Monthly Archives: September 2018

The Rescheduled Wyatt Tee Walker Symposium

The Wyatt Tee Walker Symposium originally scheduled for Thursday, September 13 and canceled due to Hurricane Florence has now been officially rescheduled! I’ll take this week’s #WyattWalkerWednesday post to discuss some details and how it pertains to the Dr. and Mrs. Wyatt Tee Walker Collection.

Originally announced during the second memorial held in honor of Dr. Walker at Gillfield Baptist Church in Petersburg, VA by President Crutcher, the Wyatt Tee Walker Symposium will consist of a panel of speakers, a keynote address, and a special preview exhibition of materials from the collection. Since its announcement, the event has become the first major event of UR’s School of Arts & Sciences yearlong theme of Contested Spaces: Race, Nation, and Conflict. The event is hosted by the Office of the President, the Office of the Provost, and the School of Arts & Sciences.

The panel will consist of four speakers: Corey Walker, Vice President, Dean and Professor of Religion and Society at Virginia Union University; Chris Dorsey, President of Higher Education & Leadership Ministries of the Christian Church Disciples of Christ; Laura Browder, Professor of American Studies; and Thad Williamson, Associate Professor of Leadership Studies and Philosophy, Politics, Economics, and Law. Each panelist brings a different area of expertise that Dr. Walker’s life has touched on, including activism, theology, civil rights, urban development, and more. The keynote speaker will be Dr. Joseph Evans, Dean of the Morehouse School of Religion and Senior Pastor of Mount Carmel Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. Dr. Evans was also a Walker Scholar and close friend of Dr. and Mrs. Walker. He also conducted our oral history with the Walkers in 2016, which is believed to be the final recorded interview with Dr. Walker.

To support this symposium and help provide some material context for the life and work of Dr. Walker, Boatwright Library Rare Books and Special Collections will be putting on a short “sneak preview” of the collection. This will include manuscript material as well as objects from the collection highlighting the work Dr. Walker did throughout his life. If you have any interest in what the collection holds and are in the area, this is a fantastic chance to get a quick look into the collection!

Besides this post, you can get additional details about the symposium – and register to attend the panel, keynote, or both – on the Wyatt Tee Walker Symposium webpage. And in the meantime, keep an eye on this space for more information about the Dr. and Mrs. Wyatt Tee Walker Collection, my progress in processing it, and what else the Rare Books and Special Collections is up to!

Archival Ephemera in the Walker Collection

Processing a collection is always a fun exercise in observation: you always have to make sure you’re keeping a sharp eye out for information that might help researchers in the future. But sometimes the things you spot as a processing archivist can be less than helpful! For today’s #WyattWalkerWednesday, I talk about one such discovery I recently made in the Dr. and Mrs. Wyatt Tee Walker Collection.

Often, processing a collection is a bit like working as a psychologist or therapist: you have to get inside the mind of the collection’s creator to figure out how they organized their material, why they organized it that way, and why they kept these specific things in the first place.  For much of Dr. Walker’s material, much of this is self-evident, especially in the case of the SCLC files. Most materials are in clearly labeled folders that often shed light on their contents, but occasionally I stumble across something with a little more mystery surrounding it.

Take, for instance, an empty folder I found among the other files. There were no materials in the folder, and the spot most often labeled was blank. Perhaps the folder was accidentally filed and never removed, or perhaps its contents were tossed at some point. Not a big deal, no reason to keep it. Until I went to flip the folder closed, when I discovered writing inside the flap.

Handwritten notes in blue ink on the inside flap of a manila folder reading "% is off not equitable, record is selling too high, report - inconceivable"

Handwritten notes left on the inside of an empty folder.

I’ll admit that this text, written in what appears to be Dr. Walker’s hand, is almost meaningless without context. SCLC published several audio records, primarily on vinyl and mostly of Dr. King’s various sermons and speeches during SCLC events. It’s likely that Dr. Walker took these notes about one such record, but without knowing which record – and when this was written – this has almost no bearing on potential research. Which record, published by whom? Is the % mentioned the percentage of profits paid to SCLC by the publisher? What report is so inconceivable and why?

What I found most amusing, to be honest, was this use of the word “inconceivable.” While these notes were almost certainly written during Dr. Walker’s time at SCLC in the early 1960s, a full decade before The Princess Bride was published and almost 15 years before the popular film adaptation, my first thought was of Wallace Shawn proclaiming that line. In this case, however, I believe the word means exactly what Dr. Walker thought it means. And in his use of the word, as is the case in so much of his life, Dr. Walker was far ahead of the curve.

As always, please check back next Wednesday for another peek into the Dr. and Mrs. Wyatt Tee Walker Collection, my processing progress, and some of the materials I find in my work!

Wyatt Tee Walker Symposium

This week’s #WyattWalkerWednesday post was intended to be in conjunction with the Wyatt Tee Walker Symposium scheduled for tomorrow afternoon. However, due to Hurricane Florence, the symposium has been canceled. Please check the symposium website for more information about the cancellation and future date once the symposium is rescheduled. And please check back here for a full blog post next week!

Wyatt Tee Walker and the 1960 SCLC Annual Meeting

This #WyattWalkerWednesday I thought I would discuss some of the more immediately important documents I’ve come across recently while processing the manuscript portion of the Dr. and Mrs. Wyatt Tee Walker Collection, namely the notes from the 1960 annual meeting.

This meeting, held in early August 1960, included a major brainstorm session about the purpose and direction of SCLC. At the time, the organization had no major nonviolent, direct action campaigns under its belt. This would change soon after the annual meeting, perhaps due in part to Dr. Walker’s influence.

A letter typewritten on "The Mount Zion Baptist Church" letterhead signed by Edward T. Graham and addressed to Wyatt Tee Walker

A letter from Rev. Edward T. Graham to Rev. Wyatt Tee Walker discussing the annual meeting of August 1960.

The records we have from this annual meeting appear to have been sent by Rev. Edward T. Graham, who was the “Chairman of the Committee” at that time, to Dr. Walker some months later. Rev. Graham’s letter praises Dr. Walker for his work during the meeting, and offers the documents “so that you and your staff can get it right out.” Included is a typed list of resolutions, areas of concern in which SCLC can move forward by planning specific projects to address each one.

A single typewritten page listing 11 projects for SCLC to focus on

List of “areas of broad concern” created at the 1960 annual meeting of SCLC by the Committee on Resolutions.

This list of “areas of broad concern” is deeply foretelling of exactly what the SCLC would do over the coming years, including a dedication to non-violence, as is shown throughout their work; implementation of skills and techniques for non-violent protests, as seen in the training seminars they held for several years to train activists in nonviolent direction action; a major SCLC project in the “Hard Core South,” suggested in Montgomery but eventually held in Birmingham; and a focus on “the need for an all-out voter registration (major project)”, a project that they did in fact undertake.

What was most striking to me, however, was the “unequivocal support of “Sit-Ins” (all types – Kneel-Ins, etc.).” A kneel-in is a type of peaceful protest where black Christians would attend services at a church with an all-white church. But I had never heard the term kneel-in before reading this document, and so my first thought was not of churchgoing but of current political dissent that has been voiced by kneeling, especially that of Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the national anthem. Considering the Nike advertisement published earlier this week, I don’t think this association is surprising. And it does help to draw parallels between the SCLC’s work protesting the injustices of the ’60s and Kaepernick’s work protesting police brutality that disproportionately affects people of color in America today. Both SCLC and Kaepernick focus on nonviolent protest that attempts to capture a wide public audience to bring attention to the “areas of broad concern” being protested.

The materials documenting the 1960 annual meeting are deeply important to the history of SCLC, providing evidence of the beginning of their major push towards nonviolent direction action in the Deep South, voter registration, and training programs for new activists. This documentation also helps clearly define what SCLC stood for, what they supported, and how they viewed themselves as an organization at a time when they were about to become a major actor in national history. But these documents also provide a very real connection to the past that can help guide the present and the future as well.

What are your thoughts on the power of archival collections to connect the past, present, and future? Leave any comments you have below. And as always, please check back next week for another #WyattWalkerWednesday post on the Dr. and Mrs. Wyatt Tee Walker Collection, its processing status, and what interesting finds I uncover as I move through the material.