[Guest post by intrepid student worker Tim Walsh]
Stop by the DCA display cases in Tisch Library (located near the entrance to Tower Café) and check out the new fall exhibit: Jester Hairston, A29: He and His Talents Prevailed. The exhibit, which includes photographs, correspondence, news clippings, and album covers from DCA collections including the Jester Hairston collection, commemorates the life of notable Tufts alum Jester Hairston, class of 1929.
Jester Hairston, the grandson of slaves from Bellows Creek, North Carolina, started out as an amazingly talented singer and actor in the 1920s and early 1930s. Affected by widespread racism of the time that extended into the arts, Hairston eventually also became an accomplished conductor and composer, areas relatively open to African American artists for much of the 20th century. As such, Hairston became one of a small number of African American composers whose work transformed African American spirituals into an accepted genre of choral music. He is perhaps best known as the composer of “Amen,” a spiritual so “authentic” many did not realize Hairston had composed it.
Despite the constraints of the time, Jester Hairston also had a remarkable, if sometimes overlooked, career as an actor. He first made his mark in radio, with recurring roles in the Amos ‘n’ Andy show and Bold Venture (1951-52), where he starred as King Moses alongside Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. As a television actor, Hairston was a regular on The Amos ‘n Andy Show (1951-53), That’s My Mama (1974-75), and Amen (1986-1991). Hairston also had roles (often uncredited) in over 60 films, including The Alamo (1960), To Kill a Mockingbird (1962), In the Heat of the Night (1967), Lady Sings the Blues (1972), The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings (1976), The Last Tycoon (1976), I’m Gonna Git You Sucka (1988), and Being John Malkovich (1999). Occasionally criticized for taking film and television roles that stereotyped African Americans, Hairston said, “We had a hard time fighting for dignity. We had no power. We had to take it, and because we took it, the young people today have opportunities.”
Throughout the 1970s and 80s, Hairston was honored for his work across the US and was frequently invited as a guest conductor at high schools, colleges, and church choirs. He also made several goodwill State Department tours to Africa, Asia, Europe, and South America, once stating, “I will bring more love to China through American Negro folk songs than anything Kissinger can write.”
For his many and varied achievements, Jester Hairston received honorary doctorates from four schools, including Tufts, and was given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He will be the subject of the upcoming documentary “Amen: The Life and Music of Jester Hairston.”
This exhibit was designed and installed by Timothy Walsh, Archives and Research Assistant. It will be on display until January 2014. For more information on Jester Hairston and other notable Tufts alums, stop by the DCA on the Ground Floor of Tisch Library or check out the Concise Encyclopedia of Tufts History on the Tufts Digital Library.
The DCA is pleased to announce that the finding aid for the papers of the Center for Health, Environment and Justice is now available.
The Center for Health, Environment and Justice was founded in 1981 by Lois Marie Gibbs. The organization began as an information clearinghouse for environmental health issues and developed into an organization that focuses on raising awareness for environmental health concerns and assisting communities, organizations and individuals faced with environmental threats. CHEJ publishes a quarterly newsletter, Everyone’s Backyard
, and works on campaigns that raise awareness of significant environmental threats to communities across the country and abroad. CHEJ works by conducting conversations with community leaders about their problems and provides advice, leadership training, education and assistance. Through this approach they are able to address a large number of environmental threats and empower communities to take action on their own.
Ms. Gibbs will be on campus this weekend to receive an honorary doctor of public service degree at Tufts’ commencement on Sunday, May 19, 2013.
The DCA staff was overjoyed to see the announcement that Philip Lampi and Lois Gibbs are among the 2013 recipients of honorary degrees. Both Phil and Lois are amazing people who are hugely deserving of this honor, and they are near and dear to all of us at DCA.
Researcher Philip J. Lampi and project director John B. Hench of the American Antiquarian Society
As the New Nation Votes elections portal states, Philip J. Lampi has been collecting election returns for the past 45 years. His dedication and expertise in the area of Early American Politics has aided many contemporary scholars in their research at the Society. In the past, this body of election data was thought to be impossible to collect because of the vast and unwieldy nature of the unindexed newspapers and poor record keeping in this early period. He has received several grants over the years to assist him in his collecting. Under the current NEH grant, project staff and consultants at the American Antiquarian Society, DCA, and elsewhere are working to digitize a good portion of the tens of thousands of typed and handwritten tabulations and raw source materials that Lampi has accumulated as part of his life’s work. The project website will be updated frequently to monitor progress. The available election returns are fully searchable by such key index points as year, geographical constituency, office, names of candidates, and party labels.
Lois Gibbs is an environmental activist who formed the Love Canal Homeowners Association after discovering that her entire neighborhood of Love Canal, Niagara Falls, New York, had been built on a toxic waste dump which also included dioxin. Against strong opposition by local, state and federal government agencies and Occidental Petroleum, the organization succeeded and President Carter issued an Emergency Declaration in October 1980 to get 833 families evacuated and Love Canal cleaned up. Lois Gibbs and the association were instrumental in the establishment of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, or Superfund. Gibbs founded the Citizens’ Clearinghouse for Hazardous Waste, eventually Center for Health, Environment and Justice in 1980 to support and assist community groups and is its executive director. She has published about Love Canal and their efforts to get it cleaned up and a TV movie was made in called ‘Lois Gibbs: the Love Canal Story.’ Lois’ papers, as well as those of the Center for Health, Environment and Justice are held by the DCA. A new finding aid for the collection will be released in the next few weeks.