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 #: RH MS-P 1439, Box 1, Folder 3

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

Kansas Leader and Innovator: Delano Lewis

January 16th, 2018

One of my first projects in the African American Experience Collections was to help the Field Archivist/Curator, Deborah Dandridge, put together an exhibit titled Education: The Mightiest Weapon. Many of the items that we used came from the Sumner High School Collection, and it didn’t take long for me to notice how accomplished the graduates of that school were. As coincidence would have it, one of my relatives, Delano Lewis, is a Sumner High graduate. Like many of Sumner’s graduates, he went on to accomplish great things like working as an attorney in the U.S. Justice Department, becoming Associate Director for the Peace Corps in Nigeria and Uganda, and being appointed as the United States Ambassador to South Africa.

Delano Eugene Lewis was born in November of 1938 in Arkansas City, Kansas. His family later moved to Kansas City, Kansas, where he attended Sumner High School, graduating in 1956.

Photograph of Delano Lewis, Drum Major, Sumner High School, 1956

Photograph in the 1956 Sumnerian yearbook showing
Delano Lewis (center) as a Drum Major at Sumner High School.
Call Number: RH Ser D1286. Click image to enlarge.

Sumnerian yearbook photograph of Delano Lewis,
President of the Junior Class of
Sumner High School, 1955.
Call Number: RH Ser D1286. Click image to enlarge.

Lewis graduated from the University of Kansas in 1960 with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and History. In 1963, he received his Doctorate of Jurisprudence from Washburn University School of Law, after which he went to Washington, D.C., to work as an attorney in the U.S. Department of Justice. In 1967 Lewis served as the Peace Corps’ Country Director in Uganda. After leaving Uganda, he worked as a Legal Assistant for Senator Edward Brooke (R-Mass.), the first African American elected to the U.S. Senate since Reconstruction.

Photograph of Delano Lewis with Senator Edward Brooke and Vice President Walter Mondale, undated

Delano Lewis (center) with Senator Edward Brooke (left) and
Vice President Walter Mondale (right), undated photograph.
Delano Lewis Papers. Call Number: RH MS-P 1075.
Click image to enlarge.

While he held esteemed positions in service of the U.S. government, Lewis also had an impressive corporate career. He served as the Public Affairs Manager for the Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Company in 1973, and in 1990 he became the CEO. In 1993, Lewis was the first African American become the President and CEO of National Public Radio. Then from 1999 to 2001, Lewis was appointed to be the U.S. Ambassador to South Africa.

Photograph of Delano Lewis with Al Gore, 1997

Delano Lewis (center) with Vice President Al Gore (left), 1997.
Delano Lewis Papers. Call Number: RH MS-P 1075. Click image to enlarge.

Initially proposed and funded by Michael Shinn (B.S., Aerospace Engineering, 1966), the KU Black Alumni’s African American Leaders and Innovators project recognized Mr. Lewis in 2007.

Arielle Swopes
Spencer Research Library Student Assistant
African American Experience Collections

Deborah Dandridge
Field Archivist and Curator
African American Experience Collections

Education: The Mightiest Weapon

March 22nd, 2017

Spencer’s current exhibit Education: The Mightiest Weapon is free and open to the public in the Spencer Exhibit Space through May 18, 2017, during the library’s regular business hours.

Field Archivist and Curator Deborah Dandridge with
her student assistant Arielle Swopes. Click image to enlarge.

“While white folks have been wrangling as to whether colored children should be admitted into the public schools,” reported the Evening Dispatch newspaper in 1859, “Mrs. Burnham, a colored woman, has been teaching a school for Negro children on the corner of Potawatomie and Third streets,” in Leavenworth, Kansas. Like Mrs. Burnham, African American settlers in Kansas found a variety of ways to pursue their cultural tradition of placing a high value on formal education, despite laws and practices that denied them equal access to all public schools.

Education: The Mightiest Weapon highlights the public school experiences of African Americans governed by the 1879 Kansas law allowing public school boards in cities of 10,000 or more to decide whether to establish racially segregated grade schools. Except for special legislation passed in 1905 for Kansas City, Kansas, Kansas law prohibited racially segregated public high schools. It features schools in Kansas’ urban and rural areas, African American state supported schools, and the 1951 U.S. District Court case in the landmark 1954 Brown v. Topeka Board of Education U.S. Supreme Court decision.

Setting up the Education exhibit

Setting up for the exhibit. Click image to enlarge.

Photograph of Zachary Lassiter and Arielle Swopes

Zachary Lassiter, a Public Services student at Spencer Library
majoring in history, with Arielle Swopes. Click image to enlarge.

Statement from student assistant Arielle Swopes

In 2014 I started at KU as a Behavioral Neuroscience major, and began working as a student assistant in Kenneth Spencer Research Library. Working on the current exhibit, Education: The Mightiest Weapon, has given me even greater insight about how enduring and adaptable African Americans have been. For this exhibit I’ve had access to hundreds of pictures and been able to read letters, petitions, newspapers, and posters that all show the daily life and struggles of African Americans from the 1890s to the 1970s. From all of these materials it is easy to see the determination that these people had to always find a way to persevere.

Photograph of the Sumner High School Second Orchestra, 1918

Sumner High School Second Orchestra,
Kansas City, Kansas, 1918. Sumner High School Collection.
Call Number: RH MS-P 1137. Click image to enlarge.

Photograph of the first page of a letter to the Lawrence School Board, 1942 Photograph of the second page of a letter to the Lawrence School Board, 1942

A letter from the city’s African American community to the
Lawrence, Kansas, School Board opposing the Board’s
suggested plan to place all African American elementary students
in Lincoln School in North Lawrence, November 12, 1942.
USD 497 (Lawrence School District) Collection.
Call Number: RH MS 1255. Click image to enlarge.

Photograph of the Monroe School eighth grade class, 1932

Eighth grade graduating class of Monroe School, Topeka, Kansas, 1932.
Cooper-Sheppard-Cox Family Collection. Call Number: RH MS-P 576.
Click image to enlarge.

Arielle Swopes
Spencer Research Library Student Assistant
African American Experience Collections

Deborah Dandridge
Field Archivist and Curator
African American Experience Collections

Exhibition Snapshot: Sumner High School, Kansas City, KS

February 27th, 2017

Spencer Research Library’s current exhibition, Education: The Mightiest Weapon,” highlights African American school experiences in the state of Kansas, focusing primarily on the period before 1955.  In the coming days we’ll feature a longer post on the exhibition, but today we share an image and a label to whet your appetite. “Education: The Mightiest Weapon” is on display in Spencer Library’s gallery space through May 18th, 2017.

Sumner High School, Kansas City, KS

Sumner is a child not of our own volition but rather an offspring of the race antipathy of a bygone period. It was a veritable blessing in disguise—a flower of which we may proudly say, “The bud had a bitter taste, but sweet indeed is the flower”

Photograph of Students in Chemistry Classroom, 1930s, Sumner High School, Kansas City, KS

Chemistry Classroom, 1930s, Sumner High School.  Sumner High School Collection. Call #: RH MS-P 1137.
Click image to enlarge.

In 1905, the Kansas State Legislature passed a law exempting Kansas City, Kansas from the state law prohibiting racially segregated public high schools. Reluctantly, the Governor of Kansas E. W. Hoch signed the bill, but persuaded the majority of Kansas City, Kansas voters to construct a new high school building for African Americans at no less than $40,000 and to be as well-equipped as the existing Kansas City, Kansas High School. Determined to overcome the inequities of racial segregation, the teachers, students and community members of Sumner High School strove to develop a tradition of academic excellence. They countered the local school board’s proposals for an emphasis on manual training courses by implementing a curriculum that emphasized college preparatory classes at Sumner.  By 1914, Sumner was a member of the prestigious North Central Association of Secondary Schools. Until the 1970s, the majority of African American students attending the University of Kansas were graduates of Sumner High School.

Sumner closed in 1978 under a federally mandated plan for racial integration of schools in Kansas City, Kansas.

Deborah Dandridge
Field Archivist and Curator, African American Experience Collections

Meet the KSRL Staff: Deborah Dandridge

February 22nd, 2016

This is the sixth installment in what will be a recurring series of posts introducing readers to the staff of the Kenneth Spencer Research Library. Deborah Dandridge is the Field Archivist/Curator for the African American Experience Collections in our Kansas Collection.

Deborah Dandridge. Field Archivist/Curator for African American Experience Collections.

Deborah Dandridge reading over her presentation notes
at the Black Archives of Mid-America conference held in
Kansas City, MO this past October.

Where are you from?

I was born in Topeka, Kansas, where I attended school K through 12. I began kindergarten at Washington School, one of the city’s four elementary schools designated for African American students and teachers. After the 1954 Brown v. Topeka Board of Education U.S. Supreme Court decision, I completed my grade school education at Washington because my parents determined that Washington’s excellent faculty and supportive environment afforded me the best opportunity for a quality education, although I lived only a half block from a previous whites-only school.

What does your job at Spencer entail?

I reach out to communities across the state for donations of their historical materials (i.e. written and photographic) that document the experiences of African American families, churches, organizations, and businesses and I serve as curator of these materials (i.e. the African American Experience Collections).

How did you come to work at Spencer Research Library?

I began my work in KSRL as field archivist for a 1986-1989 National Historical Publications and Records Commission grant awarded to the Kansas Collection, in cooperation with KU’s African and African American Studies department.

What is the strangest item you’ve come across in Spencer’s collections?

All of the items reflect important experiences in the lives of the donors. They represent special moments or routine activities of the past that inform us about the present.

What part of your job do you like the most?

Visiting with potential donors of materials and participating in community public programs across the Kansas region.

What are your favorite pastimes?

Although it’s difficult, I’m enjoying my new journey into the world of physical training as a client of an expert in the field.

What piece of advice would you offer a researcher walking into Spencer Research Library for the first time?

Be prepared to embark upon a fascinating, never seen before, exploration of the rich, diverse record of human past.

Deborah Dandridge
Field Archivist/Curator
African American Experience Collections
Kansas Collection