If You Did It, Show It: A Confessory Manuscript for Deaf People

This post, by Ellen Welch, Manuscript and Archives Processor, is about the recent acquisition: Illustrated Manuscript Confessory for Deaf People (MSS 16803).

a single leather-bound illustrated manuscript for Deaf persons to confess their sins. They could identify their sins by the illustrations and ask to be absolved. Called a Confessory, it was made in Flanders or the Netherlands roughly between 1770 and 1790.

A single leather-bound illustrated manuscript for Deaf persons to confess their sins. They could identify their sins by the illustrations and ask to be absolved. Called a Confessory, it was made in Flanders or the Netherlands roughly between 1770 and 1790.

This leather-bound manuscript serves as a confessional aid, containing illustrations depicting a variety of sins from which a Deaf individual could show a picture of their sin to the priest and ask for absolution. The simple drawings depict sins such as being distracted in or late for church, missing confession, gluttony, gossip, theft, gambling, drunkenness, fighting, wishing another person dead, and lust, or “inappropriate libido”! This illustrated confessory was made in either Flanders or the Netherlands, between 1770 and 1790, and was probably created at a school for Deaf people.

Throughout history, societies have misunderstood and mistreated Deaf people because they could not communicate in the same way others could. As long ago as antiquity, influential figures like the Greek philosopher Aristotle (384–322 BC) falsely believed that Deaf people were incapable of reason (1). Legal tradition across Europe barred Deaf people from inheriting property, purchasing land, and getting married.  Within Christian communities, Deaf people were often excluded because it was wrongly believed that they were not able to receive the word of God and the sacraments, especially confession, which would absolve them of their sins. In the Bible, Paul reveals in Romans 10:17 “So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ.” (New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, Romans, Chapter 10, Verse 17). This type of message alienated Deaf people from collective worship and their religious community and insinuated that without the ability to hear or speak, they could not receive salvation in this life or the next (2).

Illustrated Confessory Manuscript: A Way to Confession and Absolution

The manuscript is composed of ninety-two leaves, with ten leaves left blank (possibly to leave room for sins yet to be illustrated). It contains two sets of drawings composed by different hands: the first set illustrated in black and white featuring a man and Latin captions, and the second in color picturing women with captions in Dutch.

The first set includes thirty-six drawings of sins with a man as the subject, completed in pen and ink with pale washes of black and gray.

Graphite sketch of figure reclining but reaching for a pitcher and cup.

Illustration of a man drinking with the Latin caption “Ebrius” meaning drunk.

Sketch of two figures sitting at a table playing cards.

Illustration of the sin gambling. The Latin word for game is “Ludiem.”

Sketch of two figures sitting and holding hands.

The illustration for too much libido or lust. “Lubido” in Latin.

The second series includes forty-six drawings of similar sins with women as the subjects, done in iron-gall ink and colored with gouache and watercolor.

Sketch of two figures sitting at table playing cards.

Illustration of women playing cards and possibly gambling.

Illustration of three people sitting at table, eating.

Illustration of the sin gluttony.

Illustration of two groups of figures, one talking to the other; the other two pointing at the first group.

Illustration of the sin of gossiping.


Priests and Deaf Educators

In 1519, Protestant reformer Martin Luther (1483–1546) addressed the theological question of how Deaf people could hear God by turning to the teachings of Saint Jerome (347–420 BC), the patron saint of translators and librarians. Saint Jerome recognized Deaf people as God’s children. He said, “…to the word of God nothing is ‘deaf’ if only the inward ‘ears’ are willing to hear.” The answer for Jerome (and later, Martin Luther) lay in the figurative ears of the soul: “Whosoever has these,” Jerome wrote, “will not need physical ears to apprehend the Gospel of Christ.” In one of his sermons on Galatians, Martin Luther expanded upon Jerome’s reasoning: “…the word of God is not heard even among adults and those who hear, unless the Spirit promotes growth inwardly.” (2)

In the 1670s, the French Franciscan friar Christophe Leutbrewer created a confessory manual that featured definitions of sins that were printed on pre-cut paper. This allowed Christians who were Deaf to pull the slips up individually so that they extended over the paper margin, thereby serving as topical reminders for reflection and confession, which could be tucked under the margin again after the confession (3) (4)

Christophe Leutbrewer’s confessory book, with sins defined and printed on pre-cut paper, Leutbrewer, Christophe, “BRB1072,” https://bridwell.omeka.net/items/show/1693.

Hand Gestures and Sign Language (vs. Oralism)

French abbot Charles-Michel de L’Épée (1712-–1789), was the founder of the first free public school for deaf children in the world, the National Institute for Deaf Children of Paris (5). In 1755, he demonstrated that Deaf people could communicate among themselves and with the hearing world through a system of conventional gestures, hand signs, and finger spelling, much like modern French Sign Language. Following  L’Épée’s work, there were other educators and theologians, including Roch Ambroise Cucurron Sicard, principal of  L’Épée’s school after his death (6), Roch Ambrose Auguste Bébian, who was fluent in sign language (7), Laurent Clerc, a French man who was the first Deaf teacher of Deaf students and taught in America (8), Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, who started the first Deaf school in America (9), and Jean Massieu, a Deaf person who taught Deaf children and formalized French Sign language (10). These educators fought for Deaf people to have their own language of hand signs and were opposed to the teaching method of Oralism, which banned sign language and tried to force Deaf people to conform by making them use lipreading or oral speech. Oralism was an oppressive method, as it infringed on deaf peoples’ ability to use their own language—sign language. Instead of bringing hearing and non-hearing people together, Oralism hindered Deaf people and stripped them of their identity, culture, and community (11).

In 1817, Roch Ambrose Auguste Bébian (1789–1839), the author of an important book of sign language titled Mimographie, wrote, “We do not speak, it is true; but still do you think us unable to express ourselves as well with our eyes, our hands, our smiles, our lips? Our most beautiful discourse is at the tips of our fingers, and our language is rich in secret beauties that you who speak will never know. And have we not our own art of Phoenicia to paint the words that speak into our eyes?” Bébian points out that Deaf people and their use of sign language are resilient. They can see the world more visually and have a sharper focus on communication and listening which gives them a unique and valuable perspective.

In 1850, French author and political activist Victor Hugo (1882–1885) wrote to his close friend, Deaf educator Ferdinand Berthier, who was a student of Bébian and a recipient of the French Legion of Honor for his activism of Deaf peoples’ linguistic rights. Hugo wrote, “You, Sir, who have the rare talent of being at once [Deaf] and eloquent, please tell your friends . . . that in my eyes the accession of the [Deaf] to civic and intellectual life must be counted among the most magnificent and decisive accomplishments in the history of the progress of humanity.” Hugo added, “What matters deafness of the ear, when the mind hears? The only deafness, the true deafness, the incurable deafness, is that of the mind.” Hugo’s message embraces the concept that Deaf people and those with hearing loss can see the world more visually, and have a sharper focus on communication and listening. They can thrive in a hearing-centric world by using other means of communication, embracing new ideas, and accepting different approaches, which can lead to more inclusive engagement with the world (12).

Honor and Awareness of Deaf persons and their Culture

Today, Deaf culture is a vibrant and diverse community that spans the globe. Deaf people have their own unique language, customs, and traditions and are proud of their identity and heritage. From Deaf artists and musicians to Deaf athletes and entrepreneurs, people who are Deaf continue to make important contributions to society and to shape the world around them (13).

Despite these gains, however, there is still much work to be done to fully recognize and honor the contributions of the Deaf community (13). Collections like this manuscript mark a beginning in sharing more materials that include Deaf people. Similar to this acquisition is a manuscript titled Emblems on Christian Doctrine for use by Deaf People (MSS 16804)  [Emblemi sulla Dottrina Cristiana ad uso de’ Sordo-Muti  Ottavio Giovanni Battista Assarotti (1753–1829), which is another recent addition that represents the identity of Deaf persons in our collections and community.

Deaf Awareness Month, which is celebrated in September, provides an important opportunity to learn more about the history, culture, and achievements of the Deaf community. The Community Services for the Deaf (CSD) website states, “Deaf history is a testament to the strength and resilience of the human spirit. Despite centuries of discrimination and marginalization, Deaf people have persevered and created a culture that is vibrant, unique, and enduring. By celebrating Deaf history and culture, we can honor the contributions of Deaf people and promote a more inclusive and compassionate world for all” (13).

Ways to support Deaf Awareness

  • Watch Deaf films and documentaries, such as 2021 film CODA by Sean Hader, 2009 film See What I’m Saying by Kaycee Choi, and 2023 film The Hammer about wrestler Matt Hammil
  • Read books by Deaf authors or that accurately depict Deaf character
  • Support Deaf-owned businesses in your area
  • Learn Sign Languages
  • Donate to organizations that advocate for the deaf community
  • Advocate for improved accessibility, education, and workplace protections for deaf people
  • Listen to and share the stories of Deaf creators


  1. Gannon, Jack, R. “Deaf Heritage: A Narrative History of Deaf America.” Gallaudet Classics in Deaf Studies Series, Volume 7, June 30, 2012
  2. Oates, Rosamund. “Speaking in Hands: Early Modern Preaching and Signed Languages for the Deaf.” Past and Present. Oxford Academic. Volume 256, Issue 1, August 2022, Pages 49–85 Accessed 7/24/23
  3. Smyth, Adam. “Slicing the Page: Christophe Leutbrewer and Raymond Queneau” Text! April 22, 2022.
  4. Leutbrewer, Christoph.  “BRB1072,” Bridwell Library Special Collections Exhibitions, Southern Methodist University. accessed September 19, 2023,
  5. “Charles-Michel de l’Épée.” Wikipedia. Accessed 9/19/23
  6. “Roch Ambrose Cucurron Sicard.” Wikipedia. Accessed 9/19/23
  7. “Roch-Ambroise Auguste Bébian.” Wikipedia. Accessed 9/19/23
  8. “Louis Laurent Marie Clerc.” Wikipedia. Accessed 9/19/23
  9. “Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet” Wikipedia. Accessed 9/19/23
  10. “Jean Massieu.” Wikipedia. Accessed 9/19/23
  11. “Oralism.” Wikipedia. Accessed 9/19/23
  12. The Mind Hears Mission Statement, a blog by and for deaf and hard of hearing academics. The Mind Hears website. Accessed 9/19/23
  13. Community Services for the Deaf (CSD) website. “Exploring the Rich Heritage of Deaf People.” Accessed 7/24/23

Call for Artists: As Big as We Make It! Contemporary Artists in Conversation with the Harlem Renaissance

Logo for Call for ArtistsThe Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library at the University of Virginia is excited to announce a call for artists to submit proposals for large-scale artwork to be created in conversation with poems highlighted in a forthcoming exhibition, Their World As Big As They Made It: Looking Back at the Harlem Renaissance. This exhibition celebrates the centennial of the Harlem Renaissance and the collection strengths of the Small Special Collections Library—which chronicles the inspiring work and lives of several prominent Harlem Renaissance literary creatives—through contemporary visual art that will be featured in our central exhibition space on Grounds. Selected art will be prominently featured in the exhibition gallery from September 13, 2023 to June 22, 2024.

The prompt for this proposal revolves around the selection of one poem from the following list:

Artists should articulate a brief, broad vision (approximately 150-200 words) for a work that would explore, connect to, or respond to their poem of choice. The final commissioned work should be an original work of visual art (such as a painting, drawing, photograph, sculpture, or film/video) created specifically for this project. Ideal dimensions for visual art are between 24”x30” and 70”x90”.

Submissions should also include a brief artist biography and a link to a portfolio (e.g. artist website, etc). There is no application fee to submit proposals for this project. Financial support for framing and printing works, if needed, will be available for the selected proposals.

Submit your proposal here: https://at.virginia.edu/Form-AsBig


  • The deadline to submit a proposal is July 12, 2023.
  • Proposals will be reviewed by a jury organized by New City Arts Initiative, and five artists will be selected to receive a $2,000 award and notified by July 19, 2023.
  • Final commissioned pieces will be due August 31, 2023.
  • The artworks will be featured in the main exhibition gallery of the Small Special Collections Library from September 13, 2023 to June 22, 2024.


  • The artist should be located in central Virginia and currently living and/or working in Charlottesville or one of the following counties: Albemarle, Nelson, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa, Orange, Madison, or Culpeper.
  • University of Virginia students, staff, faculty, and alumni located anywhere are welcome to apply.
  • Artists at any stage of their careers (including students, amateurs, and professionals) are welcome to submit a proposal for this project.
  • Individuals whose lived experiences are reflected in the poems by Black Harlem Renaissance creatives to be highlighted in this exhibition are especially encouraged to submit proposals.

Our Selection Committee:

Tamika L. Carey is an award-winning interdisciplinary scholar and teacher. Through her research on rhetoric, literacy, and writing, she examines methods and uncovers assumptions about emotional wellness, social belonging, and activism within Black communities. She is the author of Rhetorical Healing: The Reeducation of Contemporary Black Womanhood (SUNY 2016), a suite of scholarly essays on Black women’s activism and media, and an inspirational memoir about her life. She is currently an Associate Professor of English and a Faculty Affiliate in the Department of Women, Gender, and Sexuality at the University of Virginia.


Head shot of MaKshyaTolbertMaKshya Tolbert is a poet, cook, and artist who just found her way back to Virginia. Her poems and essays have been published in Interim, Narrative Magazine, Emergence Magazine, Tupelo Quarterly, Art Papers, The Night Heron Barks, Ran Off with the Star Bassoon, For the Culture, Earth in Color, Odd Apples, Queer Poem-a-Day, RHINO Poetry, and Earth in Color. MaKshya is currently based on unceded Monacan and Manahoac land in Charlottesville, Virginia, where she is a third-year MFA student at the University of Virginia. MaKshya serves on the Charlottesville Tree Commission and is a 2022-23 Lead to Life Curatorial Fellow. In her free time, she is elsewhere— what Eddie S. Glaude, Jr. calls ‘that physical or metaphorical place that affords the space to breathe.’

Maurice Wallace is a professor of English at Rutgers University-New Brunswick. He is co-editor with Shawn Michelle Smith of Pictures and Progress: Early Photography and the Making of African American Identity and, most recently, author of King’s Vibrato: Blackness, Modernism and the Sonic Life of Martin Luther King Jr.


Logo for UVA Arts Council

We are grateful to the Arts Council at the University of Virginia for a grant in support of
As Big As We Make It! Contemporary Artists in Conversation with the Harlem Renaissance.”




Dakota Goes Digital: Dakota Linguistics Live on from Oral Tradition to App

Simple side-sewn binding with title, "Dakota language Roman Catholic Catechism / Circa 1920"

A newly acquired Roman Catholic catechism in Dakota preserves the Dakota language (MSS 16778)

Logo for the app

A new online dictionary teaches the next generation to speak Dakota.

This post is by Ellen Welch, Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Manuscript and Archives processor, about a recent acquisition of a Roman Catholic Catechism (MSS 16778), translated in the Dakota language around 1920. It is not known who translated this document, but earlier Christian documents like this one were often translated by missionaries attempting to use the Dakota language to convert Indigenous people to Christianity. They soon learned that the Dakota beliefs would not translate easily to English and Christianity. Instead, these translations have helped to preserve the Dakota language.

The Dakota peoples tribal/rightful lands cover area from present day Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, and parts of Canada. They form the Oceti Ŝakowiŋ, the Seven Council Fires which are divisions of the Sioux. Unfortunately, most missionaries and Christian Indigenous residential schools forbade the Dakota people from speaking their language, to the extent of trying to erase their culture and almost making the Dakota language extinct. These translations give us an opportunity to explore the Dakota language and celebrate the culture of the Dakota people.

In addition to these documents, there is now a digital app “Dakhód Iápi Wičhóie Wówapi” from researchers at the University of Minnesota that teaches the Dakota language to online users, particularly the next generation. It is ironic that the missionaries translated the oral Dakota language for the purpose of promoting Christianity—but in the end, it is the beauty of the Dakota language that survives in this archival object. Today, having these historic documents written in the Dakota language—and modern-day online tools to read and speak the Dakota language—gives new life to an important Indigenous community and promotes acceptance and respect for diverse cultures.

Catechism open to page 19 to show example text

Translations of Christian documents into the Dakota language were used to convert people to Christianity. Today they keep the Dakota language alive.

Early missionaries, interpreters, and linguists lived with the Dakota people and studied their oral language (1). In 1834, they began recording and deciphering the Dakota words phonetically and created an alphabet (2). After printing the Holy Bible in Dakota, called Dakota Wowapi Wakan, they produced several reading books, a catechism, a monthly Dakota newspaper, the Book of Genesis, the Gospel of Mark, and by 1865, the New Testament. Their Christian work included studying the Dakota language to identify the meanings of God, religion, and power. The linguists found that these words might seem to have the same meaning on a superficial level, but on closer study, it became clear that the meanings of these words in Dakota were more complex and had different meanings (1).

The Dakota alphabet

Harvard postdoctoral College Fellow Gili L. Kliger agrees that the missionaries encountered a range of Indigenous concepts that resisted translation into English. She writes, “It was not just that Wakantanka [great spirit] did not mean “God,” but that the translations exposed the limits of the English language. Wakan has a general meaning of “holy” or “spirit” with no straightforward equivalent in English.” (3) Stephen Riggs, a nineteenth century Christian missionary, also wrote, “The words for “salvation” and “life,” and even “death” and “sin,” did not mean what they did in English.” (4)

Missionaries forced Christianity on Indigenous people while the American government silenced their language, and removed their culture, land, and homes. Yet they were the people whose religions showed respect for other life forms. “Respect and humility are the building blocks of Indigenous lifeways, since they not only lead to minimal exploitation of other living creatures but also preclude the arrogance of aggressive missionary activity and secular imperialism, as well as the arrogance of patriarchy” (5).

Americans have learned so much from Indigenous people. Their languages are sophisticated, and they have deeply spiritual cultures. They have influenced many aspects of American life through agriculture, a federal system of government, over 2,000 words of their language, women’s rights and matriarchal power structures, bravery, and heroic prowess, to name a few. The framework of government in the Iroquois Confederacy is said to have inspired Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and other founders as they wrote the United States Constitution (6).

Moving forward to present day influences, Joe Bendickson, named Šišókadúta (meaning robin red), is a linguistics director (and “keeper of language”) at the University of Minnesota and is teaching Dakota to the students. He agrees that English is unable to fully express meanings of certain Dakota words, especially words describing the spiritual plane. For example, “Wakháŋ Tháŋka’ means something inexplicable and mysterious, and it refers to spiritual concepts such as God.” (7) Šišókadúta grew up without the Dakota language and culture because in the 1950’s, Christian Indigenous residential schools punished and shamed people for speaking it. Three of his grandparents spoke the language fluently. Šišókadúta has been heartened to see more Dakota students interested in learning the language.

Joe Bendickson, named Šišókadúta, is a linguistics director (and “keeper of language”) at the University of Minnesota.

In 2017, Šišókadúta—with help from the nonprofit Dakhóta Iápi Okhódakičhiye (Dakota language for the home, community, and classroom), the Minnesota Indian Affairs Council, and The Language Conservancy—has created the first comprehensive Dakota-language dictionary app. The free app, Dakhód Iápi Wičhóie Wówapi, is meant to bridge the gap between the handful of Dakota speakers left (80- and 90-year-olds) and the younger generation. Wil Meya, of The Language Conservancy said, “We sometimes hear young people say the apps are like having grandma or grandpa in their pocket. And often it is their grandma or grandpa on the app, providing the voice.”

Šišókadúta adds, “The dictionary app itself is just a tool for learning the language, but it’s part of a larger effort to revitalize the language and even create future generations of first language speakers.” (8)

Advertisement for the app

Digital app for the Dakota language

Ava Hartwell, named Oglala Lakota, is one of Šišókadúta’s students. The sixteen-year-old says, “Learning the Dakota language comes with learning the Dakota mindset and ways of our people.” It’s much easier than using the outdated dictionaries that already exist. The last substantive dictionary was published by missionaries in 1852. For Šišókadúta, “it was to learn this language and help bring it back. Revitalize it, grow it. It’s a way to reverse history.” The Dakota language and culture is expressed beautifully. For example, the word trust is wowinape, which means “put one’s hand in another.” The worldview of the Dakota language can be expressed in “mitákuye owás’iŋ,” which means “all are related.” (7) Dakota means “ally” or “friend.” Today, Dakota, which started out as an oral language, goes digital for future generations.

For the atrocities committed by the United States Government against Indigenous people and inspired by the government’s decision to build a pipeline through their land in 2016, veterans came together at Standing Rock Reservation, to ask forgiveness from the Sioux. In gratitude for their language and the positive influences on American culture, organizer Wesley Clark Jr. and other veterans apologized to Leonard Crow Dog and other Sioux leaders:

“We came. We fought you. We took your land. We signed treaties that we broke. We stole minerals from your sacred hills. We blasted the faces of our presidents on your sacred mountain. And then we took still more land. And then we took your children. And then we tried to take your language. We tried to eliminate your language that God gave you and the Creator gave you. We didn’t respect you. We polluted your earth. We’ve hurt you in so many ways. And we have come to say that we are sorry. We are at your service, and we beg for your forgiveness.” (9)

As Amy Gantt, Assistant Professor of Art and Native Studies, at Southeastern Oklahoma State University writes, “Revitalizing the languages is a step toward healing the historical trauma and ensuring survival as a people.” (10) James Mackenzie, University of Arizona Department of Teaching, Learning & Sociocultural Studies, adds, “By having connection to their Indigenous languages, people better understand who they are, which can promote better health. This only affirms an understanding long shared by our elders and ceremonial practitioners: language is medicine. In this sense our languages can literally heal us.” (11)


1. Missionaries and linguists mentioned are Gideon Pond (1810-1878) (Matohota-grizzly bear), his brother, Samuel Pond (1808-1891), (Wanmdiduta-the red eagle), Dr. Thomas S. Williamson (1800-1879), Stephen Return Riggs (1812-1883), Joseph Renville (1779-1846-a son of a Dakota woman), and Samuel Dutton Himnan (1839-1890). The Manga Writer. Dakota Love. “The History of the Dakota Bible (Dakota Wowapi Wakan).” The ForwardsBackwards Blog. June 26, 2019. 

2. Riggs, Stephen. “The Minnesota Constitution in the Language of the Dakota.” Translated by Steven Riggs. (1858)

3. Kliger, Gili. “Translating God on the Borders of Sovereignty.American Historical Review. Volume 127. Issue 3. September 2022.

4. Riggs, Steven, R. “Mary and I: Forty Years with the Sioux.” Chicago. W. G. Holmes. March 1889.

5. Forbes, Jack, D. “Indigenous Americans: Spirituality and Ecos.” Daedulus. Journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Fall 2001.

6. Cavallari, Dan. “How Has American Culture Been Influenced by Native American Culture?” United States Now. April 23, 2023.

7. Forgrave, Reid. “Joe Bendickson Šišókadúta.” Star Tribune February 25, 2023.

8. “New Dakota Language App Helps Bridge GapMinnesota Reformer. March 12, 2023.

9. Veterans Ask for Forgiveness at Standing Rock

10. Gantt, Amy M. “Native Language Revitalization: Keeping the
Languages Alive and Thriving” Southeastern Oklahoma State University

11. Mackenzie, James. “Addressing Historical Trauma and Healing in Indigenous Language Cultivation and Revitalization.” Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 1–7. doi:10.1017/S0267190521000167 Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 February 2022.

Staff Spotlight: Elizabeth Nosari

Headshot of Elizabeth NosariElizabeth Nosari is currently working on reprocessing the Small Library’s collection of William Faulkner papers as well as contributing to On These Grounds. She was previously the Nau Project Archivist for the John L. Nau III Civil War History Collection. She earned her MLIS from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), where she held a graduate assistantship in Faculty Papers at the University Archives. She also holds a MSc in art history from the University of Edinburgh and a MA from the New School focused on propaganda studies. Her love of history and material culture led her to the archival field.   

What was your first-ever job with libraries?
As a life-long learner, libraries have always been like a second home. Early on, I worked with cultural heritage collections in the museum field. My first true archival role was as a graduate assistant at UIUC where I processed faculty papers.

What was the first thing you collected as a child? What do you collect now? (oh, c’mon, admit it).
Animals and books filled my childhood. I loved collecting Breyer horses and works of fiction, usually with equally animal-loving protagonists. Now, I still collect books as well as plushy toys for my dog Oliver. But my true collecting passion is for ideas and experiences. 

Hopefully you’ve been roaming Grounds and Charlottesville a bit since your arrival. What’s your favorite new discovery other than Special Collections?
Aside from exploring the local architecture and food, my favorite discovery so far has been the fox that lives in my neighborhood.

Tell us what excites you about your job?
I love experiencing firsthand the magical qualities of historic materials that have borne witness to the passage of time. It’s a joy and a privilege to make these materials and their narratives accessible to researchers. I am just getting to know the William Faulkner holdings at the Small Special Collections Library, and I am excited to learn more about the author’s life and work.

Tell us something about Special Collections or UVA that is different from what you expected.
I am continually impressed by the culture of kindness I’ve encountered at Technical Services and Special Collections at-large. Archival work can be solitary, and it is a really nice balance to have such supportive colleagues.

If you could be locked in any library or museum for a weekend, with the freedom to roam, enjoy, and study to your heart’s content, which one would you choose?
This is a tough choice! What comes to mind is the Museo di Capodimonte in Naples, Italy, a city I lived in for a year. It has an impressive collection of Neapolitan art and decorative art, and its grand setting in a Bourbon palazzo with views overlooking the Bay of Naples would make for a beautiful and inspirational weekend.  

Anne Spencer’s Creative Spark

This post is contributed by Carlyn Ferrari, a William A. Elwood fellow in Civil Rights and African American Studies at the University of Virginia. She is an Assistant Professor of English at Seattle University and holds a PhD in Afro-American Studies. She specializes in twentieth-century African American literature and culture with a particular interest in Black women’s literary studies. In her research, she is interested in how Black women theorize the natural world and explores the relationship between Black feminist thought and literary ecocriticism. Her recent monograph about poet and civil rights activist Anne Spencer is entitled Do Not Separate Her from Her Garden and was published by the University of Virginia Press. After studying the Anne Spencer collection which is housed at the Small Special Collections Library, Ferrari writes about how she discovered more about the internal life of Anne Spencer, and her close association with the natural world.

I thought I knew who Anne Spencer (1882-1975) was before I visited the Papers of Anne Spencer and the Spencer Family. I knew she kept a literary salon during the New Negro Renaissance, and I wanted to write a cultural history about it. Like her fellow salon-keepers Georgia Douglas Johnson and A’Lelia Walker in Washington D.C. and Harlem, New York, respectively, Spencer’s salon-keeping is a form of Black women’s unrecognized, “invisible” labor, and I wanted to highlight this work. I approached her archival materials with a specific set of questions in mind: Who attended this salon? What took place during these gatherings? How often did people meet? What did people talk about?

I expected to find the answers to my questions, and I had tunnel vision.

Once I started working with Spencer’s papers, everything I thought I knew, I quickly had to abandon. I did not find details about the innerworkings of her salon. (Although, thank-you letters from grateful houseguests confirmed that Spencer regularly entertained.) What I encountered were what I initially described as “scribblings”— drafted letters, notes, and poems written on scraps of paper and other surfaces, most of which were undated.

Handwritten letter in a white shoebox.

Spencer was quite innovative and found “homes” for her writings in the unlikeliest of spaces. This shoebox top is one of many examples of her creativity. (Personal photo taken at The Anne Spencer House & Garden Museum.)

And, initially, I was disappointed that I did not find what I was looking for.

I called my mother after a particularly frustrating day. OK, but what is there? She asked. Focus on that instead.

When I began to focus on what was present in her archival materials, I was immediately reminded of the questions that Alice Walker poses in In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens: “What did it mean for a Black woman to be an artist in our grandmothers’ time? In our great-grandmothers’ day?”[i]

I came to understand that what I initially dismissed as meaningless “scribblings” were a part of Spencer’s artistry. Her writing on ephemera and other objects is her deliberate world-making, and I overlooked its significance. Afterall, she was a Black woman living in the Jim Crow South only one generation removed from slavery. Her unconventional writing practice is part of how she maintained what Alice Walker calls a “creative spark.”[ii] She wrote for herself, and publication was not the goal, which is understandable because critics often criticized her poetry for being raceless and apolitical because she often wrote about the natural world. But she did not change.

Snippet of handwritten letter from Anne Spencer to James Weldon Johnson

In this drafted letter to her friend, James Weldon Johnson, Spencer acknowledges her unique writing process, noting she has “‘leventy leven bits stuck in as many different places.” (Anne Spencer to James Weldon Johnson, October 20, 1921, on the back of a Johnson letter dated September 24, box 4, folder 7, Papers of Anne Spencer and the Spencer Family, 1829, 1864–2007, #14204, Special Collections, University of Virginia Library, Charlottesville.)

In retrospect, I realize that I was treating Spencer’s archival materials like a phonebook directory: I expected to simply look up the information that I wanted and move on. But I am glad that they didn’t give me what I wanted because I learned more about Spencer than I anticipated, and I confronted the limitations of my narrow thinking. More importantly, I am glad that Spencer didn’t change and instead cultivated her artistry—her “creative spark”—in her own way.

[i] Alice Walker, In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens, 233.

[ii] Walker, 240. Walker describes Black women’s creative spark as, “the seed of the flower they themselves never hoped to see: or like the sealed letter they could not plainly read.”

Cited Works

Walker, Alice. In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens. Orlando: Harcourt, 1983.



Carr Family on River View Farm 1870-1978: African American History at Ivy Creek Natural Area


Welcome to another story about one of the many interesting collections in the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library at the University of Virginia. I am Ellen Welch, an Archives processor and an Albemarle County local who enjoys sharing knowledge about historical collections, particularly those from Charlottesville and Albemarle County. This is a post about Hugh Carr (1843-1914) and his family who were African American owners of the land where Ivy Creek Natural Area in Charlottesville and Albemarle County, Virginia sits today. Part of my work is responding to suggestions for improvements in describing our collections. My colleague, Katrina Spencer, Librarian for African American and African Studies, recently sent me a request to add more description to the Ivy Creek Natural Area collections MSS 10770,  and MSS 10176.The description was so minimal that the African American history of the Carr family was invisible to anyone searching our collections. With the suggestion from Katrina, I was able to bring the Carr family history into the description so that patrons can know more about this important family in Albemarle County during the nineteenth century.

Hugh Carr (1843-1914) Hugh Carr and Ivy Creek Natural Area papers MSS 10770-a Box 1, Folder 11

The Ivy Creek Natural Area—which is well known for its beautiful views of the Blue Ridge mountains, and its numerous hiking trails, and nature programs—was created in 1978 from the sale of the Carr land. Hugh Carr, born into enslavement, purchased the River View Farm after emancipation in 1870. He doubled the acreage of the farm and built a farmhouse where he raised his family through four generations. The local government, the Nature Conservancy, and the Ivy Creek Foundation preserved this property, making it a National Historic Landmark, and recovered a treasure of local history that memorializes the lives of the Carr family. As a longtime local resident, I had known about the Ivy Creek Natural Area but had no knowledge of Hugh Carr. Similarly, the description in the collection title made no mention of Hugh Carr or River View Farm. This is what makes reparative work so essential in libraries and historical repositories. It is exciting to shine a light on their remarkable lives, making them well known to our patrons today and in the future.

The collections, Papers of the Ivy Creek Foundation and its history of Hugh Carr’s River View Farm, MSS 10770-a , MSS 10176 introduce Hugh Carr (1843-1914), an African American born in enslavement, who bought a 58-acre tract of land for $100, which became River View Farm (Martin Tract from John Shackelford) in Albemarle County in 1870 after emancipation. Hugh Carr continued to purchase land for the farm, and, by 1890, it was over 200 acres, making Carr among the largest African American landowners in Albemarle County. (Brickhouse)

Aerial view of Hugh Carr’s “River View Farm.” Hugh Carr and Ivy Creek Natural Area papers MSS 10770-a Box 1, Folder 11

Receipt for Hugh Carr’s purchase of the land for his farm. Hugh Carr and Ivy Creek Natural Area papers, MSS 10176-a Box 1, Folder 1

The Carr family and their descendants were excellent farmers, modeling the best agricultural practices for other farmers. According to Hugh Carr’s grandson, Dr. Benjamin Whitten, the farm had “horses, milk, and beef cattle, a flock of sheep, pigs, chickens, and crops.  They also worked other jobs, while farming their land, waking at 3 a.m. to begin their work every day. (Brickhouse)

Barn at River View Farm, which can still be visited today at Ivy Creek Natural Area, which is located 6 miles from the City of Charlottesville going west on Hydraulic Road toward the South Rivanna Reservoir, off a left turn before the Reservoir bridge. Hugh Carr and Ivy Creek Natural Area papers, MSS 10770-a Box 1, Folder 11

Carr family home. Hugh Carr and Ivy Creek Natural Area papers, MSS 10770-a Box 1, Folder 11

Hugh Carr married his first wife, Florence Lee in 1865 when they were still enslaved by Richard H. Wingfield of Woodlands Plantation. After two years, she left Carr, and they were eventually divorced. Hugh Carr married Texie Mae Hawkins (1865-1899) in 1883. They had six daughters, Mary Carr Greer (1884-1973), Fannie Carr Washington (1887-?), Peachie Carr Jackson (1889-1977), Emma Clorinda Carr (1892-1974), Virginia Carr Brown (1893-1935), and Ann Hazel Carr (1895-1975), and one son Marshall Hubert Carr (1886-1916).

Hugh Carr, who did not know how to read and write, highly valued education for his daughters and son. He raised them by himself after Texie Mae died in 1899. Most of his children earned college degrees and post graduate degrees, becoming teachers and community leaders. Six of the Carrs’ seven grandchildren, ten of thirteen great grandchildren, and nine of twelve great-great grandchildren graduated from college. (National Register of Historic Places Registration Form)

Hugh Carr, (1843-1914) Hugh Carr and Ivy Creek Natural Area papers, MSS 10770-a Box 1, Folder 11

Texie Mae Hawkins Carr, (1865-1899) Ivy Creek Natural Area papers, MSS 10770-a Box 1, Folder 11

Mary Carr Greer , daughter (1884-1973). Teacher and Principle who invited students to stay at her house, which was near the Albemarle Training School, during bad weather. Hugh Carr and Ivy Creek Natural Area papers, MSS 10770-a Box 1, Folder 11

Fannie Carr Washington, sister. Hugh Carr and Ivy Creek Natural Area papers, MSS 10770-a Box 1, Folder 11

Peachie Carr Jackson (1889-1977) daughter. Hugh Carr and Ivy Creek Natural Area papers, MSS 10770-a Box 1, Folder 11

Marshall Hubert Carr (1886-1916) son. Hugh Carr and Ivy Creek Natural Area papers, MSS 10770-a Box 1, Folder 11

When Carr died in 1914, he bequeathed parts of the farm to each of his children. Their eldest daughter, Mary Louise Carr Greer became principal of the Albemarle Training School and was an influential educator in the local community.  Her husband, Conly Greer, was the first African American extension agent for Albemarle County and the last family member to farm at River View Farm.  After his death in 1956, Mary Carr Greer continued to live there but the land was rented to local farmers.  When Mary Greer died in 1973, she left the estate to her only child, Evangeline Greer Jones, who in turn sold it. (Brickhouse)

Following its sale, the farm was slated to become a subdivision with 200 homes, but with strong support from University professors, the Nature Conservancy, and the Ivy Creek Foundation, the land was purchased jointly by the City of Charlottesville and Albemarle County in creation of the Ivy Creek Natural Area in 1978. (National Register of Historic Places Registration Form)

The history of the Carr family, their River View Farm, and the Ivy Creek Area are not only preserved but are a living memory that is thriving today. The cultural heritage of the Carr farm remains in evidence on this site. The property serves as the first stop on the Union Ridge Heritage Trail tour of African Americans, a program administered by the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center. (National Register of Historic Places)

Ivy Creek Natural Area. Hugh Carr and Ivy Creek Natural Area papers, MSS 10770-a Box 1, Folder 11

Ivy Creek Natural Area with 400 species of wildlife. Hugh Carr and Ivy Creek Natural Area papers, MSS 10770-a Box 1, Foder 11

Evangeline Greer Jones, granddaughter of Hugh Carr, wrote that she “is glad to see the farm as a home for a wide variety of wildlife, flowers and trees.” She thinks her family would be glad to see how it has turned out. A sign at the Ivy Creek Natural Area reads, “Take only pictures, leave only footprints. However, it is permissible to pick fruit from the trees in the orchard if eaten on the spot.” Jones wrote that she “is very much pleased to know that people can come and visit.” (Brickhouse)

(If you ever need to request a correction or suggest a change to a description of one of our collections, you can find the Suggestion description forms here.) 


National Register of Historic Places Registration Form (contains many details about the Carr and Greer family and the River View Farm)

Brickhouse, Robert. “Nature Preserve Ex-Slave’s Legacy” The Daily Progress. September 12, 1982 (collection material)

Grohskopf, Bernice. “Legacies Nature and History at Ivy Creek: How Hugh Carr rose out of Slavery to Create the Farm that became Our Secret Garden” Albemarle Magazine. 1988 June-August.

For more information:

Flowers, Charles V. “The Creation of Ivy Creek Natural Area” Adapted from interview with Paul Saunier, Jr. The Sun, Baltimore, Maryland. April 15, 1984. (collection material)

Flowers, Charles V. “Ivy Creek is an Oasis of the Unspoiled” Interview with Dr. Benjamin Whitten. The Sun, Baltimore, Maryland. April 1984 (collection material)

Ivy Creek Foundation, Accessed 1/27/2023


Discoveries in The Transformation: An American Tale

Charles Brockden Brown’s Wieland, a novel in the Sadlier-Black Collection of Gothic Fiction, gives a tantalizing glimpse into the development of the modern American view of the afterlife. This post was contributed by Emily Pierson, a recipient of the Lillian Gary Taylor Fellowship in American Literature. This fellowship supported her research for her dissertation on the cultural context and impacts of garden cemeteries in nineteenth-century America.

When I proposed a dissertation about cemeteries, I think the last thing my advisors expected was for me to spend several weeks reading novels. The early drafts of that last chapter contained a handful of attempts to link the two subjects, most of which got cut from the final version. Among those works, though, was a particularly interesting Gothic novel called Wieland, or, the Transformation: An American Tale, a remarkably unpromising title when searching for tales of the dead. Wieland, however, presents the reader with a world in which the possibility of the living and the dead interacting with one another is a real one, even if there is a perfectly natural explanation for the tale’s seemingly supernatural events.

Photo of page 88 from Wieland di

Clara supposes the voice to be that of a heavenly influence. (PS1134.W5 1811, Sadlier Black

Photograph of cemetery

Family Plot at Bellefontaine Cemetery, St. Louis, MO. Photo by Emily Pierson.

The story is that of Clara and her brother, the eponymous Wieland. Following the death of their father, the two encounter a series of mysterious events including phantom voices. Clara presents several possibilities for the origins of these voices: angles, demons, spirits of the dead, even the voice of God. Though ultimately proven to be the voice of a man named Carwin who had briefly made their acquaintance, it was the attempted explanations that were far more interesting to me than the ultimate reveal.

Published in 1811, Charles Brockden Brown presented in his novel possibilities that were outside of the bounds of orthodox interactions between the living and the dead. He begins by calling attention to the family’s adherence to nontraditional theological positions, which are further emphasized in the subsequent chapters as the siblings and their companions muse on the possibilities of interactions between the spiritual and the physical. Before the Fox sisters heard their rappings or the Banner of Light published its first edition, Clara and her brother were pondering whether the mysterious lights and voices they saw and heard might be the spirit of their father. Later on, Wieland proclaims that he will stand as a witness before the bar of Heaven to condemn Carwin. A few lines later, he cries out to his dead wife and children, “I have sent you to repose, and ought not to linger behind.”[1] Two lines of dialogue tease at the possibility that Brown was already viewing the afterlife as an extension of this one, a phenomenon usually discussed in the same breath as the rise of Spiritualism nearly 30 years later.

Brown is not the only author hinting at or explicitly describing an afterlife in which the deceased continue to have remarkably life-like interactions. Walt Whitman seems to speak to the dead, while Harriet Beecher Stowe’s little Eva tells those around her that she hopes to see them in Heaven.[2] Most famously and explicitly, Elizabeth Stuart Phelps’s The Gates Ajar presents a cosmology in which the dead are keen to watch over the living, hope for their reunion, and even play piano. Wieland’s commentary on the bar of his Maker, followed so quickly by commentary about rejoining his dead wife and children, reads as an early participation in this same popular theology of the afterlife.

What, then, does any of this have to do with cemeteries? I was, admittedly, disappointed that Clara is denied the opportunity to attend the burial of her sister-in-law and her children. There are, in fact, no visits to cemeteries in the book. However, those proposals that the afterlife is connected to this one rather than totally distinct from it are precisely the driving force behind cemetery design in the nineteenth century. Family plots gave the opportunity for the living to visit their dead relatives and presented a visual map onto which the living could imagine their own heavenly reunions. Though I found no ghosts or graveyards, Wieland offered a tantalizing look at the development of the mentality that pervaded the nineteenth century and has still left its mark on the way we talk about the living and the dead.

[1] Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Toms Cabin., 2013. 274; Walt Whitman, “Vigil Strange I Kept on the Field One Night,” Leaves of Grass, 1891-1892. See also Whitman’s “Come Up from the Fields, Father.”

[2] Charles Brockden Brown, Wieland, or, The Transformation: An American Tale, 1811. 211; 218.

Frances Clayton and the Women Soldiers of the Civil War

This post contributed by Elizabeth Nosari, Nau Project Archivist at the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library. Her work involves processing the John L. Nau III Civil War History Collection, which includes correspondence, diaries, photographs, military records, currency, and printed materials relating to the American Civil War (1861–65).  

Popular notions of women during the Civil War center on self-sacrificing nurses, romantic spies, or brave ladies maintaining the home front in the absence of their men. This conventional picture of gender roles does not tell the entire story, however. Men were not the only ones to march off to war. Women bore arms and charged into battle, too.

— DeAnne Blanton and Lauren M. Cook, They Fought Like Demons, p. 1.

CDV Portrait of Female Union Soldier Frances Clalin Clayton

Frances Clayton. MSS 16459, Gift of John L. Nau III

Minnesotan Frances Louisa Clayton (sometimes spelled Clalin; born ca. 1830) was purported to have disguised herself as a man under the alias Jack Williams in order to enlist and fight in the United States army during the Civil War, at a time when women were barred from service.1 Some historians question the veracity of accounts of Clayton’s military service.2 However, her story would not have been as rare an occurrence as one might think. In They Fought Like Demons (2002), historians DeAnne Blanton and Lauren M. Cook note they had discovered evidence of some 250 women soldiers who adopted male personas in order to fight in the Civil War. Moreover, Blanton and Cook expect there are hundreds more women whose stories have gone undocumented as lower literacy rates as well as the private nature of their soldierly subterfuge meant they were less likely to write letters or diaries detailing their experiences than their male counterparts.3 “Unless women were discovered as such … or unless they publicly confessed or privately told their tale of wartime service, the record of their military career is lost to us today.”4 As the authors acknowledge, Black women, in particular, are underrepresented in this history due to the fact that biographical stories of Black soldiers serving in the United States Colored Troops largely went uncovered by the mid-nineteenth century’s racist and white-centered mass media. What is certain, however, is that “more women took to the field during [the Civil War] than in any previous military affair [in the United States’ history].”5

What we know of Clayton comes from newspaper reports and men’s eyewitness accounts. Interviews with Clayton and witnesses featured in many newspapers when her story broke in 1863. One witness’s account lauds her service: “She stood guard, went on picket duty, in rain or storm, and fought on the field with the rest and was considered a good fighting man.”6 However, only sparse details about Clayton’s military service are documented as “most reporters found the story of the faithful wife more appealing than the details of Clayton’s life as a soldier.”7 Reports say she enlisted alongside her husband, John, in a U.S. Missouri regiment in the fall of 1861.8 She fought in eighteen battles between 1861 and 1863.9 These included the Battle of Fort Donelson in Tennessee (February 11–16, 1862), in which she was wounded. During the Battle of Stones River (December 31, 1862–January 2, 1863), Clayton reported having witnessed her husband’s death “just a few feet in front of her. When the call came to fix bayonets, [she] stepped over his body and charged.”10 Clayton was discharged in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1863.11

CDV Portrait of Femail Union Solder Frances Clalin Clayton no. 2

Frances Clayton. MSS 16459, Gift of John L. Nau III

There are no known extant military records documenting Clayton’s story. However, historic photographs of Clayton as a soldier demonstrate the effectiveness of her male persona. In this full-length carte de visite portrait from the John L. Nau III Civil War History Collection, Clayton is shown standing and holding a sword, at ease in her Union uniform topped with the cavalryman’s Hardee hat. Contemporary newspaper descriptions further underscore Clayton’s evident soldierly comportment. According to one account, Clayton was “tall,” “masculine-looking,” and had skin “bronzed by exposure.”11 To pass as a man, she was said to have adopted an “erect and soldierly carriage” as well as a “masculine stride in walking.”13 She was also said to have excelled as a swordsman (as she is pictured) and rider in addition to then “manly vices” such as drinking, smoking, swearing, and gambling.”14

At the time of the Civil War, women, particularly those of the middle and upper classes, were expected to be “demure, submissive, pious, and concerned only with home and family.”15 However, such “Victorian ideals of womanhood” were relatively less important to those existing childless, outside of marriage, or with fewer choices, including those in the “working and lower classes, yeoman farmers, newly arrived immigrants, or pioneering families.”16 Moreover, according to Blanton and Cook, the woman warrior was familiar in popular culture and was considered “a virtuous and heroic ideal.”17 This archetype would have been visible in “any number of … examples, both true and legendary.”18 And American precedent would have included historic women such as Deborah Samson (alias Robert Shurtleff), who fought during the American Revolution.19

Clayton’s carte de visite portraits demonstrate the gendered binary of life in the mid-nineteenth century and the boldness of women soldiers’ “private rebellion against [restrictive] public conventions.”20 Women who fought in the Civil War, including white women such as Mary and Molly Bell (Confederate), Lizzie Compton (Union), and Cuban-born Loreta Velázquez (Confederate), risked their lives and the threat of arrest and imprisonment by fighting. This was even more true for Black women soldiers such as Lizzie Hoffman (Union, 45th U.S. Colored Infantry) and Maria Lewis (Union, 8th New York Cavalry), and the outcome of the war held deeply personal implications for Black women’s freedom and personhood.21 Lewis, a formerly enslaved woman from Albemarle County, Virginia, “emancipated herself from slavery” by assuming the alias George Harris and passing as a white man to fight with the 8th New York Cavalry.22 The stories of Lewis, Clayton, and many more show that adopting male personas and fighting in the Civil War enabled women to gain social, economic, and civic privileges that were “otherwise closed to them.”23

1 Women would only be granted the right to choose direct combat roles in all branches of the United States military 150 years later, in 2016. See Jim Miklaszewski and Halimah Abdullah, “All Combat Roles Now Open to Women, Pentagon Says,” December 3, 2015, https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/pentagon-nbc-news-all-combat-roles-now-open-women-n473581, accessed October 11, 2022.

2 Wikipedia, s.v., “Frances Clayton,” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frances_Clayton, accessed October 11, 2022.

3 DeAnne Blanton and Lauren M. Cook, They Fought Like Demons: Women Soldiers in the American Civil War (Baton Rouge, Louisiana: LSU Press, 2002), 2.

4 Blanton and Cook, They Fought Like Demons, 7.

5 Blanton and Cook, They Fought Like Demons, 6.

6 Blanton and Cook, They Fought Like Demons, 75.

7 Blanton and Cook, They Fought Like Demons, 149-151.

8 Blanton and Cook, They Fought Like Demons, 34.

9 Bonnie Tsui, She Went to the Field: Women Soldiers of the Civil War (Rowman & Littlefield, 2006), 66.

10 Blanton and Cook, They Fought Like Demons, 11.

11 Blanton and Cook, They Fought Like Demons, 34 and 150.
12 Blanton and Cook, They Fought Like Demons, 48.

13 Blanton and Cook, They Fought Like Demons, 58.

14 My emphasis on the photographic portrait. Blanton and Cook, They Fought Like Demons, 52, 55, and 58.

15 Blanton and Cook, They Fought Like Demons, 3.

16 Blanton and Cook, They Fought Like Demons, 3.

17 Blanton and Cook, They Fought Like Demons, 5.

18 Blanton and Cook, They Fought Like Demons, 5.

19 Blanton and Cook, They Fought Like Demons, 5.
20 Blanton and Cook, They Fought Like Demons, 5.

21 Blanton and Cook, They Fought Like Demons, 6.

22 Wikipedia, s.v., “Maria Lewis,” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maria_Lewis_(soldier), accessed October 11, 2022.

23 My emphasis. Blanton and Cook, They Fought Like Demons, 5.

Work Cited

Blanton, DeAnne, and Lauren M. Cook. They Fought Like Demons: Women Soldiers in the American Civil War. Baton Rouge, Louisiana: LSU Press, 2002.

Miklaszewski, Jim, and Halimah Abdullah. “All Combat Roles Now Open to Women, Pentagon Says,” December 3, 2015. https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/pentagon-nbc-news-all-combat-roles-now-open-women-n473581, accessed October 11, 2022.

Tsui, Bonnie. She Went to the Field: Women Soldiers of the Civil War. Washington, D.C.: Rowman & Littlefield, 2006.

Wikipedia, s.v., “Frances Clayton,” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frances_Clayton, accessed October 11, 2022.

Wikipedia, s.v., “Maria Lewis,” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maria_Lewis_(soldier), accessed October 11, 2022.

Julian Bond and Black Popular Culture


This post is contributed by Derrais Carter (he/they), a writer, book artist, and Assistant Professor of Gender & Women’s Studies at the University of Arizona. As a William A. Elwood Fellowship recipient, Carter used his research to investigate links between Julian Bond and blaxploitation cinema.

I went in search of conspiracy. For a length of time, that I’m slightly embarrassed to admit, I have searched for information about a group of well-intentioned activists who live in my mind as a cabal. Their mission was to rid Black America of demeaning, stereotypical representations in film. They called themselves the Coalition Against Blaxploitation (CAB).

The CAB is said to have originated in 1972. Organized by Junius Griffin, the same man who coined the term blaxploitation, the CAB included activists from the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).[1] Blaxploitation, Griffin’s portmanteau of “Black” and “exploitation” names Hollywood’s attempt to capitalize on the film industry’s newfound interest in targeting Black filmgoing audiences. This interest resulted from the success of early 70s films including but not limited to Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (1971), Shaft (1971) and Superfly (1972). While these films were monumental commercial successes, they also raised questions around the quality of Black representation in film. Enter blaxploitation. Griffin used the term critically to expose Hollywood’s investment in stereotypical representations that were psychologically damaging to Black Americans. When he introduced the term in Variety, Griffin was the head of the Hollywood NAACP. In this way, he was well-poised to work with other civil rights organizations to merge their resources toward the greater end of the film industry’s anti-Black practices.

What has long intrigued me is the shadowy and nebulous way the group seems to have operated. Given the histories and racial triumphs of the organizations involved, I wondered why the CAB isn’t more visible in archival collections or trade publications. So, casting a wide net, I ventured into the Julian Bond Papers (MSS 13347 + accreations) at the Small Special Collections Library in hopes of finding incontrovertible evidence of the group’s existence. I don’t know if he was involved with them. But as a founding member of SNCC, I thought his papers might contain some information about the CAB and how they saw themselves extending SNCC’s political efforts. In the absence of a glaring piece of historical evidence, I would have settled for a letter, note, or photograph that provided insight into how the CAB operated.

I found nothing of the sort.

Slightly deterred, my curiosity never wavered. For the next few days, I abandoned my initial inquiry and allowed myself to wade in the papers and wander, folder after folder, photographing items that piqued my interest. On my final day in special collections, I packed my belongings, exited the library, and took a deep dive into the photographs I snapped while researching onsite over copious amounts of earl grey tea. I’d selected a strange amalgam of political speeches, business and personal correspondence, notes and ephemera from various events. As I read, I reviewed my folders and took notes on what might be useful for my blaxploitation research. In the process, I gained a better idea of the extent to which Bond was interested in and engaged with popular culture. In this way, the collection did not disappoint.

Three b/w photos of Julian Bond at work organizing for SNCC

In 1961, Bond left Morehouse College to join the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), becoming a prominent member of the civil rights movement and organizing sit-ins and voter registration campaigns. Julian Bond Papers (MSS 13347, Box 120-121).

Below are a few excerpts from my time in the Bond papers. From these materials, another story emerges; one that takes me away from my initial inquiry yet delights me as a scholar invested in histories of Black culture. Through these documents, Bond becomes an unexpected vector in the 1970s Black popular culture landscape. With a curiosity I can’t shake I find myself asking, over and over, “Who is this guy?!”

Typewritten letter from Julian Bond letter to his brother James about Black music.

Julian Bond letter to his brother James about Black music. Julian Bond Papers (MSS 13347, Box 115, Folder 5)

Personal correspondence intrigues me. I’m nosey, so I relish opportunities to read correspondence by Black artists and activists.  The significance of the communication, when viewed by a reader who is not the intended recipient can produce a host of reactions. But in this letter from Bond to his brother James, I relish the references to Black music. They give us insight into Bond’s musical taste, alerting us to the voices and sounds that filled his speakers. In this letter, Melba Moore, Billie Holiday, Bessie Smith and Modern Jazz Quartet share space in his personal collection. The sounds emanating from these records, divergent and capacious, allow us to eavesdrop (in a broad historical way) and take in the tempos, grooves, and lyrics that buoyed him. And should we desire to glean the albums that overtly befit Bond the activist, then Alan Lomax’s “prison song recording” or Alan Ribback’s Movement Soul (1967) are fitting references. So, if you can “go for” songs that remind you of Bond, this letter is a great place to begin.

Typewritten letter from Julian Bond to Clarence Avant about starting Julian's music record label

Letter from Julian Bond to Clarence Avant about starting theBlack, Brown, & Beige music record label. Julian Bond Papers (MSS 13347, Box 29, Folder 5)

Bond’s interest in music was also business-related. According to this letter to Clarence Avant, a.k.a. The Black Godfather, Bond was starting his own record label called Black, Brown & Beige. The name appears to be a reference to Duke Ellington’s 1943 composition. The song conveys the story of an African named Boola who is enslaved and brought to the United States. Across 20 minutes, the composition moves listeners from slavery to the emergence of the Blues. While I have yet to verify the existence of the record label, Bond’s desire to extend his activist tactics by releasing an Angela Davis record is especially interesting.

Promotional still photograph of Bond appearing on SNL

Bond’s appearance on Saturday Night Live in 1977. Julian Bond Papers (MSS 13347 – Box 120).

To get a glimpse of Bond’s relationship to humor, one need only look at the documents pertaining to a roast in his honor and his 1977 appearance on Saturday Night Live. The roast materials include a program listing featured speakers, as well as Bond’s script for the event. His barbs at attendees are laced with Black historical references, political commentary, and personal history. The Saturday Night Live materials include a typed draft on his opening monologue, scripts for various segments featuring Bond, and press documents.


Typewritten press release with NBC logo

Press release for Bond’s 1977 appearance on Saturday Night Live. Julian Bond Papers (MSS 13347, Box 6, Folder 22).

typewritten script

Saturday Night Live script for Julian Bond. Julian Bond Papers (MSS 13347, Box 6, Folder 22).

Typewritten letter

Letter from Julian bond to Jean Carey Bond about being in the film (Greased Lightning) with Richard Pryor and Pam Grier. Julian Bond Papers (MSS 13347, Box 28, Folder 1).

This letter from Bond to Jean Carey Bond is the closest I came to finding any meaningful connection between Bond and 1970s cinema. Blaxploitation was on the decline by this point, but I can’t help but wonder what conversations, jokes, arguments, and thoughts percolated between Bond, Pam Grier, Jim Hinton (a.k.a. James E. Hinton), Cleavon Little, Richard Pryor, and Melvin Van Peebles on the set of Greased Lightning (1977).

B/w photograph of Bond shaking hands with Stevie Wonder while others look on.

Julian Bond with Stevie Wonder. Julian Bond Papers (MSS 13347 – Box 120).

These materials give me insight into Bond, but they also remind me that there is so much more to be considered as I examine the cultural life of blaxploitation. Yes, there are iconic films like Superfly (1972) and Blacula (1972). Additionally, there are at least 200 more films that fall under the blaxploitation banner. But, for me, the term exceeds Junius Griffin’s definition. It encapsulates a cultural moment wherein Black artists, activists, and scholars wrestled over the attention and loyalty of Black audiences. And while my time in the Bond Papers did not bring me closer to uncovering the CAB, I take solace in Bond’s musical wants, his humor, and his prismatic Black humanity.

[1] https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/blaxploitation-films

Beyond Making the Grade: Student and Life success at UVA (in 1854 and 2022)

As students approach their final exams for the Fall of 2022, Manuscript and Archives
processor Ellen Welch is pleased to share an original letter from a new acquisition of the Bennett Taylor Papers (MSS 9221), written in 1854 from a father giving advice to his son, a University of Virginia student. These letters were donated by Elizabeth Kirk Page—a descendant of the Jefferson and Randolph family—to the Small Special Collections Library in October 2018.

The letter was written by John Charles Randolph Taylor (1812-1875) to his son Bennett Taylor (1836-1898), a student in February 1854. Taylor is also a great-great-grandson of Thomas Jefferson through his mother Martha “Patsy” Jefferson Randolph Taylor, (1817-1857). Mr. Taylor advises Bennett to engage in student learning that extends beyond test scores and grades.

I love the advice in this letter because it reminds me of how my father used to counsel me when I was a college student—telling me to savor my years of learning as if I were drinking a fine glass of wine! While we may forget a test score, we remember personal and meaningful connections with faculty, students, and academic concepts for a lifetime. As the University community nears the end of this semester, it is good to focus on those connections that can enrich your life forever.

“My dearest Boy,

I received your letter of the 10th & again your letter of the 13th. I am not

disappointed at your finding the examinations harder than you expected. I do not think

success at the University at all necessary to our future success in life. The main object

to be aimed at in after life, it seems to me, is to be good & useful & to perform faithfully

& diligently the duties which accident & your own inclination point out to you. A certain

amount of this world’s goods is necessary to every man. This amount is always attain-

able by every industrious man who does not allow himself to be led away by the temp-

tations which surround him. The mode & manner of attaining this independence

must always depend upon the circumstances of natural talent, capacity for

study, & consequent acquirement, which belong to the individual. Success at college

is often injurious because the recipient of college honors is often inclined to rest

on his [ears]! I look upon the knowledge acquired during your college life of your own

self, as not the least important result which is to be attained. It will be a great

pleasure to me, I confess, for you to graduate with credit in your different classes, &

I still hope that you will be able to do so, by using due diligence. Your after course,

in entering upon the success of life, must as you must see, depend on the

amount of knowledge which you may acquire, & the training which your mind

will receive, during the next four years, & it is most important to you to bring

out your full capacity during that time. My impression is that you ought not

to be discouraged by the late examinations, but that you ought to devote yourself

with all your powers, & systematically, to Latin, French, & Spanish, & endeavor to

make yourself a good graduate in each of these classes at the present session.

In your Greek & Mathematical classes, I would give them sufficient study to insure my

standing well in them in the recitation room and [exam], & give all my extra time to the

three first named, if I were you. If you have not written to me, write to say how

you found the examinations in French & Spanish- & also, the examination in

mathematics, when that takes places. Write to me what you think of my suggestion

about your studies…”

Your most affectionate father

J.C.R. Taylor

Bennett Taylor graduated from the University of Virginia, became a Lieutenant Colonel in the American Civil War, and survived being a prisoner at Johnson Island in Lake Erie, New York. He was a clerk for the Circuit Court, a Justice for the Peace, a Town Magistrate, an attorney, and a husband and father of six children. While he was far from being wealthy—in fact, he struggled to pay his rent—by all known accounts he had a rich and fulfilling life. The Bennett Taylor papers include letters from his grandmother Jane Hollins Randolph (1798-1871), and his great aunt Ellen Wayles Coolidge (1796-1876), granddaughter of Thomas Jefferson.

Some of the letters can also be read online created via Monticello and the Thomas Jefferson Foundation.

Bennett Taylor also collected autographed comments of friendship and signatures from his Kappa Alpha brothers and fellow students at the University of Virginia in an autograph album which is also in our University Archives collection (RG-30/17/1.821).

Check out the related Edgehill Randolph family collection (MSS 5533-e)—these collections give a close-up view of the attitudes and lives of people that lived in our town during another time, sharing past knowledge into our present.