Columbia Library columns (v.28(1978Nov-1979May))

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  v.28,no.2(1979:Feb): Page 14  

The South in 1916: A Joint Travel Diary


A   AATLL acknowledged fact is that an archive of personal

/jA and public papers is a repository of primary source
A )\ material. Frequently it will include special documents
that supplement correspondence and general papers and give un¬
usual insight into the manners and mores of a period and/or the
beliefs and experiences of individuals. This can contribute to a
better understanding of history.

The papers of Charles Poletti, New York's former Lieutenant-
Governor and Governor, which were presented to the Herbert
H. Lehman Papers, contain an excellent example of this type of
documentation. It is the joint diary of a trip made in 1926 by two
Harvard classmates, Charles Poletti and Corliss Lamont. These
yoimg men wanted to corroborate in person what they had at that
time only heard or read about, namely the condition and status of
blacks, particularly in the South.

Before examining the contents of the diary one must consider
what motivated them to undertake this journey. AMiilc imder-
graduatcs they had been members of the Harvard Liberal Club,
a group that attracted many speakers, some of whom outlined
current problems in race relations and labor conditions. These
talks may have stimulated what doubtless was a nascent interest
in the conditions of their less privileged compatriots. One should
realize that in the earlv twenties it was not considered an impor¬
tant subject and that there was relatively little literature concern¬
ing it. It was twenty years later that Gunnar Myrdal's An Ameri¬
can Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy was
published and served as a rude catalyst in awakening the general
public to the seriousness of a condition neglected, or at least sub¬
ordinated, for years.

Both men graduated with honors from Harvard in 1924. During

  v.28,no.2(1979:Feb): Page 14