Tag Archives: activism

“Spirit of ’68” Part I: Building an Exhibit…

The year 1968 has been memorialized recently with a slough of exhibits, events, new books, and other testimonials marking the 50th anniversaries of that year’s revolutionary upheavals, movements, and protests — Union Theological Seminary of course has a long history of resistance activism, and librarians at the Burke thought that Union should have its own display of archival materials from that historic year.

Recent memoirs and history monographs on the year 1968. Photograph by Carolyn Bratnober, The Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary (2018)

Recent memoirs and history monographs on the year 1968. Photograph by Carolyn Bratnober, The Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary (2018)

Little did I know, at the start of creating this exhibit, that Union underwent its own revolutionary changes that year, and indeed Union played a pivotal role in Columbia’s infamous 1968 student protests. My research for the 1968 exhibit unearthed some of this history, which I am excited to share via the Burke Blog as part of this series.

I knew about Columbia’s student protests from reading James Kunen’s memoir The Strawberry Statement many years ago. In April of 1968, students at Columbia occupied university buildings in protest of Columbia’s involvement in recruitment and weapons research for the War in Vietnam, and in the gentrification of Harlem in general. Columbia’s administration sought to quell the protests, which lasted several days and drew significant media attention, by calling law enforcement — whereupon, predictably, the police used brutal tactics against the students, throughout several days of violence. When I consulted the archives of Union Theological Seminary’s president’s office files, community photographs, and student publications from that time period, to see what I could find for our 1968 exhibit, I was heartened to see news coverage showing Union students involved in resistance during the Columbia protests, and even doing nonviolent interventions with the police. What surprised me was the fact that Union students and administrators came together on this issue, agreeing to cease all UTS classes for the remainder of the school year; there is a letter from President John C. Bennett included in the exhibit, officially halting classes and forming a series of alternative revolutionary teach-ins called the Free University in which students could assemble and strategize to build revolutionary momentum around the protests. I and my co-curators thought these events should definitely be the focal point of our exhibit on Union in ‘68. We conducted a great deal of research to get a closer look at these resistance efforts, which in fact catalyzed a series of liberatory changes at Union (which will be described in greater detail in subsequent blog posts by my collaborators) and we decided to call this exhibit “Spirit of ‘68: Revolution and Resistance at Union Theological Seminary.”

"Union Students Strike for Columbia" banner, UTS 2 Records, the Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York

“Union Students Strike for Columbia,” photograph (1968) UTS 2 Archive Records, the Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York

The whole exhibit was a team effort. Staff from the UTS Development Office, Emily Odom and Kevin Bentley, who possess extensive knowledge of Union alumni, helped with curation. It was their idea to host an event during the 50th Reunion of the UTS Class of 1968 in early October, when many alumni would be coming to town, which was truly a stroke of genius. We organized a nice reception to mark the opening of the exhibit on October 4th, and extended invitations throughout the Union community. Background research was a major part of putting the exhibit together, and the files from this time period in the UTS archives are extensive; thankfully, a Union student, Jake Hearen, offered to pitch in on the reading and research, and he became our indispensable Research Assistant for the project.

"Spirit of '68" exhibit display on level L1 of the Burke Library. Photo by Carolyn Bratnober, The Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary (2018).

“Spirit of ’68” exhibit display on level L1 of the Burke Library. Photo by Carolyn Bratnober, The Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary (2018).

Prior to starting the research for this exhibit, I had thought putting the physical display together was going to be the most challenging part; however, as it happened, members of the Conservation & Preservation Department for the Columbia University Libraries were happy to help construct photograph frames, book cradles, and display mounts for each of the items we selected. (After all, these materials are both unique and extremely fragile, and they deserve utmost care in their handling and display.) The entire team worked hard to create this exhibit, it was a massive undertaking and could definitely not have been done by one person alone.

For the opening reception, we also had the idea to involve the guests in collecting memories and metadata about the items on display– we put up a projector screen and projected a slideshow of images of documents and photographs from the time period, and invited guests to note in a nearby notebook if they recognized individuals by name, and dates and place info for events featured in the slideshow. We also included a table of books about 1968 for guests to browse (some of which are pictured here). It turned out to be quite an event, attended by alumni, faculty, librarians, and students, with sparkling conversation over desserts and champagne, and everyone seemed to enjoy the evening very much. Eventually I hope that research around these events will lead to broader understanding of this time period– I hope to include some of this crowd-sourced metadata in the archival Finding Aid, and to have many of the exhibit’s materials digitized for an online exhibit that will offer researchers the chance to see these items remotely in the years to come, and to continue exploring this revolutionary era in our community’s history.

Students and alumni at the "Spirit of '68" Exhibit Opening Reception (October 4, 2018). Photo by @UnionSeminary on Instagram (2018).

Students and alumni at the “Spirit of ’68” Exhibit Opening Reception (October 4, 2018). Photo by @UnionSeminary on Instagram (2018).

 

Surprise from Japan: Encountering Toyohiko Kagawa

Several months ago, the Burke Library received an unexpected visitor, a researcher from Japan. She said she was from the Kagawa Memorial Center in Kobe, and she wanted to see some archival items in the collected papers of Toyohiko Kagawa. Although her visit was unscheduled, I helped her set up a reader account and request the materials via our online Special Collections forms, and luckily we were able to fit her in for an appointment that day. As it happens, Kagawa has stuck with me since that day — I have become fascinated by his life and work, and have worked with other researchers who make use of his papers in the library who study him too. I even read a biographical graphic novel about him, two pages of which are shown below (more on this further on…)

Scenes from a graphic novel about the life of Toyohiko Kagawa, depicting his life as a student, coming to New York from Japan as a young man circa the early-1900s.

(Click for full size image.) Fujio Gō and Ōsaki Teizō, translation by Timothy Boyle. “Beyond the Death Line: The Society of Love and Cooperation Envisioned by Toyohiko Kagawa.” Kagawa Memorial Center, Kobe, Japan (2015).

I had never heard of Toyohiko Kagawa before. (I am still fairly new to the Burke; actually, I was a student at Union Theological Seminary after earning my MLS, and I know the Burke’s circulating collection and research databases very well, but I still have a lot to learn about its Archives and Special Collections holdings.) It turns out that Kagawa’s papers are held in the Missionary Research Library, held at the Burke. He visited the United States many times, and his papers eventually came to be collected at the Kagawa National Center, headquartered nearby in Brooklyn — UTS professor Harry Emerson Fosdick was on the sponsoring committee. Toyohiko Kagawa was a pretty impressive person, and an inspiring subject for seminarians to study.

Newspaper clipping from the Akron Beacon Journal, 1954, announcing that Toyohiko Kagawa would preach there.

(Click for full size image.) Author unknown. “Toyohiko Kagawa, Noted Japanese, To Preach Here.” Akron Beacon Journal, Saturday, Sept. 11, 1954. (From the Missionary Research Library Section 7, Toyohiko Kagawa Papers, Series 1, Box 9.) From the collections of the Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary

 

Toyohiko (given name) Kagawa (family name), born in 1888, was a theologian, activist, labor reformer, and pastoral caregiver, who worked in service of improving the lives of farmers and workers in Japan and internationally throughout his life. (He struggled with health complications and died in 1960, having been nominated once for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1955.) What strikes me most about his life and work is the incredible range of activities his leadership touched in Japan — from building medical hospitals in the “slums” of Kobe to founding cooperative farms to organizing labor unions, he accomplished a great deal towards empowering farmers and laborers. He spent a brief time in prison after being arrested following a labor demonstration. As well as being a gifted writer and theologian, he was a shrewd economic thinker and researcher — for example, he studied horticulture while forming his cooperative farms, and from reading about farming practices in Greece he got the idea of planting chestnut trees in the grazing areas of pigs in mountain farms, so that the roots would prevent rock slides while the trees provided food for the animals. Not to mention his prolific scholarly and literary life. He is said to have missed a lot of class while he was a student because he spent so much of his time in the library. (You can see why I find his personality so endearing.) He became a prolific writer, and his constructive activities were funded in large part thanks to sales from his books and speaking engagements. Having studied at Kobe Theological School, he eventually made several trips to the United States, including to earn an MA and MDiv at Princeton. Later in his life he made several speaking and churchgoing tours of the U.S., including in 1954, which are well documented by correspondence, newspaper clippings, and other materials in the Toyohiko Kagawa Papers.

A section of a speech given by Toyohiko Kagawa in 1954, including the phrase: "I would help the laborers to help themselves, acting as good Samaritans through their own organizations..."

(Click for full size image.) Toyohiko Kagawa. Remarks at the World Council of Churches meeting, Aug 17, 1954. (From the Missionary Research Library Section 7, Toyohiko Kagawa Papers, Series 1, Box 6.) From the collections of the Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary

I learned a lot about Kagawa by studying the materials we have here in the Burke Library, and from reading this biographical graphic novel that our surprise visitor gave me after her visit. It is called Beyond the Death Line: The Society of Love and Cooperation Envisioned by Toyohiko Kagawa. The Kagawa Memorial Center produces and distributes these books, drawn by Fujio Gō and written by Ōsaki Teizō, and I cannot find another copy in any library catalogs in the United States. She gave it to me personally, but perhaps I will donate it to the Burke Library’s collections so others can continue to study Kagawa like I did.