After a late night Art Basel event in which 192 visitors flooded into the library for a look at some of highlights from our collection of rare books, it was a relief to have only a single appointment with two visiting scholars to contend with this Saturday morning. James Arthur Miller, professor of English and American Studies at the George Washington University, and Susan Dabney Pennybacker, Professor of European History at Trinity College came to the library with an interest in seeing materials related to the infamous Scottsboro trial. Nine African American youths riding the rails in search of work during the Great Depression were pulled from the train in Scottsboro and unjustly accused of raping two white girls also discovered on the train. Narrowly escaping a lynching, the youths were tried and condemned to death by an all-white jury in a sham court trial. Eager to expose Southern racism, Capitalist labor exploitation, and to recruit new party members among African Americans, the legal branch of the Communist Party of the United States of America, (the ILD, or International Labor Defense), took on their case and demanded a retrial. As the resultant court cases and appeals dragged on for several years, the Party organized an international propaganda campaign and demonstrations across the globe in support of the “Scottsboro Boys.” Both of the visiting scholars have written important monographs on the subject published by the Princeton University Press in paperback: Professor Miller’s work is entitled Remembering Scottsboro: The Legacy of an Infamous Trial, and Professor Pennybacker’s history, From Scottsboro to Munich: Race and Political Culture in 1930s Britain.

Among the Scottsboro-related materials in our own collection is one particularly rare and possibly unique item of interest: a mock-up for a linoleum block book designed by Lin Shi Khan for the Communist Party, but which was apparently never published at the time. Our block book has original notes for captions scrawled on the pages opposite the linocut illustrations, with some editorial comments and corrections. (A later version of the block book prototype was later discovered among the personal papers of the Communist journalist and editor of the New Masses, Joseph North with abbreviated lino-cut captions, and some omitted and some added plates, which was reprinted in 2002 by the New York University Press). Our own copy can be seen in its entirety online at the following web address:

The scholars were also thrilled to see our extensive holdings of the work of Hugo Gellert, and a portfolio of his work recently donated to the collection—but more about that in another blog.

~ by "The Chief" on December 5, 2009.

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