It’s been nearly two years since the center’s $7 million renovation to create new exhibit and research spaces at our Research and Collections division on campus. Perhaps the most obvious result of the renovation has been our ability to curate first-class exhibits based on historical materials preserved at the center. However, this issue of the e-news illustrates another key development: the center’s much enhanced ability to host public programs.
Every program the center conducts is directly tied to the center’s collections. For example, on March 7 we hosted Maria Hammack, our 2018–19 Briscoe Fellow and a doctoral candidate in the UT History Department. Hammack shared details of her fascinating research into Texas’s “underground railroad,” which makes extensive use of the center’s collections related to fugitive slaves, especially the Bexar Archives and the Natchez Trace Collection. It reminded me of a period during the late 1980s when the renowned historian John Hope Franklin spent many hours in the center’s reading room researching for his book Runaway Slaves: Rebels on the Plantation. Franklin and I were lunch partners during the time he was with us, and he was one of a handful of people who convinced me of the need to broaden the center’s profile to bring more attention to our invaluable Southern collections as well to material documenting other aspects of American history. Franklin’s work was certainly rooted in the South, but it remains a quintessentially American story. I want to thank Maria for speaking at the center and to encourage her as she follows in Dr. Franklin’s footsteps.
Later this month, on March 27, the center will welcome D Gorton, who has donated an important and fascinating collection of images that document the “white South” in 1969–70. Fifty years ago, he embarked on a road trip across the South with his friend Jeff Nightbyrd documenting what he termed the “collapse of white supremacy.” A native southerner and a civil rights activist, Gorton abhorred the system of injustice that was crumbling before his eyes, but 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. Gorton went on to become a photographer for the New York Times and the imageswere not published at the time, remainingundisclosed until recently. At the program, Gorton will walk us through his fascinating career and the “white South” project in particular, then discuss his approach to photography before answering audience questions.
The following week, on April 3, the center hosts acclaimed conflict photographer Carolyn Cole. A veteran photographer at the Los Angeles Times, Cole studied photojournalism at UT in the 1980s and donated her archives to the center last year. In 2004, she was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for her photographs of civil conflict in Liberia. She has been a finalist on five other occasions: for her work covering conflict around the globe including the 2002 siege of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, the 2005 withdrawal of Israel from Gaza, political violence in Kenya in 2008, the 2010 British Petroleum oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan. No doubt, Cole will captivate us all with details of her dangerous, grueling assignments and the award-winning images that have resulted.
Don Carleton, Ph.D.
J. R. Parten Chair in the Archives of American History