am black and the colored hue
And I reject the grovéd road or role you make me take
For I am human first of and all designs are fake!
Here was a white, Jewish man who empathized with every race and gender. When his house in Alabama saw a burning cross on its lawn for his civil rights activism, he went up north and helped start the first African American history museum in the nation. A museum he was dedicated to until the day he died.
The one piece of Eugene that struck a strong chord with me was in a memo he wrote to Charles and Margaret Burroughs, which Ms. Burroughs of course made a dozen copies of. Thank goodness she did for it would have been a shame to lose Eugene’s reflections on his time at DuSable:
It has made me rich. Rich in the only way that counts and in the only way that I want to be rich: rich in culture, rich in understanding, rich in being more free from prejudice, rich in my association with Black men and Black women... I rejoice in this wealth. It I such a bank account of knowledge in a bank that never fails or goes bankrupt. I rejoice in the glow it gives my life and that I have been in its gloried rays for almost a quarter of a century.
My own thoughts cannot say better how I have found my own time at DuSable and at the BMRC in general. So thank you all at the DuSable museum, from the security guards who kindly greeted me every morning to the various staff I would meet with a smile in the halls. Most of all thank you Librarian and Archivist Bea Julian for making my time at DuSable a wonderful and growing experience.
And of course, thank you to Eugene Feldman for being a lovely character to process and for introducing me to Ted Lemmon.
By Olle Larson (BMRC Processing Intern)
In this blog post, I will be talking about our most recent collection, which is rather big. Currently Kristin Moo and myself are processing the Metropolitan Planning Council’s large collection of papers deposited at UIC over the years. The collection includes papers from the 1930s until about 1998 ranging on various topics. All of the subject matter deals with MPC desire and actions to see Chicago improved in several different ways, which includes urban renewal projects, city planning, housing, race relations, and the transportation infrastructure of the Windy City. Also included in these papers are administrative materials regarding the interworking of this organization, which includes committees, fundraising material, and correspondence. Overall, this collection will probably be around 300 linear feet and is quite exhaustive on documenting the organizations efforts to improve the city of Chicago.
As this collection provides an extreme amount of detail into this organization, it has been rather dull thus far. Within the last week, we finally finished processing all the material related to the administrative side of MHPC, which included relatively little exciting materials. As we move into our next series, which will include housing topics and urban renewal planning, we hope to find more interesting things as processing moves along. While the materials so far have been rather uninteresting to work with, I have had the pleasure to come across three interesting situations that I have labeled diamonds in the rough.
The first diamond in the rough came quite a while ago when I was working through the expansive newspaper clipping subseries in series one. Within this subseries, I discovered a folder titled MLKJ in the accession log. When I finally got to the MLKJ folder, I was amazed to find it full of newspaper clippings documenting Martin Luther King Jr’s stay in Chicago throughout 1966. It was truly a joy to sift through these primary documents and learn more about the day-to-day actions of King rather than the general overview you see in most books or discussions on this topic.
Another diamond in the rough was a coincidence. In my History 390 class at DePaul, we were reading through a sample paper of a former student. The exercise was meant to show us some do’s and don’ts when writing our large history paper. In the footnotes I discovered that much of the primary source material were documents from the very MPC collection at UIC we were processing. In fact, the material this individual used were papers I had just moved the other day into its proper location in series one. So it was very cool to identify and handle stuff an individual had already used for research.
The final diamond was also a coincidence but found in a book. The book is titled Family Properties, and was written by Beryl Satter. Essentially, Satter tracked the development of a Chicago Westside neighborhood, Lawndale, into a black ghetto over time. At the same time, the author also investigated the mechanisms used to trap African American’s in both the West and South Side areas of Chicago. Within chapter two beginning on page 47, the author starts to talk about MPC and their connections to several conservation and urban renewal projects. In order to discuss these MPC projects, the author looked mostly at newspaper clippings and secondary sources on the topic. In fact, only a handful of citations were actually MPC primary documents from UIC. So, I found it an immense joy to read through this books and then the next day see the actual primary documents on the events Satter was talking about.
In the end, this collection has not been the most thrilling one so far. It is long, by our standards, and most of the material is rather dull for someone not doing research on this organization or related topics. However, its moments like these that make processing this collection so much more interesting and fun. I can’t wait to see what other things turn up that are related to this collection or for another unexpected surprise within this set of documents.
By: Amber Bailey (BMRC Processing Intern)
Tomorrow marks my last day as a processing intern with the BMRC. While I’ve enjoyed my internship, I’m also fairly certain that tomorrow also marks the last day of my brief career as a processing archivist. In honor of my premature retirement, I’ve decided to make a list of six things I’ve learned after six months of archiving.
- “A” is for awesome archivists
I’ve met more archivists and librarians over the last six months than I have in my entire twenty-one years of living. I can honestly say that each one of them has been nothing but courteous and encouraging in the process of me learning how to process. From my onsite supervisors to my bosses at the BMRC (and even my partner in processing and fellow intern at CHM and Roosevelt), everyone that I’ve met in the course of my internship has been awesome. Thank you for making my experience enjoyable.
- Processing can be extremely tedious...
As someone who once watched golf tournaments on TV, I think that it’s safe to say that I am an expert at boredom -- a master of monotony if you will. But I think that I met my match with archival processing. In fact, the only job that I can think of that might be more tedious than processing is licking envelopes. Of course, this is only one person’s opinion, but since this is my blog post, we’ll just assume it’s a fact.
- … But it can also be rewarding.
Processing wasn’t all boredom though. As a matter of fact, at least once a day, I came across a document or photograph that reminded me of why I love history and why the work that I’ve been doing is important. The lunatic letters that I wrote about a couple of months ago are just one example but there was also the copy of James Forman’s Black Manifesto, pictures of African Americans at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, and a handwritten note from Maya Angelou to Senator Carol Mosely-Braun, among others that made the experience fun and memorable.
- There are a lot of great collections waiting to be uncovered.
While I have spent the entirety of my six month career processing the Carol Moseley-Braun collection, I’ve been more intrigued by the collections of some lesser known figures that my fellow interns have been working on. The collections at the Dusable Museum of African American History, in particular, seem fascinating, and I’m glad that the BMRC is uncovering these awesome collections that I might not have known about or had access to otherwise.
- Processing isn’t for me,...
With six months of processing under my belt, I’ve come to the conclusion that processing just isn’t my bag. As someone who would like to be an author and professional historian, I think that I’d be more fulfilled writing about materials in collections than organizing them.
- … But museum work still is.
When I first came to the BMRC, I only knew two things about what I wanted in terms of a career. One was that I didn’t want to be a professor. The other was that I wanted to work in an organization dedicated to preserving history (in its many forms) and making it accessible to the public. Even as I prepare to end my internship, I know that both of those things are still true. I still love history, and I couldn’t imagine working in any other field.
I suppose that the list was as much about things I’ve learned about myself as it was about things I’ve learned about actual processing. But I hope that it was an interesting retrospective nonetheless.
By: Kristin Moo (BMRC Processing Intern)
You may have heard Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel refer to our lakefront municipality as a “world-class city.” It’s been a refrain in the conversation about the upcoming NATO summit to be hosted here, a buzz-phrase that’s been repeated so frequently of late that it feels more than a little defensive. But it’s not all Mayor Emanuel. His predecessor Mayor Richard M. Daley is often attributed with the accomplishment of making it so, and those three special words rolled off Daley’s tongue with just as much ease.
So I was surprised while processing the records of the Metropolitan Planning Council to come across this delightfully, garishly designed summer events brochure from the brief tenure of the late Mayor Harold Washington:
A 1985 brochure promoting Chicago’s “world-class” summer series of cultural events.
I have to get back to processing, so here’s a research challenge for our readers—bonus points if you can find David Orr referring to Chicago as a “world-class city” during his 8-day mayoral tenure. Double bonus points for pre-Byrne mayoral references!
By T.J. Szafranski (BMRC Processing Intern)
A Two-Part Processing Primer: Part 1, Let’s Eat Some Cake
After I began to work for the Black Metropolis Research Consortium, I had a variety of people ask me about my job. My aunt cornered me at a family party, I ran into an old friend at the bar, and my dentist interrogated me while I was in the chair (Yes, please continue to ask me questions while you’re sticking sharp objects in my mouth).
Here’s how those conversations usually go:
Them: “So, what are you up to these days?”
Me: “I’ve been working as an archivist at the DuSable Museum”
Them: “Oh neat, so what do you do?”
Me: “I process archival collections.”
Them: “Oh neat, so what exactly do you do?”
So, with those conversations in mind, I present this processing primer. I hope it conveys a rationale behind processing collections and removes some of the mystery behind the word “processing.” It’s my attempt to explain why we do what we do, and what it is that we do. One caveat before we proceed: in the archiving world there are specific distinctions between the words “collection,” “papers,” and “records.” It has to do with who created the documents, but that’s for another blog. For the purposes of this post, I’m using “collection” to stand for all the documents that make up one single archival entity, whether it’s one box of material, or fifty.
Processing a Collection
Simply put, processing is what an archivist does. Keep this analogy in mind: archivist is to processing as baker is to baking. If someone said, “I’m going to bake a cake,” you would have a general sense of what was about to happen. You may not know what kind of cake was getting baked, or how long it would take, or how many eggs would be needed, or when the sugar was going to be added, but you could reasonably expect that at some point you’d have a cake in front of you. In the same way, if I said, “I’m going to process a collection,” that simply means I’m going to take the necessary steps to turn an unusable collection (the raw ingredients) into a useable collection (the cake).
Ultimately, processing is simply the name given to the process (clever, huh?) that archivists undertake to gain intellectual and physical control of their collections.
Intellectual and Physical Control
Intellectual control over a collection means that an archivist knows, and can communicate, the essence of a collection. The essence of a collection involves an understanding of who created the collection, what is in the collection, how the items in the collection relate to one another, and how the collection as a whole relates to a larger context. Archivists gain intellectual control during their processing and they communicate this information through a finding aid. A finding aid is a written guide to the collection. A good finding aid will relay details about the creator(s) of the collection, explain what can be found in the collection, and give a clear road map to locate individual items in the collection.
Physical control of a collection means the collection is arranged and stored so that it can be easily accessed and properly preserved.
So What Do You Do?
When discussing my job, I’ve found that it’s easier to describe the rationale behind processing than it is to give a play-by-play of processing. The simplest rationale behind processing is that it turns unusable collections into useable ones. Archives are used by a multitude of people, and provide a multitude of benefits, but these benefits can’t be realized unless the collections are useable.
Let’s go back to the kitchen. Before a cake is a cake, it’s a set of ingredients. These ingredients (raw eggs, flour, sugar, etc.) are technically edible, but they’re not appetizing. Choosing to eat the ingredients that make up a cake, instead of waiting for the final product would be an inefficient way to eat a cake. Similarly, an unprocessed collection is a set of material that is technically usable, but it’s not appealing. And using a collection before it’s processed would be extremely inefficient.
Baking can involve any of the following steps: mixing, measuring, separating, rolling, stirring, putting in an oven and waiting, pouring, cutting, spreading, and a whole lot more. These steps all contribute to the goal of creating a single edible entity (the cake). Similarly, processing involves a range of individual tasks, with these tasks contributing to the goal of making the collection a useable entity (the processed collection). If we extended this analogy one step further, we could say that a finding aid is like a fork. It’s the utensil that lets you consume the finished product. The best way to use the collection is with the finding aid in hand, just like the best way to eat cake is with a fork in hand.
(Unless, of course, you think the best way to eat cake is with your hand, in which case the finding aid equals a hand).
So What Exactly Do You Do?
For a more detailed breakdown of the actual steps that it takes to process a collection, stay tuned for Part II of this processing primer. Until then, I hope I’ve removed some of the uncertainty and vagueness from the phrase “processing a collection.”
By: Olle Larson (BMRC Processing Intern)
My journey with the BMRC as an undergraduate-processing assistant has been amazing. Most of my time has be spent at University of Illinois at Chicago’s Library of Health Sciences working along side my knowledgeable graduate partner Kristin Moo. So far, we have completed three collections, each with different types of processing. Each processing type can be categorized into three different styles: true MPLP, mop up, and item level. I will describe each style and the collections briefly in the following paragraphs.
Our first collection, “The Shorebank Corporation Records,” can be described as our only true MPLP collection during our time at UIC. Consisting of banking plans, budgets, business materials, correspondence, and anything else imaginable dealing with the Shorebank Corporation, we quickly moved through these papers, which made MPLP seem amazing. While MPLP does not allow for an in depth assessment of each item in the collection, we still found some interesting things, like Hillary Clinton’s resignation letter from its Arkansas Board of Executives. However, we hit some bumps toward the end of processing. Stamping the collection name on 646 folders took us a long time, but the worst part was hand writing the titles for all 646 folders. While this part was an inconvenience, I attribute it more towards our newness to archiving and the system here at UIC rather than MPLP.
Our second collection was a mop up of the “Cook County School of Nursing Records,” processing about 5.5 linear feet of material. The phrase “mop up,” means the collection had been mostly processed except for a small amount of material left out during original processing. Also, it was our first item level processing, rather than MPLP, since the rest of the collection was originally processed this way. What made this collection somewhat enjoyable were the mass amounts of interesting artifacts we found, like a gold-layered scrapbook, and it’s relatively easy because it came with an item level description of each object. Yet it still took us some time to accomplish. Most of our time was spent locating the misplaced items because some objects were not in their assigned boxes, but rather, on the shelves or wedged into other folders by accident. While it was short, straight forward, and full of cool stuff, it was probably my least favorite collection thus far.
“Michael Reese School of Nursing Records” was the final collection we have completed. I have decided to label this collection true item level processing. This collection consisted of each individual’s student records from the 1890s to 1981. It was pretty cool working with some very old records, and the admission letters revealed a unique window into the shifting views of womanhood and its norms over time. At first, we were skeptical on doing a large scale, item-level project, since we were trained for MPLP. After a day, we discovered item level processing was not terrible, and it was probably best for this collection. Our version of item level processing was entering each name into an excel spreadsheet and then checking to make sure it was spelled correctly based on the records inside the folder. Since it was all about making student records available, it is probably best to name each person in a folder in case someone wants to view a family member’s record. While this may seem like it would take a long time, it flew by extremely fast because of the system Kristin and I developed. Another fun part of this collection was Kevin had us take out the old file containers and throw them in the dumpster. Sometimes, after sitting in a chair typing in names for hours, nothing beats using brute strength and throwing a few file cabinets into the dumpster.
My thoughts on the three different types of processing
Mop up---By far the least enjoyable in my experience. While the work was already done down to the item level, you are stuck doing the previously used system of processing. Then there is the searching for items that got misplaced, which can also be discouraging. Next, there is the constant reshuffling of materials, especially if you find the ever-elusive item or items in order to make room for these newly found treasures.
Item level--- Item level is very useful in appropriate situations. Item level on Shorebank, for instance, would have been extremely time-consuming and served no point in my opinion. However for collections like Michael Reese, it was logical because of the possibility of someone wanting to look up a specific student’s record. Imagine doing this the MPLP way and having a folder labeled only “student records.” In this case, it would be extremely cumbersome on the individual looking for the folder with the specific record. My advice, use item level sparingly.
MPLP----Overall, this system is the best based on my experiences. Using this method, we tore through Shorebank much quicker compared to item level processing. In fact, we may still be doing Shorebank if we had to use item level processing. MPLP is quick, effective, and gets the materials out for researchers to use while making new discoveries themselves. MPLP is like drawing the treasure map and leaving the “chest full of doubloons” for the researcher to find.
Conclusion--- In working with all of these styles of processing, I would say MPLP is the way to go in most cases because it saves a lot of time, and gets collection out for researchers quickly; however, MPLP can have its down falls. When MPLP doesn’t work in situations like student records, then item level processing is probably best suited for the task.
By: Amber Bailey (BMRC Processing Intern)
After three months of processing the massive Carol Moseley-Braun Collection, I think that it’s safe to say that the most interesting documents in the collection can be found in the first folder of the first box of the third series. Since it’ll be a little while longer before processing is complete, I’ll go ahead and give you a little bit of a spoiler (consider this your spoiler alert): the folder’s title is “Lunatic Letters.” Now, I don’t want to ruin the suspense for anyone, so I won’t tell you exactly what’s in the folder. But I will tell you that one of the letters uncovers a conspiracy involving the former Senator, Catholic clergy, and an evil polka dance. I told you it was good stuff.
When I first came across it, rather than skimming the folder’s title, putting it in a Hollinger box, and moving on to the next one (as is usually the case), I decided to open up the folder and take a look. It was probably the genius employment of alliteration that made me so curious. Whatever the reason, after a not-so-brief perusal, it became apparent that most of these letters weren’t the ramblings of “lunatics” but good old timey (perhaps a little disturbed) racist Americans. Except that these letters were written in the 1990s, not the 1890s. And they weren’t addressed to some shiftless criminal but a United States Senator.
Out of propriety, I won’t repeat some of the epithets that were hurled at Senator Moseley-Braun, the first and so-far only black woman to hold that title. But think back to some of the racist remarks that have been directed towards President Obama, and you’ll get a general idea. As much as some people would like to think that we live in a post-racial society, these “lunatic letters” have only reminded me that we don’t.
But nothing that I write can erase the color line that W.E.B. Du Bois astutely identified as the predominant problem of the twentieth – and I’d like to add the twenty-first – centuries. Senator Moseley-Bran and President Obama’s landmark achievements clearly didn’t do it either. Quite honestly, I have no idea what will.
What I do know, however, is that projects like the BMRC are tremendously important to the goal of resuming constructive conversations of race and the contributions of black people to American history and society. As a Chicago resident, it’s hard to visit certain neighborhoods like Marquette Park or Englewood and see violence, poverty, and ignorance overwhelm whatever hope and potential for change exists there. But as a nascent researcher and historian, it’s easy to look past the rundown and abandoned buildings that line streets in Bronzeville, and mentally reconstruct the grandeur of the city’s black neighborhoods and the dignity and excitement of early black Chicago life. And in this ability lies the importance of my job, the Color Curtain Project, and the BMRC in general.
For all of the craziness that I found in the “lunatic letters” and despite my indifferent opinion of the Senator’s politics, going through the letters made me appreciate even more the significance of her achievement and the strength of her character. And it is my sincerest hope that not only will the Color Curtain Project bring others to such a realization, but also that the rich legacy and contributions of African Americans in this city and elsewhere might also be magnified in the historical narrative.
By: Kristin Moo (BMRC Processing Intern)
The financial industry has been getting a bad rap lately. A recent $25 billion settlement between the U.S. government and the country’s largest mortgage servicers is a testament to systemic problems with banking practices throughout the financial crisis beginning in 2008. Last year, the Pew Research Center found that 47% of Americans believe Wall Street hurts the economy more than it helps. So it might be difficult today to imagine a thread of altruism driving the development of a global banking network.
Then Arkansas First Lady Hillary Clinton was a founding board member of the Southern Development Bancorporation, an affiliate of ShoreBank. Her hand-signed resignation letter is part of the ShoreBank Corporation records.
But leafing through the ShoreBank Corporation Records reveals the history of a groundbreaking institution founded with a primary mission beyond its own financial growth. In the early 1970s, four bankers teamed up to envision a bank that went out of its way to serve populations that traditional banks typically avoided. It was less than a decade after the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. moved into Chicago’s west side to promote fair housing in this historically segregated city. The practice of redlining lingered and the term “white flight” applied not just to south- and west-side residents moving to the suburbs, but also to businesses that saw no future in serving the African Americans who were moving in.
Indeed, it was around that time that the South Shore National Bank in Chicago’s South Shore neighborhood began planning to relocate. In 1972, bank officials submitted an application for relocation to the Federal Reserve Bank, noting: “In recent years, there has been an adverse change in the residential and business characteristics of the trading area,” and “…the bank’s clientele have been leaving the neighborhood and the per capita income of the people moving in is decidedly lower.” But for Ron Grzywinski, Mary Haughton, James Fletcher, and Milton Davis, the changing neighborhood was more of an opportunity to spur growth than a financial liability.
This small cadre of black and white bankers raised the capital necessary to buy South Shore National Bank (renamed ShoreBank in 2000) and keep it in the community, where they actively sought to lend to African-American residents and small business owners. Their concept combined the roles of commercial banking and nonprofit community development, proving that it is possible to turn a profit without abandoning social responsibility. By ShoreBank’s own expansion as well as consultation with stakeholders in other communities, its influence circled the globe. Community development banks arose from Detroit and Cleveland to rural Arkansas, the Pacific Northwest, and beyond to Eastern Europe and Bangladesh.
The ShoreBank Corporation records at the University of Illinois at Chicago tell the story of the company’s rise and its influence, particularly on Chicago’s South and West sides. From Ron Grzywinski’s early notes scrawled on sheets torn from a legal pad to binders packed with budgets and strategic plans, the collection reveals motivation for both social and fiscal growth. By the mid-2000s, observers say, efforts to achieve the latter goal may have undermined ShoreBank’s overall stability. With the financial collapse 2008, ShoreBank suffered along with banks around the world, and in 2010 federal regulators forced its closure. But as for its influence on global finance, ShoreBank lives on.
By: Katie Obriot (BMRC Processing Intern)
My first task with the Carol Moseley Braun Collection was to process the Scheduling series that consisted of about 100 Paige boxes mostly containing invitations received by the former senator. Thumbing through the endless requests for meetings, speeches, and her presence at events from film screenings to galas, it’s hard to believe that our elected officials get anything done. However, the next series entitled “Legislative Files” proves that Carol Moseley Braun did in fact do an astonishing amount of work in the Senate. From the censorship of Gangsta Rap, to the flood of 1993, and Social Security, Carol Moseley Braun was on top of the current issues of her time as senator from 1993-1999. Notwithstanding, all of the information within these files fails to provide a full picture of Carol Moseley Braun. From her collection of Senatorial papers we know what amendments and bills she endorsed but we lack the knowledge of her history in politics and the stances she took in her life and in her campaign.
That said, one of our jobs as archives interns -or the job of any full-fledged archivist- is to research our subjects. Often, this requires scouring Newspaper archives or cracking open the Who’s Who. In the case of Carol Moseley Braun, I was lucky enough to find an article with Braun from the Chicago Reader written by Florence Hamlish Levinsohn in 1992; right in the middle of Braun’s campaign for Illinois State Senator. The article provides background information on the senator’s family life and personal views, themes that are absent from her senatorial papers.
Within the first paragraphs of the article we find out that Braun won several awards in her ten years as a state representative including the IVI-IPO's best legislator award (six times in a row) and awards from groups including: Chicago Board of Education, Chicago Firefighters Union, Illinois Association of Realtors, Illinois Council of Sheriffs, Illinois Women's Political Caucus, and gay and lesbian organizations.
In the ‘60s Braun participated in Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s open-housing marches in Chicago. in the ‘70s, While in law school at the University of Chicago Braun helped found the the Black Law Students Association. In 1983 Mayor Harold Washington made her his floor leader and in the late ‘80s, she adopted a code of ethics for the office of the Cook County Recorder of Deeds.
Carol Moseley Braun at Northern Illinois University’s
Center for Black Studies. April 12, 1996.
The article unveils Braun’s childhood and introduces us to her family. We learn that Braun was born in 1947 in the Southside of Chicago. Her mother was a medical technician and her father was a police officer and a jazz musician. Braun speaks about her experiences with segregation and racism in Chicago and describes her very own sit-in as a high school student in Evanston, "I sat down at the counter and the waitress walked all around me, serving other people, ignoring me. I sat there for about an hour. Finally she gave me a cup of coffee. I put my quarter down on the counter and I got up and left. I wouldn't drink their coffee but I wasn't going to move until I was served." Not long after that, she marched with Dr. Martin Luther King in Gage Park.
In a transcribed phone interview at the end of the piece, Levinsohn asks Braun some probing questions about her campaign, her dealings as a state representative, and her position as head of the recorder’s office. Also discussed in the interview are Braun’s views on universal health care, abortion, taxes, education, and welfare.
I’ll stop here and encourage you all to read the article yourselves. I think it really adds context to Carol Moseley Braun’s Senatorial papers and may hold you over until we’re finished processing the 600 linear foot collection.
1996 Senate Committee Meeting on Africa
Photos are taken from the Carol Moseley Braun Collection.
- People choose to save some pretty random things.
As a current history student, I find myself wondering what, if anything, I should be saving for future historians. Sometimes doing archival work, you wonder, why would anyone think this would be necessary to future historians? Dr. Margaret Burroughs, founder of the DuSable Museum of African American History, saved three to four copies of nearly every piece of correspondence sent out with regards to The Friends of the Elam Home Foundation. She saved scraps of handwritten notes dispersed throughout folders of letters, minutes, and bills. I don’t mean this to sound disrespectful because it is a genuine contemplation that is worth thinking about when processing. Why did Burroughs feel it was important to keep three copies of every solicitation letter?
- Thank goodness people choose to save some pretty random things.
A lot can be revealed by what someone feels should be saved, what should be kept as clues for those who didn’t live their life. For example, Metz T.P. Lochard, the editor and editorial writer of the Chicago Defender for forty years, saved twenty boxes worth of newspapers and clippings. That’s not including the multitude of press releases and reports which were also saved. Going through box after box and envelope after envelope, it becomes clear that a) Lochard was a pretty intelligent fellow and b) he must have loved the news and commenting on it. It’s one thing to know from aline in a finding aid that he was an editor and editorial writer for forty years, but another to see it newspaper after newspaper.
- Archivists are researchers with unlimited scope.
I believe that any subject in history, any time period, culture, or people, can be fascinating if taught well. I ache at the thought of having to choose what to narrow my interests down to should I choose to study history further. Archivists don’t have to choose. Anything from ancient maps to American sheet music can be researched, and archivists get to do the initial go-through of it all. Ever since studying history in high school I have learned about the pan-African movement, but I had never heard of Captain Harry Dean until processing at the DuSable Archives. My studies could have continued too, without any knowledge of this intriguing character that helped to colonize Sierra Leone. I count myself lucky that I got to spend a week processing his collection, and you can be just as lucky now and spend a day going through it at the DuSable Archives.
- It can be very difficult not processing collections down to the folder using More Product, Less Process.
While doing my own research and using various archives, I am spoiled by the level of processing already done by many institutions. While processing new collections I try to keep in mind what I value most as a researcher. This aspect, tied with my love organization, makes it difficult not to detail what everything is and where it is. I understand the idea of not doing the researchers work for them, but sometimes I feel like a parent who just wants to spoil their kids a little bit, give them the finding aids I had when I was just a researching tyke. It also feels natural to organize as far as a collection can be organized, to separate check stubs from receipts instead of labeling it all as “Financial”. However, what I crave more as a researcher than a detailed list of my work done for me is access to as many historical documents as are out there.
- Thank goodness MPLP allows to not process down to the folder.
Who hasn’t felt the intense joy associated with leafing through letter after letter of nothingness to finally come across exactly what you were looking for? Well if you haven’t, I assure you it is a wonderful moment worthy of every squeal and subsequent glare from fellow, more established, researchers. The process of seeing what is in a collection is like the greatest hide-and-go-seek game ever. What any good researcher wants is as many sources as possible to play hide-and-go-seek with to make a complete argument. As a processer, MPLP is also a great lesson in self-discipline. No, not every Chicago Defender has to be catalogued, especially if it means that none of them can be used due to backlogging.