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Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

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Welcome to the Kenneth Spencer Research Library blog! As the special collections and archives library at the University of Kansas, Spencer is home to remarkable and diverse collections of rare and unique items. Explore the blog to learn about the work we do and the materials we collect.

Political Junkie?

November 3rd, 2020

Today is Election Day, so in the spirit of voting and civic engagement, we’re featuring a collection full to the brim with politicians.

Wayne Davis taught history and was a high school principal in Cherryvale, KS, before joining, in 1972, the History faculty at what is now Highland Community College. In addition to his busy day job, he maintained a side passion:  collecting signed photographs of US politicians and federal officials. His collection at Spencer Research Library (MS 189) consists of autographed pictures and brief letters from close to 260 public figures, collected between the late 1940s and the 1970s. Included are politicians like New York Member of Congress Bella Abzug (1920-1988), a feminist and civil rights advocate reintroduced to a new generation through the 2020 TV series, Mrs. America; Michigan Governor George Romney (1907-1995), who in 1968 ran for the Republican party nomination that Richard Nixon would eventually secure; and Massachusetts Member of Congress Thomas P. (Tip) O’Neill, Jr. (1912-1994), who also served as Speaker of the House from January 1977 to January 1987.

Signed photograph of New York Member of Congress, Bella Abzug. Signed photograph of Michigan Governor George Romney Signed photograph of Massachusetts Member of Congress Tip O'Neill. 

Bella Abzug, Representative for New York ; George Romney, Michigan Governor; and Thomas P. (Tip) O’Neill, Representative for Massachusetts. Wayne Davis Collection. Call #: MS 189, Box 1, Folder: Abzug, Box2, Folder: Romney and Folder: O’Neill . Please click images to enlarge. Bonus points to anyone who can read the faint blue ink of O’Neill’s inscription.

Davis would often annotate the back of the signed photographs with notes about the politician’s date of birth, political party, religion, and career, as seen on the signed photograph of Wyoming Senator Joseph C. O’Mahoney (1884-1962).   

Photograph of Wyoming Senator Joseph C. O'Mahoney with the inscription, "To Wayne Davis / With cordial good wishes / Joseph C. O'Mahoney / May 4, 1949" Davis's notes on back of photograph of Joseph C. O'Mahoney regarding's career, religion (Catholic), party (Democrat), date of birth, etc. 

“With cordial good wishes”: Inscribed photograph of Wyoming Senator, Joseph C. O’Mahoney, with Davis’s notes on O’Mahoney and his career. Wayne Davis Collection. Call #: MS 189, Box 2, Folder: O’Mahoney. Click images to enlarge.

Davis appears to have collected the majority of these by simply writing to the figure in question.  “My hobby is collecting autographed pictures of famous people,” he explained in a 1966 letter to former Montana Representative, Jeanette Rankin (1880-1973), “to be used both as a hobby and in my classroom work.” As a suffragist and the first woman elected to Congress (winning a House seat in 1916, and then again in 1940), Rankin would certainly have been a “get” for Davis’s collection. However, in this particular instance, he would have to be satisfied with just an autograph. “Sorry— I have no picture,” Rankin jots in reply along the side of his letter (below), before signing her name.  Although Rankin was 85 at the time Davis sent his request, she wasn’t entirely retired from politics. In fact, in 1968, she would lead the “Jeanette Rankin Brigade,” a march of women’s groups on Washington, DC to protest the Vietnam War. A committed pacifist, Rankin was the only member of Congress to vote against US participation in both World War I and World War II. Though Davis did not succeed with Rankin, his collection is a testament that many other politicians obliged his requests.

Letter from Wayne Davis to Jeannette Rankin, with Rankin's reply in manuscript, original letter dated April 2, 1966.
“Sorry– I have no picture”: Letter from Wayne Davis to Jeannette Rankin, suffragist and former Member of US House of Representatives for Montana, dated April 2, 1966, with Rankin’s manuscript reply. Wayne Davis Collection. Call #: MS 189, Box 2, Folder: Rankin. Please click image to enlarge.

Davis also collected signed photographs for federal officials, and to a much smaller extent foreign dignitaries, heads of state, and public figures such as astronauts and entertainers. Supreme Court Justices Thurgood Marshall (1908-1993) and William H. Rehnquist (1924-2005) are both represented in the collection. Marshall’s signed photograph is accompanied by a brief note on his letterhead as Solicitor General of the United States. Dated June 27, 1967, it was sent to Davis shortly after his nomination to the Supreme Court (on June 13, 1967) but before his confirmation (on August 30, 1967).

Signed photograph of Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall  Signed photograph of Supreme Court Justice William H. Rehnquist. 

Supreme Court Justices: Thurgood Marshall and William H. Rehnquist. Wayne Davis Collection. Call #: MS 189, Box 2, Folders Marshall and Rehnquist. Click images to enlarge. 

In the later years of his collecting, Davis also sent queries to several politicians, seeking their opinions on the “Mayaguez Incident” and President Ford’s 1974 pardon of Richard Nixon. Among those to respond on the issue of the pardon were Texas Representative Barbara Jordan (1936-1996) and Kansas Representative and Senator Robert J. Dole (1923- ).  Replying in February 1977, Dole (or an aide replying in his stead), wrote: “… I must say that at the time of the pardon, I was very distressed by the action taken by President Ford.  Although in retrospect, I now feel that it was necessary to put Watergate and all of its ramifications behind us so that the nation could move forward.”  He continued that he felt that Ford’s “controversial decision had an adverse effect on his chances in the recent campaign,” alluding to Ford’s loss to Jimmy Carter in the 1976 presidential election.

A lawyer by training, Representative Barbara Jordan served on the U.S. House Judiciary Committee as it considered articles of impeachment.  Her speech at the opening of the committee’s hearing is praised as one of the finest examples of American political oratory (you can read and watch it here). Though the committee approved articles of impeachment, Nixon resigned before the process advanced further in the House and the Senate. It is that unfinished process and a lawyer’s eye for legal detail that shapes Jordan’s reply to Davis.  “I did not feel the pardon was appropriate at that particular time,” she (or her aide) explained, “There were many questions regarding the whole Watergate affair which remain unanswered. Also, Mr. Nixon had not been indicted or convicted of any civil or criminal offenses.” Jordan’s reply to Davis, sent in August of 1976, came at a landmark moment. in her career.  A month earlier, she had made history as both the first woman and the first African American to give the keynote address at a Democratic National Convention

Envelope and Letter from Barbara Jordan, Member of Congress for Texas, to Wayne Davis concerning Ford pardon of Nixon.
Parsing Pardons: Letter, with envelope, from Texas Representative Barbara Jordan to Wayne Davis, August 20, 1976. Wayne Davis Collection. Call #: MS 189, Box 2, Folder: Jordan. Click image to enlarge.

Wayne Davis’s collection offers a photo-friendly and slightly idiosyncratic glimpse into American politics, but it is just one of many potential points of entry for researchers. Spencer Library, for example, holds the papers of a number of Kansas politicians, from former Governors Robert Blackwell Docking and Robert F. Bennett, to former US Congresswoman Jan Meyers, to former Kansas State Senate and House Representative Billy Q. McCray, to name but a few. And Spencer Library’s Wilcox Collection of Contemporary Political Movements is one of the largest collections of US left and right wing literature in the country. 

We invite you to explore politics across our collections and—most importantly—to engage by casting your vote! Polls are open in Kansas until 7 p.m. today.

Elspeth Healey
Special Collections Librarian

Thurgood Marshall Materials at Spencer Research Library

October 13th, 2017

Photograph of Thurgood Marshall and unidentified man, undated

Photograph of Thurgood Marshall (left) and an unidentified man, undated.
As shown by the apron he’s wearing, Marshall was a member of
Prince Hall Masons. J. B. Anderson Papers and Photographs.
Call Number: RH MS 1230. Click image to enlarge.

In recognizing the humanity of our fellow beings, we pay ourselves the highest tribute.

             – Thurgood Marshall, Supreme Court Justice, 1967-1991

In 1967, Thurgood Marshall became the first African American justice appointed to the Supreme Court of the United States. Before his tenure on the Supreme Court, Marshall was a renowned attorney and founder of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and he championed civil rights through his work. One of these cases, State of Connecticut v. Spell, is the topic of the new movie Marshall. The film’s national release date – October 13th – closely coincides with the 50th anniversary of Marshall’s swearing in as a Supreme Court Justice (October 2, 1967).

Inspired by the release of Marshall, and in honor of the life and legacy of this remarkable man, Spencer Research Library invites you to explore our collections related to one of Thurgood Marshall’s most famous court cases: Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark case that ended racial segregation in schools.

Image of a letter from Thurgood Marshall to Charles S. Scott, July 30, 1952

Letter from Thurgood Marshall to Charles S. Scott, July 30, 1952.
Charles S. Scott Papers. Call Number: RH MS 1145.
Click image to enlarge.

Image of a telegraph from Thurgood Marshall to Charles S. Scott, April 6, 1955

Telegraph from Thurgood Marshall to Charles S. Scott, April 6, 1955.
Charles S. Scott Papers. Call Number: RH MS 1145. Click image to enlarge.

Charles S. Scott papers: Charles S. Scott was a prominent lawyer in Topeka, Kansas, and served as the attorney for one of the plaintiffs in the original Brown v. Board of Education Kansas case. Included in this collection are documents and correspondence from his work on Brown v. Board of Education, as well as materials related to his legal career and personal life.

J. B. Anderson papers and photographs – J. B. Anderson was a Topeka, Kansas, resident and active community member. He was also a popular photographer who documented the local African American community and their experiences in Topeka. In the photographs of this collection are a few photos of Thurgood Marshall at a Chicago-area Masonic event.

Brown Foundation for Educational Equity, Excellence and Research records – The Brown Foundation was established by community members in 1988 as a tribute to those involved in Brown v. Topeka Board of Education case. The Brown Foundation continues to provide support educational opportunities throughout the world. After years of work, the Brown Foundation also successfully secured designation as a National Historic Landmark for Monroe School – a key site in the history of the Brown v. Board of Education case. The site was later established as a unit of the National Park Service.

Emily Beran
Public Services

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