Tag Archives: Activism

(C)istory Lesson

Our next submission is from Rachel Duke, our Rare Books Librarian, who has been with Special collections for two years. This project was primarily geared towards full-time faculty and staff, so I chose to highlight her contribution to see what a full-time faculty’s experience would be like looking through the catalog.

Frontispiece and Title Page, Salome, 1894. Image from https://collection.cooperhewitt.org/objects/68775953/

The item she chose was Salome, originally written in French by Oscar Wilde, then translated into English, as her object. While this book does not explicitly identify as a “Queer Text,” Wilde has become canonized in queer historical literature. In the first edition of the book, there is even a dedication to his lover, Lord Alfred Bruce Douglas, who helped with the translation. While there are documented historical examples of what we would refer to today as “queerness,” (queer meaning non-straight) there is still no demarcation of his queerness anywhere in the catalog record. Although the author is not necessarily unpacking his own queer experiences in the text, “both [Salome’s] author and its legacy participate strongly in queer history” as Duke states in her submission. 

Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred Bruce Douglas

Even though Wilde was in a queer relationship with Lord Alfred Bruce Douglas, and has been accepted into the Queer canon, why doesn’t his catalog record reflect that history? Well, a few factors come into play. One of the main ones is an aversion to retroactively labeling historical figures. Since we cannot confirm which modern label would fit Wilde, we can’t necessarily outright label him as gay. How would a queer researcher like me go about finding authors and artists from the past who are connected with queer history?

It is important to acknowledge LGBTQ+ erasure when discussing this topic. Since the LGBTQ+ community has historically been marginalized, documentation of queerness is hard to come by because:

  • People did not collect, and even actively erased, Queer and Trans Histories.
  • LGBTQ+ history has been passed down primarily as an oral tradition. 
  • Historically, we cannot confirm which labels people would have identified with.
  • Language and social conventions change over time.

So while we view and know someone to be queer, since it is not in official documentation we have no “proof.” On the other hand, in some cultures, gay relations were socially acceptable. For example, in the Middle Ages, there was a legislatively approved form of same-sex marriage, known as affrèrement. This example is clearly labeled as *gay* in related library-based description because it was codified that way in the historical record. By contrast, Shakespeare’s sonnets, which (arguably) use queer motifs and themes, are not labeled as “queer” or “gay.” Does queer content mean we retroactively label the AUTHOR queer? Does the implication of queerness mean we should make the text discoverable under queer search terms?

Cartoon depicting Oscar Wilde’s visit to San Francisco. By George Frederick Keller – The Wasp, March 31, 1882.

Personally, I see both sides. As someone who is queer, I would not want a random person trying to retroactively label me as something I don’t identify with. On the other hand, as a queer researcher, I find it vital to have access to that information. Although they might not have been seen as queer in their time period, their experiences speak to queer history. Identities and people will change, which is completely normal, but as a group that has experienced erasure of their history, it is important to acknowledge all examples of historical queerness as a proof that LGBTQ+ individuals have existed throughout time. How do we responsibly and ethically go about making historical queerness discoverable in our finding aids and catalogs?

Click Here to see some more historical figures you might not have known were LGBTQ+.

Light. A. Fire.

For this blog post, I am choosing to write this from a more candid place, in hopes that people understand why change in library description is necessary. My last post talked about How to Transition on 63 Cents a Day, showing how there are outdated terms referencing Lee Krist’s identity in the catalog record. Those terms are still in the catalog record. My first post discussed how there are 0 results when you search “LGBT.” There are still zero results in Special Collections and Archives for that search. I started these posts as a way to facilitate the conversation about white supremacy in library settings, and to create some tangible ways to start addressing them. 

I was initially hired by Special Collections to update the artists’ book inventory, focusing on the labeling of printmaking techniques, themes, and identities to make them more accessible. One of the first books I ever worked on was How to Transition on 63 cents a Day. I remember updating the SCA spreadsheet of search terms with every term I could think of, the first one of them was LGBT. These terms have yet to make it into the catalog record. It feels frustrating to me because I have been doing this kind of work since my first day in Special Collections, but it seems progress moves at a glacier’s pace.

Tackling systemic issues within universities and other similar institutions sometimes feels impossible. Contacting the right people, organizing multiple meetings to discuss an action plan, finding the resources to do so, etc. etc. etc. and all while following “proper protocol.” Following bureaucratic etiquette, more times than not, perpetuates a mess of red tape that always ensnares progress for marginalized communities.

Meetings are important. I understand that! I just want tangible progress, and the ability to keep track of what’s been done in this effort. In a predominately white cisgender heterosexual career and institution, meetings can often feel performative rather than action-based. So much has been written about performative allyship in the workplace when it comes to racism, feminism, and anti-queer sentiment.  A recent Fortune article discusses performative allyship in workspaces, where organizations are “condemning racism through broad gestures but enabling its effects.” 

We all acknowledge that prejudice is bad. We all acknowledge that we want to “get better.” But you don’t “get better,” you DO BETTER. We haven’t uplifted the community that these problems have affected, so how can we say that we’re addressing them? One of the most important parts of creating change is recognizing that no person or institution is perfect. True allyship doesn’t lie in perfection (OR POLITENESS); it lies in the ability to accept critique and take accountability, which is what I hope we can do as a division and as a library. Next week is our first meeting about this initiative, and I want to make this about ACTION, to “light a proverbial fire.” 

I’m asking my division colleagues to do this “Privilege Check Game” prior to the meeting. We’d love for you to play along, and to think of one way that you can make your work more inclusive. This can be as big or as small as you want. 

Privilege Check Game: Start with 10 fingers!

Put down a finger if…

…you’ve ever been called a slur?

…you’ve ever had to see the same slur you were called in a catalog record?

…you’ve searched your identity (race, gender, sexuality, etc.) and no results came up?

…you’ve ever had someone (actively) not address you by your name or pronouns at work?

…you’ve ever had your identity “explained” to you by someone not of that identity? 

…you’ve ever had your identity affect how people behaved around/treated you?

…you’ve ever been anxious about your job status due to federal/state law?

…you’ve ever not spoken out in a situation for fear that you might get in trouble/people will think you’re overreacting?

…you’ve ever gotten frustrated when people use gendered language (guys, dude, sir/ma’am)?

…you’ve ever felt unwelcome in professional/academic spaces?

… you’ve ever had to switch the way you present yourself in different settings (appearance, clothes/style, language/speech, name/pronouns, etc.)

Inspiration for game:

New Exhibit Coming Soon!

March 13, 2020 will be the last day to view the current exhibit in the Special Collections & Archives Exhibit room,  “A Century of Mystery and Intrigue”.

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Our new exhibit, “Earth Day 50”, will be opening in April to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first Earth Day: April 22, 1970. “Earth Day 50” is a collaborative effort between FSU Sustainable Campus and Special Collections & Archives. The goal of the exhibit is to illustrate the role that prominent figures in FSU and Florida history have played in the environmental movement and highlight environmental activism here at Florida State University in the past 50 years.

Earth Day Activities
Schedule of Events at Florida State University for the first Earth Day, April 22, 1970. Florida Flambeau, April 22, 1970

Keep an eye out for more information about the opening of the new exhibit, as well as events and activities in celebration of Earth Day on campus.

What They Fought: Resistance to Integration and the Path to the 1956 Tallahassee Bus Boycott

In the spring of 1956, after students Wilhelmina Jakes and Carrie Patterson from Florida A&M University, were arrested and jailed for refusing to leave the “whites only” section of a Tallahassee bus, the African-American community of the city rallied together to boycott the city bus service and take a stand for their civil rights and the belief that the color of their skin should not leave them subject to discrimination and fear. Those who participated in the boycott, including Rev. C.K. Steele, Daniel Speed, Jakes and Patterson and many others from the then 10,600 African-American residents of Tallahassee, were met with resistance from bigoted members of the Tallahassee community that felt racial segregation should remain the law of the land. What factors contributed to a mindset that would allow for one group to so poorly treat another?

A new exhibit now open at the Claude Pepper Library seeks to illustrate the kind of resistance that the Bus Boycott participants faced in their endeavors to secure fair and impartial treatment in a city that they too, called home. Guests are invited to visit the Claude Pepper Library and explore the exhibit on the Tallahassee Bus Boycott of 1956 which is open to the public now, through the early fall of 2018. Using primary source documents, ephemera and photographs that provide a deeper context for the events that began to take place in May of 1956, Special Collections & Archives provides a look into the social and political climate in the State of Florida leading during the time of the Bus Boycott. Guests are also able to listen to audio recordings of boycott participants and witnesses, including the Reverend C.K. Steele, Daniel Speed and Governor LeRoy Collins. The Claude Pepper Library and Museum are open Monday through Friday from 9:00AM to 5:00PM, call (850) 644-9217 or email Political Papers Archivist Robert Rubero (rrubero@fsu.edu) with any questions.

Poetic Activism and Ruby Dee

Glowchild, and other Poems, published in 1972, is an anthology of works by black poets on the subjects of “nature, passion, politics, hope, peace, freedom, and other topics, gathered primarily with the inner-city youth in mind” (Catalog Description). The included poems were selected by Ruby Dee, poet, playwright, actress, journalist, and lifelong activist.

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Glowchild, and other Poems

Nature and Poetry

To choose a poem to highlight in this collection is difficult, as they are all worth reading, but following this Year of Poetry month’s theme, Nature and Poetry, we’ll focus on two poems that consider an aspect of nature and use that image to reflect on some of the complexities of human experience. Both poets were high school students. 

I LOVE…

I love, the birds that sing to me in the 
Birth of morning. 
I love, the cold clear water on my skin to wake
My rested face.
I love, walking briskly through the clean 
Crisp noon air. 
I love, to see people being
People together. 
I love, to see love being loved
Don't you?
--- LaVerne Davis, New Rochelle H.S.

“ESCAPE”

Have you ever watched a fly trying to get out a window?
It yearns for the sunshine on its back, and lost freedom. 
It goes back and forth trying to get out. 
Maybe it's trying to tell US something. 
Should WE also try to get out, 
Get back to the outdoors, 
Escape from the prison called civilization?
To where a man is free and doesn't die from 9-5. 
Where he's not boxed in by responsibility. 
Yes, maybe WE also should be looking for the space in the window to Escape.
--- Robert Kaufmann, Albert Leonard Jr. H.S.

In Dee’s introduction to the collection, she stresses the importance of these poems:

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From Dee’s Introduction

American Negro Theater

The anthology is a poetic continuation of Dee’s activist work, and its target audience of “inner-city youth” is near and dear to Dee’s own experience growing up in Harlem in the 30s and 40s. She began her acting career with the American Negro Theater (ANT), a group founded in 1940 when Abram Hill and Frederick O’Neal approached librarians of the Harlem Branch of the New York Public Library system; the librarians offered the group the use of their basement stage and a game-changing theater troupe arose. Eventually, along with Ruby Dee, actors Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte came out of the American Negro Theater. ANT worked to write and produce theater that was thoughtful and radical.

The goals of the American Negro Theater were:

  1. To develop a permanent acting company trained in the arts and crafts of the theatre that also reflected the special gifts, talents, and attributes of African Americans.
  2. To produce plays that honestly and with integrity interpreted, illuminated, and criticized contemporary black life and the concerns of black people.
  3. To maintain an affiliation with, and provide leadership for, other black theatre groups throughout the nation.
  4. To utilize its resources to develop racial pride in the theatre, rather than racial apathy.

(from Wikipedia)

 

323px-Ruby_Dee
1962 Photo of Dee by Carl Van Vechten, Van Vechten Collection at Library of Congress

Ruby Dee

Ruby Dee is likely best known for her role in the stage and film productions of A Raisin in the Sun, which made its Broadway debut in 1959. Dee played Ruth Younger, the wife and mother of the impoverished Younger family. She became quite famous and popular, but never shied away from participation in political activism, leading her to be blacklisted and harshly criticized at several points in her career.

It is difficult to capture the breadth of Dee’s accomplishments in this space. To learn more about her amazing life and career, you can read a memorial piece, written just after her death, here.

Here is a video of Ruby Dee appearing on the Dick Cavett show in 1970, around the time that she began collecting poems for production in Glowchild, and other Poems.

 Glowchild, and other Poems is a beautiful anthology, filled with poems by young black people writing about their experiences with the harsh realities of life. It’s disappointing to discover that the book was banned in libraries across the states. Dee carefully curated the anthology to incorporate poems that would be useful to young people who identified with the experiences of the writers; to take away access to that experience — and most of these bans took place in public school libraries — is a crime.


Sources:

Rux, Carl Hancock. “Ruby Dee: 1922-2014.” American Theatre, no. 7, 2014, p. 20.

Smith, Jessie Carney and Lean’tin L. Bracks. Black Women of the Harlem Renaissance Era. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2014.