Riding the research high

I feel as though I spent last semester creating a massive “to do” list for this summer. The activities were all enjoyable/helpful/important, but my time ended up being much more scheduled than I had hoped. I had a hard time getting out of town. The result is that I have started the summer with a tremendous amount of pent up research energy I’m trying to expend. Ever seen those cartoons in which a character has a firecracker strapped to its back, and then someone lights the fuse? I think exam week was my fuse’s match.

Last week was all about microfilm and interlibrary loan requests. Since I can’t borrow microfilm of the local newspapers from the era, I’ve decided that it’s worth it to own them. I powered through almost a year of the Clinton Courier-News last week alone and ordered microfilm copies of the East Tennessee Reporter (a segregationist newspaper) from the Tennessee State Library and Archives. I expect to finish with the Courier-News in the next couple of days, and the Reporter arrived yesterday, so there will be no need to break stride. I have also overloaded the interlibrary loan office with requests, and they have continued to be amazingly helpful. God bless good librarians who put up with my research spurts.

Late last week, I learned that several of my loan requests to the Knox County Archives in Knoxville couldn’t be filled, so I decided to put my energy to good use. It was probably crazy, but I drove to Knoxville on Monday, got to the archive by mid-morning, worked there until they closed at 8 that night, was there when they opened yesterday morning, worked until 3:30 and then drove back to Durham.

I think one of the best parts of my topic is that I am often three hours from home. I may not get research money to travel abroad, but I do get to see my family. Monday night, Momma drove over from Murfreesboro. We had a great time hanging out in Knoxville’s Market Square after the archive closed.

My time at the archive was also VERY profitable. While there, I took hundreds of digital images, and I’m in the process of sorting those files into their appropriate slots. I had gone there knowing about a lot of what I would want to see, but as so often happens when working with archivists, the resources I hadn’t seen in the online catalog were far more valuable.

I had to have permission from Steve Cotham, director of the McClung Collection, to take digital photographs of the archive’s resources. Not only did he give me permission, he also started pulling photograph files from the Knoxville Journal that were filled with images of the conflict at Clinton High. I had seen copies of some of those images in the newspaper coverage, but the black and white prints were much clearer and included parts of the scene they cropped for publication. Of even greater interest to me were the images that the paper hadn’t included. Some of them were riveting, and I think they could provide some important insights into other accounts I have, especially when filling out what was happening in the black community. I’m not surprised that very few pictures from the black neighborhoods made it into the papers, but I am shocked to see the unpublished ones that were taken. Some of them seem to have captured the feeling and responses of the residents in ways that other contemporary accounts did not.

While there, I also met Bob Booker, an African American historian who is sorting through Carl Cowan’s papers. Booker himself was a wonderful resource. He was a part of Knoxville’s desegregation struggles, and he seems to have an encyclopedic knowledge of the local civil rights movement resources. He was able to point me to a few specific files in Cowan’s papers that refer to Clinton. Cowan was one of the lawyers who argued the original Clinton case, and some of his correspondance on the topic were fascinating. He had also saved a transcript of segregationist speeches made by a local court reporter that offered a rare insight into how those meetings ran.

So how do I feel after several rolls of microfilm, a successful research trip, a visit with Momma and a pile of interlibrary loan materials? I’m finally a little tired, but I am still excited about what I have left to do … basically, I think it’s gonna be a GREAT summer.
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(In case you can’t tell, that’s my exhausted-but-happy-after-a-good-research-day face)

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