Donate to the Mid-South LGBTQ+ Archive

If you’re interested in contributing to making this project happen, donate to the MomentUM project today! The project funding ends December 4, 2019.

On October 31, 1969, Memphis hosted an event that would forever change the LGBTQ community in our city. Against the backdrop of the Guild Theatre, Bill Kendall organized a revolutionary revel where men dressed as women, women dressed in costume, and everyone gathered to celebrate the art of pageantry and camp. The result was the first public drag show and pageant that Memphis had ever seen: The Miss Memphis Review.

In the 1960s, Memphis city ordinances criminalized same sex dancing, cross dressing, and acts of “vulgar character.” So Kendall strategically chose Halloween, the one night a year where a celebration of gender bending wouldn’t run afoul of these laws. When the crowds arrived at the theatre, they were dressed in costumes as well as formal finery. It was clear that this was going to be a historic event.

Fifty years later, Memphis remembers this event. The Guild and Miss Memphis will be the subject of a historical marker at the Evergreen Theatre on Halloween 2019, the first of its kind in the city. What remains of that late night in 1969 are a few photographs, oral histories that have not yet been captured, and reels of film in critical need of preservation. The Mid-South LGBTQ+ Archive seeks funds to digitize and archivally preserve the audiovisual material from that historic Halloween night. This footage stands to tell the story of what has been called “Memphis’ Stonewall” by community historian, Vincent Astor.

To date, this footage is the oldest of its kind in Memphis and The Mid-South LGBTQ+ Archive wants to make it the cornerstone of how Pride began in the Mid-South. We want our community’s trust to tell the story of all LGBTQ+ persons that call the Mid-South home. Contributions for this project will go to preserve and digitize this and similar film footage and to continue to grow the archive to include a spectrum of narratives that make up the LGBTQ+ community.

Digital Exhibit: Enslaved People in the Southeast

Read the news announcement, and visit the digital exhibit.

From the digital exhibit’s website:

The Association of Southeastern Research Libraries (ASERL) announces a new digital exhibit created and curated by the ASERL Special Collections Interest Group. This collaborative online exhibit recognizes the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first Africans sold into bondage in the English Colonies. This date, in 1619, is regarded as the beginning of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade in North America.

The exhibit documents the history of the enslaved in the Southeast and includes material related to the many varied aspects of enslavement, including paper documents and records as well as images. These provide valuable information about the entire infrastructure and system of enslavement as well as the individual and group experiences of enslaved people. Items submitted include photos, letters, bills of sale, emancipation documents, insurance and taxation documents, and maps indicating segregation zones. The exhibit will also explore the legacies of slavery by including documents and images related to convict lease labor and Jim Crow in the 20th century.

Designed to illustrate the social complexity as well as the economic and human impact of the American ‘peculiar institution,’ in all its ugliness, these materials can guide the researchers in accurately depicting the institution of slavery in the Southeastern United States. The goal is to learn from our past and make our resources available to students, researchers, other institutions, and the public.”

The University of Memphis’ University Libraries Special Collections selected and provided materials contributing to this digital exhibit.


University Libraries Digital Repository

Did you know that the University of Memphis Libraries have a digital repository?

To enhance access to our rich and varied collections, we have digitized a wide range of materials including collection finding aids or guides, primary source documents, still images, and sound and motion recordings, mostly from our Preservation and Special Collections Department. Topics covered include, but are not limited to, Memphis and regional history and culture in general, family and political life, the Civil War and other conflicts, Civil Rights, and the African American community and culture. This is a growing collection and what is displayed here represents only a small fraction of our holdings.

Below are examples of some of the things you will find inside the repository.

This is a photograph of West Tennessee State Normal School(original name for U of M) students using microscopes in the Chemistry Department around 1916 from the University Archives Collection.



Along with the University Archives, we also have the Musical heritage Collection which features photographs like this one of Isaac Hayes at the Memphis Airport, April 1972.


Please contact the  Special Collections Department at 901.678.2210 or stop by the 4th Floor of McWherter Library for further information the collections held within the digital repository.

Martin Luther King Speech Now Online

On July 6, 1965, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., addressed the fifth General Synod of the United Church of Christ in Chicago. A copy of the twenty-page typed text, with hand-written corrections and additions by Dr. King, was purchased in 2017 by Avron B. Fogelman, the prominent Memphis philanthropist and supporter of the University of Memphis. Mr. Fogelman graciously allowed the speech to be displayed in the university’s Ned R. McWherter Library in March and April 2018  as part of the fiftieth anniversary commemoration of Dr. King’s death. To see the speech in its entirety click here.

In Their Words: The 1968 Sanitation Strike

Don’t miss “In Their Words: The 1968 Sanitation Strike” on display on the 1st and 4th floors of McWherter Library. This exhibit pulls directly from primary sources of people that were involved with the 1968 sanitation workers’ strike that brought Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to Memphis. The collection was assembled and created by the Memphis Search for Meaning Committee, an ad hoc, non-profit committee of volunteers lead by Carol Lynn and David Yellin. The committee worked to collect information in the way of interviews, photographs, and other—newer—media such as television video and audio from radio programs and other media outlets. This collection, and the exhibit that follows, provides a snapshot into this time in Memphis and American history.


Bridging East and West: The First Steel Bridge of Memphis

The University Libraries would like to invite the campus community to visit the Fall 2017 exhibit, “Bridging East and West: The First Steel Bridge of Memphis.” This exhibit takes you through challenges the railroad industry faced with securing land to build the tracks needed to connect the east and west coasts of our nation, and highlights the technology to move rail cars over geographical obstacles like the Mississippi River. Come and transport yourself back to the end of the 19th century to see original maps, historic photographs, and learn about how Memphis celebrated the opening of the third largest bridge of its kind in the world. On display through Spring 2018.

Church family papers receives grant

Archivists have two primary responsibilities as regards the collections they are responsible for: 1) the materials should be preserved for as long as possible and, 2) they should be made accessible to researchers. There is always a tension between these responsibilities because the latter impacts the former. When a collection is particularly important, usage by researchers goes up which also results in increased wear and tear on the documents in that collection. An example is the Church family papers in the Preservation and Special Collections Department. Robert Reed Church, Sr., Robert R. Church, Jr., and Sara Roberta Church were three generations of one of the most prominent African American families in Memphis. Robert Church, Sr., was a successful entrepreneur who owned businesses including a bank and an auditorium, and was known as the first black millionaire in the South. He was also a supporter of the Republican Party in which his son, Robert, Jr., became an important figure at both the state and national levels. Robert, Jr., started the Lincoln League and was active in founding the local branch of the NAACP in 1917. He advised several presidents and was a frequent visitor to the White House but his influence waned locally in the 1940s when he came into conflict with “Boss” E.H. Crump. Robert’s daughter, Roberta, carried on the family tradition of civic involvement and served in Washington, D.C. under Dwight Eisenhower and subsequent administrations in the Department of Labor and then the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. She began donating her family’s papers to the university in 1976 and continued to add to the collection for the next twenty years.

The collection includes correspondence, scrapbooks, photographs, published material and artifacts and has been used extensively by scholars including Elizabeth Gritter for River of Hope and Preston Lauterbach for Beale Street Dynasty. However, by 2016 the oldest documents in the collection were starting to fall to pieces and the collection was closed until funds could be found to rehouse them in archival grade plastic sleeves. An application for funding through the Direct Grant program of the Tennessee State Library and Archives was successful and Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett visited the university in January to present a check to the library. This money combined with additional funding allocated by the Dean of Libraries, Dr. Sylverna Ford, will enable much of the oldest material in the collection to be preserved and allow researchers to mine this rich resource once again.


Benjamin Hooks Papers

Benjamin Hooks and the Federal Communications Commission (1972-1977)

By William C. love

Benjamin Hooks, Seated as FCC commissioner

On an early morning in 1972, Benjamin Hooks received a call from Howard Baker, a Republican senator from Tennessee.  Baker informed Hooks that he intended to make Hooks the first Black nominee for the Federal Communications Commission.  At first, Hooks, suspicious of adjoining himself to the Nixon administration, declined the offer but after discussing the matter with his wife, Hooks changed his mind and accepted the nomination.

As Hooks recalled in one of his memoirs, the nomination process and his eventual appointment was mostly determined by racial politics.  When the U.S. Senate initially debated the appointments, William D. Wright, president of Black Efforts for Soul in Television, demanded to know why no Blacks were being considered for the commissioner role.  After a heated exchange in which Wright accused the Senate committee of blatant racism, the committee adjourned and turned to President Nixon in order to assure that a Black man was duly considered.  As Wright refused to back off his accusations of racism, the white nominees were all stalled and Hooks’ confirmation as FCC commissioner went through the Senate relatively swiftly.

As a FCC commissioner, Hooks was charged with overseeing the branch of the Federal government that regulated the communications industry of the United States.   A legacy of New Deal legislation of the mid 1930s, the FCC was officially chartered to “make available so far as possible, to all the people of the United States, without discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, or sex, rapid, efficient, Nationwide and world-wide wire and radio communication services with adequate facilities at reasonable charges.”   In its original form, it was intended to bolster national security, as communication with the public regarding security threats was deemed the responsibility of the federal government.  Over time as the communications industry developed, it began to regulate television and cable companies and at present contains seven bureaus that regulate various aspects of telecommunications and broadcasting.

As a civil rights activist, Hooks carried over the principles cultivated throughout his life as a preacher, lawyer, and judge into the FCC.  As Hooks would recall, after only a few days as the FCC commissioner, he saw that his job would entail “confronting and trying to right some of the historic wrongs involving race and gender that the Commission and the industry it regulates had perpetuated for so very, very long.”  It was not that he, himself, as the FCC Commissioner encountered racism but rather saw that the policies still enforced by the FCC had not adapted to a post-civil rights era.  As Hooks reported, of the 2,200 FCC employees, only five were Black when he arrived, but upon his departure, he had boosted the number to over 70.

Hooks’ tenure with the FCC makes up a minor portion of the Benjamin Lawson Hooks papers.  Of the 397 boxes in the collection, only 11 pertain to the FCC and none of the major photograph or audiovisual files contain materials from Hooks’ tenure with the FCC.  However, contained within the FCC files are over two dozen interviews and speeches that Hooks gave as FCC commissioner.  These speeches and interviews demonstrate that Hooks’ civil rights initiatives continued throughout his tenure as FCC commissioner, even if filtered through a new lens of broadcasting and networking initiatives.

In addition to pressing the FCC, itself, to hire more minorities, Hooks used his position as FCC commissioner to press for the inclusion of minorities in all areas of the American broadcasting industry.   In one of his first speeches as FCC Commissioner in July of 1972, Dr. Hooks addressed the Wisconsin Broadcasters’ Association about what he called the “Black-In” move within the Communications industry.  By Black-In broadcasting, Hooks meant “BLACK-IN programming, BLACK-IN employment, BLACK-IN managerial affairs, BLACK-IN community participation, BLACK-IN every aspect of the broadcasting landscape.”   Hooks continued that for “too long, Blacks as well as other minorities, have been excluded from meaningful participation in the communications medium, and as Commissioner I intend to marshal every resource at my command to ameliorate the situation.”

Hooks echoed this same theme throughout many of his speeches, remarking to the Universal Life Insurance Company in 1973, that the media is still all too closed off to the Black community as well as women and other minorities.  He noted that of the 38,000 individuals working in the newspaper industry as “writers, editors, photographers” and general newsroom professionals, less than 1 percent were minorities and women.  Even in the industry at large, only about 4.6 percent of the newspaper work force was occupied by Black individuals.  In the television industry, no Blacks owned any of the 693 television stations operating in the country, and further, only one Black man in Jackson, Mississippi, Bill Dilday, even managed a television station.  Thus, Hooks wanted to ensure that the FCC worked with its internal EEO (Equal Employment Opportunity) Unit to ensure that the FCC “set about correcting some of the historical employments wrongs within the Agency.”  Further, it had recently established an external EEO unit to regulate the hiring standards of the broadcast industry to insure people of all genders and races received equal opportunity for employment in broadcasting.

While Hooks was committed to ensuring that the broadcasting and communications industry sought to hire qualified minorities, Hooks was also keenly aware of the double-edged sword that the industry had brought to the Black community.    On the one hand, the entertainment industry had provided the Black community with a very visible form of progress.  Many of the most visible well-to-do members of the Black community were televised musicians, athletes, and entertainers who had provided the Black community with role models.  On the other hand, the entertainment industry obscured the reality of the Black community by only promoting both the positive and negative sensations of the Black community to the detriment of normal working class Black families.  As Hooks once remarked in an interview with The Black Journal, “Minorities need positive models that they can govern themselves on.  When my little grandson watches a television set, he may not be able to be a singer and athlete, but hopefully he may have enough brains to be a lawyer or a doctor.”  The white community is constantly shown images of successful working class people, he noted, but much work was needed to ensure that Blacks had both access to working opportunities in the broadcasting and communications industry and also represented fairly and equally by the programs of the broadcasting industry.

Dr. Hooks resigned as FCC commissioner in 1977 to take over the position of Executive Director of the NAACP, but his legacy as the first Black FCC commissioner paved the way for other Black members including Tyrone Brown, Andrew Barrett, Willian Kennard, and eventual chairman, Michael Powell.

The Benjamin Lawson Hooks Papers

The Benjamin Lawson Hooks Papers: An Introduction

By William C. Love

In 1996, Dr. Benjamin Hooks, three years retired as Executive Director of the NAACP, donated his professional papers to the University of Memphis Libraries. The time and scope of the papers range from the mid-1970s when he served as commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission to the early 2000s when Dr. Hooks worked with the Hooks Institute for Social Change, an institute that continues to work with the University of Memphis to teach, study, and promote Civil Rights and social change in the Memphis area.

The papers were given in installments to the University of Memphis Libraries between 1996 and 2006.  The papers were processed and housed in 2007, with no new additions arriving until 2015 when Dr. Hooks’ daughter, Patricia Hooks, donated 4 boxes of manuscript and audio/visual material.  As the collection stands now, it contains 397 archival boxes with close to 195,000 items that range from correspondence to printed material, memoranda, administrative files, photographs, and audio/visual material.

While there is substantive material on the FCC and Dr. Hooks’ wife, Frances Hooks, the overwhelming majority of the collection pertains to Dr. Hooks’ time as Executive Director of the NAACP.  Of the 397 boxes in the collection, close to 380 pertain to the NAACP between 1977 and 1993.  The NAACP materials are broken into sub-series that include General Activities, Administrative Files, Financial Materials, Legal Files, The Crisis Magazine Materials, Branch Files, Photographs, Sound and Film Recordings, Plaques and Awards, and Oversized Materials.

From the standpoint of research value, the “General Activities” are the richest in content.   It includes correspondence, speeches, NAACP initiative proposals, subject files, and press releases.   It also contains the majority of documents either in the voice of Benjamin Hooks or the voice of someone writing on his behalf.  While it is sometimes difficult to distinguish the writing and thoughts of Dr. Hooks from those of his writers and assistants, the speeches, correspondence, and press releases most certainly reflect Dr. Hooks’ will and thoughts, if not exact words.  The subject files, while often provocatively labeled (e.g. Ku Klux Klan) are generally topical files compiled by Hooks and his assistants.  There is little in the subject files in his voice and while it is of interest to know the kinds of issues Hooks and his team followed in the media, the subject files give little indication of his thoughts on their content.

The other main subseries of interest are the photographs and audio/visual materials.  The photograph subseries primarily depicts NAACP events, specifically the annual conventions, fund raisers, and meetings between NAACP executives and private donors or public officials.  The photographs number approximately 2000, but many are either duplicates or multiple snaps of the same pose.  Thus, there are probably close to 800 substantive photographs in the collection.  The photographs are often unannotated and do not immediately relate to other parts of the collection.  While one can draw parallels between the photographs and the General Activities subseries, the photographs primarily serve as a visual index of NAACP events and award ceremonies given for Dr. Hooks throughout his career.  While we aim to digitize the substantive photographs, the photographs are mostly an aesthetic supplement and introduction to the collection.

The audio/visual materials, by contrast, provide much interpretative substance.  There are several dozen audiocassette tapes of sermons, speeches, and interviews given by Dr. Hooks over the course of his career as Executive Director of the NAACP and pastor of Greater Mt. Moriah Church in Detroit, Michigan.  These recordings give the listener access to Dr. Hooks in his own words about topics he felt passionately about, such as the crisis of the black family, the role of the church in society, and the pressing political issues of the 1980s and 1990s.  There are also sermons and speeches of other individuals important to the church and the NAACP, such as Frances Hooks, Tom Diamond, and C.A. Clark.  Some of the audiocassettes are mass produced commercial products concerning the black church or black history that we will not digitize.  However, the speeches, sermons, and interviews given by Dr. Hooks are some of the most valuable aspects of the collection and will be made available to the public in digital form.  There are also many video cassettes in the collection that while valuable, exceed the recording capacities of this project.  

The collection does contain many folders of minimal research value such as call logs, calendars, and editions of The Crisis magazine available in circulation and in digital format on the official NAACP website.  Still, it is a historically rich collection that would provide excellent context and content to professional and amateur historians interested in the history of Memphis, the NAACP, the Hooks family, and more general African-American history.  We anticipate that many researchers will use the collection to further the study of Civil Rights that Dr. Hooks dedicated so much of his life to defending.

The University Libraries Celebrates Women’s History Month 2015

WHM Poster 2015

The University Libraries is pleased to participate in the U of M’s campus-wide celebration of Women’s History Month. See the full calendar of events here and visit the Libraries’ Women’s and Gender Studies research guide for books, articles, web sites, videos, primary documents, and other resources about women’s history and feminist issues. In addition, we have created a special research guide featuring Tennessee women who dedicated their lives to activism and service and participated in national movements for equality.

In honor of our new exhibition, “Woven Into Words: Tennessee Women Making History,” we will host a reception on Tuesday, March 3, 5:30-7:00 p.m. on the fourth floor of McWherter Library; Dr. Christine Eisel, Department of History, will share “Lessons Learned in the Archives.” Guests can explore several display cases which illustrate the impact of women like Roberta Church, Elizabeth Meriwether, Sister Hughetta Snowden, Cornelia Crenshaw, and Maxine Smith and highlight government documents relating to women’s suffrage and political history. Presented with the support of the Friends of the University Libraries.

Then, on Wednesday, March 18, 11:30 a.m., Jazmin Miller will present her original one-woman show, “The Journey of Truth,” about the life of abolitionist and activist Sojourner Truth in the rotunda of McWherter Library. Free and open to the public.

In addition to attending programs, you can participate in Women’s History Month by responding to a writing prompt and/or recognizing a woman who has helped you weave your own story (submission sheets are also available in rotunda of McWherter Library).