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African American Records

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During Black History Month, we look at the impact that African-Americans have had on our history and celebrate those who have become icons.

The Civilian Personnel Records branch of the NPRC watched an American Experience film about the famous Olympic athlete, Jesse Owens. In the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Owens won four gold medals: the 100 and 200 meter dash,  long jump, and 4x100 meter relay. He competed at the height of the Great Depression in the US and Nazism in Germany, who argued that his white Aryan athletes could beat all other competitors. Owens single-handedly broke this ideology and proved his superiority as an athlete.


Hitler originally did not want the Olympics in Germany, but soon after, he was convinced that such an international event could prove to the world how superior German athletes were. During preparations, anti-Semitic propaganda and all other evidence of Jewish persecution was removed from Berlin.  Hitler also refused having any Jews from competing in the games, even excluding some German athletes who were world champions.


Owens quickly disproved the racial notion that blacks were the inferior race to Hitler. On the second, fourth, fifth, and ninth days of the games, Owens won four gold medals, although he came close to being disqualified in the long jump before the German long-jumper Luz Long advised him on jump further. During the medal ceremony, Hitler refused to shake Owens' hand and many back home took this 'snub' as a great offence to the athletic spirit of the Olympics. Owens broke five world records and tied for a sixth at the 1936 Olympics, all in the space of 45 minutes. 


After the Olympics, Owens fell into financial difficulties and eventually declared bankruptcy.  He raced against racehorses for money to provide for his family, but then President Eisenhower appointed him a goodwill ambassador to help raise awareness about poverty and the importance of the Olympics in promoting world peace. He died in 1980 from aggressive lung cancer.


Jesse Owens is an iconic American athlete and his performance in Berlin disproved the idea of racial inferiority in the 20th century.



Sharing a link to NARA historian Jessie Kratz's introductory post to a series this month at the Prologue blog, Celebrating Black History Month | Prologue: Pieces of History.  As a historian, I appreciate how Jessie first effectively places history in context:


"Like many government agencies, the National Archives has a checkered past when it comes to hiring and promoting African Americans.

In the early years of the 1930s and 1940s, black employees faced extreme prejudices and were mostly limited to more manual and unskilled behind the scene jobs.


Very few African Americans held professional archivist positions, and those who were able to get those jobs were not promoted at the same pace as their white colleagues.


The Civil Rights era saw black employees begin to make greater gains in securing higher profile positions."


Records and oral history interviews enable us better to understand the past.  My thanks to Jessie for writing this post and enhancing knowledge of NARA's own past.

A series of occasional posts, where we let our former colleagues "tell their story".


    My story? Well, a lot of it is about getting things from here to there.


    I was born in Atlanta, and then our family moved to Kansas. I worked my way up to become a special messenger

    in the Governor's Office, if you can believe it.


                                    Story about Caldwell, Afro-American Newspaper, Oct. 1, 1932.bmp

                                      The Afro-American, October 1, 1932



    My family and I moved to Washington, and I took up working for the Archives in '36.

    When you've got endorsements from governors, that can certainly help put you where you want to be!


                                     NA Building - Caldwell, Hiram O..jpg

                                        NAID 12091064




   Working around here, it was always "Get this there as quick as possible!" We had a pretty good staff, though;

    we didn't put up with any slacking off. There was even a piece about the mail staff for our newsletter:


                     Archiviews, May 1948 - Story about Mail Room Staff.jpg

                        "Archiviews," May 1948 (from NAID 7839999)



   But I had left that job by the time this article came out. For my last several years at the Archives, I was an

   Archives Assistant in the War Records Branch, working under Dr. Dallas Irvine.


   I made to my 70th year in 1951, and by then I was ready to settle back in Topeka with Marguerite.

   Dr. Grover gave me a nice farewell party.


                                          Archiviews, December 1951 - Retirement of Mr. Caldwell, p. 2.jpg

                                             "Archiviews," December 1951, page 2 (from NAID 7839999)



                        64-NA-1-142 Dr. Grover Congratulates Hiram O. Caldwell Upon His Retirement, Nov. 30, 1951.jpg

                           64-NA-1-142 (NAID 12167417)


                         "Dr. Wayne Grover, Archivist of the U.S., presided at a farewell ceremony for Mr. Hiram O. Caldwell,

                         Archives Assistant, who retired Friday, November 30, 1951 after 15 years of Government Service.

                         Mrs. Caldwell was also at the ceremony."


                        64-NA-1-139 Hiram O. Caldwell and Family with Dr. Grover, at His Retirement, Nov. 30, 1951.jpg

                          64-NA-1-139 (NAID 12167411)


                                     Mr. Caldwell, wife Marguerite, and daughters Barbara and Annette, with Dr. Grover.



        It was so nice to see all my old colleagues there.


                         64-NA-1-143 Well Wishers Greet Hiram O. Caldwell at His Retirement Ceremony, Nov. 30, 1951.jpg              

                            64-NA-1-143 (NAID 7873496)


                                                Staff members greet Mr. Hiram O. Caldwell at his retirement ceremony.

                                                Mrs. Caldwell and their daughters speak with Dr. Grover, at right.



   All the work for all those years was worth it; helped my family grow and thrive, and do some good in the world.


   My Marguerite made a wonderful legacy for herself, too. Here is some of the story of her life.





                                             The Caldwells' headstone at Mt. Auburn Cemetery, Topeka, Kansas