Cruising the French Caribbean aboard the S.S. Wolfsonian

•March 7, 2018 • Leave a Comment

The Wolfsonian’s rare book and special collections library opened its doors to the public and provided tours all day Friday and Saturday, March 2 and 3 as part of the Tout-Monde Festival, the first Caribbean contemporary arts festival in the United States. The event was organized by Vanessa Selk, attachée culturelle et éducative, and sponsored by the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in the USA, in close partnership with the France Florida Foundation for the Arts.


The Tout-Monde (or “Whole World”) concept was originally introduced by Edouard Glissant (1928–2011), a Martinique-born philosopher and poet who dedicated his life and art to recognizing and celebrating the diversity of peoples and cultures, and who believed that “opening up to the Caribbean is opening up to the world.”


As part of the Tout-Monde celebrations, the Wolfsonian librarians organized a display in the main reading room of Caribbean materials pulled from our extensive collections of printed cruise line and tourism literature.


The public was invited and encouraged to explore rare children’s books with colorful pochoir illustrations depicting Columbus’ landfall in the Caribbean;


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

…rare aluminum-foil embossed books, brochures, cutaways, and deck plans of the great French luxury liners: the Normandie, L’Atlantique, and the Ile de France;





The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

…children’s coloring books, original watercolors, and postcards depicting Martinique, Guadalupe, and French Guiana, published in tandem with various colonial and international exhibitions in Paris;



The Wolfsonian–FIU, Purchased with funds donated by Mitchell Wolfson, Jr.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Loan

…and portfolio plates with photographic images of the bas-relief façades of buildings and pavilions representing the French Caribbean at the Exposition Coloniale Internationale held in Paris in 1931.



The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Purchased with funds donated by Vicki Gold Levi


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Loan


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Promised gift


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Loan

The display and tours drew 114 visitors into the library over the two-day open house, including visits by the French Consul General Clément Leclerc and Cultural Ambassador of the festival and former Minister of Justice of France Christiane Taubira, who took particular interest in the materials depicting French Giuana.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Promised gift

Cruise ship aficionados and library donors Thomas Ragan and Elise Grace Holloway also stopped by for the festivities, the latter bearing gifts of some Grace Line stamped silverware.


The majority of interwar and post-Second World War, Caribbean-related items spread out on the tables were brochures and advertisements drawn from the Mitchell Wolfson, Jr., Laurence Miller, Thomas Ragan, Elise Grace Holloway, Andrew and Roni Smulian, and John Henry collections of ocean liner and cruise industry promotional materials.





The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Loan

The display included brochures that packaged first-class accommodations aboard freighters and cargo ships, before the advent of container ships made them commercially obsolete.



The Wolfsonian–FIU, Laurence Miller Collection

Many brochures focused on the ships themselves, emphasizing their size, amenities, and the comforts of first-class travel.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Thomas C. Ragan Collection


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Laurence Miller Collection


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Bill and Elise Grace Holloway Collection

Others sold passengers on travel to the Caribbean by emphasizing encounters with the “exotic,” employing the tropes of tropical palms and images of beautiful island women on brochure and menu covers.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection



The Wolfsonian–FIU, Laurence Miller Collection

Some employed stereotypes of smiling, dark-skinned islanders, racist caricatures all too common to the era.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Laurence Miller Collection

Still other brochures played with the Caribbean’s history of corsairs and pirates to attract tourists to the West Indies.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Marco Island Historical Society


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Laurence Miller Collection

But whatever the strategy deployed to encourage tourists to book passage to the region, more often than not it was the balmy climate, aqua-blue waters, natural beauty, and diversity of the Caribbean community noted by Edouard Glissant that kept them coming and that continues to generate interest today.


Celebrating Black History Month

•February 28, 2018 • Leave a Comment

As we mark off the final days of Black History Month, this week’s blog post will focus on a related Wolfsonian event and new acquisitions dealing with African-American history.

On January 26, The Wolfsonian–FIU Library teamed up with Miami writer, bibliophile, and Bookleggers director Nathaniel Sandler for an all-new Into the Stacks program organized in conjunction with Sandler’s Knight Foundation-funded project, Crypt Cracking. To kick off the inaugural session, Nathaniel and I agreed to focus on the work of a single, lesser-known artist, Lynd Ward (1905–1985).


Ward, who realized as a young boy that he was destined to be an artist because his last name spelled backwards reads “draw,” rose to prominence during the Great Depression as a pioneer of the American graphic novel. Having traveled to Germany in the aftermath of the First World War, Ward was influenced by German Expressionism, silent film, and woodcut printing. His own first wordless novel, a Faustian tale titled God’s Man, included 139 captionless woodblock prints, and was so popular that in spite of being released a week before the Stock Market Crash in October 1929, it was reprinted three times by January 1930, and sold more than 20,000 copies over the next four years.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

As a committed Socialist reformer, the five additional wordless novels he published during the dark years of the Depression all drew attention to issues of economic inequity and social injustice. Ward also illustrated hundreds of children’s books—many written by his wife, May McNeer, and other works written to call attention to racial prejudice and to promote civil rights.


In 1933, for example, Lynd Ward provided the frontispiece and dust jacket illustration for Robert Gessner’s Upsurge, a collection of revolutionary and protest poetry focusing on African-Americans.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Lynd Ward also put his artistic talent to work in the service of progressive left causes such as the American League Against War and Fascism. His illustrations for that popular front organization’s annual artistic calendar depict blacks and whites united in the fight for economic and social equality.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Patricia Frisella


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of the August Mecklem Estate

Ward also provided all of the illustrations for Hildegarde Hoyt Swift’s North Star Shining, a book for young adults that sought to describe the “sometimes tragic, often heroic” role played by African-Americans too often omitted in the histories of this era.


The book’s title pays tribute to a reference to Harriet Tubman and her efforts to lead hundreds of runaway slaves to freedom guided solely by the “North Star,” as well as to the title of Frederick Douglass’ anti-slavery newspaper.



Ward’s dramatic paintings illustrate renown and anonymous African-American heroes on each page of verse.



The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift made by Francis Xavier Luca, in honor of Wolfsonian museum founder Micky Wolfson, Jr.’s birthday, September 30, 2011

To celebrate Black History Month, I found, purchased, and donated three rare books to The Wolfsonian’s library collection. The first item was a rare study titled The Negro Family in the United States, written by Edward Franklin Frazier, a professor of Sociology at Howard University, originally published by the University of Chicago Press in 1939.


Frazier’s study is considered to be the first comprehensive sociological study of black family life beginning in the colonial era and ending in the Depression decade. In addition to an extensive appendix chock-full of statistical graphs, maps, and charts, the book includes several wonderful—though sadly unattributed—wood or linocut illustrations.






The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca

The second gift was a novel titled The Darker Brother, written by Bucklin Moon and published by Doubleday, Doran & Company in 1943. The author relates a fictional story of contemporary African-American struggles that touched on the Great Migration of Southern blacks to Northern cities in their search for a better life during the Depression, and their continued encounters with segregation and racism.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca

Similar themes of migration and persistent racial discrimination abound in the third work, Chester B. Himes’ novel, The Third Generation, published more than a decade later.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca

In the wake of serious race riots in Los Angeles, Chicago, Newark, and Detroit, President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed a commission to determine the causes and to propose solutions. After seven months of investigation, a 426-page Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders (or Kerner Report) was released on February 29, 1968, reaching the pessimistic conclusion that the country was “moving toward two societies, on black, one white—separate and unequal.” The report called for desegregation and serious efforts to address institutional racism as it contributed to poverty and unemployment. Amazingly, it became an instant bestseller, purchased by more than two million Americans. On the fiftieth anniversary of the report’s release, it is clear we have a long way to go towards truly solving the issues championed the Civil Rights movement’s pioneers.

Amazing Grace

•February 15, 2018 • Leave a Comment

Today’s blog post comes to you courtesy of Genevieve Rossin, a Florida International University History department graduate student researcher here at The Wolfsonian whose position has been funded through the generosity of museum library supporter and cruise ship line aficionado, Thomas C. Ragan. Ms. Rossin has been processing various cruise-related items to the collection, including a substantial donation of Grace Line materials recently gifted by Elise Grace Holloway and her late brother, William Grace Holloway III. Here is her report: 


As an intern working at The Wolfsonian–FIU, each day seems to present a unique and exciting glimpse into the past as I process everything from advertisements clipped from Time Magazine to cruise line industry brochures, deck plans, and souvenirs. Each artifact plays a role in providing scholars with a more complete historical narrative. Having the opportunity to process, catalogue, and prepare for digitization a substantial new collection of ocean liner materials donated to the museum by Elise Grace Holloway and her brother, William Grace Holloway III, I have come away with a greater understanding of luxury passenger travel in the 20th century. Heir to one of America’s most prominent merchant lines, Elise Grace Holloway gifted enough Grace Line printed ephemera, porcelain, glass, and silverware to The Wolfsonian as to make any ship enthusiast giddy!




The most revealing item in the collection is a 16-page document produced by Grace Line’s Public Relations Department tracing its history back to the 1850s. It is from this newsletter, dated March 20, 1956, that I gained an understanding of Grace Line’s values and the integral role they played in shaping transportation in the Americas. Grace Line’s story begins with the W. R. Grace and the M. P. Grace. These Down Easter ships were known for their speed—outpacing the competition by completing the route from New York to San Francisco in less than the standard four-month time span.


Grace Line built their business through transporting both people and goods between the Americas, and doing it with speed. Although many cruise-line enthusiasts remember Grace Line’s luxurious “Santa” cruise ships, passenger travel only made up 30% of their revenue prior to the 1930s. In their early years, imports and exports dominated Grace Line’s business model, as the company made sizable investments in the textile, lumber, and coffee industries. In fact, the company claimed to have carried most of the lumber to the New York harbor used in the construction of the city’s subway system. To improve their routes and travel times, Grace Line, along with other merchant shipping companies, were early advocates for the United States’ completion of the Panama Canal. With the completion of the canal in 1914,  Grace Line’s very own Santa Clara became one of the first commercial ships to pass through, months before its official opening. The canal remained integral to the success of Grace Line’s routes and was proudly advertised on their brochures and pamphlets well into the 1950s and 1960s.


Although Grace Line ships did carry passengers on many of their early merchant vessels, it was not until 1928—with the passage of the Jones-White Act—that Grace Line shifted their attention to passenger accommodations. The Jones-White Act allowed American merchant companies to obtain ship-construction loans, marine insurance, and long-term mail contracts that helped support domestic shipbuilding and the shipping industry.


With funds acquired through this act, four new Santa ships were built to serve as Grace Line’s earliest fleet of passenger liners. Once again, Grace Line ships were lauded for their speed. The new Santa Clara received plenty of praise from the New York Times after reaching the Panama Canal in less than 5 days after her departure from New York. These new “Santa” ships held upwards of 200 passengers and offered the finest in accommodations. During their voyages in the Western Hemisphere, guests enjoyed deluxe suites with living rooms and private baths; dined and danced in luxurious dining rooms and dance halls; drank cocktails and smoked tobacco products in swank bars and lounges; and swam in outdoor pools.







It was also during this period that Grace Line found it in its best interest to join its newest competitors from the air. In 1928, Grace Line partnered with Pan American Airways to create Pan-American Grace Airways, or Panagra. As part of this agreement, New York-based Grace Line and Miami-based Pan American Airways entered a non-competition clause, which limited Grace Line’s opportunities for growth in South Florida. Panagra flights were coordinated with the arrival and departures of Grace Line’s cruise ships and linked New York to the great coastal cities of South America.



It was not always smooth sailing for Grace Line. In September, 1935, the Santa Barbara collided with the lightship Ambrose off the coast of Staten Island. Despite sustaining three holes in her hull, the Santa Barbara made it safely to the pier in the Hudson River, with none of her passengers hurt.


Perhaps the most intriguing part of Grace Line’s history is its involvement in the Second World War. Even before the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Santa Paula sailed to Dakar on secret orders to transport equipment and able technicians. Grace Line’s ships played crucial roles in the invasion of North Africa and the Normandy landings. Assisting in an Allied victory in Egypt, the Santa Rosa helped deliver tanks while Santa Paula carried troops and equipment to the battlefront. Their efforts were not without loss. The Santa Elena was hit by torpedoes off the coast of Algeria, the Santa Lucia sank off the coast of Morocco, and the Santa Clara was struck by mines on the coast of Normandy. Following the conclusion of the war, Grace Line was applauded for its faithful service and the Santa Rosa and the Santa Paula returned in heroic form.


In the postwar period, Grace Line returned to the world of luxurious cruise line travel. The company remained prominent players in transportation and communication between the Americas until its acquisition by Prudential Line in 1970. Still today, admirers reminisce about the days when the green, white, and black funnels of Grace’s “Santa” ships sailed the sea.


From Magazines to Zines

•February 7, 2018 • Leave a Comment

Throughout November and December 2017 and January 2018, 10 teachers and 212 students from 9 Miami-Dade County schools visited The Wolfsonian–FIU to participate in the museum’s third edition of our Zines for Progress program. These visits included students from G. Holmes Braddock Senior High,…

_Braddock_Library 1

…Hialeah Gardens High School,…

_Hialeah Gardens_ Library 1

…iPreparatory Academy,…

_iPrep_ Library 1

…José Martí MAST,…

_Jose Marti MAST_library 4

…Miami Beach Senior High,…

_Miami Beach High_library 1

…Miami Norland Senior High,…

_Miami Norland_library 4

…South Miami Senior High,…

_South Miami_library 4

…Southwest Miami Senior High,…

_Southwest Miami_library 2

…and Terra Environmental Research Institute.

_TERRA_library 5

As was done in the previous year, the museum’s education program coordinator, Zoe Welch, brought each group of students up to the library for presentations that introduced them first to the history of zines. The students were afterwards exposed to various types of bindings, cover design and illustration, typography, artistic styles, photomontage, and unusual papers and materials that might be used in the creation of their own small-edition run of zines.

_Jose Marti MAST_worshop 1

All photographs courtesy of Zoe Welch

Finally, the students were encouraged to look at a display of thematically oriented materials specifically tailored to the subjects they and their classroom teachers had requested, before creating their own class zines.

Law Enforc2-1Are You OK70778


Emerging as an abbreviated version of magazine, the “zine” is most commonly defined as a work of original (or appropriated) art, text, and images inexpensively produced by a single person or small group of individuals. Typically, a zine is reproduced using inexpensive and simple methods, and was helped by new technologies such as Xerox photocopying machines and desktop publishing software. Unlike the periodicals published by commercially driven companies and institutions that were intended to circulate to large audiences, zines were designed to reach out to and communicate with smaller, specific groups or subcultures. The content of a zine could take on a wide variety of formats ranging from handwritten, typed, and comic book-style text and imagery. Zines have dealt with a broad range of topics as well, including politics and poetry, personal and social issues, art and graphic design, and a host of taboo topics ignored by mainstream magazines.

Law Enforc2-5The Blues70824

Law Enforc2-11Crossing70874

iPrep4-Environmental Conservation71180

Some of the first zine “prototypes” emerged in the United States during the 1930s. With nearly 600,000 youths dropping out of school, hopping freight trains, and hitching rides in a desperate search for work, President Franklin D. Roosevelt made it a priority to address the problem of street kids and delinquency. Within a couple of months of assuming office, FDR enrolled 250,000 of these unemployed urban youths in Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camps situated across the country in state and national parks. In these camps, FDR’s “tree army” were given uniforms, were fed and housed in barracks, and worked planting trees, building roads and bridges, compensated with a monthly salary of $30. In their off-hours, the CCC boys were encouraged to take advantage of educational, vocational, and technical training programs designed to better their future employment prospects. To encourage their literacy skills, many CCC units self-published zines intended to circulate in a single camp using carbon paper and hand-cranked mimeograph machines.





The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Promised Gift

The Wolfsonian holds a number of these CCC camp news bulletins. The cover page typically features some amateur artist drawings, while the contents include typed-up poetry, jokes and humorous cartoons, and sports news. The six or seven pages were most often joined with a simple staple binding.



The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Promised Gift

In the 1930s, mainstream presses and publishers also facing an uncertain economic future churned out cheap, mass-produced “true crime” and science fiction “pulps.”


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca

The latter genre generated such fan mail and critiques by skeptical amateur science buffs, that the publishers began reprinting and recirculating their letters and addresses as fanzines. While zines (or their prototypes, then) originated during the Great Depression, they experienced a major revival in the United States and the United Kingdom in the 1970s, spurred on by fans of the Punk Rock music scene.

The Miami-Dade students visiting The Wolfsonian were inspired by the design and format of magazines in our library to produce zines of their own. The students had the opportunity to look over some 100-year-old magazines and books with traditional sewn bindings and others with Orientalist silk ties.



The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Purchase, Acquisitions Fund

They also had the chance to see some modernist masterpieces with plastic and metal spiral bindings, and even an Italian Futurist book held together with aluminum bolts.



The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

In addition to discussing different strategies for binding their zines, we also examined a variety of cover illustration designs, paying particular attention to typography and artistic styles ranging from realistic versus surrealist or abstract imagery, and techniques like collage and photomontage.




The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Loan


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

We also talked about the use of unconventional materials such as foils, plastics, textiles, and transparencies to attract the attention and enhance the experience of the reader.





The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

In advance of each class visit, the participating teachers supplied us with a list of themes and subject matter chosen by the students. For each group, we painstakingly laid out materials from our collection that would reflect on the widely ranging issues they wished to explore in their own personalized zines.

Some students focused on the issue of body image and beauty culture.



The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Robert J. Young


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Environmental concerns was another issue brought up by the students. While our collection predates concerns with climate change and sea-level rise, we do have some materials dealing with the Dust Bowl—the greatest ecological crisis of the twentieth century—and Expo ’74, the first ecology-themed world’s fair.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Christopher DeNoon


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Francis Xavier Luca

Animal cruelty, exploitation for entertainment, animal testing, and the fur trade were other popular subjects among the students.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Collection


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Other students were interested in exploring how clothing manufacturers and the fashion industry have been able to manipulate and persuade people into buying certain brands.



The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

While some students focused on the issue of bullying in general, others focused more specifically on LGBTQ issues and prejudices towards persons based on sexual orientation. The library holds a children’s book published just a year before U.S. intervention in the Second World War, for example, that noted that most bullies acted out to cover up their own insecurities and argued that the best way to handle the ultimate bully was to laugh at his pretensions.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Pamela K. Harer

The library had on display a number of gay, lesbian, and bisexual-themed “pulp” paperbacks from the early 1950s for these students to peruse.




The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca

Given the prominence in the news of the Black Lives Matter movement, racism, racial stereotyping, racial injustice, and ethnic prejudices were popular themes with the visiting students as well. The Wolfsonian–FIU Library holds a wealth of material on such subjects.




The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of David Almeida & Gina Wouters

The Me Too movement appears to have generated some scholarly interest among the high school students, many of whom expressed interest in male chauvinism, gender inequality issues, the sexualizing and objectification of women, and gender-role stereotyping.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of David Almeida & Gina Wouters



The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gifts of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca


The Wolfsonian gratefully acknowledges the financial support of Wells Fargo for the museum’s Zines for Progress program. You can search and view completed zines from past cycles at

Civil Rights and the CPUSA

•January 15, 2018 • Leave a Comment

Last fall semester, I had the privilege of teaching a History Junior seminar course at Florida International University designed to expose students to non-traditional primary source materials on the subject of the Great Depression and New Deal era. One of the undergraduate students in that class, Nathaniel Candelario, passed in a final research paper on the antecedents of the Civil Rights Movement that most of us today associate with the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, and other activists of the 1950s and 1960s. While most Americans are familiar with the boycotts, sit-ins, and demonstrations of the post-Second World War era, this student persuasively argued for the need to acknowledge the earlier struggle for African-American civil rights that took place during the 1930s, largely under the aegis of the Communist Party of the United States (or CPUSA).

During this earlier era in the struggle for African-American rights, the CPUSA—very much a “white man’s movement”—positioned itself as one of the leading instruments in the civil rights crusade. While their progressive position on race was embraced partly as a means of wooing and recruiting blacks into the Party, it also stemmed from the genuine belief of their members in the values of equality, and in the goal of championing the cause of oppressed peoples. While First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored Peoples (NAACP) also worked tirelessly in this period to advance the cause of African Americans, the CPUSA was the only political party of the era to adopt civil rights as part of its party platform and the first to put an African-American vice-presidential candidate on its ticket.

Even as the Great Migration witnessed a major shift of African Americans from the rural South to Northern cities and urban centers, during the Depression decade the majority of blacks were still scratching out a meagre living as sharecroppers, tenant farmers, and migrant laborers tied by debt and KKK terrorism to peonage in the South. In the 1930s, the Communist Party U.S.A. dedicated itself to fighting the “defenders of white chauvinism,” educating and liberating oppressed African Americans, and advocating for “Self-Determination for the Black Belt.”


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Purchase

In many of their publications, the CPUSA railed against Capitalism and its false promises to the African Americans. In a pamphlet envisioning the Sovietization of American society, the Party’s black vice-presidential candidate, James W. Ford, ironically quoted Booker T. Washington’s belief that “No race that has anything to contribute to the markets of the world is long in any degree ostracized.”


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca

According to Ford, Radical Reconstruction had failed to deliver on its promise of “40 acres and a mule,” and Capitalism had eroded and black land ownership and virtually “re-enslaved” blacks in the rural South through a system of “debt peonage,” foreclosures, and vagrancy laws that drove poor black men into prison chain-gang labor camps.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

While Roosevelt’s Agricultural Adjustment Act had been designed to help poor farmers, Southern politicians managed to subvert and pervert the provisions of the program to allow white landowners to earn federal subsidies even as they drove “Negro” tenants and sharecroppers off their property.

While Communist rhetoric and print propaganda wooed the African-American community, the Party realized that actions spoke louder than words. Attempts to forge integrated unions in the South proved difficult and dangerous for the Party. Angelo Herndon, an African American working for the Communist-affiliated Unemployment Council had a run-in with the law in Atlanta, Georgia in 1932 after organizing a hunger march and demonstration at the Atlanta courthouse. Two detectives trailing Herndon discovered Communist literature in his hotel room, and arrested him under an old Reconstruction-era “insurrection” statute for attempting to organize an integrated union of working-class blacks and whites. Having faced a racist judge in the courtroom, and hostile public outside, Herndon’s defense attorney, African-American lawyer Benjamin Jefferson Davis, Jr., became radicalized himself, joining the Party after making his concluding arguments in the 1933 case. Moving to Harlem, Davis became an editor of the Party’s newspaper, The Negro Liberator in 1935, and afterwards of The Daily Worker.


Benjamin Davis, Jr. (1903-1964) portrait /by Hugo Gellert
Courtesy of: PD-US,

After Herndon was tried, convicted, and sentenced to 18–20 years in his first trial, the CPUSA continued to organize national speaking engagements and demonstrations on his behalf. The Party’s legal arm, the International Labor Defense, managed to secure him a new trial, and following a second conviction by Georgia’s Supreme Court, a successful appeal and overturning of the 1937 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that declared Georgia’s controversial Insurrection Law unconstitutional.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca 

The CPUSA found another opportunity to show the Party’s concern for the plight of African Americans with the infamous trial of nine African-American boys in Scottsboro, Alabama. The boys, like hundreds of thousands of other youths, had hopped a freight train in a desperate bid to find work in some other city. After a skirmish with some white hobos also riding the rails, the train came to a stop in Scottsboro, Alabama. Two homeless females were also pulled off the train, and to deflect charges of vagrancy and prostitution, claimed to have been victims of an alleged gang rape. Narrowing escaping a lynching, eight of the boys were convicted and sentenced to death in a sham of a trial; the youngest boy received a life sentence. While the NAACP initially chose not to involve itself in such a controversial case, the CPUSA sent organizers to speak with the boys’ families and secured permission to take on their defense. The Party organized mass demonstrations nationally and internationally, and kept their cause alive in print.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Purchase


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Purchase


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Communist Party leaders also hired the best criminal lawyer in the country to defend them, and litigated a series of retrials that would take the Scottsboro Boys’ case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The decision rendered there had important consequences for the future Civil Rights movement, as the Supreme Court decision rejected the long-standing Southern tradition of depriving blacks from participating in the jury selection process and from sitting on juries.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Loan

The CPUSA also actively agitated on civil-rights issues in the cultural life of America. Articles and editorials in the Party’s mouthpiece, The Daily Worker, consistently advocated on behalf of integrating the national pastime of major league baseball in the 1930s. The Party also won the support and allegiance of a number of prominent Black intellectuals, writers, and performers, including Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, and Paul Robeson.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca

While the NAACP and Eleanor Roosevelt were determined advocates for African-American civil rights in this same period, their record of accomplishments in the 1930s was mixed. Both the NAACP and the First Lady championed a federal anti-lynching bill, but President Roosevelt, a New Yorker, failed to throw his public support behind its passage, fearing the defection of the Southern “Dixiecrat” wing of his party. Consequently, the anti-lynching bill failed to pass in Congress.

Eleanor remained a staunch supporter of civil rights and black culture. She attended many meetings of the NAACP, was photographed presenting an African-American woman an award at the Annual NAACP meeting in Richmond, Virginia in 1939, and attended the dedication of Chicago’s South Side Community Art Center on May 7, 1941.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

The First Lady was herself derided by critics as a “Communist sympathizer” on account of her stance on integration. Her personal intervention during the Second World War was critical to the Tuskegee Airmen receiving the opportunity to prove themselves in air combat in Europe.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca

After a decade of civil-rights and anti-fascist activism that established a reputation for the CPUSA as the most progressive party in America between 1929 and 1939, the Communist Party imploded and disintegrated as leadership toed the Moscow line in support of the Hitler–Stalin Pact in 1939, and membership fell precipitously. Black Socialist leader A. Philip Randolph resigned from the Negro National Congress in protest. After a brief warming of relations during the war years that made allies of the U.S. and Soviet Union, there was a return to animosity in the postwar period and during the Red Scare of the 1950s.

The Party had negligible influence in the subsequent Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Communist Party supporter, Stanley Levison became Reverend King’s closest white advisor in the early 1960s, and another individual with Communist associations, Hunter Pitts (“Jack”) O’Dell, became an important member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Ultimately, King bowed down before the anti-Communist hysteria of the era. Under pressure from President John F. Kennedy and the FBI, Dr. King ceased all contact with Levinson and reluctantly called on O’Dell to resign from the SCLC in 1963 so as not to allow America’s “morbid fear of Communism” to discredit the Southern Freedom Movement as something “Communist inspired.”

Fair Thee Well

•December 14, 2017 • Leave a Comment

More than 200 Art Basel visitors to Miami Beach took advantage of an opportunity to see a display of rare books, periodicals, and ephemeral items in The Wolfsonian library collection last Friday evening. The guests were treated to a selection of highlights from our holdings and items that had been, or would be, featured in past and future library installations. The display also included some recent gifts donated by Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf earlier this fall season. Here is the report of our Sharf Associate Librarian, Rochelle Pienn.


Once a year in December, just prior to the winter holidays, the Wolfsonian–FIU hosts its Art Basel event. All the work we do here culminates into the splendor of this exotic episode of music, cocktails, fascinating objects, enthusiastic crowds, and the exceptional library treasures we invite the public to see.

Guests congregate around a table laden with original photograph albums and antique books from all over the world. All night long, attendees enjoy a rare opportunity to make themselves at home and page through the past.

This year’s display featured a special selection of materials from the Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection

This photo album was most likely put together in Egypt at the Royal Air Force base in Abu-Sueir (Suwayr) by a member of its 27th flight training squadron.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection

Candid portraits of natives are interspersed with startling images of flight training mishaps.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collectionn

Another type of local caught the attention of the photographer.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection

This original photo album was produced by Lieutenant J. D. Harding from the Kent Regiment of the British Army between 1918 and 1919 in the Northwest Frontier of India, Afghanistan, and Balochistan, at the beginning of the 3rd Afghan War.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection

Some Pashtuns, from a primary ethnic group still prevalent in Afghanistan and Pakistan today, are taken prisoner.



The Wolfsonian–FIU, Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection

Harding captures the forbidding landscape.



The Wolfsonian–FIU, Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection

The Sharf collection reaches further back in time, to the Far East.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection

The photographs in this album are most likely by Felice Beato and possibly his trainees in Yokohama, Japan in 1877. The prolific Beato used exquisite hand-watercolor painting techniques on black and white albumen prints.


The WolfsonianFIU, Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection

Kusakabe Kimbei, one of Beato’s protégés and later a successful photographer in his own right, tinted many of Beato’s photos.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection

In addition, Baron Raimund von Stillfried, an Austrian who set up shop in Japan around the same time as Beato, could be the photographer of some of the album’s pictures.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection

The identities of the photographers remain almost as mysterious as their beautiful and enigmatic models.

Visit The Wolfsonian–FIU library for your own epic encounter with the Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection.

Happy Days Are Here Again: Prohibition Repealed This Day In 1933

•December 5, 2017 • Leave a Comment

After thirteen “dry” years, on this day in history in 1933, the American national experiment with Temperance came to an end when Utah became the 36th state to ratify the 21st Amendment, thus repealing the 18th Amendment that had prohibited the “manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors” in the United States.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Kate Greenaway Collection

The production of wine and alcoholic beverages dates back to colonial times and the consumption of liquor remained a popular American pastime ever since.



The Wolfsonian–FIU, Kate Greenaway Collection

But from its humble beginnings in the early nineteenth century, the Temperance Movement grew by the early twentieth century into a powerful political force capable of convincing several states to outlaw alcohol within their borders. In the Southern states, the Ku Klux Klan threw their support behind Prohibition, motivated by fears of the supposed excessive drinking habits of Catholic Irish, Italian, and Polish immigrants.


Image courtesy of:

In January 1919, a three-fourths majority of states ratified the 18th Amendment, and on October 28, 1919, Congress passed the Volstead Act to enforce Prohibition over the veto of President Woodrow Wilson.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Robert J. Young

Given the popularity of drinking, Prohibition proved to be a difficult law to enforce. Ordinary citizens showed their disdain for the law by hoarding alcohol in their cellars, or attending illegal “speakeasies.”


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Collection

For the well-to-do, there was also the option of traveling outside of U.S. jurisdiction to vacation destinations like Cuba, where the rum still flowed like water.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Collection


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Promised Gift

With the passage of Prohibition in the U.S., many big city barmen packed up shop and moved to Havana, adding to the proliferation of thousands of bars catering to “thirsty” American tourists.




The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Promised Gifts

Havana Widows, a Hollywood comedy starring Joan Blondell and released in the same year that Prohibition was repealed, played up the theme of American millionaires and gold-diggers carousing and living it up in Cuba.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Vicki Gold Levi Promised Gift

Prohibition also created opportunities in the United States for unscrupulous bootleggers and gangsters to make overnight fortunes by producing and selling overpriced bathtub gin and moonshine, or by importing the “good stuff” from Canada and Cuba. Clashes with competitors and collusion with corrupt police forces added to the violence of the “Roaring Twenties.”


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Purchase

By the early 1930s, many Americans already experiencing the economic woes of the Great Depression tired of the experiment in Prohibition, and the federal government anticipated the much-needed boon for business and tax revenues that would accrue from making liquor legal again.


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection


The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca

Just as the 1929 song “Happy Days Are Here Again” was picked up by and used as the presidential campaign theme song for Franklin D. Roosevelt at the 1932 Democratic Convention, it also became associated with the repeal of Prohibition soon after his inauguration, when spirits flowed freely once more in America.