February is Black History Month, which gives us all the opportunity to contemplate and study the history of the Black experience in America and to celebrate the profound role that African Americans have played in the development of our nation. Accordingly, this month the Briscoe Center is showcasing the work of photographer R. C. Hickman (1918–2007) in the exhibit hallway. A companion exhibit is also on display at Dallas City Hall. Hickman was an outstanding photographer whose work from the 1950s and ’60s represents a permanent visual record of a significant transitional era in the history of the African American community—in Dallas in particular—but in a way that resonates across Texas and the United States in general. By displaying images from his archives at the center, I hope these exhibits can bring the people and the world they lived in out of the shadows of the past and memory.
President’s Day is also in February, which gives us the opportunity to raise awareness of the center’s resources documenting the history of the executive branch of the federal government. Our photojournalism collections include the photographic archives of presidential photographers and White House correspondents while congressional and political collections include the papers of over 60 congressmen, most of whom worked directly with presidents from Franklin Roosevelt all the way up to Barack Obama. The center holds a large collection of letters and documents written by the men who have served as president, including a letter written in 1769 by George Washington (whose birthday is commemorated on President’s Day). Finally, the Wayne Barrett Papers document the life of a New York reporter who was one of the first to take Donald Trump seriously as a political player.
Barrett’s papers were featured on a recent episode of Vice News Tonight on HBO. In fact, the last month has seen the Briscoe Center’s collection featured across numerous media networks. At the Briscoe-Garner Museum, new Site Manager Richelle Runyon did a great job of showing around the crew of the Texas PBS show Daytripper. You can watch the episode here. Also, the Sam Rayburn Papers were used extensively in a KXII piece on the Sherman “Riot” of 1930. You can watch that retrospective here. Rayburn’s papers are part of the center’s Congressional and Political History Collections, and the center operates the Sam Rayburn Museum in Bonham, Texas. On Thursday, the museum bestows the H. G. Dulaney Public Service Award to Allen Rich. Allen runs the North Texas E-News and fully deserves the award for his diligent, thoughtful, and energetic coverage of the region over the last decade.
In closing, I want to mention several upcoming events. First, on March 7, the center will host a talk by Maria Hammack titled “South of Slavery: Black Routes to Mexico and Freedom, 1793–1868.” Maria is the 2018–19 Briscoe Center fellow and a doctoral candidate in the history department here at UT. Her fascinating research focuses on the experiences of black Americans who chose to leave the United States and escape to Mexico. The Briscoe Center fellowship supports advanced graduate students at UT who need to perform in-depth research in the center’s collections. I’m delighted that we’ve been able to support Maria in her work.
Finally, on March 27, the center will host an event with former New York Times White House photojournalist D Gorton, who will speak about his 1969 project documenting the “white South.” For 18 months in 1969 and 1970, Gorton drove across the Mississippi Delta with his friend Jeff Nightbyrd documenting white communities in the throes of desegregation. It was the moment, according to Gorton, that “white supremacy collapsed.” And while he abhorred the system of supremacy that was crumbling before his eyes, he never lost patience or compassion for the blue-collar whites of the South who had been left behind by technological change after World War II. I hope you can join us for Maria and D’s talks. You can RSVP to both or either here.
Don Carleton, Ph.D.
J. R. Parten Chair in the Archives of American History