It seems appropriate on this 155th anniversary of Juneteenth to focus on my May 23rd, 2017, visit to Howard University (HU), an Historically Black College and University. It's located on Georgia Ave NW, Washington, D.C, about a mile from the U.S. Capital.
I wrote the Prologue and Epilogue of NORVEL first, prior to writing any of the chapters. I felt that Norvel's act of civil disobedience was a story in itself and that it provided the perfect book ends, so to speak. As described in my second blog post (scroll down to see it) I obtained the transcripts from the court record from the appeals trial. The testimony in the Prologue is taken verbatim from those transcripts. I found it compelling. If you haven't read the book yet you can read the Prologue by scrolling down the home page where you'll find a link that will allow you to peek at the book. You can also see it at the Norvel offering on the Amazon Kindle Store by clicking on "Look Inside." For the Epilogue you'll have to get a real book, either hardback or Kindle.
But even after writing the Prologue and Epilogue I still wanted to know the back story. I thought that it was probable that there was a link between activism on the HU campus that compelled Norvel to challenge the Jim Crow laws on his home turf. His attorney, Martin A. Martin, had graduated from Howard himself along with his two law partners, Oliver Hill and Spotswood Robinson. One of their HU contemporaries was future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, also an HU graduate. The law firm of Hill, Martin, and Robinson joined the Brown vs. Board of Education case that went to the Supreme Court that ruled the segregation of public schools was illegal.
I wanted to know how, on behalf of the NAACP, Martin became Norvel's attorney. After some Google searches I came upon the name of Tewodros Abebe, or Teddy as he prefers to be called, the senior archivist for the Moorland Springarn Research Center at Howard University. There is not enough space here to delve into his credentials but I felt honored that he took an interest in my project. After several email exchanges with Teddy and Sonja Woods, also an archivist at HU, we decided it might be beneficial for the project if I spent some time at the Moorland Springarn Research Center looking over relevant records.
When the day came, knowing parking and traffic could be an issue, I took the D.C. Metro (which I love anyway) to the Shaw-Howard University Metro Stop and hoofed it from there to the campus. Upon arriving, I was awed by the HU grounds when I walked in. It was a welcoming, serene sanctuary embedded in the hustle and bustle of Washington, D.C. The Moorland Springarn Research Center is located in the Founder's Library. The image at the top is a photo of the Founder's Library building.
Howard University was chartered by Congress in 1867, two years after the first Juneteenth. How that came about is also an interesting story for another time. The large room containing the research center permeates with its legacy. I was greeted by Teddy and Sonja and told to submit my research requests and they would locate the item for me. I was allowed to make copies of any items I needed for further examination.
Teddy recommended I examine the following records:
-Directory of Graduates, the 1870 to 1976 edition.
-Editions of the Hilltop, HU's student newspaper, specifically 1948 – 1953.
-Scabbard and Blade information – 1952 (Honor society for ROTC cadets)
-Information on NAACP involvement with Howard, 1948 and 1949
I found many items, mostly from the various Hilltop articles that served to inform the narrative in the main body of the book. Norvel's brother James was on the staff of the paper and authored at least one of the articles about his brother. It was clear by reviewing the documents that there was active mutual participation on the part of the NAACP and the Howard School of Law for defending civil rights abuses in general and questioning the legitimacy of the "separate but equal" standards of the times. But I did not find any mention of Norvel's case.
Visiting and conducting research at Howard University was time I will never forget. I hope to return someday to visit. In the meantime I've continued to correspond with both Teddy and Sonja. When the book was published they asked for a copy to add to their archival collections, which they now have.
The next day I went to the Library of Congress to see what else I could find out. More about that visit next week.
Stay healthy, stay safe.