Black History Month: African Americans and the Vote

Black History Month is the month-long celebration of African Americans in the United States. While this month originally started in the United States, other countries have also started to dedicate a month to Black History. This month can be a celebration of the literature, art, political figures, and labor that have contributed to the making of the American economy and culture as a whole. We look toward those figures who have advanced these areas, even when their contributions were considered radical.

In addition to the theme of Black History, 2020 marks the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage. To address both of these topics, we should discuss the black women who strove towards gaining the right to vote and gain political representation. In the late 1800s, at the peak of the Suffrage movements, Black women worked in schools and churches promoting the ideas of equality of voting, so that everyone could have a say in what was happening in the United States. Unfortunately, many of the suffrage organizations, even those including black men, didn’t allow black women to participate in movements, creating a divide for black women. For this Black History Month, we remember the role black women played in the goal of getting closer to having the right to vote, even though they did not gain this right until 1920. 

Here in Special Collections, we have a few books that talk about the issue of being a black woman in America. One is a dissertation titled “My Mother is Calling Me”: Legacies of Sexual Violence in 20th-Century American Fiction by Women of Color by Minh Hanh Trinh. It follows the meaning of books such as Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston as well as other books. The second book is Upon These Shores by William Scott, which highlights the Black experience from the 1600s to the Present. There are a few chapters that highlight Black Feminism. The topics of Black History and women’s suffrage deserve increased research and greater prominence, which can be furthered by exploring library and Special Collections resources. 

Veterans Day 2019

For Veterans Day, today we honor our military veterans and thank them for their service. Veterans Day commemorates veterans of all wars and recognizes them even after their service ends. Veterans Day originated as Armistice Day in 1919 after the anniversary of the end of the First World War. 

Here at Linderman Library, we have a few books explaining Armistice day and the history behind the creation of the day. Even in Special Collections there are books remembering veterans as well as their mental health after returning from war. Military service is hard on many, if not all soldiers, and we as citizens should remember such hardships. We should also remember that even when veterans’ military service has ended, many still face battles like homelessness, mental health issues, unemployment and much more. Pictured below are selections from two books about the 1918 Armistice that ended World War I from the Linderman Library stacks. 

Happy Halloween 2019

Happy Halloween everyone! In honor of Halloween, here are a few books from our very own special collections; A Whisper of Blood edited by Ellen Datlow and other notable books from the famous author and journalist Leslie Whitten, who donated these books along with his archival papers. Les Whitten was a Lehigh University alumnus who was originally enrolled as a civil engineering major before dropping out after three semesters to join the Army. After serving in the military, Whitten returned to Lehigh and switched his major to Journalism and English. This was the beginning of his career as a journalist, taking down corrupt politicians including in the Watergate scandal. 

Les Whitten was also a novelist who wrote multiple books in the genres of Horror and Science Fiction. Whitten donated A Whisper of Blood by Ellen Datlow and circled a paragraph on page 121 mentioning him as one of the fundamental authors for vampires. Whitten’s Progeny of the Adder, written in 1965, inspired A Whisper of Blood. Whitten has become an influential horror writer especially in the vampire and werewolf categories. He wrote about monsters while also battling them in real life. Whitten helped to kick start a generation of horror books that continues to grow today. Happy Halloween from Leslie Whitten and the Lehigh Special Collections. For more information about Les Whitten and to see what material Lehigh holds, visit the Leslie Hunter Whitten Papers finding aid.

United Nations Day 2019

Today, October 24th, we celebrate the creation of the United Nations on its 74th year of operation. The international organization was created in 1945 after the Second World War by 51 countries. The purpose of the UN is to maintain international peace and security. Member countries are also trying to improve relations among nations to create social progress, better living standards and human rights. Here at Lehigh University Special Collections we have a pamphlet from 1948 called “World Peace through the United Nations” by Thomas J. Watson.

Watson was an American businessman who served as the chairman and CEO for International Business Machines (IBM) from 1914 to 1956. He developed the IBM management style and corporate culture, growing it into one of the biggest corporations in the world. While at IBM, Watson was a member of the Newcomen Society of North America, an educational foundation dedicated to celebrating the history of engineering and technology. This pamphlet focuses on the United Nations’ effectiveness after World War II, with Watson’s speech detailing ways to help maintain this peace. The ideas presented by Watson were to highlight opportunities for business leader to maintain economic peace through the the United Nations. It was stated as “World Peace through World Trade” that would strengthen the economic foundation of the world. The idea and slogan were originally produced by Watson for The International Chamber of Commerce, but World War II broke out before his plans could be put into effect. The idea was for businesses to operate as a unified entity across separate states. 

Lehigh University is now a registered Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) with the United Nations, just the sixth university in the world to achieve such recognition.

Fire Prevention Week 2019

The history behind why Fire Prevention week started started with an increase in the number of fires in the 19th century, particularly the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 and the Chicago Theater fire of 1903. Here in Special Collections at Lehigh University there are a few books dating back to that time in Chicago’s history. The first one is The Great Chicago Theater Disaster by Marshall Everett. This book gives a detailed account of the The Iroquois Theater, where the fire occurred. It was said that there were no actual floor plans of the theater and that there was only one exit, but the theater could hold up to 2,200 people. The whole building was not up to code and on the day of the fire, every seat was filled. The start of the fire was caused by an electrical short circuit. When trying to flee from the fire, many of the emergency exits were locked and the usher wouldn’t open the door until someone forced it open. This was the deadliest single building fire in American history. 

The Chicago Fire has an interesting legend about how a cow on the farm of Patrick and Catherine O’Leary started the fire from kicking over a lantern in the barn. Mrs. O’Leary’s cow starting the fire has since been disproved, with alternative explanations including and exploding comet. The fire burned for two days and killed 300 people. The book Chicago The Great Conflagration by Elias Colbert and Everett Chamberlin goes through the whole history of the land of Chicago as well as the creation of the city itself. The book focuses on the background history of Chicago for the first 180 pages before getting to the science of the fire. The scientific explanations in the book are outdated, including the fire being caused by sun spot caused droughts and dryness in the city itself. While the book isn’t accurate by modern standards, it provides an interesting retelling of the history of Chicago.

The last book is a little volume called Mrs. Leary’s Cow: A Legend of Chicago, which is ironically written by the Black River Fire Insurance Company as a way to tell a story. The book is similar to a children’s book in the way it rhymes and the high quantity of images. On top of that fire insurance companies also created Sanborn maps that would map out cities to measure the liability the insurance would face in the case of a fire. Lehigh holds the Sanborn map books for Bethlehem and Allentown, while Penn State has digitized the maps for all of Pennsylvania

Banned Books Week 2019

The theme of this banned books week is “Censorship Leaves Us in the Dark. Keep the Light On!”. The censorship in books over the years has left some of the world’s most historic authors in the dark. In this case we are looking at the extraordinary author Toni Morrison, who is known as “The Patron Saint of Banned Books.” Morrison is a historic black author who tackled many issues of race and self identity in the black community. Morrison used powerful imagery that made her stories unique and creative. On the other hand her works were often seen as controversial by parents groups due to their explicit content. Overall, Morrison had her four books Beloved, Song of Solomon, Sula, and The Bluest Eye banned due to their graphic content and the realistic life events portrayed throughout her books. 

Morrison passed away on August 5th at the age of 88. Through recognizing her banned books, we continue to celebrate the life and work of Toni Morrison. Here at Lehigh University in Linderman Library we have a few of her works in circulation. To “The Patron Saint of Banned Books” thank you for keeping the light on and speaking on the issues that people still try to avoid.