Black History: Special Delivery!!


 Onesimus was enslaved African. He was owned by Cotton Mather, a Puritan minister in Boston.  His knowledge of traditional African healing practices helped to save many people from a small pox epidemic in 1721.  Onesimus informed his owner about the centuries old inoculation procedure practiced in Africa.  The process involved extracting material from the pustule of someone who was infected and scratching it into the skin of someone who was unaffected.  The intentional introduction of the disease inoculated the person, providing them with immunity from the disease.  For some, there was no reaction.  In most other cases, a mild non fatal form of the disease occurred. 

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Reginald Petty: Curator of E. St. Louis Legends, and a Legend Himself

petty 1

Upon reviewing his personal motto, “In order to know where you are going, you have to know where you come from,” one can begin to understand why Mr. Reginald Petty has amassed such an extensive   collection of E. St. Louis History.  Going through his files, one can only begin to understand why he is the authority on all things E. St. Louis. He has accumulated a treasure trove of information about the city, that is unrivaled even by local libraries. In fact, he rescued historical information about the city from the abandoned library on Martin Luther King Drive.  You want information about the 1917 Riots, Mr. Petty has it. You want information about the founding of the city, the first Mayor, or the first African American-Mayor, Mr. Petty has it.  You want to know who were some of the greatest scholars, artists and athletes from the great city of E. St. Louis, and Mr. Petty can recite those to you with no use of notes, but if you need the documentation, he has it.

Mr. Reginald Petty, is a native of E. St. Louis, and a current resident; but before he came home, he blazed roads in Civil Rights, Education, and International Relations.  He took on the banner of social injustices while still in college. While attending Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, he became aware that African-Americans couldn’t adopt, his reporting on this issue was forwarded to Congress and led to the changing of legislation.  After earning his Master’s in Education and Sociology, his urge to play a greater role in the Civil Rights Movement led him to Mississippi, where he became a member of The Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), one of the most instrumental organizations in The Civil Rights Movement. As a SNCC member, Mr. Petty fought against government sanctioned discrimination which sought to disenfranchise African-Americans.

After his work in Mississippi, he was hand-picked to establish the first Job Corps in the United States. His input and guidance on the educational program at Job Corp was the blueprint for Job Corps educational practices. He served as Executive Director of the National Advisory Council on Vocational/Technical Education, a 21-member council appointed by President Lyndon B. Johnson, which systematized information on the method each State used to manage their vocational and technical educational programs in the United States.  His career at Job Corps led him across the world where he served as the Director of Peace Corps in Kenya, Burkina Faso, Swaziland and the Seychelles.

Due to his work in Africa, he became a highly sought after consultant to African Countries such as Egypt, Ethiopia, and Mali to help in establishing administrative systems, educational research, and developing plans for funding of educational, agricultural, and economic development.

Mr. Petty and wife, esteemed artist Edna Patterson-Petty, currently live in E. St. Louis.  He says of E. St. Louis, “In spite of the difficulties that the city has had to overcome.  It continues to be a place from which great people in every field have called home;” and for him, “it always has been, and always will be home.”

Mr. Reginald Petty, Civil Rights Activist, Former Director of Job Corps, Consultant to African Nations, E. St. Louis Historiographer, and your Legendary East St. Louisans. See more in Legendary East St. Louisans by Reginald Petty and Tiffany Lee on

Thank Dr. Clarence Ellis When You Click An Icon On Your Computer!

Black History: Special Delivery!!

dr-clarence-ellis Dr. Clarence “Skip” Ellis (1943 – 2014)

Dr. Clarence “Skip” Ellis (1943-2014) earned a Ph.D in Computer Science from University of Illinois. He was the first African American to gain a Ph.D in this area of study.  A dedicated educator, he loved to teach students who were new to the field of study and who lacked experience.  Ellis was born and raised on the south side of Chicago.  Ellis was also instrumental in the development of “groupware” technology. This technology makes it possible for several people to collaborate on a document at the same time.  His work made it possible for programs such as Google Docs and Sharepoint software to be developed.  He is also credited with inventing the technology we now use to click “icons” on a computer screen to execute computer commands.

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“If It Wasn’t for Women” Like Artist Edna Patterson-Petty, Where Would We Be?

Edna patterson-PettyHer quilts tell a story that weaves through the fabric of experiences of all mankind.  Her artistry speaks of our history, our triumphs and our weaknesses.  For this reason, Edna Pattinson-Petty’s work is extolled not only in her hometown or even America, but by people in foreign lands, such as Beijing, China; Senegal, Africa; Ottawa, Canada; and Islamabad, Pakistan, who identify with her work which exemplifies ‘the human condition.’ Whether it is her latest quilt, created to educate on the deadly 1917 Riots of E. St. Louis, which symbolizes the cruelties of mankind; or her quilt, “If it Wasn’t for the Women,” which was constructed to represent the strength of all women, there is a visceral connection to her art that supersedes religious, ethnic and racial boundaries.  Her works speak a universal language that isn’t muddied by words. She says of her gift, “I know that my creative ability is of divine inspiration, because I dream art, I feel art, I get excited when I am around art, and through my creations I reveal my internal world.”

If It wasn't for women
If it Wasn’t for Women

Though she is known for her quilts, one of which, “Road to Redemption”, was exhibited in Washington D.C. for the celebration of President Obama’s Inauguration, her artistry extends beyond fabric work.  She has works displayed throughout the St. Louis Metropolitan area.  She created mosaic tiled benches in Jones Park in E. St. Louis.  When the Southern Illinois University, E. St. Louis (SIU-ESL) campus was built, she was commissioned to create the beautifully sculptured turtles which adorn the campus.  “A Whimsical View” can be seen at Lambert-St. Louis International at Gate A8.  To create this piece, which she describes as “a deconstructed quilt,” Mrs. Patterson-Petty was chosen as one of only nine artists to travel to Munich, Germany to study with the esteemed Franz Mayer & Co., known internationally for their glass artwork.

glass mural at airport
A Whimsical View

She has received many awards, such as The Grand Center Visionary Award, Community Art in Education Award, the NAACP Arts Award, a Community Arts Award, and many more.  In 2010, she was honored by her alma mater, Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville with the SIUE Wall of Fame Alumni Award.


A life-long resident of E. St. Louis and a graduate of SIUE with an M.F.A. in Textile Art and an M.A. in Art Therapy, Mrs. Patterson-Petty says that she has always wanted to be an artist.  She says of art, “To me, art is being able to take things that others throw away or discard and turn it into some things of beauty or some things of interest — just being able to take a mundane situation or a mundane thing and turn it into something viable and just give things life.” To fellow E. St. Louisans, she would advise, “Know Your History”; and rightly so as it is filled with Legends such as Edna Patterson-Petty, your Local Legend.

Find more see Legendary East Saint Louisans by Reginald Petty and Tiffany Lee on      

Legendary East St. Louisans: Eugene Haynes, Classical Pianist

Eugene Haynes Jr. hayneswas born in East Saint Louis at his parent’s home on Missouri Ave. Mr. Haynes was a self-taught musical prodigy whose talents became clear at the young age of four. Upon graduating from Lincoln Senior high, he attended Julliard School of Music. Here he would welcome his hometown friend Miles Davis.  As a classical pianist, Haynes made his debut at Carnegie Hall in 1958.  His performance would prove so electrifying that he would be asked to perform later that same year at the World’s Fair in Brussels, Belgium.

His artistry was praised not only in the U. S., but also in Europe and South America.  The celebrated Isador Philipp called him, “One of the greatest musical talents America has produced.”  His career in music was multifaceted, including work as a composer, a radio host, and professor. Upon his retirement, he returned to live in his hometown of East Saint Louis. One of his last performances was in 2005 at Antioch Baptist Church in Saint Louis, MO. This great musical talent departed this life in 2007.

Find more of your local heroes in Legendary East St. Louisans: An African American Series,   

Did You Know R & B Singer Chaka Khan Was A Former Member Of The Black Panther Party?

Black History: Special Delivery!!

CHAKA2-0 Chaka Khan

Legendary R & B singer, Chaka Khan was born, Yvette Marie Stevens on March 23, 1953. Born, in Great Lakes, IL, she gained international acclaim for her signature sound and stage presence. Khan gained popularity beginning in the 1970’s. Her first singing group, the Crystalettes, was comprised of Khan and her sister Yvonne when she was 11 years old. She identifies singers such as Billie Holiday and Gladys Knight as some of her early musical inspirations. Later Khan and her sister launched the musical group, “The Shades of Black”.

Khan joined the Black Panther Party in 1969 at age 16. She sold newspapers for the Black Panther Party and also worked in the party’s free breakfast program for children. Before joining the Black Panther Party she changed her name from Yvette Marie Stevens to Chaka Adunne Aduffe Yemoja Hodarhi Karifi. She received her new…

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The Lions’ History: Researching World War II Images of African Americans

The Lions’ History:
Researching World War II Images of African Americans
By Barbara Lewis Burger

Until the lions have their historians, tales of hunting will always glorify the hunter.
– African Proverb

A few years ago while visiting my mother, my attention was suddenly drawn to a pair of gaily painted wooden shoes that are displayed on a bookshelf. The shoes have been there for as long as I can remember, but I really had not given them much thought until that moment. Curious, I asked Mom about the shoes and was told that they were a gift from her late brother, Milton. Uncle Milton was the rascal in our family who, when World War II was declared, was eager to join the army and serve with that other rascal, Gen. George S. Patton. Mom doesn’t remember much about her brother’s service, but according to family lore, Uncle Milton managed to fulfill his wish and to serve under the general. When my uncle returned home at the end of the war, among the many things he managed to carry back were the Dutch shoes— a token for his sister.

The visit piqued my curiosity. Although I have no real interest in warfare and military history, I decided to browse through the World War II photographic records in the National Archives Still Picture Branch, where I am employed as a senior archivist. Looking only for photographs relating to African Americans, I was amazed at the variety of material I found. I resolved to find a way to publicize this remarkable collection of images. So little published information exists about black Americans and the war. Yet, from branch correspondence and conversations with researchers, I knew there was an audience, like myself, eager for material on African American history. I thought about and discarded several possibilities until finally deciding on developing a slide set composed of selected images. The majority of the set would be composed of images of African American men and women in all branches of the services serving at home and overseas, but it would also include photographs documenting black Americans supporting the war effort. My decision, fortunately, coincided with National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) plans to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of World War II, and consequently my proposal for a publication was readily accepted. For several months thereafter I immersed myself in African American military history, researched life on the home front in the 1940s, selected a hoard of photographs, agonized over each, made final selections, and saw the product through each step of the publishing process. All of this work culminated in the 1993 publication of Pictures of African Americans During World War II.

In the remainder of this essay I will share what I discovered while researching photographs of African Americans among the holdings of the armed services and the Office of War Information. I will highlight only the primary resources for still picture documentation of African Americans in World War II. However, other wartime agency files and series, although not included, are often good supplemental sources that should not be overlooked, especially by researchers interested in in-depth and exhaustive research. Persons interested in researching the records described in this paper and other records maintained by the Still Picture Branch are invited to contact the branch for assistance or additional information.

Most of the wartime photography in the Still Picture Branch was generated by six major programs conducted by the five military services and one civilian agency, the Office of War Information. In general, coverage varies little from agency file to agency file. For the most part, each documents recruitment, training programs, job assignments both overseas and in the United States, and recreational activities. All of the records feature individuals, many of whom are identified. But by no means are any of the files comprehensive in their coverage of either the war or the service of American men and women. The files do not contain photographs of every individual who served in the military, and coverage of African Americans is even less comprehensive. Researching these records is fairly straightforward. Most are arranged by subject and can be accessed by organizational entity and other topics or by surname (i.e., WAC, SPAR, Nurses, Women, Negro, Recruitment, etc.). In some instances, a subject index must be used to locate necessary access points.

The Army

The principal source for photographic documentation of U.S. Army activities in World War II is Records of the Office of the Chief Signal Officer (Record Group 111, Series SC and SCA). The Signal Corps directed the army’s photographic program— the most extensive of all the services— and consequently its files are the source of the greatest documentation of army activities. Although coverage of African Americans is by no means extensive, the Signal Corps files do contain a significant number of images of black soldiers. The main series, RG 111, Series SC, is a vast file containing about 200,000 World War II photographs recording almost every aspect of army activities from battles to mundane functions. The series is arranged numerically by Signal Corps item number; access is possible, however, through the use of subject and personality indexes (RG 111, Series SCY and PX). Useful subject headings include the terms “Negroes,” “WACS,” and “Nurses.” Index searches may also be undertaken using geographical locations and unit designators. When using personality indexes, a word of caution is in order. Generally personality indexes in this series and others contain mostly information about top-ranking officers, recipients of high-level awards or decorations, or perhaps individuals who performed uncommon heroic acts.

Record Group 111, Series SCA, provides a subject approach to a large percentage of the same photographs found in the previously described series. The photographs are in albums arranged by broad subjects. There are nine “Negro (Black) Troops” albums that are a handy source for images of male soldiers; researchers interested in women should consult the “WAC” albums.

Ostensibly all army jobs were open to black soldiers, but in reality most soldiers were assigned to support units clustered in the quartermaster, engineer, and transportation units. Only a small percentage of African American soldiers saw combat.1 Using this information, I searched topics related to occupations and locales where black Americans were deployed in large numbers, and I found additional photographs. For example, as early as 1942 black troops were deployed to Liberia to assist the Liberian Frontier Force.2 A search of RG 111, Series SCA, revealed approximately forty photographs of black soldiers in the “Africa, Liberia” album.

Dogged research in both series uncovered perhaps a dozen or so photographs of the first black Wacs to arrive in Europe— the eight hundred women of the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion who were assigned to Rouen, France. The 6888th was responsible for ensuring that mail was routed properly to troops constantly on the move. Unfortunately, little is included showing the Wacs performing their duties. Easier to find are photographs of the activities of the 92d and 93d divisions, which were reactivated during the war. The 92d was sent to the Mediterranean theater, where an advance group landed in Italy in 1944. The 93d was deployed to Bougainville in the Solomon Islands.

The Navy

Too often any mention of African American participation in the navy in the war focuses on the heroic deeds of Doris (Dorie) Miller during Pearl Harbor and perhaps on the “Golden Thirteen,” the first group of African Americans commissioned as navy officers. While their service was indeed commendable, the narrow focus overlooks the roughly 165,000 black men and women who served in the navy and composed approximately 5 percent of the navy’s total strength.3

Photographs documenting the service of black sailors and Waves are in the records of the Department of the Navy. Although its photography program was not as extensive as the army’s, the Navy Department photographic files are just as voluminous. The General Records of the Department of the Navy, 1789-1947 (RG 80, Series G) consists of over 700,000 photographs, of which a significant percentage was taken during World War II. The General Photographic File, RG 80, Series G, is the main file in this record group and the primary source for pictures. The series is arranged numerically, but a detailed subject index (RG 111, Series GG) and a personality index (RG 80, Series GX) offer points of entry. Approximately two hundred photographs are indexed under the term “Negroes.” Most of the images cited are of recruitment and training activities at Camp Robert Smalls, located at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station. There are also citations to photographs of sailors working in construction battalions and at ammunition depots in the Pacific theater. Many more may exist, but in order to locate additional photographs in this file, a researcher must be blessed with both perseverance and luck. As an example, with additional information about bases where black sailors served, the ships on which they served, and the most common occupations, I located a few more images. Nevertheless, I suspect that probably only a few hundred images documenting the participation of black Americans exists in this series.

Although few in number, there are many gems in this file, such as photographs of Pearl Harbor hero steward Doris Miller; the “Golden Thirteen;” Phyllis Mae Dailey, the first black nurse sworn into the Navy Nurse Corps; Lt. (jg) Harriet Ida Pickens and Ens. Frances Wills, the first black Waves commissioned; the USS Mason and its all-black crew; seamen and Seabees serving in the Mariana Islands and the New Hebrides; and a host of African American celebrities entertaining the sailors.

The Coast Guard

The Coast Guard has a long tradition of enlisting black seamen, but their numbers and job assignments were always restricted. Just over five thousand African Americans served in the Coast Guard during the war. Included were approximately twenty-three hundred men in its Steward’s Branch, who worked in officers messes and quarters.4 African Americans in general service were commonly assigned shore duties, such as labor and security details and beach patrols and as storekeepers and radio operators. The main photographic file in the Records of the U.S. Coast Guard (RG 26, Series G) unfortunately reflects little of their service. Filed under the heading “Negro” are approximately two dozen images of black coast guardsmen. The images are of exceptional quality. Because Coast Guard photographers were encouraged to portray the individual, the records contain many portraits often with very detailed captions about the person pictured.5 There are about four hundred photographs of women in the Coast Guard Women’s Reserve (the SPAR), but I found none of black Spars.

The Marine Corps

In 1942 the Marine Corps constructed a segregated facility, Montford Point, for training African American marine recruits. In the early years of the war, those marines who completed training at Montford Point were assigned to the Fifty-first and later the Fifty-second Composite Defense Battalions, units specifically established to train black marines for combat. Ironically the two battalions never saw combat. Instead, support troops (stewards and men in the ammunition and depot companies, which were formed later) saw action in some of the most intense battles in the Pacific— Saipan, Peleliu, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa. All-in-all, nine black marines were killed in action in battles or died of their wounds— a significant toll, considering their jobs were not supposed to bring them into confrontation with the enemy.6

The Records of the U.S. Marine Corps (RG 127, Series GW, GC and N) are the primary sources for locating photographs of black marines in training or in combat on the Mariana, Palau, and Volcano Islands. Record Group 127, Series GW and GC, are arranged by subject with categories for Negro marines. There are no images of African American women marines in the above-listed series inasmuch as the first African American woman enlisted in the corps in 1949. As with the Navy Department series, it is difficult to estimate how many images exists of black marines. Although there are photographs filed under the heading “Negro Marines,” this does not preclude the possibility that photographs may be found under other subject headings. Both series are quite large, and a exhaustive search will require more hours of research than I was able to devote. Researchers interested in photographs of activities at Montford Point will find some pictures in RG 127, Series GC, filed under Camp Lejeune, the name of the base where the training facility was located. There is also a personality index (RG 127, Series PX) that I found useful in accessing RG 127, Series N, the main negative file. For example, by using the personality index, I found a citation for Pfc. Luther Woodward, a member of the Fourth Ammunition Company. Woodward was awarded a Bronze Star for “his bravery, initiative and battle-cunning” in action in Guam. The award was later upgraded to the Silver Star. His decoration was the highest earned by a black marine in World War II.7

The Army Air Forces

The majority of Army Air Forces photographic records taken during World War II period are on temporary loan to the National Air and Space Museum and were not used in preparing the slide set. There is one small series, however, among the Records of the Army Air Forces (RG 18, Series T) that pertains specifically to African Americans. Record Group 18, Series T, consists of identification portraits of pilots who trained at Tuskegee Army Air Field from 1943 through 1946. For documentation of the Tuskegee Airmen and other black Americans who served in support units, aviation squadrons, air base defense units, quartermaster battalions, and ordnance and transportation units, I relied upon the records of the Office of War Information.8

Office of War Information

The Records of the Office of War Information (RG 208, Series AA, FS, LO, LU, MO, N, NP, PMO, and PU) are perhaps the best single source for locating photographs relating to African Americans during the war, whether in the theaters of operation or on the home front. The Office of War Information (OWI) was established in 1942 to coordinate government information. To achieve its objectives, OWI utilized the press, radio broadcasts, motion pictures, and other media to disseminate information. The agency made extensive use of photographs in carrying out its programs. OWI’s Domestic Operations Branch distributed information within the United States, while its Overseas Operations Branch concentrated on countries outside the continental United States. The majority of photographic records found here were taken or accumulated by the Picture Division, a subunit of the Overseas Operations Branch.

This is a large record group consisting of approximately 200,000 images in dozens of series that constitute a pictorial history of the war. Coverage of African Americans is found throughout the record group. Although several series within this huge record group are of value to researchers of black history, the series listed above offer the most direct access to several hundred images. The records in most of these series are arranged by subject; for the others, a subject index (RG 208, Series Z) is available. For example, through determined research I found in RG 208, Series FS, a rare picture of the 555th Parachute Infantry Company, “Triple Nickels,” the first all-black parachute infantry unit. Trained for combat, they were assigned instead to the western United States to counter Japanese air balloon attacks and to fight forest fires. Still, they excelled at their assignment, racking up thirty-six fire-fighting missions and making over a thousand individual jumps into burning forests. Out of respect for their abilities, they are often called the “Smoke Jumpers” or the “Black Panthers.”

Researchers of black Americans during the war will find RG 208, Series NP, “Negro Activities in Industry, Government and the Armed Forces,” of particular interest and relevance. This series of photographs was collected by the Negro Press Section, a subunit of the Domestic Operations Branch, that gathered information about the war activities of African Americans. Interestingly, many of the pictures were taken by black photographers, some of the first hired by the government. Negro Press Section chief Theodore Poston, cognizant of the social concerns of the time, had strongly recommended hiring black photographers for assignments relating to African American subjects.9 Included in Negro Press Section files are photographs military personnel, government employees, and workers in defense industries. The series is particularly strong in coverage of civilians supporting the war effort, whether by building merchant vessels, making model planes for the military, buying war bonds, donating goods, or entertaining troops. RG 208, Series NP, was particularly useful in filling in gaps in military coverage. The series includes several photographs of Tuskegee pilots and other airmen. Here too is where I located photographs of Yeoman 2d Class Olivia J. Hooker, the first black woman to enlist in the SPAR.10

Researching photographs for the select list was a challenging and time-consuming project, but the reward is well worth the effort. My intent was to produce a publication that fills a visual documentation void while at the same time stimulates interest in both black history and the holdings of the National Archives. With Pictures of African Americans During World War II, I achieved both objectives.


1. Ulysses Lee, The Employment of Negro Troops, Special Studies Series, U.S. Army Center of Military History (reprint 1994), p. 636.

2. Ibid., p. 620.

3. Morris J. MacGregor, Integration of the Armed Forces, 1940-1965, Defense Studies Series, U.S. Army Center of Military History (1981), p. 98.

4. Ibid., p. 116.

5. Malcolm F. Willoughby, The U.S. Coast Guard in World War II (1957), p. 32-33.

6. Henry I. Shaw, Jr., and Ralph W. Donnelly, Blacks in the Marine Corps (1988), pp. 1-46.

7. Ibid., p. 37.

8. Alan M. Osur, Blacks in the Army Air Forces During World War II: The Problem of Race Relations, U.S. Air Force, Office of Air Force History (1977).

9. William Nelson, Domestic Operations Branch, News Bureau, to Marion Sabatini, Domestic Operations Branch, Oct. 6, 1942, box 961, folder “Personnel,” Records of the News Bureau, General Records of the Bureau, December 1941-November 1943, Records of the Office of War Information, Record Group 208, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, DC.

10. Robin J. Thomson, PA2, The Coast Guard & The Women’s Reserve in World War II (1992), p. 5.

This work originally appeared on