The Vote of 1960: Context, Challenge, NGS & James Dent Walker

Before I start: The view from here, some context

In trying to assemble a history of an organization from fragments, I’m grappling with slippage, the way that things unsaid haunt every space, how the unsaid is supposed to be gracious, but hides a different cruelty. It’s working with systems that require violence for its completion, a continuation of the machine of settler logics that seek to justify supremacy, enslavement, murder, and rape. Such details are often folded away until a familial connection is revealed.

Often the locations where such decisions are made are often comfortable offices or elaborate desert base locations for remote murder and assaults.  It is an awareness that hovers over the question of what a Nation is. And societies aim to define and redefine the boundaries. Such colonizing systems also precede the formation of the National Genealogical Society (NGS) at the cusp of the twentieth century, with its familial connections to the Trail of Tears, multiple plantations and governance.

Location Matters

Knowing my Taino ancestry and the creole blends of various ancestors offers a grounding space when faced with the history of organizations. I’m of Native American descent, honor that and study the various diasporas that structure my family tree. I also descend from the enslaved (Juan Josef Carrillo b. Guinea, 1736-1811) and the enslaver (Capt. Martin Lorenzo de Acevedo y Hernandez 1749-1828) within a larger context of colonization, as my family is from Boriken (Puerto Rico). Gaining this knowledge took time, research and service. 

The awareness of one’s history contrasts with the history of organizations, particularly those involved with issues such as eugenics, segregation and pushing the Lost Cause (an interpretation of the Civil War from the Confederate perspective). This is part of the National Genealogical Society’s early history. On the other side is the history of Federal employment, and the impact of segregationist policies in Washington DC and how James Dent Walker navigated this at NARA (National Archives and Records Association). Ultimately his knowledge and skills helped to broaden the institutional spaces for BIPOC (Black Indigenous People of Color) to do their own genealogical research.

I have talked to several Black genealogists about the other part of genealogical research– the emotional labor of dealing with findings, of telling the stories of ancestors who passed through to emancipation.  Of their encounters with people who made life difficult by blocking access to resources, often in a multiplicity of forms that reinforced segregation and at its essence denied a full humanity. This is the larger context of doing this work. This too is part of the genealogical journey. Change can feel glacial in its progress.

The Vote of 1960: Looking Back to Move Forward

Here I grapple with the silences and statements made by three white women who took it upon themselves in 1960 to mail over 700 members of the National Genealogical Society and encourage them to protest the changes to the language used to define membership. This happened sixty-two years ago, and it is worth a look back. 

During the 1960s the clamor for change, like now, was loudly expressed in civic gatherings across the nation. In some locations, anger ripped across cities in the form of buildings lit aflame, people marched.  The Civil Rights Movement began in 1954 to work against racial segregation and discrimination across the south and grew into multiple forms. In the south of 1960, many people in power were believers in the Lost Cause and used force to keep people down. And when the Freedom Riders groups arrived in different locations across the South, the use of violence against them by locals and police exploded. 

But back to this vote. 

This NGS committee, Virginia D. Crim, Bessie P Pryor and Katie-Prince Esker, made the old membership policy explicit: 

“the Referendum referred to was held on November [19] 1960. The membership voted on the following: 

SHOULD THE NATIONAL GENEALOGICAL SOCIETY SET ASIDE ITS GENERALLY RECOGNIZED PRACTICE, WHICH HAS BEEN IN FORCE SINCE ITS ORGANIZATION IN 1903, AND ADMIT MEMBERS OF THE NEGRO RACE.” [1]

Initially, the National Genealogical Society voted not to open their doors to Black genealogists, a policy held for over 50 years. The then new president, William H. Dumont realized this couldn’t last, and the language that defined who could be a member was changed after James Dent Walker, a NARA civil servant and genealogist applied for membership in 1960.  He wasn’t specifically named in newspaper coverage, although the Washington Post’s description leaves no doubt it was Walker. [2] Walker himself never discussed the challenge he set by applying for membership to NGS. He continued to forge an incredible path forward.

 Ultimately, Walker became part of NGS’ board, and a nationally recognized genealogist, researcher, lecturer and archivist in his own right, known for his work in African American genealogy. A little over a decade later, he founded the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society (Today the African American Historical and Genealogical Society), AAHGS.org that has chapters across the country. [3] This institution proved a necessary space for Black genealogical practice over the decades.

The Press & The Committee

The Washington Post’s article, “Genealogical Group Gets Racial Issue” of 4 November 1960 asked “Is a Negro to join the searchers for the Nation’s family trees? The National Genealogical Society is in a tizzy…about 50 members who felt “controversy threatened to engulf the NGS” proposed a racial restriction clause in their constitution.”  Those opposed to admission said “Negroes…have nothing in common with us, genealogically speaking.” Those who favored change in policy “point out the Society is national, educational and scientific; that it is not to be confused with patriotic organizations; that in the pursuit of science there is no room for discrimination…” [4]

Looking beyond the fight over NGS membership, this was a time when nationally, thousands took part in multiple Civil Rights actions in former slave and free states pushing for change.  The stakes were high, and some died while others were seriously injured in these actions that insisted on equality.  Don’t forget that Black women finally got the right to vote five years later, in 1965. 

While these NGS committee members didn’t go out and physically attack BIPOC [Black, Indigenous People Of Color], what actions did they take to maintain white supremacy beyond this administrative act, beyond the organization? Almost always, the families of those who owned forced labor camps from the founding to the third quarter of the nineteenth century are automatically absolved by the focus on the inhabitants of the big house, their genealogy. This telling of local histories goes together with gatekeeping and acts of genealogical segregation of the last century.  How far did this committee take their views? 

Virginia Crim was also a member of the DAR, where she served as a vice regent for the Columbia Chapter in 1956.[5] She was also a member of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, established in 1894, and served as a chapter delegate at their convention, held 9 November 1960.[6]  

The UDC, a Neoconfederate organization, pursued fundraising for monuments, lobbied legislatures and Congress for the reburial of Confederate dead, denied the violence of slavery, and shaped the content of history textbooks. They insisted on a Lost Cause framework that buttressed Jim Crow laws. They were supportive of the KKK. [7] This contributed to the structural racism that constricted the opportunities and lives of many BIPOC. This too is a legacy of harm linked to NGS’ history in the twentieth century. 

Why this history matters

How much does this history matter? In Richmond, Virginia, at 1:30AM on May 30, 2020, in response to the murder of George Floyd and police violence, the anger of some protesters focused on the headquarters of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, set the UDC facade on fire, and covered confederate monuments in graffiti. The process of removing these monuments across the South accelerated after the protests that erupted in so many locations in the wake of Floyd’s murder.[8]

It shows that representation matters, that there was so much more than what those statues and laws attempted to assert. The implications of this event was global.[9] The times had indeed changed, the demand for systemic change is beginning to be heard. It’s also here, with us, with the DEI Committee, to bring such connections forward, to heal.  I have stepped down in order to finish my projects. In the meantime, i’ve joined AAHGS.

And this sea of data generated by institutional conditions washes upon us as we write our microhistories, family histories, genealogies and record the voices of those with ties to these events.  Masinato (Peace)

References

[1] Virginia Crim, Bessie P. Pryor, Katie-Prince Esker, Committee Circular, November 30, 1961 [30 November 1960], NGS Archives. Thanks to Janet Bailey, NGS Board Member for locating this document and additional resources for research.

[2] Rasa Gustaitis, “Genealogical Group Gets Racial Issue” Washington Post, November 4, 1960.

[3] Gustaitis, “Genealogical Group Gets Racial Issue.”

[4] For a biography of James Dent Walker (1928-1993) and his oral history, see Jesse Kratz, “James D. Walker: Lone Messenger to International Genealogist.” Pieces of History, Prologue, 10 February 2016. https://prologue.blogs.archives.gov/2016/02/10/james-d-walker-lone-messenger-to-international-genealogist/ Accessed 16 July 2022. Has embedded link to Dent’s edited oral history interview by Rodney A. Ross, James Walker, Oral History Interview, NARA, 27 March 1985.

[4]“Elected Officers.” The Evening Star, Thursday August 30, 1956. 

[5]“At Convention.” The Evening Star, November 9, 1961.

[6] “The organization [UDC] was “strikingly successful at raising money to build monuments, lobbying legislatures and Congress for the reburial of Confederate dead, and working to shape the content of history textbooks.” Karen L. Cox, “Setting the Lost Cause on Fire: Protesters Target the United Daughters of the Confederacy Headquarters ,  Aug 6, 2020 https://www.historians.org/publications-and-directories/perspectives-on-history/summer-2020/setting-the-lost-cause-on-fire-protesters-target-the-united-daughters-of-the-confederacy-headquarters

[7] Ned Oliver & Sarah Vogelsong, “Confederate memorial hall burned as second night of outrage erupts in Richmond, Virginia.” Virginia Mercury, 31 May 2020. 

[8] Balthazar J Beckett, Salima K Hankins, “Until We Are First Recognized As Human: The Killing of George Floyd and the Case for Black Life at the United Nations.” International Journal of Human Rights Education, Vol 5:1. https://repository.usfca.edu/ijhre/vol5/iss1/4/

Searching Documents for Benejam Ancestors

Julio Ester ‘Ulla’ Rivera, November 2021. Photo courtesy of Julio Enrique Rivera.

I’ve finally submitted the materials, tables and text to accompany Part 3 of the Missing Registro Central de Esclavo volume for Northwest Puerto Rico to Hereditas. This set of transcriptions of cedulas are from Caja 2 (item 2) of 1870. The essay focuses on facets of the lives of 55 enslaved people held by Cristobal Benejam Suria or Serra in 1870, a Menorcan who arrived in Puerto Rico about 1817. Other family members were also enslavers. Several Benejam family clusters are traced from the cedula through the Registro Civil and census records, to reconstruct some of their history.

As it turns out, when I mentioned my project to my cousin, Julio Enrique Rivera, he mentioned that his dad, Julio Ester Rivera (looking very dapper in the photo above) was a Benejan. His great grandfather was Ricardo Benejam Vargas (1848-1924) born into slavery, the child of Maria Antonia Vargas and Pedro Benejam. This is Ricardo’s cedula of 1870.

Ricardo [Benejam] 22, 3531. Caja 4. Registro de Esclavos, 1867-1876 (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3Q9M-CSK3-Z3WY-S?cc=3755445)

I am struck by how fragmented some of the resources available are.

Some of the documents i’m looking at:

Parish records

Municipal Document series – Censo y riqueza de Moca 1850

Cedulas, Registro Central de Esclavos

Registro Civil

What I wish there were more of for NWPR: census, contracts, notary documents; basically a database that can help descendants pull these fragments together.

As for books & articles, am rereading Benjamin Nistal-Moret’s “The Social Structure of Slavery in Puerto Rico” (1985). I’d like to use the tables as a model for what I am working on, which is information missing from the numbers he is using. This was “the first time in Puerto Rican historiography, an analysis of this magnitude has been completed with a computer.” He tells an interesting story about locating a missing 1872 Registro Central de Esclavos volume at the Library of Congress, microfilming it and returning it during the summer of 1975. As he did his work in the 1980s, his statistical work was entered onto punch cards of a computer program used in sociology. Which volume it was, Nistal-Moret doesn’t say.

I wonder how much archival material was lost, for instance, after the US returned the series of documents of the Gobernadores Espanoles – T1121 Record Group 186- Records of the Spanish Governors of Puerto Rico (impounded on the terms of the Treaty of Paris in 1898) were transferred to the National Archives in 1943 and returned to Puerto Rico by joint resolution in 1957. The microfilm of the Registro de Esclavos and the Registro Central de Esclavos are part of that huge series, and NARA has a free version at the link above.

What I try to do in this series of articles are mini-histories of persons that appear on the 6 x8″ cedulas. Connecting someone in 1870 to their appearance in the Registro Civil that begins in 1885. The process takes time, as there is no mention of enslavement, save in the surname ‘Liberto.’ Some take different surnames, while many kept their enslaver’s name, or took that of a different owner when sold before 1870.

Some of the descendants of Luisa Benejan born about 1819 appear among the cedulas of Caja 4 of the Registro de Esclavos, while three appear in the Registro Civil. She doesn’t turn up on the Registro Civil. Still, the documents together reconstruct her family.

Also reconstructed are early family trees for Pedro Benejam of Moca, born about 1817 in Moca, and who partnered with Maria Antonia Vargas, who lived until 1902 and lived in Bo. Pueblo, Moca. Among their descendants is where my cousin Julio Enrique Rivera’s line connects. The families created after emancipation were often female headed households, with daughters that worked in the local service economy, and sons in agricultural labor.

We must continue to say their names.

References

Ricardo, 22, 3531. Caja 4, Registro de Esclavos, 1867-1876. “Puerto Rico Slave Registers, 1863-1879”, database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3Q9M-CSK3-Z3WY-S?cc=3755445 : 21 October 2021), > image 1 of 1.

Benjamin Nistal Moret, “Problems in the Social Structure of Slavery in Puerto Rico During the Process of Abolition, 1872”.  Manuel Moreno Fraginals, Frank Moya Pons & Stanley L. Engerman, eds.Between Slavery and Free Labor: The Spanish Speaking Caribbean in the Nineteenth Century, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University, 1985, 141- 57.

NY – NJ Archives: Notable Latinx & Caribbean Resources

View of New York and New Jersey from airplane. Wikipedia

Following up on BlackProGen LIVE’s Episode #31: People of Color in the Northeast and New Jersey, I offer a brief compilation of archival websites that can be helpful for locating additional details for genealogy and family history of Latinx & Caribbean POC in New York and New Jersey.

First, a little background….

Over time, as archives develop along with the growth of communities, a variety of materials can be located within state and city library systems, universities and institutions. New York and New Jersey have a number of significant archival repositories,  of which some collections can be searched on line, and to gain the most, arrange for an in-person visit. Plan to check them out after exhausting initial sources such as census and vital records.

Why this matters for your family history…

Migration occurs in waves: interviewing elders and others within your family network may ease the process of where to look for records, and determining when ancestors turn up in a given location. During the nineteenth and early-mid twentieth centuries, voluntary migration began, and metropolitan areas offered opportunities for work, housing and education that many moved to, in hope of bettering their family’s situation, if not simply to resolve issues of flat out survival. This cycle was driven by the needs of labor and industry, and people clustered in small overlapping ethnic communities. Upheaval of a system, whether due to war, political instability or economic collapse can be part of the larger context of why ancestors moved to New York, New Jersey and other locations.

Understanding this larger context will help you as you write your family history.

Outward migration for the Dominican Republic from the MigrationPolicy.org site- note that locations are worldwide.

As Jie Zong and Jeanne Batalova note in their article on “Caribbean Immigrants in the United States”: “In 2014, approximately 4 million immigrants from the Caribbean resided in the United States, accounting for 9 percent of the nation’s 42.4 million immigrants. More than 90 percent of Caribbean immigrants came from five countries: Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Haiti, and Trinidad and Tobago”[1.] Some movement to the states was due to restrictions on immigration instituted by British government on former colonies. The Haitian diaspora began in the 1920s-1930s, and New York City has the largest and oldest concentration of Haitians in the US. [2]

Each country’s history varies in terms of who and why different groups of people arrived and departed its shores. The reasons why can give additional clues for tracing your family’s movement across the globe.

Note that diasporic movement of populations means potential family connections can extend worldwide.  Take a look at the interactive map on Migration Information – it provides information on contemporary migrations by country, depicted on maps, along with reports on different populations.

http://www.migrationpolicy.org/programs/data-hub/charts/immigrant-and-emigrant-populations-country-origin-and-destination

New York
FamilySearch Wiki
A Preliminary Guide for Historical Records Sources on Latinos in NY State (2002)
Although dated, this 112 page guide provides details on archival holdings around the state. Also has appendices organized by topic, includes correctional facilities, various institutions. Check against more recent listings as a number of collections were augmented since it was compiled, and may also have websites.
Dominican Archives & Library, City College of NY
CUNY Institute for Dominican Studies
160 Convent Avenue, Room N/A 2/202
    T:  212.650.8865
    F: 212.650.7225

Hunter College: Centro de Estudios Puertorriqueños

The Lois V. and Samuel J. Silberman School of Social Work
2180 Third Avenue at 119th Street, 1st Floor, Room 120
New York, NY 10035
Largest repository of primary and secondary source materials and collections about Puerto Ricans in the United States.

Has Online Public Access Catalog: https://centropr.hunter.cuny.edu/

Records of the Offices of the Government of Puerto Rico in the United States, 1930-1933

https://centropr.hunter.cuny.edu/sites/default/files/faids/pdf/OGPRUS.pdfThis 88 page guide in English and Spanish, includes community organizations, education programs 1943-1989, applications for Certificates of Identification 1930-1989, needed for Puerto Ricans to work in NYC.  Note: the application records can include photographs and thumbprints.

As discussed on the program, if there are activists among your ancestors, then it’s likely that there are records from government agencies such as the FBI.

Also at Centro: FBI and Puerto Rico

Ramon Bosque Perez’ testimony before Congressional Briefing gives an overview of the archival material held at Centro, which covers four decades. (The URL is long, so you may have to cut and paste into your browser.)

http://aclu-pr.org/ES/VistaFBI/PDFs/Statement%20of%20Professor%20Ram%F3n%20Bosque%20P%E9rez.pdf

FBI vault- Cointelpro on Puerto Rican groups- 11 file groups

https://vault.fbi.gov/cointel-pro/puerto-rican-groups

NYPL- Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture,

Manuscripts, Archives Rare Books Division
515 Malcolm X Boulevard (135th St and Malcolm X Blvd) New York, NY, 10037
(917) 275-6975
“The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture of The New York Public Library is generally recognized as the world’s leading research library devoted exclusively to documenting the history and cultural development of people of African descent worldwide.”

Also, there’s a 1938 digitized manuscript, “Influence of the Haitian Revolution on N.Y”., also at the Schomburg, along with other archival materials from the Caribbean.

https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/2a8fa3a0-6eb4-0133-01eb-00505686d14e

Lapidus Center for the Study of Transatlantic Slavery

Also has Livestream events for new books, and a podcast.

https://www.nypl.org/about/locations/schomburg/lapidus-center

NYU – Caribbean Studies – has section on Guides to Regional Archives
Caribbean Studies: Guides to Archives
National Archives and Records Administration, NYC
One Bowling Green, 3rd Floor
New York, NY 10004
Toll-free: 1-866-840-1752 or 212-401-1620Has historically relevant archives for federal agencies and courts of New Jersey, New York, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands dating from 1685 to the present.

 

Guide to Puerto Rican Records at the National Archives, NYC– 94 pages

Note: some items are on Ancestry (RG85- Passenger Lists Airplanes arriving San Juan, RG 186- Foreigners in PR 1815-1845, see below on FS), some are not.

https://www.archives.gov/files/nyc/finding-aids/puerto-rican-records-guide.pdfAlso see:

RG 186- Puerto Rico Records of Foreign Residents, 1815-1845

 

New Jersey

New Jersey is home to the seventh largest Latino population in the US, which increased nearly 40% between 2000-2010.

Library of Congress: Resources for local history and genealogy:

New Jersey
New Jersey Hispanic Research & Information Center
http://www.libraries.rutgers.edu/scua/genealogical-resourcesPDF of guide, Archibald S Alexander Library (Ethnic identity not specified)

BYU Guide on NJ (Ethnic identity not specified)

http://files.lib.byu.edu/family-history-library/research-outlines/US/NewJersey.pdf

General resources, but helpful:

dLOC: Digital Library of the Caribbean

http://www.dloc.com/

A great overview on Afro-Caribbean Immigration in NARA’s Prologue:

Damani Davis’ “Ancestors from the West Indies: A Historical and Genealogical Overview of Afro-Caribbean Immigration, 1900-1930s.”

https://www.archives.gov/files/publications/prologue/2013/fall-winter/west-indies.pdf

Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Manuscripts, Archives and Rare Books Division

West Indian Ladies Aid Society, 1915-1965

Benevolent society open to ‘all female Virgin Islanders; provided assistance with medical and funeral expenses.

http://archives.nypl.org/scm/20904

Background information on history of sugar in Dominican Republic and Haitian workers, which contextualizes the impetus for migration:

“History.” Visions of Haiti: Documentaries of the Dominican Sugar Industry

https://sites.duke.edu/sugardocumentaries/history/

Cyndi’s List- Caribbean/ West Indies

Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Aruba, Bahamas, Barbados, Cayman Islands, Cuba, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Grenada, Guadeloupe, Haiti, Jamaica, Martinique, Montserrat, Netherlands Antilles, Puerto Rico, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago, Turks and Caicos Islands, Virgin Islands

http://www.cyndislist.com/cyndislistsearch/?q=caribbean

References:
[1.] Jie Zong and Jeanne Batalova, “Caribbean Immigrants in the United States.” 14 September 2014. Migration Information Source. Accessed 25 Apr 2017.  http://www.migrationpolicy.org/article/caribbean-immigrants-united-states/
[2.] “Haitian diaspora, 2.3 New York City” Wikipedia. Accessed 28 Apr 2017.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haitian_diaspora
Some recommended titles for context:

Felix Matos-Rodriguez & Pedro Juan Hernandez, Pioneros: Puerto Ricans in New York City, 1892-1998.  Images of America series, Arcadia Publishing, 2001.

Virginia Sanchez Korrol & Pedro Juan Hernandez, Pioneros II: Puerto Ricans in New York City, 1948-1995. Images of America series, Arcadia Publishing, 2010.

Virginia E. Sanchez Korrol, From Colonia to Community: The History of Puerto Ricans in New York City, 1917-1948. Greenwood Press, 1983.

Jesse Hoffnung-Garsof, A Tale of Two Cities: Santo Domingo and New York after 1950. Princeton University Press, 2007.

Regine O. Jackson, Geographies of the Haitian Diaspora. New York: Routledge, 2011.

Original post 8 May 2017; revised 1 Dec 2017
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