Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

World War II: The African American Experience

February 27th, 2018

The tradition of celebrating African American history in February was established in 1926 by Carter G. Woodson, the founder of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History.  The 2018 theme of Black History Month is “African Americans  in Times of War,” and this week we feature two brief excerpts from an oral history interview with WWII veteran William Tarlton. The interview comes from Spencer Research Library’s World War II: The African American Experience oral history interview collection.

Photo logo for World War II: The African American Experience, featuring pictures of Africa American soldiers.

More than one and a half million African Americans served in the United States military forces during World War II. They fought in the Pacific, Mediterranean, and European war zones, including the Battle of the Bulge and the D-Day invasion. These African American service men and women constituted the largest number enlisted in the Army and Navy, and the first to serve in the Marine Corp after 1798. World War II: The African American Experience begins to document the experiences of African American World War II veterans through audio recorded interviews. These oral histories are part of the collecting program established by the Kenneth Spencer Research Library’s Kansas Collection in 1986 to enhance the region’s permanent historical record of the African American experience. The collection includes donated materials that provide information about families, churches, organizations and businesses, especially during the 20th century.  The World War II oral history project is sponsored in part by the Sandra Gautt KU Endowment Fund, which Professor Emerita Gautt established to honor her father, Sgt. Thaddeus A. Whayne, a member of the Tuskegee Airmen unit.

William Tarlton: Two Oral History Excerpts

Photo of William Tarlton in uniform

Photograph of William Tarlton from a Squadron F 463rd
Army Air Force photo collage, 1947. Tarlton served with Squadron F
after re-enlisting, following his wartime service with the 371st Infantry.
African American World War II Oral Histories Collection.
Call Number: RH MS-P 1439, Box 1, Folder 3. Click image to enlarge.

A life-long resident of Topeka, Kansas, William Tarlton served in the United States Army’s 92nd Division, 371st Infantry. Wounded twice during the Italian campaign, he was awarded the Bronze Star medal for “his outstanding performance of duty in action against the enemy.” In the passage below, excerpted from his oral history interview with Deborah Dandridge, Field Archivist and Curator for the African American Experience Collections, Tarlton recounts the experience of being shelled.

DANDRIDGE: So when you were training in combat, what sort of things do you remember you had to learn how to do?
TARLTON: Keep your head down. (chuckles) Dig a fox hole. Get in that fox hole or stay on the ground. Yeah.
DANDRIDGE: Did you ever have to do that?
TARLTON: I certainly did. Yes I did. The other one thing that I remember vividly is the fact that I was in, it was a bridge that we went across, that goes across a little creek. And we — me and another guy, one was on one side of the bridge and one was on the other side, I was right there, and three of the artillery shells that fell hit that bridge and they never went off and fell right off into the water. I remember they hit. And see that was, see that German eighty-eight millimeter gun was — you’d hear a “Boo” and next thing it’s on you. You know? Yeah, those are the things that— And that was about, that was one of the, some of the scariest things, especially at night. I mean it’s all dark over there and then — Oh, the other thing that I remember, I was, when I got shrapnel wounds in my arm and back we was getting close to the end of the war and we were up there in a British Signal Corps outfit and we went up in there and they shelled that outfit. And then we were going to get some breakfast that morning. Way off in the field and somehow or other they zeroed in on that thing and you — it just sounded like a pile of lumber falling down.
DANDRIDGE: So you didn’t get your breakfast?
TARLTON: We got it, eventually, after it got all clear. Those British soldiers are resilient people, they’re crazy some of ‘em.
DANDRIDGE: So did you ever, so did you eat with ‘em? Did you eat with the British?
TARLTON: (overlapping) Oh yeah, yeah we ate — I did. And, then me and several of us that was on patrol and we ate down there. Yeah, we did that. And they were very nice. And they were — So one of the things that I can remember that they were, of course I’m young, but the British, they always had some Scotch Whiskey. (chuckles)
DANDRIDGE: And so you all were sharing, is that what you’d say?
TARLTON: They shared a little bit with us.
(William Tarlton Oral History Interview, excerpt from  37:42-40:36)

Over the course of his interview, William Tarlton also discusses segregation in Topeka prior to his service, segregation in the armed forces, and his memories of being at Fort Francis E. Warren, Wyoming when the U.S. military’s new policy of racial integration was implemented after the war.  He briefly addresses these last two subjects in our second excerpt:

TARLTON: Well, we were still—We were still in segregated army when I went, in 19— when we got back to the States, we were still segregated. And then we went to Cheyenne, Wyoming and that was where — I can’t remember. I got that on discharge, can’t remember — But, anyway, that was Fort Warren, and it was all, it was segregated out there. They had the white troops over on one side and we was on, we was down on Randall Avenue in nice buildings, nice quarters. And I went to the motor pool and they gave me quarters over there where I started work on those cars, I was along with another couple of soldiers.
DANDRIDGE: Were they white or black?
TARLTON: Oh, two of us—yeah,  was white. We— We started getting along real good together because we was in the different area and we all —
DANDRIDGE: So you all socialized together?
TARLTON: Yeah, socialized together and—
DANDRIDGE: Did you ever go out in town?
TARLTON: Not together. That was one of the things that we didn’t do until— See in 1947, when they desegregated the Army, that was 1947 and I was out there when that happened.
DANDRIDGE: What was that like?
TARLTON: Well it was— The only thing, this old white boy come up to me and says—put your clothes down on the side, says “Guess I’m going to bunk beside you.” I said, “Okay.” (chuckles)
(William Tarlton Oral History Interview, excerpt from 58:40-1:00:34)

This interview, recorded on August 12, 2010,  is even more striking when you hear William Tarlton’s voice as he recounts his experiences. We encourage you to listen to the entire recording online here, where you will also find a full transcript of the interview.

Once you have explored the World War II: The African American Experience Oral History collection, consider visiting some of the other online resources related to Spencer Research Library’s African American Experience Collections, including the online version of the 2017 exhibition Education: The Mightiest Weapon and the Leon Hughes Photographs digital collection.

Deborah Dandridge
Field Archivist and Curator, African American Experience Collections
Adapted from her text for World War II: The African American Experience

World War I Letters of Forrest W. Bassett: February 26-March 4, 1918

February 26th, 2018

In honor of the centennial of World War I, we’re going to follow the experiences of one American soldier: nineteen-year-old Forrest W. Bassett, whose letters are held in Spencer’s Kansas Collection. Each Monday we’ll post a new entry, which will feature selected letters from Forrest to thirteen-year-old Ava Marie Shaw from that following week, one hundred years after he wrote them.

Forrest W. Bassett was born in Beloit, Wisconsin, on December 21, 1897 to Daniel F. and Ida V. Bassett. On July 20, 1917 he was sworn into military service at Jefferson Barracks near St. Louis, Missouri. Soon after, he was transferred to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, for training as a radio operator in Company A of the U. S. Signal Corps’ 6th Field Battalion.

Ava Marie Shaw was born in Chicago, Illinois, on October 12, 1903 to Robert and Esther Shaw. Both of Marie’s parents – and her three older siblings – were born in Wisconsin. By 1910 the family was living in Woodstock, Illinois, northwest of Chicago. By 1917 they were in Beloit.

Frequently mentioned in the letters are Forrest’s older half-sister Blanche Treadway (born 1883), who had married Arthur Poquette in 1904, and Marie’s older sister Ethel (born 1896).

Highlights from this week’s letter include Forrest receiving a fruitcake and singing book from Marie, clearing the air about their relationship, and advising Marie against purchasing a rifle.

 

Image of Forrest W. Bassett's letter to Ava Marie Shaw, March 3, 1918 Image of Forrest W. Bassett's letter to Ava Marie Shaw, March 3, 1918

Image of Forrest W. Bassett's letter to Ava Marie Shaw, March 3, 1918 Image of Forrest W. Bassett's letter to Ava Marie Shaw, March 3, 1918

Image of Forrest W. Bassett's letter to Ava Marie Shaw, March 3, 1918 Image of Forrest W. Bassett's letter to Ava Marie Shaw, March 3, 1918

Click images to enlarge.

Sunday March 3, ’18.

Dear Marie,

The fruit cake came this morning with your letter. Gee, but it sure tasted good although it was a little fresh to cut. Sheridan, the one who took Stock’s place, got the first piece and he said “Gosh, Bassett’s cakes are getting better and better.” I am not kidding you either for “them’s my sentiments,” too. So you see Blanche is going to have to go some to beat your cooking, according to the impartial verdict of those that help eat “Bassett’s cakes.” I will send you further instructions by radio.

I got the book O.K. and while I don’t sing and don’t care much about singing I am going to keep it for the fellows at the “Y” to use. Marie you are doing everything for me that I can think of and I will always remember what I owe you too. The way in which you answered the questions about Rockford made me feel a great deal better – for I have often thought of it. Don’t think for a minute that you have ever offended me in the slightest way.

I do think it was wrong for me to kiss you when we said goodbye Thanksgiving – for your sake – because you know I can’t always call you my little girl. Things like that make me love you all the more Marie, but I must think ahead a few years. If you don’t understand me perfectly please say so.

I am mighty glad that you have broken that habit and to say I am more proud of you hardly tells it all. I will send the hair in a few weeks.

I wouldn’t advise you to even think of getting a rifle at all. My rifle cost me $16.00. The marble tang peep sight cost $3.00 extra. And an extra snap-shooters disc for this sight cost 50ȼ more so by the time I was all set for action, the gun cost about $20.00. Of course fairly good guns can be bought much cheaper but I wouldn’t even think of getting one at any price. Forget it. As for care, the small .22 cal. bore requires more careful cleaning than any other rifle.

One of our men was just recently discharged because of nervousness. He just left for his home in Baltimore, Maryland, last week.

Well I will send that radiogram later. F.

Please excuse this awful attempt at writing[.] Will surely do better next time.

 

Meredith Huff
Public Services

Emma Piazza
Public Services Student Assistant

Throwback Thursday: Winter Weather Baseball Edition

February 22nd, 2018

Each week we’ll be posting a photograph from University Archives that shows a scene from KU’s past. We’ve also scanned more than 34,800 images from KU’s University Archives and made them available online; be sure to check them out!

We don’t have several inches of snow on Mount Oread, but during the first full week of their season KU baseball players are dealing with winter weather and ice.

Photograph of a KU baseball player in the snow, 1950s

A KU baseball player in the snow, 1950s. University Archives Photos.
Call Number: RG 66/12 1950s Negatives: Athletic Department: Baseball (Photos).
Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

Caitlin Donnelly
Head of Public Services

Meet the KSRL Staff: Lynn Ward

February 20th, 2018

This is the thirteenth (lucky number thirteen!) installment in a recurring series of posts introducing readers to the staff of Kenneth Spencer Research Library. Today’s profile features Lynn Ward, who joined the Spencer Research Library processing unit in late October as a processing archivist. 

Where are you from?
Since most of my adult life has been spent in Lawrence, I like to say that’s where I’m from. I grew up in Missouri but attended the University of Kansas for my bachelor’s degree (anthropology) and masters (museum studies). I have moved from Lawrence a few times, but I keep coming back!

What does your job at Spencer entail?
How do researchers know what’s on the shelves in the archives? That’s my job. I work on making all the amazing information that is here in the library—in documents, letters, maps, photographs, diaries, drawings, scrapbooks, and records—accessible. I do that by processing donations and collections and then making finding aids for them online. Then the information contained in the donations and collections can be searched, found, and utilized.

Lynn Ward in the Kansas Collection Stacks

Making Spencer’s collections accessible:
Lynn Ward in the Kansas Collection stacks.

How did you come to work at Spencer Research Library?
This isn’t the first time I have worked at Spencer Research Library. When I was a graduate student in the Museum Studies program here at KU, I worked in the University Archives up on the 4th floor. That was my first archives position. Since then, I have had a long career working in a variety of museums, archives, and libraries. At each one, I have learned new skills, experienced many situations, and gained lots of knowledge! I’m happy to bring all this to Spencer Research Library where I can use all these skills and knowledge, plus learn even more from the excellent staff here. In a way, I’ve come full circle and now I’m back home.

What is one of the most interesting items you’ve come across in Spencer’s collections?
It’s hard to narrow down one, because I find it all so interesting! I have worked on some great collections since starting here in late October. But, I would have to say that I am most interested in the territorial Kansas and also the early KU history material. In the lobby of the Spencer Research Library there is a map of Lawrence from 1854 that I love to look at—especially since “Kansas” is spelled with a “z”—“Kanzas.” I also like to walk in the North Gallery and see a cross-section of all the fascinating collections that are in the library. I love looking at all of the books and exhibits in that beautiful space.

Picture of the 1854 SearleMap of Lawrence housed in the Spencer Research Library Lobby

Map of “Lawrence City, Kanzas Territory, Surveyed Oct. 1854 by A. D. Searl.”
This map hangs in the Spencer Research Library lobby. Click image to enlarge.

What part of your job do you like best?
I like the feeling of being part of a team. We are all working to make the collections accessible so that everyone—the public, historians, students, genealogists—can benefit from them.

What are some of your favorite pastimes outside of work?
I love, love, love to travel and explore. I’m happy going anyplace and doing anything. For example, a few weeks ago, I went with a friend on a fun daytrip exploring territorial history in Big Springs, Kansas. And last summer, my daughter and I found a cool shark’s tooth near Hays, Kansas. (I’m a huge dinosaur and prehistoric life fan.) I enjoy little adventures like that! I’ve got two teenage kids, so my husband and I spend a lot of our time involved in their activities. I also read a lot—mostly books about Kansas history—but I do enjoy a good historical fiction or a Michael Creighton novel, too!

What piece of advice would you offer a researcher walking into Spencer Research Library for the first time?
I would tell them to take the time to talk to the reference room staff. If the staff know about your research project, they can help you think of resources here at Spencer Research Library.

World War I Letters of Forrest W. Bassett: February 19-25, 1918

February 19th, 2018

In honor of the centennial of World War I, we’re going to follow the experiences of one American soldier: nineteen-year-old Forrest W. Bassett, whose letters are held in Spencer’s Kansas Collection. Each Monday we’ll post a new entry, which will feature selected letters from Forrest to thirteen-year-old Ava Marie Shaw from that following week, one hundred years after he wrote them.

Forrest W. Bassett was born in Beloit, Wisconsin, on December 21, 1897 to Daniel F. and Ida V. Bassett. On July 20, 1917 he was sworn into military service at Jefferson Barracks near St. Louis, Missouri. Soon after, he was transferred to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, for training as a radio operator in Company A of the U. S. Signal Corps’ 6th Field Battalion.

Ava Marie Shaw was born in Chicago, Illinois, on October 12, 1903 to Robert and Esther Shaw. Both of Marie’s parents – and her three older siblings – were born in Wisconsin. By 1910 the family was living in Woodstock, Illinois, northwest of Chicago. By 1917 they were in Beloit.

Frequently mentioned in the letters are Forrest’s older half-sister Blanche Treadway (born 1883), who had married Arthur Poquette in 1904, and Marie’s older sister Ethel (born 1896).

Highlights from this week’s letters include speculation that Forrest’s unit will soon leave for Europe, partially based on the departure of other soldiers from Fort Leavenworth, and discussion about the new .45 caliber Colt automatic pistol he was issued (“Now don’t you wish I could come home and go shooting with you? I can hardly wait for the target practice”).

 

Friday Feb. 22, 1918.

Dear Marie,

We are celebrating Washington’s birthday by taking the day off. We are having regular Spring weather after a short cold snap. Every few minutes this morning someone would remark “’Wish we had them durn horses back,” and believe me “them’s my sentiments,” too. You should see our radio class in the new stables. We have big tables and a number of buzzers and a large blackboard nailed on the wall. We have fifty minute periods, the same as in High School, do assigned problems in electricity, and have buzzer practice in here.

The Fifth Battalion, S.C. [Signal Corps] left for the coast a few days ago. There were quite a number of the boy’s mothers, wives and “best girls” to see them off. Believe me, those fellows looked pretty “blue.” Not very much “Where-do-we-go-from-here-boys” spirit in the whole outfit.

We expect to go within the next four weeks. Our mess sergeant has orders to be prepared to provide us with one days rations at the port of Embarkation and five days rations in England. I quit helping the Supply Sergeant Monday with the clerical and strong back stuff. We know now just what we lack and the requisition was sent in last week. We will get our guns in U.S. but new French radio equipment on the other side.

We were issued thirty .45 cal. Colt automatic pistols, yesterday, for practice on the range. These will be returned to the Ordnance Dept. before we leave. They sure are some guns. When you take the barrel of one out to clean it, it looks like a piece of young gas pipe. In appearance the .45 Colt is the same as yours, which is a .25 cal., but the working parts inside are altogether different. The hammer is outside and can be cocked with the thumb.(?) The .45 caliber bullet only lacks 5/100 of an inch of being twice the diameter of the .25 cal., so you can see how large the cartridge is. Now don’t you wish I could come home and go shooting with you? I can hardly wait for the target practice. Did you get the S.C. Drill book yet? I know the package got there alright.

No, I don’t care to learn to dance at any time. To have a share in making the Kaiser dance is the height of my ambition and I don’t care two whoops after that.

Glad you are having good luck with your elocution. Did “Bat” perform, he is “right there” when he does.

Stock is getting along great at Champaign, Ill. I will send his letter to Mother as soon as I answer it.

Say, if you ever get a chance to see Elsie Ferguson in “Rose of the World,” don’t miss it.

Well I must drop a line to Blanche.

Sincerely,
Forrest.

 

Image of Forrest W. Bassett's letter to Ava Marie Shaw, February 25, 1918 Image of Forrest W. Bassett's letter to Ava Marie Shaw, February 25, 1918

Image of Forrest W. Bassett's letter to Ava Marie Shaw, February 25, 1918

Click images to enlarge.

Monday, Feb. 25, ’18.

Dear Marie,

A letter from you this morning and a cake tomorrow, I hope. I know I need not worry about how good it will be if “S.M.A.” [Ava Marie Shaw, backwards] made it.

I don’t remember what day it was when we went to Rockford, but I do remember that game of “rhum” we played before we went to the theatre. I think you wore that silk dress with the big pockets – didn’t you? Anyway, I know how hard it was for me to keep from holding you tight in my arms for just a short second. But I didn’t dare to for fear you wouldn’t understand. What would you have done, can you tell me?

Gee, little Sweetheart I am mighty thankful that nothing ever did happen to spoil your trust in me.

I am thankful too that I can help you in the way you spoke of in your last letter. Please tell me when ever I can help you in any possible way. I am going to try and answer every letter you write from now on. It won’t be very long now until we leave. Tonight another trainload of Engineers pulled out. We could see them from the mess hall windows while we ate supper. It made me think of the last train I took to Chicago and then to You.

Well the “Y” Secretary just said ten minutes till lights out so goodnight.

With love, Forrest.

 

Meredith Huff
Public Services

Emma Piazza
Public Services Student Assistant