African American suffrage advocate and abolitionist minister’s scrapbook in free online talk

“Strengthen and invigorate our souls!”

On Oct. 12, Yale’s Beineke library offers a webinar with Charles Warner, Jr. presenting

Rev. Amos Beman

the scrapbooks that Rev. Amos Gerry Beman, an African American pastor and social activist in Connecticut, made between 1830 and 1858, now fully digitized. 

Amos Berman followed the decades-long struggle for African American voting rights. I have only begun to dip into this trove, and have already seen one item where African Americans wrote passionately about the need for the right to vote. Although slavery had ended in New York in 1827, Black men, but not whites, were required to own $250 in property to vote. African Americans organized and demanded referenda on the issue. Black men got full voting rights only when the 15th amendment, which banned racial discrimination in access to voting, ended New York State’s discriminatory laws.

Amos Beman clipped articles about African Americans who organized against voting restrictions. One eloquent piece in the weekly Colored American pressed for continued agitation, and called for a meeting in August 1841. Signed by Henry Highland Garnet and others, it roused readers to keep up the struggle in the face of the NY state legislature’s failure to act in the previous session:

Brethren, be not discouraged; such disappointments should only act as a stimulus, to strengthen and invigorate our souls, and rouse us to a determination of persevering in the struggle by stronger and still more unanimous efforts, and by the talismanic influence of Agitation!

It was not just in the South that African Americans had to fight to vote. But Black people recognized the importance of having and using the vote. Scrapbooks like Rev. Amos Beman’s show us what a long and multifaceted battle it was.

One of the four volumes concerns Rev. Beman’s work with the Colored Men’s Convention, part of the decades-long Colored Conventions movement that a network of scholars, led by P. Gabrielle Foreman, have brought to light.  The scrapbooks themselves are fully digitized.

Sign up for the webinar here.

What Makes a Good Judge? An African American Scrapbook Weighs In – Warner McGuinn

Warner T. McGuinn, in an article celebrating his victory against a segregation ordinance, saved in his own scrapbook.

African Americans in law and politics have known to keep a close eye on the courts, as the scrapbook of Warner Thornton McGuinn, an African American lawyer, shows. In an era when newspapers rarely published their indexes and libraries did not always save dailies, scrapbooks stored up evidence of politicians’ past activities and positions and were a tool African Americans in law and politics used to keep a close eye on the courts. McGuinn was an 1887 Yale Law School graduate who moved to Baltimore in 1891, and began his scrapbook at the turn of the century. His scrapbook tracks his law career and the public offices he held. He worked against a Maryland law mandating racial segregation in housing. He clipped items about Black life in Baltimore, such as the founding of a Negro theater company in 1916, and on issues in other cities, including an article on a textbook controversy in New Orleans – a white writer objected because it

Clipping on Black theater company in Baltimore.

assigned students to write an essay on Booker T. Washington. When newspapers wrote about him, he saved the article, such as when he gave the main oration at a local memorial gathering for Frederick Douglass in 1905.

McGuinn collected news items about the suppression of Black voting in Maryland. His clippings from the white press were ammunition against politicians who had supported any of the three early 20th-century bills aimed at stripping the vote from African Americans in Maryland. He could bring them out as evidence of a politician’s earlier actions. In a copy — very possibly a facsimile created to circulate — of his own typed 1915 letter to the Baltimore Sun, complaining of their endorsement of Robert Biggs for Chief Judge in Baltimore, which he pasted into his scrapbook, he refers to an article he’d saved from six years earlier. Biggs had supported the Straus Amendment, “WHICH AMENDMENT WAS DESIGNED TO TAKE FROM COLORED VOTERS IN THIS CITY

Warner McGuinn’s letter pointing out that a nominated Chief Judge had supported suppression of the Black vote.

AND STATE THE RIGHT OF SUFFRAGE,” as is evident from a 1909 newspaper clipping from the Baltimore Sun. “IF MR. BIGGS, IN 1909, WAS IN FAVOR OF DISFRANCHISING US, WHAT RIGHT HAS HE NOW TO ASK OR EXPECT OUR SUPPORT?” McGuinn continues in all caps. He concludes with a plea for a nonpartisan judiciary, and support for his candidate, Morris Soper. It was important to stop the appointment of judges who opposed Black people voting.

Warner McGuinn connected Black and women’s disenfranchisement, and fought for women’s suffrage, speaking out for it and collecting pro-suffrage songs and poems in his scrapbook.

Item on women’s suffrage – who knew that there were ballot songs?

Like many other scrapbook makers, he glued his materials onto the pages of an old book. The book’s title is covered over, but columns of statistics peep out from behind his pasted down clippings. He did not use a Mark Twain self-pasting scrapbook, though Mark Twain fans remember Warner McGuinn because Twain helped pay for a portion of McGuinn’s time at Yale Law School. McGuinn was a law student and president of the Law School’s Kent Club, which hosted talks and debates on social and political questions. When the club invited Mark Twain to speak in 1885, McGuinn greatly impressed Twain when he showed him around the campus.

McGuinn was working his way through law school – first as a waiter, and then in a law

Label inside the Mark Twain Self-Pasting Scrap-Book gives instructions for use.

office — when Twain offered to pay for the final year and a half of his studies. Twain’s action has become part of the long history of exaggerating white benevolence. William Dean Howells says, by way of explaining that his friend was a “desouthernized Southerner” that he paid “the way of a negro student through Yale.” A handwritten note on McGuinn’s scrapbook in the Yale Library collection says it was made by “the black put threw Yale Law School by Mark Twain.” Twain’s largesse is thus exaggerated, and McGuinn’s status lowered.

Thurgood Marshall, mentored by McGuinn.

But when McGuinn reached out to help others, he left a mark, and his decades of activism stretched farther into the future. He mentored the groundbreaking civil rights attorney and Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, who established the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. Justice Marshall continued McGuinn’s work of fighting voter suppression. One of its early cases established the right of Black voters in Texas to vote in Democratic primaries. Thurgood Marshall said Warner T. McGuinn should have been a judge himself.

Warner T. McGuinn’s scrapbooks are in the Yale Miscellaneous Manuscripts Collection (MS 1258). Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University Library.

African American Scrapbooks Now

A recent New York Times article on contemporary African American scrapbook makers reports on what happened when Tazhiana Gordon featured her pages on attending Black Lives Matter demonstrations in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. She shows her pages on Instagram, where a scrapbooking community shares their work. But when she placed her activism and Blackness at the center of her work, some of her white followers dropped her.

Azzari Jarrett has designed Black Lives Matter scrapbook stickers and stamps.

The many African American scrapbook makers of the 19th and 20th century would have been right there with Tazhiana Gordon in documenting the BLM movement, and paying attention to responses to the police killing of a black man. Even those who saved memorabilia about their own lives – programs from concerts they attended, family achievements – also clipped and pasted newspaper items about lynchings, government collusion in lynchings, and the suppression of the Black vote. Their private lives were not separate from what was happening to the local and national Black community.

African Americans of the past have known how essential it was for them to archive their own activities. We would not know anything about Alice Dunbar Nelson’s work for women’s suffrage if she hadn’t kept a thorough scrapbook of her 1915 campaign work around Pennsylvania.

Pages from Alice Dunbar’s 1915 scrapbook documenting her women’s suffrage work
Inside front cover of one of L.S. Alexander Gumby’s scrapbooks, with his personal bookplate.

Nineteenth and twentieth century African American scrapbook makers might have been more puzzled to see people ornamenting the pages with purchased stickers, and by the online community that shares ideas for page layouts and designs. Their own sharing was within the Black community, to offer one another the histories they’d compiled. I wonder what William Henry Dorsey, son of an escaped slave, with his 400 scrapbooks spanning over 4 decades, or Shirley Graham DuBois and her mother, or Joseph W.H. Cathcart, a janitor, whose 150+ massive scrapbooks attracted reporters from the white press to write about him, as “the Great Scrap Book Maker,” would have thought of today’s Black scrapbook crafters? All (with the exception of L.S. Alexander Gumby, who loved frames and pockets) might have been puzzled by the attention to the visual aesthetics of scrapbook making. But they surely would have applauded their demands for recognition and paid work within a white controlled industry.

Treasure in scrapbooks

Thiharriet tubman from Miller scrapbook, library of congresss rare, riveting photograph of Harriet Tubman, probably taken around 1911 at her home in Auburn, NY, was in one of the scrapbooks kept by Elizabeth Smith Miller and Anne Fitzhugh Miller. They were ardent suffragists, and the daughter and granddaughter of abolitionist Gerrit Smith.  You can see more of their scrapbooks on the Library of Congress website. I’m looking forward to speaking about all kinds of scrapbooks in Auburn, Monday March 19 at the Seymour Library, 6 pm.

Auburn is not far from Syracuse and Ithaca — come on over.

This will be my last talk for Humanities New York’s Public Scholars Program, which is coming to an end. Audiences have been enthusiastic, and I hope to keep giving talks.

Ink and Electricity: Speaking at Monmouth University Thursday Nov. 12

Vertical filing cabinet, c. 1890, from the American Library Association: http://www.ala.org/lhrt/popularresources/lhrtnewsletters/spring2011

Vertical filing cabinet, c. 1890, from the American Library Association: http://www.ala.org/lhrt/popularresources/lhrtnewsletters/spring2011

Monmouth’s great title for their series on print culture, Ink and Electricity, is a reminder of how our perceptions of media are shaped by the technology of the moment. For 19th century scrapbook makers, scrapbooks were a new technology — as were the 1890s file folders and vertical files, that eventually displaced a swath of newspaper clipping scrapbook making. I’ll be speaking on how 19th century activists repurposed media in their scrapbooks. 6-7:30, Wilson Hall, Room 104. Arrive early for refreshments. Thanks to Kristin Bluemel for arranging this.

A scrapbook revealed a rescuer’s efforts to save children from the Holocaust

Statue of Nicholas Winton, with a version of his scrapbook. Maidenhead, UK.

Statue of Nicholas Winton, with a version of his scrapbook. Maidenhead, UK.

The recent death of Sir Nicholas Winton at age 106 brought the story of his rescue of 669 Jewish children from Czechoslovakia during the Holocaust back to public attention. How did his heroism originally come to light? His wife found his scrapbook, where he had documented the identities and whereabouts of the children. ” It was only after Mr. Winton’s wife found a scrapbook in the attic of their home in 1988 — a dusty record of names, pictures and documents detailing a story of redemption from the Holocaust — that he spoke of his all-but-forgotten work in the deliverance of children who, like the parents who gave them up to save their lives, were destined for Nazi concentration camps and extermination,” the New York Times reported.

The scrapbook includes maps he collected in Prague, showing Germany’s plan’s for an

Winton's scrapbook of rescued children

Winton’s scrapbook of rescued children

expanding empire, along with cards with photos that Winton showed to prospective foster parents in the

Page 1 of Nicholas Winton's scrapbook

Page 1 of Nicholas Winton’s scrapbook

UK, and other materials seeking to interest Britons in taking in individual children. Like many scrapbooks, Winton’s could easily have been thought too scrappy to save. The Times notes, “After finding his long-hidden scrapbook — crammed with names, pictures, letters from families, travel documents and notes crediting his colleagues — his wife asked for an explanation. He gave her a general idea, but said he thought the papers had no value and suggested discarding them.” More images from the scrapbook are here, and here. Has anyone seen it? Know more about what it looks like?

Winton statue, detail.

Winton statue, detail.