Student Activism at Virginia Tech

Throughout the month of May, Special Collections is displaying an exhibit on five decades of student activism at Virginia Tech. The exhibit highlights several campaigns and demonstrations from 1968 through today, including impromptu vigils for Martin Luther King Jr. and Trayvon Martin, the student occupation of Williams Hall in the wake of the Kent State shootings, anti-war marches and pro-military responses, demonstrations against racism and sexual violence, calls for the protection of natural resources in Appalachia, protests against exploitative labor conditions, LGBTQ pride rallies, and campaigns to highlight ADA violations across campus. These materials come from the University Archives and manuscript collections of Virginia Tech alumni.

Alongside these materials, we’ve chosen to highlight the work of a single student organization at Virginia Tech. The Appalachian Student Organizing Committee (or Appalachian Student Committee) operated as an official student organization of Virginia Tech in the early 1970s. The Committee aimed to raise awareness of Appalachian issues and provide support for other grassroots groups in the region. Under the leadership of student organizers David Tice and Allan Cox, the group worked throughout the region to address issues such as land use, energy policy, poverty, access to health care, labor rights, systemic racism in Appalachia, and the Vietnam War.

In May 1971, several chapter members traveled to Washington, D.C. to participate in a national civil disobedience campaign which resulted in the arrest of more than 12,000 people. The Special Collections exhibit includes memos and training materials distributed on campus to student affiliates. Additionally, visitors to Special Collections can review information about the Community Free Clinic of Blacksburg (1971-1972). This initiative was part of a national movement to establish locally responsive and accessible health care throughout the country.

To see these materials in person, visit Special Collections in Newman Library anytime during the month of May.

Advertisements

A Little Something Extra

Archives are so very rarely complete. It’s an unusual thing for the archivist to be able to point to a collection and say with full  confidence, “That’s all there is.” More often, we have to admit, “That’s all we have.” And so, researchers make due with what’s on hand, knowing that someday, some newly discovered item may appear and bring their well-argued theses crashing down. Though it deals with the past, history is a living thing, open to reinterpretation as long-hidden documents are discovered and shared. We regularly hear of such discoveries being made in attics or at flea markets and the like, but sometimes they’re made within the archives itself.

Last month, your blogger was working with a small collection of papers from Sidney B. Jeffreys (Ms1986-007), who graduated from Virginia Tech with a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering in 1931. Jeffreys maintained a lifelong attachment to his alma mater, becoming an active member of the Virginia Tech Alumni Association and a generous supporter of the university. In 1981, he was recognized as a College of Engineering Distinguished Alumnus.  (You can read more about Sidney Jeffreys and his papers here.) Given Jeffreys’ attachment to Virginia Tech, it’s not surprising that most of the papers in his collection relate to his time as a student and his activities as an alumnus.

Most of the university-related materials in Jeffreys’ papers consists of VT publications, and most of these are of the type that are seen by our archivists every day. Included among these were several issues of The Virginia Tech (the forerunner of today’s student newspaper, The Collegiate Times), from the years that Jeffreys attended the university. Here in the department, The Virginia Tech is frequently called upon in the course of answering reference questions or providing students with material for research topics. Our holdings of the paper are nearly—but not quite—complete, and we’re well aware that we lack a couple of years’ worth of issues. As it turns out, though, there was at least one missing issue about which we were unaware:  there,  in Sidney Jeffreys’ papers, was a special, extra edition of The Virginia Tech, published on Saturday, November 10, 1928.

The reason for this extra edition is readily apparent, as it bears a headline that any Hokies fan will enjoy.

The four-page special edition provides a lengthy, detailed description of the homecoming game, played earlier that day before a near-capacity crowd of 8,000 spectators, and it gives a great deal of credit for the win to the exploits of backs Frank Peake and Phil Spear. Elsewhere in this extra edition, readers found a full account of the game between VPI’s freshman team, “The Gobblets,” and their UVA counterparts, which ended in a 13-all tie.

The newspaper also contains articles about the homecoming festivities—this being only the second such event held at Virginia Tech—and about the upcoming observance of Armistice Day. Another brief article announces that plans are underway for a new, modern, and much-needed hotel to be built near the university. On a more somber note, readers learned of the accidental death VPI alumnus Charles B. D. Collyer, a well-known aviator who, just two weeks earlier, had set a new record for a trans-continental flight across the U. S.

Is there anything in this newspaper that will rewrite Virginia Tech history? Well, no (though anybody who’s been looking for a detailed account of the 1928 VPI-Virginia football game will find it a treasure trove). Still, this one item adds just a little detail to the historical record, providing some insight into the activities and cares of the Virginia Tech community in late 1928.

We can only wonder how many more special editions may be out there (or in here), waiting to be found.

The November 10, 1928 extra edition of The Virginia Tech will be added to our existing holdings of the newspaper. It has also been added to the queue in a current project that is digitizing the university’s student newspapers and will soon be making them available online.

Carmen Venegas, VPI’s First International Woman Graduate

Special Collections has celebrated Women’s History Month 2018 with numerous exhibits in Newman Library and the Holtzman Alumni Center. Part of our focus has been on some of the first women who attended or worked at Virginia Tech. I’ve written before about some of VT’s female trailblazers, but I decided to concentrate on the first international woman to graduate, Maria del Carmen Venegas. She has the additional distinction of being the first known Latina/Hispanic woman to study at Virginia Tech.

The first international male student came to Virginia Tech in the 1874,  and the first women matriculated in 1921. But, it took much longer for the first international female student to enroll as Venegas joined the student body in 1935. (It would be another 18 years before the first Black male student matriculated in 1953 and another 31 years for the first Black women to enter VT in 1966.)

Called Carmen by her friends, Venegas earned one of two scholarships awarded by the government of her home nation Costa Rica, making it possible for her to attend the university. Before graduating in 1938 with a B.S. in electrical engineering, she was a member of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers and was the only woman in the organization of nearly 40 students at that time.

Maria del Carmen Venegas in American Institute of Electrical Engineers, from the 1938 Bugle
Maria del Carmen Venegas in American Institute of Electrical Engineers, from the 1938 Bugle

A founding member of the Short Wave Club, Venegas trained students in amateur radio operations. She taught classes in radio operation and acted as Hostess for the Club in 1937. The Short Wave Club is a predecessor to the student-run group, the Virginia Tech Amateur Radio Association, exemplifying how her and other students’ contributions to the university have made an impact that can still be felt today.

Maria del Carmen Venegas as part of the Short Wave Club in the 1936 Bugle
Maria del Carmen Venegas as part of the Short Wave Club in the 1936 Bugle

In addition to her school activities, Venegas is remembered as a pilot, even keeping her own airplane in Lynchburg. In 1937, the National Intercollegiate Flying Club invited her to join a convoy from Washington, D.C., to view air races in Miami, Florida. Out of 100 pilots, Venegas was the only Virginia-based woman in the bunch!

Sadly, Carmen Venegas and her alma mater did not keep in contact after she graduated. Although her whereabouts remained unknown, Venegas was listed in the alumni directories, until her name was finally removed in 1998, the 50th anniversary of her graduation.

You can read more about the first women to graduate from Tech and the legacy they left behind in the blog posts linked above as well as on Special Collections’ women’s history website for the 125th Anniversary of Virginia Tech website.

Chris Kraft: Oral History of an Aerospace Pioneer

Virginia Tech is proud to be the alma mater to many pioneers in aerospace engineering, perhaps none as famous as Christopher Columbus Kraft, Jr. The VT Stories team recorded an oral history interview with Kraft in April 2017, and Special Collections now has the full interview and transcript available online. The VT Stories summary of the interview is available here.

20170429_1155010-e1506523053331
Chris Kraft being interviewed by VT Stories project director Ren Harman at his home in Houston

Chris Kraft graduated from Tech in 1944 with a degree in Aeronautical Engineering. The university was operating on a 12-month schedule because of WWII, therefore Kraft graduated after only three years. Despite only this truncated time at Virginia Tech, Kraft rose through the ranks to become president of the Corps of Cadets, which he counts as teaching him important leadership skills. Kraft also recounts his classes with Professor Rasche, contracting Scarlet Fever, and dance weekends from his memories at Virginia Tech in his interview.

After graduating at age 20, he joined the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), the predecessor organization to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Kraft worked at Langley Research Center as a flight test engineer for 13 years, until the space race began.

Christopher_Kraft,_flight_director_during_Project_Mercury,_works_at_his_console_inside_the_Flight_Control_area_at_Mercury_Mission_Control
Kraft works at his console inside the Flight Control area of the Mercury Control Center, from Wikimedia Commons

In 1958, he became one of the original members of the NASA Space Task Group, which was established to manage Project Mercury, the nation’s first project to put a man in space. During Project Mercury, Kraft developed many of the basic mission and flight control techniques used in manned space flight, which culminated in the creation of the Mission Control Center at the Johnson Space Center (originally the Manned Spacecraft Center) in Houston, from which all of NASA’s manned space flights have been conducted. He also served as Flight Director for all the Mercury missions and many of the Gemini missions. Kraft was named deputy director of the Manned Spacecraft Center in 1970, and later director in 1972. He retired from NASA in 1982 and and subsequently served as a consultant for various corporations. In 2001, Kraft’s autobiography, Flight: My Life in Mission Control was published.

Special Collections also has Kraft’s papers, which he donated in 1986. The collection consists of approximately 28 cu. ft. of manuscripts, particularly NACA and NASA reports and documents, meeting notes and agendas, research materials, and the manuscript for 2001 Kraft’s autobiography. You can view the finding aid for this collection here.


 

 

 

 

Family among the Files

The first thing I did when I started my very first desk shift in Special Collections was grab a mid-1980s copy of The Bugle from the shelf by the door, where you can find almost every copy that was ever published.

My mission — like that of many other visitors to this same shelf — was to find pictures of my parents, who met at Virginia Tech. My mom, then Vicki Higginbotham the engineering, baton-twirling majorette, worked at a Hallmark store in the University Mall with my dad’s sister, Dori Williams, who kept insisting that Vicki simply had to meet her younger brother, who was on the basketball team. Vicki Higginbotham and Philip Williams had their first date on December 26, 1983, a fact that my brother and I are always reminded of during the car ride back from our annual Christmas visit with our grandparents (“oh, it’s the nth anniversary of our first date!”). We pretend that it’s gross that they remember this and systematically mention it every year, but it’s not. They’re lucky to still be so in love after all this time, and my brother and I are even luckier to be a part of it.

VickiWilliams1986
1986 yearbook photo of Mom.

I found my parents’ pictures in the yearbooks, as expected, but I got a special thrill from the action shots of my dad on the basketball court. He played during the years from 1983 to 1987, when Dell Curry was the talk of the town, the players’ shorts would dismally fail our modern-day public-school index-card tests, and all-white Converse All-Stars were still considered acceptable and safe sports footwear. At six-foot-six, Dad, in most of these shots, looks like he barely had to jump to get his hands above the rim for a rebound; in fact, a 1985 yearbook writer asserted that he, as a sophomore, “demonstrated the team’s best fundamental rebounding technique.” In many of the pictures, any given number of his fingers are taped together; perpetually broken or jammed. We have a couple of these photos at home, on the fridge and framed in my brother’s childhood bedroom.

philwilliams1987
1987 yearbook photo of Dad, the only senior on that year’s squad.

Most of my work here in Special Collections over the past two-and-a-half years has involved projects on either side of the timeline around the 1980s. I’ve spent a good deal of time transcribing and digitizing letters from the Civil War, World War I, and the years in between. I also spent some months working on an exhibit for the anniversary of the April 16th, 2007 tragedy. A Women’s History Month exhibit in the library inspired me to contribute information on the lives and work of female science fiction writers from the late 1800s to the 1940s and 1950s. Somehow, most of my archives work has neatly danced around my parents’ time at Virginia Tech, and I never really got into the era of big hair and Benatar in Blacksburg through my projects.  

That is, until I started re-labelling the University Archives room.

Working in an archive pays off for me personally because I know that all of the preservation and conservation work being done here will pay off in the long run. For example, we have boxes upon boxes of wartime letters that are still in good shape after a century and a half and, not only that, we allow anyone to come in and hold, read, and examine them with their own two hands. If you think about it, it’s a lot of the same stuff you’d find in a museum without the DO NOT TOUCH signs. The people who work here make this happen through a meticulous system of steps and protocol that impose order on the collections and allow us to provide this experience for patrons. Some of these steps are more tedious and less “thrilling” than others, but all of them are equally important in keeping our system up and running. One of my current assignments is to assist in the reorganization of the record groups (RGs) in the University Archives, which requires moving a lot of boxes around… which requires that every box is labelled accurately and legibly. Most of the boxes are labelled, but the labels are either decades old, written in pencil, or both. My job is to check the contents of each box and replace each label with a more up-to-date and legible label so the boxes can be rearranged. As it turned out, this routine process turned up one of my favorite discoveries in all my time at Special Collections.

In the sports section of the University Archives, I found a box labelled simply “Basketball Programs.” My first thought was “huh, Dad did that.” I opened the box to check what the date range on the programs was so that I could create a more descriptive label and, lo and behold, the programs were from 1984 through 1986.

As I had been going through these boxes, I’d been taking the time to examine the contents partly out of necessity and partly out of curiosity. This time, I’d easily located the date range that I needed to include on the label, but I took the box and sat down in the middle of the aisle on the footstool I’d been using so I could look through the programs. Dad in his #34 jersey was on the cover of two of them — one by himself, taking a jump shot, and the other with Dell Curry, the Cassell Coliseum-banner legend whose son Steph we now see in every other commercial on ESPN.

img003.jpgimg004.jpg

IMG_1702.JPG
Dad on the left, Dell Curry on the right (both mid-leap).

The programs not only brought back my memories of attending games and matching the players below on the floor with their stats which I held in my head, it also brought back the entertaining and often hilarious stories that Dad always told about his basketball days. My most recent memory of this comes from a morning during Thanksgiving weekend, when I sat with my family and some of our close friends around my grandfather’s table, trying desperately not to choke on our breakfast from laughter as my dad told the story of the time he accidentally dislocated Dell’s shoulder, the remainder of practice was cancelled, and it was as if the whole world of sports had abruptly ended. I’d see the the names on the roster and recall the stories I’d heard that went with each name — big moments in big games, hijinks that went on in the after-hours at away games, and the individual quirks and camaraderie among and between teammates. I picked up these programs and proceeded to walk around the entirety of Special Collections, stopping into offices and tugging on sleeves of coworkers to show them what I’d found.

This was a very specific and personal instance of discovery in Special Collections for me, but I know that this has happened at least once for each of us working here, and even for patrons who come in out of curiosity and walk out with a new research project in mind. I showed the programs to one of our full-time archivists, and she revealed that a bookseller who had arrived that morning happened to have a copy of her mother’s book in his collection. Even when I’m working in unfamiliar collections, I find that I’m surprised by the connections I can make based on my own experiences and the relationships that I form with people who are long gone. That’s the joy of working in Special Collections: even the most rudimentary tasks have the potential to lead to the greatest discoveries.

By Rebecca Williams

Celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Remembering His Legacy

This past Monday, January 16, was Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in the U.S., and here at Virginia Tech we have been celebrating and remembering Rev. Dr. King and his legacy in numerous events all this week. If you haven’t been to any of the events, there are several more scheduled through next Sunday, January 28, according to the Hidden Figures: Community Practice of MLK (2018 Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration) page.

The university has celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day for awhile now. One of our graduate students Jamelle Simmons has been researching and updating the Black History Timeline for the University Archives. In his research, Simmons found several items about the university’s commemorations of Rev. Dr. King and his legacy, which have been hosted and sponsored over the years by the Virginia Tech Union, Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, Black Caucus, Black Organizations Council, Black Cultural Center, the Office of Inclusion and Diversity, and others. Items include student event calendars, newspaper articles, and flyers. This year, the Cultural and Community Centers established the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Oration Competition as an annual event.

Rev. Dr. King has been remembered at Virginia Tech even before the establishment of the holiday, ever since his assassination on April 4, 1968. On the following day, students held a vigil at Burruss Hall surrounding the U.S. and Virginia flags. Initially the flags were raised to full mast, so mourners lowered both to half mast and protected the flags while talking to passersby about King’s ideals and nonviolent beliefs. Although they were forced to restore the flags to full mast, in the afternoon President Lyndon B. Johnson ordered flags lowered in King’s honor, which the university complied with. A transcript of The Virginia Tech (precursor to The Collegiate Times) article is available on the Black History Timeline.

Linda Edmonds, one of the first six black women admitted to Virginia Tech in 1966, wrote notes of her thoughts upon Rev. Dr. King’s death (the first two paragraphs, written on April 4, 1968) and the initial raising of the flag to full mast (the last paragraph, written on April 5, 1968). The notes and transcript follow below:

A Tribute … Thoughts when Dr. King Died

The way I feel today … is lost.

I feel a faint beat of hope, but is there a way? What will be the cost? A man dies, another is born. The circle goes on. Why take away something that we cannot replace? Take my body, hurt it, hurt it, the pain ceases after awhile; though death is sometimes the final release. But don’t tear down my heart, don’t make me hate the sight of my fellow man. Don’t take my dignity and trust in mankind. If you do we are both lost.

I need somebody to talk to, somebody that will not say you have to be strong now, I’m not. You can’t help me can you? – You believe you know how I feel?

This morning when the flag was raised to its highest level–gloom surrounded my being. The march–step–step–step of the uniformed men–the systematic order of it all. You 3, you had your orders to follow, but how did your hearts feel? Did you realize that I could not look up with pride when the flag was blowing so powerfully in the early crisp air. Maybe you did, but you told yourself well it has to be. The U.S. flag was torn at the ends, the tears started climbing and winding their ways through that symbol of the country that I am a native of. Will there soon be nothing left but strips of cloth floating individually about the flag pole? Some bits will no doubt lose strength all together and drift off into the air and never return. No, this will not happen, we will buy a new flag and everything will be O.K.; I can smile and be happy looking at the stars and stripes forever. But I can’t smile and be happy with my fellowman because people just want to exchange hate and past mistakes for something better. The society tears apart – floating about in individual strips, it eventually loses strength and bits of it drift off into the air and never return.

In addition to these items related to the university, Special Collections has other important publications by and about Rev. Dr. King. In the Bishop William H. Marmion Papers, Ms 1986-013, there is a pamphlet copy of King’s Letter from Birmingham City Jail, published by the American Friends Service Committee in May 1963. For those of you who may not know, Birmingham leaders working with King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) began protesting segregation in the city with organized demonstrations in April 1963. The city obtained an injunction against the protests, which the leaders disobeyed, resulting in King’s arrest. Several local white clergymen publicly criticized the protests, prompting King to respond with the now famous letter. In it he defends his participation as an “outsider,” explains the value and steps of a nonviolent campaign, and questions the clergymen’s insistence on waiting for a resolution to continued injustice.

According to the King Encyclopedia by Stanford University’s King Institute, Rev. Dr. King gave the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), a Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) organization, permission to publish the letter in May 1963 as a pamphlet. The group had been working with King since 1956 after the Montgomery bus boycott, but they had been involved with anti-racism activities since the 1920s, only a few years after their founding during World War I. With permission from King, the AFSC distributed 50,000 copies of the Letter from Birmingham Jail in 1963, and that same year nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize, which he was awarded the following year.

Here are a few select pages from our 1963 copy of King’s Letter from Birmingham City Jail, published by the AFSC. For the complete letter, view the pamphlet in King Center’s Digital Archives.

Another item in our collections is the book, We Shall Live in Peace: The Teachings of Martin Luther King Jr., edited by Deloris Harrison and illustrated by Ernest Crichlow. The book outlines King’s life and discusses several significant steps in his fight for civil rights, including excerpts from his writings. Born in Bedford, Virginia, Harrison graduated from St. Joseph’s College, Brooklyn, and received a master’s from New York University in 1963. She began teaching in New York City in 1961, and was chosen as a Fulbright teacher in 1966. Crichlow (1914-2005) was a Brooklyn artist coming out of the Harlem Renaissance and known for his works concerning social injustice for African Americans. According to his New York Times obituary, he studied commercial art in Manhattan and worked in the Works Progress Administration’s Federal Art Project. In 1957, Crichlow cofounded and served as first chairperson of the Fulton Arts Fair, which showcased the works of both new and established artists in the community. The Petrucci Family Foundation’s Collection of African-American Art entry on Crichlow states that in 1980, President Jimmy Carter honored Crichlow and nine other black artists from the National Conference of Artists at the White House.

A few excerpt pages from We Shall Live in Peace by Harrison and Crichlow appear below, and I encourage anyone interested to come into Special Collections to see this beautiful book.

Of course, there are numerous other items in our collections related to Rev. Dr. King and the greater Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s (and before and after), so I hope that you will come into Special Collections to take a look for yourself. And don’t forget to attend some of the events planned for the annual celebrations for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day here at Virginia Tech and in the local community.

 

New in the University Archives: Drum Major’s Mace

image of Virginia Tech mace
Sherman Seelinger’s Mace

 

Head shot of Robert Hughes in cadet uniform
Robert Edwards Hughes, Class of 1921

Robert L. Hughes from Asheville, North Carolina recently gave the University Archives a drum major’s mace that was among the things his father, Ralph Edwards Hughes, kept from his time at Virginia Tech (then commonly called Virginia Polytechnic Institute or V.P.I.). Ralph Hughes, an Electrical Engineering major, was from Ore Bank (now Arvonia), Virginia. Robert Hughes explained that the mace actually belonged to his father’s roommate and close, lifetime friend, Sherman Edmond Seelinger, who was a cheer leader. Both Hughes and Seelinger, an Animal Husbandry major, graduated in 1921.

Seelinger holding megaphone
Sherman Edward Seelinger, Class of 1921, with Megaphone

The mace appears to be made of wood, with a hand-turned top and four Chicago maroon and burnt orange ribbons wrapped around the shaft making diamond-shaped pattern . It is about three feet long and was probably handmade.

cartoon of man with megaphone
Cartoon from Seelinger’s 1921 Bugle Page

The cartoon on Seelinger’s senior Bugle page indicates how important being a cheer leader was to him. Known for his pep, he took a very active part in the promotion of school spirit and in the advancement of athletics and other college activities. He was a member of the Athletic Council and Monogram Club, and he served as manager of the baseball team. According to the 1921 Bugle, “Manager Seelinger has arranged one of the best schedules ever attempted by any Tech team, and we wish to congratulate him upon his efforts.” W. L. “Monk” Younger coached the baseball team and was assistant coach for the football team.

smiling head shot of Seelinger
Sherman Seelinger, 1921

Seelinger had a reputation for being the best dancer in the school. He served as Leader of the Cotillion Club. The opening figure on both nights of the Cotillion Club’s 1921 Easter set of dances was led by Cadet Seelinger dancing with Miss Geneva Edmundson of Radford. The dances were held at the Field House, which was decorated with a large green and yellow interwoven canopy suspended over the center of the floor, from which was strung alternating green and yellow streamers reaching out to the pillars at the sides of the hall. The All Star Six, of Altoona, Pennsylvania provided the music.

Source: Harry Downing Temple, The Bugle’s Echo, vol. 4, pp. 2506-2507.