Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

Langston Hughes in Lawrence, Kansas

January 30th, 2017

In honor of Langston Hughes’s birthday on February 1, we remember his time in Lawrence:

Langston Hughes spent his early boyhood in Lawrence, Kansas. In a presentation at the University of Kansas in 1965 he recalled: “The first place I remember is Lawrence, right here. And the specific street is Alabama Street. And then we moved north, we moved to New York Street shortly thereafter. The first church I remember is the A.M.E. Church on the corner of Ninth, I guess it is, and New York. That is where I went to Sunday School, where I almost became converted, which I tell about in The Big Sea, my autobiography.”


Title page of The Big Sea, by Langston Hughes (first edition, 1940).
Hughes signed this copy for the University of Kansas. Call number RH C7422.
Click image to enlarge.

Hughes lived with his maternal grandmother, Mary Sampson Patterson Leary Langston, at 732 Alabama Street. The house does not exist today. His grandmother was the widow of one of the men killed with John Brown at Harpers Ferry (Lewis Sheridan Leary), and later married Hughes’s grandfather, the ardent abolitionist Charles Howard Langston.

Langston’s years in Lawrence with his grandmother were lonely and frugal. In 1909 he entered the second grade at Pinckney School, having started school in Topeka, KS, while living briefly with his mother. He was placed with other African American children in a separate room for his education. At various times between 1909 and 1915 Langston and his grandmother lived with friends James W. and Mary Reed at 731 New York Street. Hughes also attended New York School, and Central School, where he was reportedly a good student. Langston lived with the Reeds after his grandmother’s death in March 1915, and left Lawrence to join his mother in Illinois later in the year.

Photograph of Langston Hughes. Call number RH PH P2790.
Click image to enlarge (redirect to Spencer’s digital collections).

As he writes in The Big Sea:

“The ideas for my first novel had been in my head for a long time. I wanted to write about a typical Negro family in the Middle West, about people like those I had known in Kansas. But mine was not a typical Negro family. My grandmother never took in washing or worked in service or went much to church. She had lived in Oberlin and spoke perfect English, without a trace of dialect. She looked like an Indian. My mother was a newspaper woman and a stenographer then. My father lived in Mexico City. My granduncle had been a congressman. And there were heroic memories of John Brown’s raid and the underground railroad in the family storehouse. But I thought maybe I had been a typical Negro boy. I grew up with the other Negro children of Lawrence, sons and daughters of family friends. I had an uncle of sorts who ran a barber shop in Kansas City. And later I had a stepfather who was a wanderer. We were poor – but different. For purposes of the novel, however, I created around myself what seemed to me a family more typical of Negro life in Kansas than my own had been. I gave myself aunts that I didn’t have, modeled after other children’s aunts whom I had known. But I put in a real cyclone that had blown my grandmother’s front porch away.”

Sheryl Williams
Curator, Kansas Collection

Adapted from the Spencer Research Library exhibit, Langston Hughes: A Voice for All People.

Exhibiting Free Speech: The Wilcox Collection at 50

March 16th, 2015

This post is written to highlight the current exhibit at Spencer Library: Free Speech in America: The Wilcox Collection at 50. A reception will be held on March 25 at Spencer Library to celebrate the Wilcox Collection.

Fifty years ago Laird Wilcox was a student at the University of Kansas. He had started collecting political literature in his teen years, fueled in this interest by his diverse family leanings and volatile discussions over family meals. He wanted to understand what motivated people to believe the things they did and act on those beliefs.

In 1964 Laird entered and won the Elizabeth Taylor Book Collecting Contest sponsored by the KU Libraries. The Libraries purchased his collection in 1965 (then four filing cabinets of materials). Today the Wilcox Collection of Contemporary Political Movements is one of the largest assemblages of left and right wing U.S. political materials anywhere. There are thousands and thousands of pamphlets, books, newsletters, audio recordings, and political ephemera such as bumper stickers, posters, flyers, organizational membership mailings, and book catalogs, relating to some 10,000 organizations at the fringes of the political spectrum. There is also a growing component of manuscript collections as well, including Laird Wilcox’s personal papers.

1964 Contest Winners Laird Wilcox, Lawrence Morgan, and Jerry L. Ulrich, with Elizabeth M. Taylor.

The winners of the Taylor Book Collecting Contest, KU Libraries, 1964. Laird Wilcox, far left, and Elizabeth M. Taylor (sponsor of the contest), second from left. University Archives. Call Number: RG 32/40. Click image to enlarge.

Laird Wilcox in Wilcox Collection stacks, University of Kansas Libraries

Laird Wilcox standing in the Wilcox Collection stacks, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, KU, 1996. University Archives. Call number: RG P/LW. Click image to enlarge.

In 2015 an exhibit was mounted in Spencer Research Library to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Wilcox Collection. The exhibit includes examples of books, newsletters, and ephemera, and highlights some of the many books that have resulted from research in the collection. Materials from the collection include items from a scrapbook that Laird kept as chair of the Student Union Association Minority Opinions Forum, a FBI wanted poster with photos of Bernadine Dohrn and William Ayers from the ephemera file of the Weather Underground, and examples of Laird’s many publications.

Flyer from Wilcox Collection depicting American flag

Poster for a documentary film shown at KU in 1964 focusing on the Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC). From the Laird Wilcox scrapbook. Kansas Collection. Call number: RH WL MS Q5. Click image to enlarge.

Wanted poster from Wilcox Collection, University of Kansas Libraries

FBI wanted poster from the ephemera file of the Weather Underground which operated as an underground urban guerilla force. Kansas Collection. Call number: RH WL EPH 2094. Click image to enlarge.

One of the strongest features of the Wilcox Collection is ephemeral materials, including bumper stickers, buttons, and flyers. Because of their “throw-away” nature ephemera are often overlooked as an information source, but can provide the original message of the creator in a way that is often concise and colorful.  On display are materials from the National Youth Alliance, Community Churches of America, the American Education Lobby, the Lesbian/Gay Labor Alliance, the Student Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam, T.R.A.I.N. (To Restore American Independence Now), Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum, Phoebe Courtney’s Tax Fax, and The Fact Finder published by Harry Everington. There are more than 200,000 pieces of ephemera in the Wilcox Collection.

Ephemeral materials from Wilcox Collection, Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas

Representative ephemera from the Wilcox Collection. Kansas Collection. Call number: RH WL EPH. Click image to enlarge.

The Wilcox Collection is a prime example of one of the world-class collections that reside within the Kenneth Spencer Research Library. Researchers from many parts of the globe have traveled to the KU campus to view this collection, an opportunity that is easily available to KU’s students and faculty.

Rebecca Schulte
University Archivist and Curator, Wilcox Collection

Sherry Williams
Curator of Collections and Curator, Kansas Collection

 

 

Charles Scott and the Struggle for Civil Rights

February 21st, 2014

Charles Scott, a prominent attorney in Topeka, Kansas, was born in 1921. He served in the U.S. Army during World War II, and later graduated from Washburn Law School. He joined the law firm established by his father, Elisha Scott, Sr., a well-known trial lawyer in the region. During his early years in practice Charles Scott and his father were successful in securing racial integration of elementary schools in South Park, Johnson County, Kansas. With his brother John H. Scott, he represented plaintiffs in several cases that sought to establish the right of access to swimming pools, theaters, and restaurants in Topeka for African Americans.

In 1954 Charles Scott was one of several attorneys who filed and presented the initial case for the plaintiffs in the landmark Supreme Court case Oliver Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka. He also appeared as counselor for the plaintiffs before the United States Supreme Court, whose ruling ended segregation in public schools.

The Scott Collection includes personal and professional papers that reflect Mr. Scott’s lifelong pursuit of civil rights issues.

Telegram from Thurgood Marshall to Charles Scott

Telegram to Charles Scott from Thurgood Marshall, April 6, 1955. Charles Scott Papers.
Call Number: RH MS 1145 Box 2, Folder 29. Click image to enlarge.

Among Scott’s papers is the above telegram from Thurgood Marshall. Marshall, then serving as Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, contacted Scott to receive confirmation of a timetable for desegregation of Topeka schools following the 1954 Supreme Court ruling ending school segregation.

This April, the University of Kansas will host a series of events to mark the 60th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education case.  These will include a KU Libraries exhibition opening (Lasting Impact: Brown vs the Board of Education) on the evening of April 11th and a daylong seminar on April 12th. Both events will consider the legacy of the case and its implications.  For additional information, please see the following news release.

Sheryl Williams
Curator of Collections and Kansas Collection Curator

Quantrill’s Raid on Lawrence: Stories of Loss Destruction and Survival

September 6th, 2013

This week we present you with two labels from the Kenneth Spencer Research Library’s current exhibition: “Quantrill’s Raid on Lawrence: Stories of Loss, Destruction and Survival.”  The exhibit, curated by Sheryl Willliams, Spencer’s Curator of Collections, commemorates the 150th anniversary of the infamous attack on Lawrence and draws on materials from the Kansas Collection‘s holdings to illuminate this significant chapter in Kansas history.

Exhibition Title Wall for Quantrill's Raid on Lawrence: Stories of Loss, Destruction and Survival

Title wall for the exhibition featuring a photograph of the 50th anniversary of survivors of Quantrill’s Raid.
August 21, 1913. Courtesy of KU Libraries.  Click image to enlarge or travel to KU Libraries Flickr Stream.

Visitors at the opening reception for Curator of Collections Sheryl Williams speaks to the audience about Quantrill's Raid

Left: Visitors at the opening reception for “Quantrill’s Raid on Lawrence: Stories of Loss, Destruction and Survival”
Right: Curator of Collections Sheryl Williams speaks on Quantrill’s Raid.
Click image to enlarge or travel to KU Libraries Flickr Stream

The exhibition is open to the public in the Spencer Research Library’s gallery through the end of October and available online at http://exhibits.lib.ku.edu/exhibits/show/quantrill.  We encourage readers to explore its moving stories of loss and resilience.

Hell Let Loose

On August 21, 1863 Quantrill and some four hundred men rode into Lawrence, on a dawn raid, catching the citizens by surprise, in spite of earlier rumors of possible attack. At the end of four hours at least 143 men and teen aged boys, most unarmed and unresisting, were known dead, many killed in front of their wives and children. Most of the business district was destroyed by fire, and many homes were plundered and burned. Lawrence was in ruins and its remaining citizens in shock and despair.

According to an account of the raid written shortly afterwards by Rev. Richard Cordley:

No one expected indiscriminate slaughter. When it was known that the town was in their possession, everybody expected that they would rob and burn the town, kill all military men they could find, and a few marked characters. But few expected a wholesale murder. … A gentlemen who was concealed where he could see the whole , said the scene presented was the most perfect realization of the slang phrase, “Hell let loose,” that could ever be imagined.

Destruction of Lawrence, an artist's sketch from Harper's Weekly. September 5, 1863

Destruction of Lawrence, an artist’s sketch from Harper’s Weekly. September 5, 1863. Call Number: RH PH 18:L:8.5. Online Exhibition item link.

The Horror And Sorrow

Excerpted from “William Clarke Quantrill and the Civil War Raid on Lawrence, Kansas, August 21, 1863, an Eyewitness Account,” Rev. Richard Cordley,  edited by Richard B. Sheridan, 1999.

As the scene at their entrance was one of the wildest, the scene after their departure was one of the saddest that ever met mortal gaze.  Massachusetts Street was one bed of embers.  On this street seventy-five buildings, containing at least twice that number of places of business and offices, were destroyed.  The dead lay all along the side-walk, many of them so burned that they could not be recognized, and could scarcely be taken up.  Here and there among the embers could be seen the bones of those who had perished in the buildings and had been consumed.  On two sides of another block lay seventeen bodies.  Almost the first sight that met our gaze, was a father almost frantic, looking for the remains of his son among the embers of his office.  The work of gathering and burying the dead soon began.  From every quarter they were being brought in, until the floor of the Methodist Church, which was taken as a sort of a hospital, was covered with dead and wounded.  In almost every house could be heard the wail of the widow and orphan. The work of burying was sad and wearying.  Coffins could not be procured.  Many carpenters were killed and most of the living had lost their tools.  But they rallied nobly and worked day and night, making pine and walnut boxes, fastening them together with the burnt nails gathered from the ruins of the stores. It sounded rather harsh to the ear of the mourner, to have the lid nailed over the bodies of their loved ones; but it was the best that could be done.  Thus the work went on for three days, til one hundred and twenty-two were deposited in the Cemetery, and many others in their own yard.  Fifty-three were buried in one long grave. Early on the morning after the massacre, our attention was attracted by loud wailings.  We went in the direction of the sound, and among the ashes of a building, sat a woman, holding in her hands the blackened skull of her husband, who was shot and burned at that place.

Photograph of Reverend Richard Cordley Image of William Elsey Connelley's  “Map of Quantrill's Route,” 1819.

Left: Reverend Richard Cordley, no date. Call Number: RH PH 18:K:205(f). Online exhibition item link.
Right: William Elsey Connelley’s map showing the route followed in pursuing Quantrill after the Raid, no date. Call Number: RH Map P7. Online exhibition item link.

Sheryl Williams
Curator of Collections and Kansas Collection Librarian

Collection Snapshot: Teacher on the Plains

January 11th, 2013

Kate Warthen was a teacher who homesteaded and taught in Hamilton County, Kansas in the 1880s.
Shown here are her 1889 teaching contract, and a photo of her as a young woman.

Photograph of Kate Warthen Searcy as a young woman

Photograph of Kate Warthen Teaching Contract, 1889

 

Top: Photo of Kate Warthen. Kate Warthen Searcy Photograph Collection. Call Number: RH MS-P 34, box 1, folder 3. Bottom: Kate Warthen Teaching Contract, 1889.  Kate Warthen Searcy Papers.  Call Number: RH MS 34, box 2, folder 7. Click images to enlarge. 

Sheryl Williams
Curator of Collections / Kansas Collection Curator