Cato Lee: Pioneer of the Lee-aphon Clan by Gigi Lee-aphon tells the fascinating stories of Cato Lee, one of the early Chinese students at Virginia Tech, and the members of his family. Written by Cato Lee’s daughter, Gigi, the ninth of his ten children, the book gives insights into the challenges faced by family members as they confronted Chinese, American, and Thai cultures. The author uses family stories to give the reader a better understanding of the life of Cato Lee. The book was published by Lotus Seed Press in 2017.
Cato Lee, who graduated in 1927 in Mechanical Engineering, was one of the first six Chinese students at Virginia Tech. The University Archives’ site, “First International Students at Virginia Tech,” lists the first and early international students by year and country: http://spec.lib.vt.edu/archives/diversity/InternationalVPI/
Born Lee Kee Tow in Bangkok, Thailand in 1904, Cato Lee was the son of Lee Tek Khoeia, a Chinese immigrant and merchant from Canton, and Noei Lamson, the youngest child of one of the most prominent families in Thailand. Because his father was a playboy, Cato was raised in unusual circumstances in Canton, China from the time he was four. When he was fourteen, his father enrolled him in an English/Chinese school in Hong Kong. He became a “British subject” while he was in Hong Kong, a status that his father already had. The British passport made it easier for him to travel to the United States.
When Cato was 17, his close friend from Hong Kong, Tien-Liang Jeu talked him into going to study in the United States. Tien-Liang already had visited the United States and enrolled at Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Virginia. The two young men made the arduous journey by ship from Hong Kong to Vancouver and then traveled by train across the United States to New York City. Since he did not have much money, Cato waited on tables at a small restaurant before he enrolled in school. Because he was younger than Tien-Lang Jeu, who entered Virginia Tech (then called Virginia Polytechnic Institute or V.P.I.) in 1921, Cato first attended and graduated from Fork Union Military Academy a military high school for cadets in Fork Union, Virginia.
Tien-Liang, whose nickname at V.P.I. was “Ting Ling,” earned a degree in electrical engineering. According to his Bugle page, “his highest ambition is to turn the wild and destructive forces of the mighty Yangtse and Yellow Rivers into power that will illuminate all China.” (1924 Bugle, p. 61)
Cato Lee entered V.P.I. in 1923 and earned a degree in mechanical engineering in 1927. He played on the varsity track and tennis teams and belonged to the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and the Lee Literary Society. His Bugle page (1927, p. 183) includes a quote from Kipling:
But there is neither East nor West, border, nor breed, nor birth,
When two strong men stand face to face, tho’ they have come from the ends of the earth.
The commentary on his Bugle page indicates that Lee was not only a student but also taught his fellow cadets by “showing us that the gentleman of the East is not different from the gentleman of the West.”
Virginia Tech was very important to Cato Lee. Gigi Lee-aphon wrote in an email that she learned to say the word “bugle” at a very young age, not knowing it was an English word. Her father’s cadet uniform, sword, and sash were neatly hung on a stand in a corner of his bedroom for many years. “I could admire it,” she said, “but better not touch it.”
The image on the book’s cover shows Cato Lee and his bride, Kim Reiw, the daughter of a Chinese businessman. They only met because he stopped off in Thailand to visit his Thai mother on his way back to China. The couple married soon after they met and lived in Bangkok. Kim Reiw is wearing the wedding dress her parents ordered from Hong Kong. The book describes the couple’s glamorous wedding at one of the royal palaces in Bangkok where they both wore traditional Thai garments. They were known as the Romeo and Juliet of Thailand.
Women’s History Month is only a few days away and again this year, Special Collections and the University Libraries, in conjunction with some friends around campus, have some plans a-foot!
“Coeds: The History of Women Students at Virginia Tech” (sponsored by University Libraries and Virginia Tech Alumni Association). Virginia Tech first admitted women as students in 1921, but it was a long road to acceptance. Women had to create their own yearbook and unofficial sports teams in the beginning, and it took decades to achieve important student leadership positions in student organizations. Additional barriers prevented women students of color from reaching the same status as white women students for years and sometimes decades, as with the first Black women who didn’t matriculate until 1966, a full 45 years after the first white women and 13 years after the first Black man. This exhibit highlights the many women who overcame these obstacles in order to obtain a quality education and to open doors for others to join the Hokie Nation. Wednesday, February 14th through Friday, March 30th, Monday-Friday from 8am-5pm at the Alumni Museum in Holtzman Alumni Center.
“Courage, Resistance, and Leadership: Women in American History” (sponsored by Special Collections and University Libraries). Special Collections and Newman Library will be collaborating on two exhibits in two spaces on the first floor of Newman Library. Special Collections will have items from our collections on display in the Reading Room, along with a digital slideshow of additional materials, trivia, and fun facts. In a nearby location on the first floor of the library, there will be a display of posters highlighting women represented in Special Collections holdings, as well as from the Women’s History Month website, which contextualize their roles in American history. Open Thursday, March 1 through Monday, April 2, during Newman Library Hours. Posters will be on display on the first floor of Newman Library in the hallway across from classroom 120; the Special Collections reading room is on the first floor near the cafe.
“Together | We: Troubling the Field in 20th Century Architecture” (sponsored by Special Collections and University Libraries). The Special Collections Department at Newman Library will have an interactive digital exhibition on display focused on materials from the International Archive of Women in Architecture (IAWA). The exhibit will highlight a number of women working primarily in the 20th century who were practitioners and often pioneers in the field. In addition to their architectural work they often had to overcome significant barriers to entry into the field, including access to the resources and networks of professional organizations. Several of these women became avid organizers and advocates, highlighting the contributions of other women to the profession and working to rectify the disparities in representation across daily practice and professional associations. Open Thursday, March 1 through Monday, April 2, during Newman Library Hours. Display will be on the first floor of Newman Library in the hallway across from classroom 120.
For the sixth year running, our “What’s Cookin’ @Special Collections?!” blog will continue its “Women’s History Month” series, highlighting the contributions of women to the culinary and agricultural fields! (You can view the posts to date online.) New posts should also show up under this category as they are published. So far, we’re planning to look at Martha Lee Anderson (pamphlet author for Church & Dwight, aka Arm & Hammer), the legend of Betty Crocker, and a manuscript cookbook from an alumnae of Randolph Macon College from the 1920s. And you may see some women’s history-themed posts on our “Special Collections at Virginia Tech“ blog, as well as on our social media channels (@VT_SCUA on Twitter and through our contributions the University Libraries’ Instagram account, @vtlibraries).
We are also involved in a set of individual events in March:
“Wikimedia Share-A-Thon” (sponsored by University Libraries and the Women’s Center). Come help enhance the visual record ahead of the next two events in this Wikipedia intervention series (see below). The workshop will start with an introduction to Wikimedia Commons and then dive into sharing photos on the platform. As Wikimedia Commons only accepts freely licensed images, there will also be an overview of Creative Commons Licensing. Tuesday, March 20 from 2-3:30pm in the Newman Library Multipurpose Room.
“FlowGround Session Wikipedia Editing Workshop” (sponsored by University Libraries and the Women’s Center). Drop in for an informal session to chat with colleagues about intersections between fields that could generate a push to make Wikipedia articles a more complex—yet still accessible—resource for the general public. Set up an account, learn about editing, talk with people from a wide range of disciplines about intervening in social spaces, and just generally share ideas that transcend specific disciplines, technology, tools, and processes. Wednesday, March 21st from 11:30am-1pm in the Newman Library Athenaeum (room 124).
“Wikipedia Edit-A-Thon” (sponsored by University Libraries and the Women’s Center). Drop in any time to help edit Wikipedia—or just learn about the process and purpose. Tutorial sessions, online modules, assistance in setting up accounts, and other resources will be provided throughout the day for new editors or anyone who wants a refresher. Share ideas, update articles in your area of interest, work with others to enhance existing materials, and enjoy the experience of coming together to make a difference. Wednesday, March 28 from 11am-8pmin the Newman Library Multipurpose Room.
“2018 International Archive of Women in Architecture Symposium” (sponsored by College of Architecture and Urban Studies Diversity Committee and the International Archive of Women in Architecture (IAWA)). For centuries, women in architecture have been involved in pushing the boundaries of architecture and architectural practice. Whether as registered architects, members and leaders of architectural firms, academics and scholars, or in any of the less conventional capacities, women have helped transform the discipline of architecture and the related design fields shaping the built environment. Wednesday, March 28th: 7pm; Thursday, March 29th and Friday, March 30th: 9:30am-4:30pm
There will be about 45 events going on during March all over campus to celebrate women’s history month and we encourage you to check out the calendar (which will be posted online this week) and get involved where you can!
Like all archives, Special Collections at Virginia Tech holds a rich store of fascinating stories. One of these is the “John Henning Woods Papers,” a collection of six diaries and memoirs by a Confederate conscript who created an underground Unionist society in a Confederate regiment during the Civil War. A Southerner by birth and education who was opposed to slavery and secession, Woods was conscripted into the 36th Alabama Infantry Regiment of the army in 1862. While in the army, he was caught, tried, and charged for an attempt to organize a mutiny. His resulting execution was delayed until Jefferson Davis finally pardoned him and he was assigned to build trenches around Atlanta. Woods finally escaped and made it to the Union lines in late August of 1864, enlisting as a clerk in the 93rd New York Infantry in September of 1864. His story is fascinating and can be found in full here; however, it is not the main focus of this blog post. Outside of providing new insights into the Civil War and the experience of Unionists of the Confederate South, Woods’ collections of memoirs and diaries also provide a first-hand look into the behind-the-scenes processing practices and obstacles that arise in making archival collections accessible to researchers.
You’ve likely seen, and perhaps even used, a digital collection of archival material. Such collections can be quite expansive, containing a transcript, a scan of the archival material itself, and maybe even some contextual information, such as footnotes or suggested readings. Ultimately, the goal of making and publicizing digital collections is increased accessibility so that you can view it while in your pajamas from your living room at two in the morning. This was the goal for the John Henning Woods Papers; their unique value as a source written by a Unionist Southerner who hated slavery made it a prime collection for digitization. Thankfully, the process of scanning was done by the digitization department, decreasing the amount of work I personally had to do. However, like with all digitization projects, there were a number of issues that arose throughout this process. Woods’ papers became the prime example of the difficulty of this process, raising the usual, but also some new and unusual, obstacles to digitization.
The usual first step in digitizing a collection is to create a transcription so that
researchers don’t have to attempt to read old handwriting. Even the neatest handwriting still contains issues such as slanting lines, uncrossed t’s or undotted i’s, crossed out words, or words that are crammed into spaces that are too small… the potential reasons for illegibility are endless. Some of the more unique letters, particularly from the Civil War era when paper was expensive and even scarce, contain examples of cross-hatching as seen here, where sentences were written on top of and perpendicular to more text. While daunting at first, reading cross-hatched lettering is simply a matter of focusing your eyes and
perhaps tilting your head. Some sections of John Henning Woods’ journals put such relatively decipherable space-saving methods to shame, however. Unlike cross-hatching where the 90 degree turn of the paper allows for distinction between the sentences, Woods simply wrote over top of his own writing, which you see to the left. To make it worse, the two transcriptions are almost identical with a few key differences that make transcription necessary yet almost impossible. Ultimately, transcription had to be done with a magnifying lamp that exaggerated the slight difference between the two inks Woods used. You can see this digitized page and (eventually) the corresponding transcriptions here.
Outside of writing over top of himself, two of Woods’ handwritten journals also had another quirk: in some places, he switched over to another alphabet altogether.
These instances of strange lettering were written in Pitman Shorthand, an antiquated version of shorthand that used shapes to denote sounds with which to spell words phonetically. While resources do still exist that provide basic information on how to write and read Pitman, the writing system’s rules contain a wide range of exceptions and shortcuts that are far more difficult to learn. Woods’ shorthand contains its own quirks, as well, as he used his own shortened symbols to represent common words, making it impossible to translate some sections with certainty.
Despite the difficulty, these sections are particularly important to translate because of what they contain. Success in translating the majority of Pitman within the journals has shown that Woods used the writing system largely to write about sensitive subjects. In his daily journal from 1861, Woods used Pitman to write about his success in stopping a duel, an act that would have frowned upon in the honor-based culture of the Old South. Another section of shorthand in his journal describes his former love for the local preacher’s daughter that faded after she fell from grace. While certainly unique, these notes that Woods attempted to hide are invaluable because they provide clear insight into Woods’ character, as well as his view of the world around him.
Following the process of transcription, the collection and its accompanying transcriptions and translations had to be put online, which is our current project. Along with scanning individual diary pages and providing accompanying transcriptions, accessibility requires footnotes to contextualize the people, events, or terms used in the journals. These footnotes and matching transcriptions then needed to be translated into HTML code to be used by Omeka, our online exhibit software. While this was a fairly easy process, my determination to keep Woods’ formatting made some of the pages difficult, an example of which can be seen above, where the HTML code can be seen in the top left, resulting text in the bottom left, and corresponding page scan to the right.
Regardless of all the difficulties of this process, however, I will miss working on this collection once it is successfully turned into an online exhibit. While I have plenty that I could work on once I say goodbye to John Henning Woods, I feel at this point that I know him. After all, I have spent a year reading his writing, deciphering his handwriting, and translating his deepest secrets out of shorthand. It’s hard to forget that I was most likely the first person to read those sections since he wrote them 150 years ago. As a part of researching this collection, I’ve also found the location of his grave and researched to see whether he has any living relatives; unfortunately, the closest I could find was a grandniece who recently passed in 2017. Because of my familiarity with this collection, I know his deepest wish was to be known for the sacrifices he made for his country. It may be a little late, but I do hope that this post and the online exhibit we create can make a little headway towards that goal. I know I at least will be visiting his grave even if just to say thank you.
Once the online exhibit has been completed, it will be available here. Until then, come to Special Collections to see the John Henning Woods Papers, Ms2017-030.
As archivists we look at objects all the time, putting them into protective folders, filing them into map cases and boxes, labeling them to provide context and preserve their order. We repair, we structure, we help people gain access, and we promote their existence at every turn. We take the often ordinary and treat it like a priceless item—and usually believe that to be true because of the significance documents and drawings, especially en masse, can hold in building greater understanding.
As long as you have a writing utensil at all times, the world will provide a canvas. Sketches on napkins from the Susana Torre Architectural Collection.
As long as you have a writing utensil at all times, the world will provide a canvas. Sketches on napkins from the Susana Torre Architectural Collection.
As long as you have a writing utensil at all times, the world will provide a canvas. Sketches on napkins from the Susana Torre Architectural Collection.
We also put items safely away to protect them from all kinds of harm—air, light, insects, dirt, fingers. We worry about the fragility, though often those documents had a rougher life before they came into our care. Architectural plans that survived tough jobsite conditions, napkins that served as a quick drawing slate—things that in general had a life out in the world all come to mind.
As a profession we have always been working to balance care and access, to promote use and find ways to share materials that transcend geographical locations or more mundane barriers such as reading room hours. We digitize in order to share, and we look for ways to improve our efficiency, quality, and process so that we can share more. With that goal in mind, we have been testing a new camera this week to make shooting large format drawings faster and easier. The beauty of technical details aside, it allows for great image quality at incredible speed and it has allowed us to quickly work through a large volume of oversized work from the International Archive of Women in Architecture (IAWA).
To that end, we are getting things out of the map cases and into the light.
Over the past few months, I’ve stepped outside my normal topical areas of social justice and the history of traditionally marginalized communities. This departure was related to an exhibit titled Flora Virginica that is on display in our reading room from February 5, through March 16. I enjoy putting together exhibits, so I was happy to take this on even though it was something I knew nothing about. This blog post will include a description of the exhibit, the reasons for its existence, and the interesting history I discovered while putting it together (only not in that order). Enjoy!
An Exhibit, In Partnership
In 2012, the Flora of Virginia Project published Flora of Virginia (QK191 .W43 2012), a 1,572 page comprehensive compendium of Virginia plants. It’s a thick botanical tome of little interest to most people outside the botanical sciences. We acquired multiple copies in the library when it was first published and it isn’t one of our particular collecting focuses. It wasn’t something we were particularly focused on highlighting.
Cover of the 2012 Flora of Virginia
Sample page of the 2012 Flora of Virginia (page 951)
Skip ahead to fall of 2017 and an email from the Massey Herbarium to the Director of Special Collections mentioning an exhibit about Flora of Virginia that the Massey was going to be hosting. Special Collections was being involved because there was an opportunity to display an original Flora Virginica in support of the Massey exhibit. This is where I entered the process.
Over the course of a couple of months, I worked with Jordan Metzgar at the Massey Herbarium and Bland Crowder, editor of the 2012 Flora of Virginia, from the Flora of Virginia Project to arrange a loan of an original 18th century Flora Virginica. During the process of arranging this part of the exhibit, it was suggested that I might also wish to exhibit some 18th century Mark Catesby prints alongside the book. Still not knowing much about the project or the books, I opened discussions with Lynn McCashin, the Executive Director of the Garden Club of Virginia, to arrange a loan of some of their Catesby prints. The next few months consisted of multiple emails negotiating the logistics of the loans. As the date for the exhibit approached, I began to research these items so that I could create some didactic labels for the exhibit (those short little descriptions that go next to items in museum-type displays).
In order to adequately describe the 1762 edition of Flora Virginica and the 1771 Catesby prints – and explain what they had to do with one another and Virginia history, I had to learn that history myself. Where did I start? A general web search, of course. Wikipedia offers great superficial overviews on just about any topic. That was enough to get me oriented before moving on to better sources including the Encyclopedia Virginia, JSTOR Global Plants, the Catesby Commemorative Trust, The Royal Society, and the University of North Carolina Libraries. During the course of this research, I learned some interesting details about the people who created these items and their places in botanical and zoological history.
Flora Virginica, 1762
Flora Virginica (QK191 .G86 1739a) is a precursor to Flora of Virginia. They are actually named the same – just in different languages. The original Flora Virginica was published in two parts, the first in 1739 and the second in 1743. Then, a combined edition was published in 1762. All three editions were published in Latin by Lugduni Bavatorum publishers in Leiden, Zuid Holland, Nederland. They all list Johannes Fredericus Gronovius as the person who classified the specimens and wrote the book. They also list John Clayton as the observer and collector of the plants. This attribution has led to much debate over the correct citation of authorship. Many, using modern standards, have claimed that Gronovius plagiarized Clayton’s work. Scholarship as recent as 2004 has addressed the authorship issue directly and concluded that Clayton likely did not have much chance of being published without the help of someone like Gronovius and the actions of the latter would not have been deemed plagiarism using the standards of the 1700’s. Proper credit for authorship, then, is probably to list them both.
Amidst the issues of authorship, I discovered some interesting things about the men who created what was the only comprehensive listing of Virginia plants for over 200 years. John Clayton was born in England in 1694/5 and came to America sometime before 1720. His move to the Virginia Colony was likely due to his father’s position as Attorney General of Virginia. Clayton was an amateur botanist. He was a plantation owner, a slave owner, and Clerk of Gloucester County, VA for more than 50 years. He liked to travel around the state and collect specimens of flora and fauna.
Gronovius was a Dutch naturalist and friend of Carl Linnaeus. He built up a reputation in the Netherlands as a botanist and had his own herbarium. He was considered a professional and had standing within the scientific world to publish. As part of Clayton’s amateur botanical work, he compiled for Gronovius a catalog of various plants using Linnaean classification. This catalog is what Gronovius eventually turned into Flora Virginica.
So what about Mark Catesby?
Mark Catesby was born in 1683 and was an English naturalist and a Fellow of the Royal Society of London. He first traveled to Virginia in 1712, accompanying his sister and her children. Over the next seven years (1712-1719), he collected and sent to England a variety of botanical specimens from Virginia and Jamaica before returning to England himself. During this time, at least one ornithological specimen and several plants were provided to Catesby by John Clayton. That one connection is why the Catesby prints are often displayed with Flora Virginica … that one connection and the fact that the Catesby prints include gorgeous illustrations of many of the plants mentioned in Flora Virginica.
After a few years in England, where he became a member of The Royal Society, Catesby returned to America to begin work on his grand project. He spent the next 20 years compiling specimens, teaching himself to illustrate them, and writing his Natural History of Carolina, Florida, and the Bahama Islands (QH41 .C28 1754).
He wrote and illustrated the book(s) entirely himself, publishing them in eleven sections totaling more than 220 hand-colored etchings. In order to finance all this work, Catesby sold subscriptions, offering the book in sections of 20 plates every four months. The first section was published in 1729 and he presented Her Majesty Queen Caroline with her copy in person. Following Catesby’s death in 1749, his work was republished twice, in 1754 and 1771. Catesby’s work was done before Linnaean classification was developed but the 1771 reprint includes a catalog of the Linnaean names for the flora and fauna depicted in the book.
While Flora Virginica is recognized as the most comprehensive listing of Virginia plants from 1739 to 2012, Catesby’s History of Carolina, Florida, and the Bahama Islands is known as the earliest published work illustrating and describing North American flora and Fauna. It was published almost 100 years before Audubon’s The Birds of America (QL674 .A9 1827a).
Through the generous courtesy of the Flora of Virginia Project and the Garden Club of Virginia, we have an exhibit containing a 1762 original Flora Virginica, a 1946 reproduction Flora Virginica, and two Catesby prints from the 1771 reprinting: The Summer Red-Bird, The Western Plane Tree and The Red Start, The Black Walnut. This exhibit gives viewers a chance to appreciate the wonderful history of all of the items with an abbreviated version of the information presented here. If you’re in the area and want to see the exhibit in person, stop by Special Collections and take a look.
Exhibit photo with ‘The Red Start, The Black Walnut’ print and reproduction of ‘Flora Virginica’
Exhibit photo with original ‘Flora Virginica’ and ‘The Summer Red-Bird, The Wester Plane Tree’ print
While you’re visiting, if you are interested in taking a look at a copy of Flora Virginica in person (reading Latin helps), Special Collections has one copy of the 1946 reproduction on site and two in remote storage (QK191 .G86 1739a). If you want to see the amazing Catesby illustrations in person, Special Collections has a copy of the 1754 reprinting of Natural History of Carolina, Florida, and the Bahama Islands (QH41 .C28 1754). As for the 2012 Flora of Virginia, Newman Library has two copies and Special Collections has one (QK191 .W43 2012). And, if you’re curious about Audubon’s The Birds of America (QL674 .A9 1827a), Special Collections has a 1985 issue of the double elephant folio in our reading room – it’s our only item with its own piece of furniture.
A full listing of events related to the Massey Herbarium Flora of Virginia exhibit is available at masseyherbarium.org/fov.
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 tomeet 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Virginia Tech Union calendar, January 1990
“MLK Remembered,” Collegiate Times article, January 16, 2007, p. 1
“MLK Remembered,” Collegiate Times article, January 16, 2007, p. 2
“Defining King’s Legacy”, Collegiate Times, January 19, 2010
The 2018 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Oration Competition, p. 1
The 2018 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Oration Competition, p. 2
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:
P.1, Linda Edmonds’ Thoughts on the Death of Martin Luther King
P.2, Linda Edmonds’ Thoughts on the Death of Martin Luther King
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.
Cover, Letter from Birmingham City Jail by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., May 1963, from Bishop Marmion Papers
P. 2, Letter from Birmingham City Jail by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., May 1963, from Bishop Marmion Papers
P.3, Letter from Birmingham City Jail by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., May 1963, from Bishop Marmion Papers
P. 15, Letter from Birmingham City Jail by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., May 1963, from Bishop Marmion Papers
P. 16, Letter from Birmingham City Jail by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., May 1963, from Bishop Marmion Papers
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.
Dust jacket cover, We Shall Live in Peace: The Teachings of Martin Luther King Jr., edited by Deloris Harrison and illustrated by Ernest Crichlow
P.10-11, We Shall Live in Peace: The Teachings of Martin Luther King Jr., edited by Deloris Harrison and illustrated by Ernest Crichlow
P.14-15, We Shall Live in Peace: The Teachings of Martin Luther King Jr., edited by Deloris Harrison and illustrated by Ernest Crichlow
P.54-55, We Shall Live in Peace: The Teachings of Martin Luther King Jr., edited by Deloris Harrison and illustrated by Ernest Crichlow
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.