The following comes from university archivist Sarah Keen
Have you heard footsteps where no corporeal being is walking? Have unexplainable events occurred in your building that have no humanly cause? Are there spaces on campus where the spirits of those who have walked this earth before us feel particularly present?
If so, the University Archives would like to hear your tales of paranormal encounters on campus and in Iowa City. Share your spooky stories to be added to the archives and shared with the campus community.
We are pleased to welcome Sarah Keen as our new university archivist in Special Collections & Archives.
Sarah joined the Libraries at the start of the fall semester. She comes to Iowa from upstate New York, where she served as Colgate University Libraries’ university archivist and head of Special Collections and University Archives. Previously, she was technical services archivist and American Association of Family and Consumer Sciences project archivist at Cornell University Library, and archivist for the Jane Harman Congressional Papers Project at Smith College. She earned her MSI from the University of Michigan and her BA from Alma College.
As an archivist, Sarah says that she enjoys “learning about people’s lives and their experiences as individuals and with the organizations they create.” She looks forward to learning about the University, its complex history, and its wide range of activities while collaborating with colleagues across campus.
When not digging through the archives, Sarah enjoys rowing, crocheting, and listening to music. She is also a Red Sox fan, and she enjoys reading mystery books and watching mystery/detective shows. Have we already told her about the culinary murder mystery books in Szathmary’s collection? You bet we have.
Welcome Sarah! We’re excited to have you on the team.
The following is written by Academic Outreach Coordinator Kathryn Reuter
Mauricio Lasanky was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1914 to Jewish immigrants from Lithuania. Lasansky showed artistic skill from a young age — printmaking was his preferred medium, a choice perhaps influenced by his father, who worked as a printer of banknote engravings. After completing high school, Lasansky studied printmaking at the Superior School of Fine Arts and after just three years, was named director of the Free School of Fine Arts in Cordoba, Argentina. His work caught the attention of Henry Francis Taylor, who was then director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Taylor recommended Lasansky for a Guggenheim Fellowship, a distinction Lasansky was awarded in 1943—with a renewal in 1944. This fellowship allowed Lasansky to travel to New York City, where he worked at the famed printmaking workshop Atelier 17 and, over the course of two years, reportedly studied every. single. print. of the old masters in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Department of Drawings and Prints (an estimated 150,000 works!).
In 1944, as Lasansky’s Guggenheim Fellowship was coming to a close, University of Iowa president Virgil Hancher was looking for a Printmaker in Residence as part of the development of the University Art Department. Mauricio Lasansky accepted the position and while he initially planned on being in Iowa City for “just a year”, Lasansky taught at the University for forty years and established one of the most respected printmaking workshops in the country. By all accounts Lasansky was an exceptionally dedicated teacher; in his farewell letter to the director of the University Art Department in 1984, he wrote:
“Somehow I will miss teaching since I don’t recall one day in my teaching one-to-one that was not enjoyable. For that I am grateful to the University, the Art Department, and above all to my students, who are scattered all over the world as you know. I can honestly say that I did the best I could. Was it good enough? Time will say.”
-Letter to the Director of School of Art & Art History. Oct. 31, 1984 file: Lasansky, Mauricio. Vita and Farewell Correspondence, 1983-1984 collection: Iowa Print Group Records
Throughout his time teaching, Lasansky continued to earn accolades for his own work – in fact, in 1961, Time magazine called him “the nation’s most influential printmaker”.
Because of his skill and success as a printmaker, it is somewhat surprising that Lasansky’s most famous works are a suite of drawings. The Nazi Drawings — a set off 33 portraits of Nazis, other perpetrators of the Holocaust, and bystanders — are haunting depictions of the disgust and pain that Lasansky felt about the Holocaust and atrocities of World War II. Created over a period of five years, the drawings are made primarily with pencil on paper, with some treatments of turpentine, earth colors, and collaged newspaper. With simple materials, Lasansky was able to conjure a thick layer of horror and tragedy onto paper. The drawings vary in size: a few measure about two feet in height, but the majority are around five feet—and the largest is almost seven feet tall. The scale of these works makes them feel unescapable, they violently confront the viewer with deeply dark depictions of humanity. To see a grotesque image as a sketch on a page is one thing, but these large drawings force us to see the figures as the same size as us. They are fully disturbing.
Although the end of World War II and the liberation of concentration camps occurred in 1945, Lasansky would not begin work on his drawings until 1961. This gap in time is because, like many people around the world, he did not fully know the extent of the tragedy until decades after the war. Immediately following the war, media attention on the Holocaust was minimal, and it was only years later that stories of the persecution and genocide of Jewish people and other groups were introduced into wider public consciousness.
As an example, one of the most famous works of literature to come out of the Holocaust, Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl, would not be published in Amsterdam until 1947 – and only after great effort by her father Otto Frank. As a post by the Anne Frank House explains, “It was not easy to find a publisher so soon after the war, because most people wanted to look to the future.” Similarly, an English translation of the book for publication in the United States was turned down by 10 publishers before Doubleday Publishers agreed to publish the translation in 1952. The diary is undoubtedly a vital piece of history, but the writings are about Anne’s quiet life in hiding — the reality of genocide and the horrors of labor and death camps were not included in the published volume. The climate of the 1950s was heavy with post-war optimism and American society at large was saturated with a culture of positivity; most people preferred not to grapple with the tragedy and grief of the Holocaust.
For many, full recognition of the horrors of the Holocaust was spurred by the widely publicized 1961 trial of Adolf Eichmann, a German Nazi officer and one of the major organizers of the Holocaust. Eichmann was responsible for the logistical planning of genocide and escaped capture at the end of the war. In 1960, Nazi hunters found Eichmann living in Argentina and brought him to Israel to stand trial for 15 criminal charges. This trial was broadcast around the world, from April to October of 1961, and people watched on their televisions as over 90 Holocaust survivors gave testimony about the horrors of the Holocaust and the brutality of the Nazis. There had never before been this level of exposure for Holocaust survivors and the terrible truth of their experiences. During the Nuremberg Trials, for example, only 3 Holocaust survivors gave testimony because the prosecution decided to rely on documentary evidence in building their case. The Eichmann trial was widely followed by the media and exposed many people, including Mauricio Lasansky, to the truth about the horrors of the Holocaust.
In The Nazi Drawings, Lasansky was putting his rage and grief onto paper. In a biographical essay, scholar Alan Fern summarizes:
“Both the formal and the iconographic development of Lasansky’s work reached a climax in The Nazi Drawings of 1961-1966. For Lasansky, this was both an artistic watershed and an emotional catharsis, during which he turned his major creative energies away from the print to give physical embodiment to his seething reaction against the Nazi holocaust. He saw the unleashing of bestiality in Germany during the 1930s and 1940s as a brutal attack on man’s dignity, and felt it carried the potential seeds of man’s self-destruction.”
– “The Prints of Mauricio Lasansky” by Alan Fern (page 17) in Lasansky: Printmaker John Thein, Phillip Lasansky – University of Iowa Press 1975
Even with greater public awareness of the Holocaust, The Nazi Drawings were difficult for many to stomach. In 1967 Time magazine noted that the works were on display at the Whitney Museum and called them “as unsettling a set of drawings as any museum has shown in years” and reported “the impact of the drawings is so devastating that the Chicago Institute of Art declined to show them altogether…” With just pencil and paper, Lansky managed to illustrate intensely uncomfortable images and convey the immense tragedy of the Holocaust. The Nazi Drawings are an example of the power of art as process – they were a way for Lasansky to lance the wound and pour out the heavy emotions he felt. The drawings have also endured as an example of the power of art to unsettle viewers; to provoke emotional reactions from an audience. No one would venture to call these drawings beautiful, but there is no mistaking their power.
The entire set of drawings are currently on display for the first time in over 15 years at the Minneapolis Institute of Art. This exhibit, on display until June 26th, pairs the drawings with archival media of the Eichmann trials as well as contemporary prints by Lasansky.
Undoubtedly significant to the rise of printmaking in the United States, Mauricio Lasansky’s legacy is also deeply imprinted on Iowa City. The tradition of excellence he established continues in the University of Iowa’s printmaking program, and members of Laskansky’s family run The Lasansky Corporation Gallery on Washington Street in downtown Iowa City.
As another way of remembering this difficult time in history, on April 29th, 2022 the University of Iowa will plant a new tree on the Pentacrest: a sapling propagated from the old chestnut tree that grew behind the Amsterdam annex where Anne Frank and her family hid during WWII. Learn more about the event here.
Books in Special Collections:
– The Nazi Drawings / by Mauricio Lasansky FOLIO NE539.L3 N3 1976
– Lasansky, Printmaker FOLIO NE594.L3 T44
Material in University Archives:
– Papers of Mauricio Lasansky University Archives RG 99.0030
– Iowa Print Group Records RG 06.0007.002
– Howard N. Sokol Papers (RG 99.0017) Subject Files – L. Lasansky, The Nazi Drawings 1972.
View more digitized photos of Lasansky (from the University Archives) as well as digitized prints (from the collection of the Stanley Museum of Art) at the Iowa Digital Library
The following is written by Community and Student Life Archivist Aiden Bettine
The University Archives is embarking on a new, hands-on project to collect the history of student organizations on our campus, Student Organizations Archiving their Records or SOAR. The Purpose of SOAR is to ensure that the legacy of each student organization on the University of Iowa campus is being actively preserved. This project provides student organizations with archiving kits for their materials so they can engage in the archival process. Involving students in the organization, description, and care for their organization’s archival collection is an integral part of making the history of student organizations visible on our campus. Organization leaders will work closely with our Community & Student Life Archivist, Aiden Bettine, to ensure their collections move into the University Archives.
Students are an integral part of our campus history. One of the primary ways that students make an impact on our campus is through student organizations whether as founders, members, or leaders. Yet a challenge with collecting this history is the reality that leadership and organizational records change hands every couple of years. Through SOAR, our goal is that when a student organization has a leadership change, the awareness of being able to work closely with the University Archives is passed down.
Although the organizational records will vary from group to group, there are some consistent types of materials we collect to capture the history of an organization:
Annual financial budgets
T-shirts, buttons, stickers, etc.
Whether physical or digital versions of materials, the University Archives is ready to help preserve your organization’s history on our campus.
For student organizations that are affiliated with a center, office, or department on campus, SOAR offers the opportunity for archival storage outside of the University Archives in another campus space. This affords students the opportunity to keep their records close to where they gather regularly for ease of access and use. Storing materials on campus but outside of the Main Library also invites library patrons to learn more about an organization in context, to understand how institutional spaces for student organizations function on campus.
The University Archives is here to support the preservation and accessibility of each student organization’s history, regardless of where the materials are stored on our campus. We will work directly with each group to ensure the best decisions are made for the preservation and use of their collection. We want all our Hawkeyes to SOAR! To learn more about SOAR visit here.
Are you part of a student org and want to get involved in preserving your org’s history? Fill out the SOAR participation survey to tell us more about the materials you have.
He’s served as the University of Iowa’s institutional memory for the last 21 years, which includes writing the beloved Old Gold series. Now, University Archivist David McCartney is starting a new chapter.
McCartney, who is retiring on March 1, has been dedicated to ensuring access to Iowa’s history and also highlighting voices that are underrepresented in the University Archives. Throughout his career, McCartney also developed relationships across campus, working with classes or faculty in every department, as well as with many different people throughout the state, region, and beyond.
“David has tied together research questions and historical threads across campus, from the College of Medicine to the School of Art and Art History. He has such a passion for constantly learning more about the people and events represented in our collections and for uniting materials with those who need them,” said Margaret Gamm, director of Special Collections & Archives in the University of Iowa Libraries.
After publishing an award-winning article on the life of UI student Stephen Smith, a young man from Marion, Iowa, who found his voice through civil rights activism in the 1960s, McCartney organized the Historical Iowa Civil Rights Network to bring together related repositories and collections from across the state. He also established the Stephen Lynn Smith Memorial Scholarship for Social Justice. David has served as a consultant for many smaller archives and libraries throughout the Midwest, and volunteers much of his time with smaller nonprofit organizations. In addition, McCartney received the 2020 Staff Excellence Award from the Board of Regents, State of Iowa. He’s also held many positions in the Midwest Archives Conference, including president, and made invaluable contributions to the Big Ten Academic Alliance University Archivist Group and the Consortium of Iowa Archivists.
Throughout his time at the University of Iowa, McCartney has proven to be not only a leader in his field, but an advocate for growing the archives to include the many voices that make up Hawkeye history, as demonstrated in the current Main Library Gallery Exhibit “We Are Hawkeyes: Celebrating 175 Years of Student Life at the University of Iowa.” Curated by McCartney, along with Denise Anderson and Aiden Bettine, the exhibit is a fitting final showcase of McCartney’s work of collecting and lifting all voices to be heard.
“David’s contributions and dedication during his time serving as university archivist are unmatched,” said John Culshaw, Jack B. King University Librarian. “We wish him well and know that current and future generations will continue to benefit from his preservation of university history.”
The following is written by Olson Graduate Research Assistant Matrice Young
Frederick Wayman “Duke” Slater was born in 1898 in Normal, IL to George and Letha Slater. Slater’s first experience playing football came on the streets of the Southside of Chicago, playing pick-up games with the neighborhood kids. During their time playing, Slater discovered a love for tackling, while many of the other kids in the neighborhood much preferred carrying the ball. As such, Slater always had a spot as a lineman in the games he played as a child.
When Slater was 13, his father, who was a nationally recognized Black Methodist minister, moved his family to Clinton, IA to become the pastor of the A.M.E. church. When Slater became a freshman at Clinton High School, he told his father he wanted to play football. His father forbade it, feeling that football was dangerous.
Slater, however, didn’t really take no for an answer. He secretly joined his high school’s football team during the summer leading into his sophomore year.
Slater’s father discovered his son’s football career when he came home one day and saw his wife, Slater’s stepmom, sewing and repairing a uniform that Slater had inherited. Slater’s father told his son to quit. Instead, Slater went on a hunger strike in protest, which lasted several days. Eventually, his father relented and gave Slater the condition that he be careful when he played, that he did his best to avoid getting hurt. With that in mind, Slater often hid his injuries instead of talking about them.
After Slater joined the Clinton Football team in 1913, he was faced with a tough choice: helmet or shoes. During this time, students had to pay for their own football equipment, and that left lower-income and poor families stranded. Slater’s family was no different. He was the oldest of six children, and had to pick between a helmet, or shoes that had to be custom made to fit him. Slater picked the shoes, which, given his 14 ½ FF size, would’ve likely been harder to find, or play without. Though after he’d picked the shoes, Slater went his entire high school and most of his college career playing without a helmet.
Slater attended the University of Iowa for his undergraduate career and was involved in a variety of extracurriculars including track, an all-Black Fraternity: Kappa Alpha Psi, and of course football.
Slater’s career at University of Iowa held many accomplishments: he was the first Black All-American football player, one of the inaugural class members of the College Football Hall of Fame, and in 1946, he was selected on “an all-time college football All-American team” by a panel of nationwide voters.
One of his biggest accomplishments on the Hawkeyes football team, however, was his play on the field versus Notre Dame. Hawkeyes ruined Notre Dame’s 20 game win streak, and Slater’s helmetless form is not only featured in the forefront of this famous picture but is also now immortalized as a statue at Kinnick Stadium.
After Iowa, Slater joined the NFL’s Rock Island Independents in 1922, where he became the first African American lineman in the NFL, briefly played for the NFL’s Milwaukee Badgers (only for two games), came back to the Independents, and then after the Independents went bankrupt, Slater played for the Chicago Cardinals. By the late 1920s, the NFL was going to ban Black players, but Slater’s reputation as the best lineman in the game held the NFL at bay. Slater was one of the few African American players in the NFL during the late 1920s, and depending on the year the only African American player on the field. He was also named all-pro from 1923-1930 and was the first NFL lineman to make all-pro teams for seven different seasons. Slater’s presence in the NFL delayed the implementation of the color ban until he retired in 1931.
After his retirement, Slater still took part in sports, however, it was more on the lines of being a social justice advocate for Black Americans. He was the head coach of the Chicago Negro All-Stars in 1933, the Chicago Bombers in 1937, the Chicago Comets in 1939 and the Chicago Panthers in 1940. When the NFL banned Black players in 1934, Slater coached the barnstorming teams that had Black players to fight against the color ban. His fight for representation didn’t end with sports either, it also transferred into his law career.
While playing for the NFL, Slater attended the University of Iowa for law school. He received his degree and passed the bar exam in 1928, then began his professional law career while playing for the Chicago Cardinals.
Slater started his practice on the South Side of Chicago and became an assistant district attorney and the assistant Illinois commerce commissioner. In 1948, Slater became Chicago’s second Black-American elected judge on the Cook County Municipal Court. In another great feat, in 1960, Slater was the first Black judge to be appointed to Chicago Superior Court, which was the highest court in the city during that time. In 1964, Slater left the Superior Court to help the newly created Circuit Court of Cook County. Slater’s career as a judge, while not as largely documented, was a push against stereotypes against Black individuals, particularly Black athletes. His almost two-decade career as a respected judge on the South Side of Chicago proved that not only could Black athletes succeed, but that they weren’t unintelligent as well.
In 1966, Judge Slater passed away from stomach cancer. He was buried at Mt. Glenwood Memorial Gardens in Greenwood IL, a historic cemetery where many prominent Black Americans were buried. To honor him, in 1972, the University of Iowa renamed their newest residency hall on campus from Rienow II to Slater Hall. Still, Slater’s story and accomplishments are swept away in the tide of history, and so University of Iowa honored him again in 2019 by erecting a relief of the famous picture from the Notre Dame game, placing it at the North End Zone of Kinnick Stadium. In early 2021, the playing field at the Kinnick Stadium was named Duke Slater Field.
Duke Slater was not just a football star, he was an advocate for Black Americans, a loving brother and uncle, a respected and highly regarded judge, and according to his niece, Hoskin Wilkins, “A man of character.”
You can learn more about Judge Slater’s football career at the University of Iowa through the book Slater of Iowa in our University Archives, and more on his life afterwards through his vertical file.
The following is written by Asian Alumni and Student Oral History Project Intern Jin Chang
This a multi-part series reconstructing the history of the Asian American Coalition, a pan-ethnic Asian American student group from 1998-2017. This second blog post covers the Asian American Coalition’s early attempts to define their new student organization. It traces out their early attempts to identify their purpose, the activities they did as friends, and their engagement in socio-political activism from 1998-2002.
The Asian American Coalition had multiple purposes in its first four years of its existence. The group existed as a social, political, and educational organization throughout this time. While the students emphasized different aspects of the organization in different years, Asian American Coalition always had an eye towards the future.
As a social organization, the early iteration of the Asian American Coalition differed from the structure of a typical student organization at the University of Iowa: it had both graduate and undergraduate students involved, with an even ratio of graduate to undergraduate students. This meant their social events such as bowling nights, picnics, or general parties had both undergraduate and graduate students together. Some of the undergraduate students spoke fondly about having a built-in mentor from this arrangement. Meanwhile, the graduate students saw the inclusion of undergraduates as a way to ensure the future of the organization. In other words, the graduate students took the lead in running many aspects of the organization with the intention of handing off the Asian American Coalition to the undergraduates.
Here alumnus Kim Long discusses what it meant to have a graduate mentor in the Asian American Coalition:
This structure of mentorship enabled the Asian American Coalition to be a political organization. One of their first political goals was the creation of an Asian American Studies Program. The stated purpose of this academic program was to provide courses that reflected the history and culture of the Asian American community at the University of Iowa specifically. However, the graduate students that were involved with the Asian American Coalition saw even more potential with these courses as they viewed them as a way to politicize the undergraduate cohort of the organization to maintain their political agenda.
Beyond the classroom, the political nature of the Asian American Coalition can be seen immediately through its name. Their goal was to be an “umbrella organization” for Asian and Asian American students throughout the university. For these students, the idea of an “umbrella organization” meant they would be there to support other Asian students in their activities and times of need while providing a pan-Asian home for those that did not quite fit the mold of the other Asian organizations. One clear example this coalitional support was after an earthquake that devastated Taiwan in 1999, the Asian American Coalition offered their support to the Taiwanese Student Association to fundraise for their community. The original student leaders felt the name, Asian American Coalition, captured this notion of an “umbrella organization.”
While the Asian American Coalition primarily focused their efforts in building the future Asian community at Iowa, they also supported other multicultural organizations. For instance, the Asian American Coalition stood behind Black, Native, and Latino student groups on campus to maintain their unique cultural houses, now called Afro-House and the Latino Native American Cultural Center, rejecting a University plan to house all cultural centers in one residence hall. This multi-racial solidarity also meant that when the Asian American Coalition began advocating for the creation of an Asian American Cultural Center, the Black, Native, and Latino student groups on campus stood in solidarity with the Asian American Coalition.
Hear former student member Rosalind Sagara speak on the necessity of solidary between multicultural student groups on campus:
Finally, the Asian American Coalition served as an educational organization as they had a goal to spread cultural awareness throughout the larger community beyond the University. One of the first things many of the founding members of the Asian American Coalition spoke about was this feeling of constantly being watched in Iowa City because they were Asian. They saw the Asian American Coalition as an organization that could introduce the general public to the idea that Asian people lived in Iowa. They primarily did this through a sub-group of the Asian American Coalition called ChopStix Theatre.
Chopstix Theatre was a small group started by Asian American Coalition Members. They created puppet shows and reenacted children’s stories from various Asian countries as well as Asian American specific stories. They performed at the Iowa City Public Library, the Iowa Children’s Museum, Barnes & Noble, and at cultural festivals for kids. The goal was to introduce Asian culture and people to the children of the predominately white community in the Iowa City area with the hope that these fun stories would help kids grow into accepting adults.
Listen to alumnus Omega Dancel talk about the origins and purpose of Chopstix Theatre:
The Asian American Coalition was a social group, a political organization, and an educational theatre troupe. They were always future oriented, planning ahead to prolong the life of the organization and make an impact for Asian students living in Iowa. The graduate students that started it saw the potential for it to be a political organization, but they recognized social activities were important to build community. They sought Asian American Studies as a way to cultivate future political leaders for the Asian American Coalition. They created relationships with other Asian organizations and multicultural groups to respond to future events. They felt unwelcomed in the community and tried to find ways to change this by bringing Asian culture to children in the Iowa City Area. In short, the Asian American Coalition had the goal of creating a better Iowa for Asian Americans and the community at large.
The following is written by University Archivist David McCartney
In the early morning hours of Saturday, May 9, 1970, the building housing the Dept. of Rhetoric mysteriously caught fire and was declared a total loss. Although the cause of the blaze was never determined, many to this day believe it was the work of arsonists. No one was injured. The building, Old Armory Temporary – nicknamed “Big Pink” – was a wooden frame structure situated roughly where the Adler Journalism and Mass Communication Building is now, just east of EPB and across the railroad tracks.
The building’s destruction came just days after the deadly Kent State shootings in Ohio on May 4, 1970, and was emblematic of the anti-war protest movement that closed or threatened to close campuses across the U.S. that spring. While UI remained open, students were given the option to complete their semester’s work early and leave the campus, or remain on campus until semester’s end.
Fast forward 51 years. In the Dept. of Special Collections & Archives, University Archives Assistant Denise Anderson is processing the Rhetoric Department’s records and recently noted a set of files that appear to have been singed on the papers’ edges. We are speculating that these records survived the 1970 fire, and were saved by Rhetoric staff.
Among the surviving records are documents concerning Paul J. Kleinberger, a graduate assistant in Rhetoric who in late 1967 had been suspended from his position by the university following his participation in the Dec. 5, 1967 Dow Chemical protest at the Iowa Memorial Union. Newspaper clippings, correspondence, and other records document this tumultuous chapter. Kleinberger was reinstated in early 1968 and continued to teach, but we don’t know what became of him; his last listing in the student directory is in the 1967-68 edition.
Mr. Kleinberger’s letter to the dean of the College of Liberal Arts, Dewey Stuit, dated February 4, 1968, is his appeal to be reinstated. Also included here are a January 1968 article appearing in the Iowa City Press-Citizen, reporting his plan to appeal, and a portion of the Dept. of Rhetoric newsletter, dated November 9, 1967, about a month before the Kleinberger controversy unfolded.
The following is written by Asian Alumni and Student Oral History Project Intern Jin Chang
Since the start of the pandemic, prominent leaders have stood in front of crowds of American people calling COVID-19 the “China Virus” and “Kung Flu.” As a result, Chinatown businesses closed as tourists continued to avoid Chinatowns across America and racially charged attacks increased against Asian elders, including a mass shooting in Atlanta specifically targeting Asian Women in the massage industry. Unfortunately, all these moments had precedents in the past. The Chinese Exclusion Acts of 1882, which barred the Chinese from immigrating to America, was one of many policies motivated by Yellow Peril, a racist characterization for the fear of Asian people. This racist belief that East Asia and their people pose an existential threat to America influences the belief that Chinatowns are a uniquely dangerous spot of disease. Before COVID-19, Chinatown and Chinese people were blamed by many Americans for smallpox and cholera in the late 1800’s, the bubonic plague in the early 1900’s, and the SARS epidemic as recently as 2003. For the direct violence against Asians in America many of the wars in Twentieth Century American history have been against Asian countries, teaching Americans to view Asians as the enemy.
This longstanding history of Sinophobia, anti-Chinese sentiment, and the belief in Yellow Peril reveals the racism following COVID-19 is not some bizarre aberration. It is America’s history. While many of these notable early instances of racism against Asian people came from areas with heavy Asian populations such as California, Asian and Asian Americans have long lived in Iowa, and the population continues to grow in the present. As a Korean-American myself, I believe our experiences with navigating race and racism here in Iowa follows national trends, but I also believe there are many unique elements that come from reconciling race and racism as an Asian or Asian American in Iowa that is missing from the national discourses of today.
For the University of Iowa specifically, we are lucky to have the Asian Pacific American Cultural Center (APACC) as a space of community, healing, and empowerment for Asian Americans in the University. However, APACC began in 2003, and Asian and Asian Americans have long been forming communities in the University of Iowa. One group established in 1999, the Asian-American Coalition, served as a consolidated voice for many Asian Americans, and as one of the leading voices in the founding of APACC. Another group, the Asian American Women’s Group sought to address the specific needs of Asian American Women and predates the Asian American Coalition as it was established in 1993. Prior to the 1990s, many Asian international student groups existed on campus such as the Korean Student Association, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, and PERMIAS an Indonesian Student Association.
Many of these student groups are underrepresented in the University Archives. The lifecycle of student organizations also means that new iterations exist on our campus to serve Asian and Asian American students today, making it a challenge to capture organizations that have come and gone. While collecting materials from Asian and Asian American groups’ is a priority for the University Archives, the Special Collections & Archives team has also recognized the importance of collecting the stories of communities through oral history. Thus, over the course of the next year, the University Archives will be collecting oral histories of Asian and Asian American students and alumni from the University of Iowa. By capturing our stories and narratives through oral history, we have an opportunity to have our histories recognized and to create a genealogy for future Asian and Asian American students here at the University of Iowa.
If you wish to have your story included in the oral history archive, please contact Jin Chang at email@example.com.
The following comes from Archives Assistant Denise Anderson
With the presidential election and Inauguration over, there has been a lot of talk about voting rights in the news. With Raphael Warnock’s win, Georgia’s first Black senator, we are reminded that the struggles and work of the Civil Rights Movement was not distant history.
This coincides with a recent discovery in the Darwin Turner Papers. While exploring the collection, we learned that the late U. S. Representative John Robert Lewis spoke at the University of Iowa in Shambaugh Auditorium on Friday night, June 16, 1978, about “Black Liberation and Political Action.” This was at the invitation of Darwin T. Turner, head of the Afro-American Studies Program here at University of Iowa. Turner organized 19 speakers for a two-week 1978 summer institute, the tenth at the University of Iowa, for teachers of Black history and culture from around the country. The 1978 theme was “Black Culture in the Second Renaissance: A Study of Afro-American Thought and Experience, 1954-1970.”
John Lewis had typed a brief acceptance letter in reply to Turner’s invitation, and then he turned the paper over and wrote a personal note on the back about the speech he had presented in 1963 at the March on Washington. He included with the letter a recent photograph of himself. Lewis was introduced in Iowa City as the former director of the Voter Education Project in Georgia and the associate director for domestic operations at ACTION, a volunteer service in Washington, D. C., within the Office of Public Affairs. In 1963, Lewis was also chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), an organization you can learn more about through the papers of Eric Morton. Darwin Turner said of Lewis– along with James Farmer, Larry Neal, Ed Bullins, and James Turner who were also there to speak–helped shape the culture of the era.
Another of the 19 speakers at the 1978 institute was Jibreel Khazan, born Ezell Blair, Jr. In his lecturer application, Khazan submitted a Bowsprit newspaper article that relates his experience as one of the Greensboro Four. On February 1, 1960, Blair (as he was known then), along with fellow Black college students Joseph McNeil, David Richmond and Franklin McCain, seated themselves at the Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina, and asked to be served. They told the waitress they preferred to sit after she directed them to the standing counter Woolworth’s had designated for Black patrons. She called a nearby police officer, who did not act, so the store closed early after the students had been sitting for about 15 or 20 minutes. These four students stated they felt different when they walked out of Woolworth’s. The following day, 24 Black students joined them at the lunch counter and the waitress just let them sit there. On the third day, the New York Times reported that the students would continue the sit-in until they were served, prompting sympathetic white students to join the hundreds of Black students. On the fourth day, the Ku Klux Klan arrived. As things became threatening, Black football players protected the students. Another store with a lunch counter, S. H. Kress, was also experiencing sit-ins. On the sixth day, the 3,500-student body voted to continue the sit-ins, followed by the arrival of thousands of demonstrators from area schools. Woolworth’s closed after receiving bomb threats. The next week, Greensboro students halted the sit-in during negotiations. However, sit-ins spread to other towns that week and the next. By the end of that February, Montgomery, Birmingham and Tuskegee were experiencing sit-ins. North Carolina, Virginia, Florida, South Carolina and Tennessee, as well. In May, Blair was arrested, charged with trespassing and fined. Finally, on July 25, Woolworth’s and Kress provided access to everyone at their lunch counters.
Following the death of Representative Lewis on July 17, 2020, a push to update the Voting Rights Act of 1965 has been renewed. In December, Senator Patrick Leahy’s website explained “the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act establishes a targeted process for reviewing voting changes in jurisdictions nationwide, focused on measures that have historically been used to discriminate against voters.” His legacy also lives in the work of the new senators coming to Washington D.C. After winning the election, Raphael Warnock tweeted “John Lewis was a mentor, friend and parishioner. I’m honored to fight alongside my brother [John Ossoff] to carry on his legacy.”
*Jibreel Khazan’s presentation, “The Advent of Divine Justice: Attitudes for Freedom,” was filmed, and will be placed in the Iowa Digital Library.