Revisiting U.S. Indian Schools with the Indian Rights Association

I’m posting this on behalf of Jenna Marrone, intern for the processing of the Indian Rights Association records.

The story of Native Americans in the United States is not an unfamiliar one.  Most of us are at least somewhat aware of the complicated and tragic relationship between the U.S. government and Indian tribes throughout the country’s history.  For contemporary audiences, well-known phrases like “The only good Indian is a dead Indian” and “Kill the Indian…and save the man” sound like bad dialogue from an old Western film.

Much of what we know about Native American history is shrouded in mythology.  Certainly, that’s how I felt as I began to process the Indian Rights Association (IRA) papers with Willhem Echevarria, project archivist at HSP.  My first task was to sort through boxes of loose newspaper clippings that spanned from the 1870s to the 1980s.  As I organized the clippings, I scanned through them, noting the strange evolution of public opinion on the “Indian situation” over time.  Anytime I came across a particularly offensive headline or a quirky handwritten note, I thought hopefully, “Well, maybe they’re just being ironic.  Herbert Welsh, such a kidder!”

I suppose the Enlightenment thinkers were right, however, and seeing is believing, because it wasn’t until I found visual evidence from the U.S. Indian Schools files that I began to get a clearer picture of the so-called “Indian situation.”

“Are you serious!” I exclaimed one afternoon as I flipped through a 1918 yearbook from the Carlisle Indian School.  Willhem glanced up from his desk with an are-you-working-or-are-you-playing-with-the-documents-expression.  “Look!” I said, shoving the yearbook at him.  It was open to a picture of students dressed for a theatrical production – dressed, may I add, as conquistadors and explorers, among other famous figures from history.

 

Carlisle Students dressed for a theatrical performance, 1918


“Who would make a Native American dress like Cortez?” I asked as we shook our heads over the picture.  There are many more images like this one in the collection, scattered throughout the annual reports and yearbooks for schools like the Haskell Institute, the Hampton Industrial and Agricultural School, and the Sherman Institute.  The philosophy behind these boarding schools was simple: transform young Native Americans into “good citizens” and productive members of society.  To achieve this end, Indian schools focused on teaching industrial trades to boys, while girls learned housekeeping or nursing skills.  Some children were forcibly removed from their reservations, and many students were given new Anglo names upon arrival.  While I’m sure (or rather, hope) that there were some legitimately good intentions floating around there, underneath the positivist rhetoric remains a constant intention to Anglicize the Native American population.

Carlisle Students “Before and After” – from 1909 Annual Report

So, what was the IRA’s role in the Indian school movement?  What were their intentions in lobbying for Native American rights?  And how might we measure their success?  The Indian Rights Association records contain answers to all these questions and more.   Among the surprising headlines, the occasionally appalling images, and the revealing notes lies a new story waiting to be told.

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Indian Rights Association records

Work on processing the Indian Rights Association records (Collection 1523) has begun and will continue for the next three months. This is another one of the Civic Engagement collections funded by NHPRC. Since portions of the collection had been previously processed here at HSP our work will consist of arranging the part of the collection that haven’t been touched (multiple boxes of unsorted materials), integrating it to the processed portion, and creating an updated guide to the collection. To help with all this work we have the help of a wonderful intern, Jenna Marrone that comes to HSP with previous archival experience obtained with the PACSCL/CLIR project.

The Indian Rights Association records (IRA) is a very rich collection featuring materials of interest for those researching the history of Native Americans, particularly the work and lobbying done on their behalf in the nation’s capital. The IRA was founded in 1882 by Hebert Welsh and Henry S. Pancoast  with a main office in Philadelphia and a field office in Washington. The organization had two chief purposes: to protect the interests and welfare of the American Indian, and, in the association’s own words, “to bring about the complete civilization of the Indians and their admission to citizenship”. Paternalistic attitudes aside, the IRA was for the first forty years of the twentieth century the major non-governmental organization offering support and protection to Native Americans. Besides its work as a lobbying group on behalf of Native Americans, the association monitored the policies and actions of the Secretary of the Interior, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the Board of Indian Commissioners. They also helped create or promote legislation favorable to the Indian cause, and in some cases actively supported legal cases in both state and federal court. To spread knowledge about Native American culture and the association’s work, the IRA published many pamphlets and a serial titled Indian Truth.

Documents in the collection span form 1830 to 1986 and include correspondence, organizational records, pamphlets, annual reports, draft legislation, photographs, audio-visual materials, maps, and clippings. Also in the collection we can find materials from the Council of Indian Affairs, documents about traditional Pueblo Indian dances, and legal papers about struggles faced by the Oklahoma Indians, and papers generated by Herbert Welsh.

As a sample of the contents of the collection here’s a letter by a William Phillip Knight, asking IRA for help with a freedom of religion problem while incarcerated in Ohio in 1984.

An updated finding aid for the collection will be published in the upcoming months, though you can access the current finding aid on our website here.

Morris Milgram’s early years

While processing the business records portion of the Morris Milgram Papers I found numerous references to Milgram’s expulsion from CUNY (City College, City University of New York). But that’s all I had seen so far; vague references and comments about how the event was not only revealing of his political compromise in his early years but also a crucial point of departure. After this episode he transferred to Newark University (today part of Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey), graduated, was recruited by the Workers Defense League, and eventually embarked in a trailblazing career as developer of integrated housing. However, once I started arranging his personal and family papers I found many documents about his activism and participation on CUNY’s Student Council. Among these we have several items he kept on the famous incident that provoked his dismissal from CUNY. I’ll let the documents tell the story.

All images are part of the Morris Milgram Papers (#2167). This collection is currently being processed and a finding aid will be available by the end of Fall 2o11. Thanks to HSP Staff member Ashley Harper for the English translation of the message to the Italian students.

Morris Milgram and his (expected and unexpected) connections

As part of the NHPRC Civic Engagement Project we’ve begun arranging the papers of Morris Milgram. This collection features portions of materials that are nicely organized as well as boxes of loose papers waiting to be sorted; it is a treasure trove of office records and personal documents offering a detailed account of the ins-and-outs of the fair housing movement and a panoramic picture of the 60’s milieu.

Morris Milgram was born in 1916 in New York City to Russian immigrants parents. After growing up in Brooklyn he became a college student at City College of the City University of New York from where he was expelled after leading a protest against visiting students representing Mussolini’s Italy. He then enrolled and graduated from Dana College (later Newark University, today part of the Rutgers University system) and found employment with the Workers Defense League. At this agency he started as executive secretary and eventually became national secretary, a position he held until 1947. Right after this Milgram joined Smelo, Inc., a construction company owned by his father-in-law where he learned the basics of the building business and familiarized himself with zoning laws and tax codes. Five years after joining the company he became principal partner and decided to put his knowledge and skills in the service of building integrated housing communities.

Milgram’s companies developed many projects of open housing among them Concord Park, Greenbelt Knolt, and Brookside in Pennsylvania. He also build communities in other states but after losing a legal battle against a neighborhood association in Deerfield, Illinois, he switched strategies opting to purchase already built apartment developments to change their rental policies in favor of a more integrated approach.

Samples of letters in draft form written by Jackie Robinson for Modern Community Developers, one of Milgram's companies.

One of the criticisms frequently brandished against Milgram relates to the methods he used in order to achieve a racial balance in his projects. Milgram used a quota system where, for instance, a particular building would have its tenants divided as 45% black and 55% white. His critics argued that this was a form of discrimination. But Milgram also faced other more pressing challenges. A surplus of black applicants combined with not enough white tenants willing to stay in or move to a particular community made it very difficult to achieve a truly integrated balance. Milgram himself complained about setting up for integration and ending up with more ghettos. He also found that banks weren’t willing to loan money to back up his projects. Milgram ended up creating mortgages companies (and doing a lot of fund raising to keep them afloat) to help home buyers financially. It seems that all this work was not particularly successful from an economic standpoint but nevertheless Milgram insisted throughout his life on its moral and social merits.

First three standing from left to rigth: Morris Milgram, Jackie Robinson, and Adlai Stevenson

Since the beginning of his open housing efforts, Milgram connected his social project with the civil rights movement’s philosophy. Milgram’s principal partner on his projects was James Farmer, one of the “Big Four” of the Civil Rights Movement and recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, awarded by President Clinton in 1998. In 1975 Milgram and Farmer established Fund for an Open Society (OPEN), a non-profit organization promoting integration in all aspects of society. Milgram also attributed his becoming an advocate of fair housing to a poem written by Pauli Murray, civil rights activist, lawyer, and the first African-American women to be ordained as an Episcopal priest. Papers related to Farmer and Murray can be found among the many documents in the Morris Milgram Papers (Collection 2176). This collection also features a great deal of surprises; Milgram was connected to a considerable number of important figures and his records are full of letters and other documents reflecting this. Franco Modigliani, a Nobel Prize winning economist (more information here and here); Erich Fromm, psychoanalyst and social theorist of the Frankfurt School (more here and here); and Jackie Robinson, baseball star widely known as the player that broke the color barrier in the Major Leagues.

Letter from Erich Fromm respondeing to one of Milgram's invvestment solicitations.

Documents about an OPEN-sponsored event for economist Franco Modigliani.

Further thoughts on processing and the Greenfield papers

Arranging work on the Albert M. Greenfield papers is almost done but we have lots of work to do to complete the finding aid. This collection is very large, so it’s taking us a lot of time to input the collection’s data into Archivists’ Toolkit, the software we’re using here to create EAD finding aids.

Originally the collection consisted of 547 boxes, most of which were cartons holding between 35 and 50 folders, depending on their size. Since these cartons were too heavy, we needed to transfer everything to letter size boxes sorting first through documents that did not fit into the new boxes in order to house them separately. These are now in legal tall boxes or in custom boxes and enclosures made by Leah Mackin, from HSP’s Preservation Lab staff. The remaining folders, once rehoused, were given new numbers according to their sequence in the new boxes. We now have approximately 1,148 boxes and an estimated total of 18,000 folders. All these folders have individual titles and, one by one they need to go into our database. It’s a pretty straight forward but time consuming task.

This work has brought a thought I’ve been struggling with for the last month: how do I achieve a balance between the ideal way in which a collection should be processed (and here I’m thinking not only about archival standards but also about the pride one takes when finishing a good product) and the need for researchers to access a collection right now?  After all, as archivists and librarians our main goal is to provide access to collections. You could argue that if that is not done – no matter the reasons, arguments, and excuses to “justify” that a collection is not available – then you are straying from the ultimate goal of what information providers are supposed to do.

Time is one of the main reasons we can’t have all collections beautifully arranged. (Of course there are also monetary reasons. Budgetary constraints, especially these days, sometimes put limits on what we would like to accomplish. Additionally, the time issue is directly affected by money, as any archivist can attest to.) Philosophical arguments against processing collections in detail are also part of the equation. However, I am of the opinion that in some cases where collections are processed using the “More Product Less Process” approach, access to the collections is improved even though some may argue that MPLP is far from the ideal way to process a collection.

If we put aside time, budget, and MPLP, how do we achieve a balance between what we think needs to be done and the pressure from researchers to have immediate access to materials not available anywhere else? (Let’s not forget that one of the main differences between an archive and a library is that, in theory, the former holds unique materials – in most cases manuscripts – and the latter features printed items published in high quantities that may be available either in other libraries, in bookstores, or through interlibrary loan services). I do think and work under the assumption that everything we do has to have the researcher as the crucial element when making decisions regarding the collection. This is also the reasoning behind my opinion on how extensive and deep our narratives about the collection should be. Is it our job to interpret or just to describe? What happens when describing entails interpretation? But this is for another post.

The problem in achieving balance arises when you have to make decisions in order to provide access knowing the physical and/or intellectual state of the collection is far from ideal. Fortunately, my experience in the humanities side of academia have taught me researchers interested in a subject will not care if collections are not ideally arranged as long as they have access to them. This fact should ameliorate the problem at least a bit. I do not pretend to oversimplify a situation that encompasses far more circumstances than the ones I’ve mentioned, but I have a feeling that archivist’s reputations are not going to suffer if we put access before the desirable organization of the materials. At least until we have the time and money to do both on a consistent basis.

Collections of interest to Hispanics

When you visit the Historical Society of Pennsylvania’s webpage and read the description of what we do, you’ll find a reference to additions to our collection of documents acquired in 2002 from The Balch Institute for Ethnic Studies. Although HSP has excelled in keeping and providing access to valuable documents about American colonial history, we do hold collections pertaining to Latino (or Hispanics) groups that have settled in Pennsylvania. The additions from The Balch Institute for Ethnic Studies add even more records to HSP’s holdings related to the Latino experience in Pennsylvania, particularly that of organizations and individuals established in the Philadelphia area.

As a guide to researchers interested in subjects connected to Latinos in United States, or collections with papers produced by persons associated with major events in Latin America, we offer an inventory (by no means exhaustive) of what we at HSP have.

The John Rutter Brooke papers (Collection 0078) contain, among other things, documents about his roles as an important military commander during the Hispanic-American War, and as military governor of Puerto Rico and Cuba. The Joseph Sill Clark papers (Collection 1958) feature documents related to the 1965 US invasion and occupation of the Dominican Republic, and memorandums pertaining to Argentina’s 1960’s political situation. Sill Clark was mayor of Philadelphia and served as United States senator from Pennsylvania. The Adolfo Fernández Cavada diary (Collection Am .6956) was written while serving as Captain with the Pennsylvania Volunteers, 23rd Regiment; and includes a detailed personal account of the Battle of Gettysburg. Fernandez Cavada was one of three brothers born in Cienfuegos, Cuba who later joined the Union Army. Puerto Rico legal and government papers (Collection 0518) is an assortment of licenses to masters of vessels, passports, copies of government rules, regulations regarding ports, and similar legal documents issued by the Puerto Rican government.

Among the collections describing the Latino experience in Philadelphia we can mention the Nelson A. Diaz papers (Collection 3079), featuring documents produced while working as a Philadelphia attorney who served on the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas and as general counsel for the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. We also have the records for the Spanish Merchants Association of Philadelphia (MSS114), founded in 1970 by Puerto Rican businessmen in Philadelphia to distribute Minority Business Development Agency funds in the Latino community; the Puerto Rican Week Festival records (MSS119), produced by the Council of Spanish Speaking Organizations of Philadelphia; records for the Pennsylvania branch of Aspira, Inc. (MSS148); records for the Philadelphia Center of The League of United Latin American Citizens (Collection MSS149), founded in Texas as an advocacy group to increase educational opportunities for Hispanic Americans; papers for the Post #840 of the American Legion in Philadelphia (MSS165), whose membership was primarily Puerto Rican; The Latino Project records (MSS117), headed by attorney Luis P. Diaz, provided legal assistance and representation to Spanish-speaking groups and interests in Greater Philadelphia area; the Hispanic Federation for Social and Economic Development records (MSS116), non-profit organization serving Puerto Ricans and Latinos in Philadelphia; records for Fifth Street Merchants Association (MSS118), formed in 1975 to represent the interests of merchants within the so-called “Golden Block,” the Fifth Street corridor bordered by Lehigh Avenue and Allegheny Avenue in North Philadelphia; and the Council of Spanish Speaking Organizations of Philadelphia records (MSS120), organized in 1962 as a liaison between the Spanish-speaking and non-Latino communities, and intended to coordinate existing Spanish organizations and to create new programs and activities for their constituents.

It’s worth pointing out that the Historical Society of Pennsylvania holds thousands of documents on the history of United Sates in general, and on Pennsylvania in particular. Hence, this is only a small sample of collections that may contain materials about Latinos in United States.