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Searching for and Analyzing Primary Sources about difficult and controversial topics

Album Description

This album showcases the primary sources that were found by the participants who attended an NCSS 2019 workshop session sponsored by the TPS Eastern Region. We presented a brief tutorial on how to search the Library of Congress and then gave them some examples of primary sources that our graduate students had found this semester that specifically supported the teaching of "hard" history. We then asked them to take 15 minutes to search at for a difficult or controversial subject which they teach and refine their initial search by using the format, date and location filters.  Their last task was to share their findings in a group Google Doc in real time.

The first three primary sources came from the graduate class and the remaining ones came from the NCSS 2019 workshop.  These primary sources are awesome!  I was thrilled with the graduate student findings and blown out of the water with the NCSS 2019 participants findings. I was also impressed that so much could be done in such a short period of time at a conference workshop.  We assumed that folks would brings iPads or computers.  They were all doing this on their cell phones!  Impressive!

[Young boys harassing the Horace Baker family, the first African American family to move into the all white Delmar Village neighborhood of Folcroft, Pennsylvania]

Teaching Notes

Carla Valquez, Virginia Tech 2018 searched in the Teachers Page for "Jim Crow" and wrote this in her journal.

What caught my attention was the fact that this photograph was taken in Pennsylvania, a northern state. I would use this source to get rid of the misconception that "Jim Crow" did not happen in the North. Overall, this source would be a great visual representation of the Jim Crow Era to show students, especially because there are young kids their age reacting to integration. 

Reference note

Created / Published: 1963 Aug 30.
Subject Headings: -  Racism--Pennsylvania--Folcroft--1960-1970
-  Boys--Pennsylvania--Folcroft--1960-1970
-  Integration--Pennsylvania--Folcroft--1960-1970
Genre: Gelatin silver prints--1960-1970
Notes: -  Title devised by Library staff.
-  Caption on photograph: "Youngsters jeer as moving men tote possesions of the Horace Baker family up the steps of their new home in the formerly all-white Delmar Village development here 8/30. The Negro family finally gained entrance to their new home after two days of demonstrations by whites."
-  United Press International telephoto.
-  NAP 083006.
-  Forms part of: New York World-Telegram and the Sun Newspaper Photograph Collection (Library of Congress).
-  Published in: "African Americans" chapter of the ebook Great Photographs from the Library of Congress, 2013.
Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA
Digital Id: cph 3c22636 //

Shocking Reality

Teaching Notes

Jackie McGuinness, Virginia Tech, 2018,  searched for "Terrorism in the  Exhibitions and wrote this rationale in her journal.

I really was intrigued by the comic depicting the aftermath of 9/11. I think this is a great picture to use to help teach students about that event. In most cases, students do not know what happened because they are a part of the first generation of students to not remember the event. It can be very devastating to students to show some pictures of the event, so this cartoon is a great example of how to depict the event without showing grim photographs.

Letter, Eleanor Roosevelt to Walter White detailing the First Lady's lobbying efforts for federal action against lynchings, 19 March 1936. (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Records)

Teaching Notes

Brooke Boutwell, Virginia Tech, 2018, searched for "Lynching" in the Teachers Page and wrote this reflection in her journal.

I selected this resource because I was looking for primary sources related to Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird. Eleanor Roosevelt's letter connects to the broader historical context of the novel, as well as to the content/plot of the novel itself in that black people were often accused and lynched for the alleged raping of white women. Another interesting fact that this letter reveals is that federal action in the "lynching situation" was considered unconstitutional.

Arizona sun. [volume], December 16, 1955, Image 1

Teaching Notes

Karl Kramer searched for the topic, "Jim Crow" and gave this rationale for picking this primary source.

I live in Tucson, AZ and this article speaks to the beginning of the end of transportation segregation as the ICC applies the Brown decision to busses and trains. The segregationists of course will never give up.

Reference note

Newspaper: Arizona sun. [volume] (Phoenix, Ariz.) 1942-196?
Newspaper Link:
Image provided by: Arizona State Library, Archives and Public Records; Phoenix, AZ
PDF Link:

The San Francisco call. [volume], November 26, 1901, Page 12, Image 12

Teaching Notes

Gabe Johnson searched for the topic, "Chinese Exclusion" and wrote this rationale for selecting this primary source.

I teach at a school in the Bay Area with primarily Chinese students who are often totally unaware of the discrimination their community faced historically. This article about the author’s fears of a “horde” coming across Mexico’s border as a workaround is a great source for students to not only learn about the Exclusion Act but connect to current immigration issues. 

Reference note

Newspaper: The San Francisco call. [volume] (San Francisco [Calif.]) 1895-1913
Newspaper Link:
Image provided by: University of California, Riverside; Riverside, CA
PDF Link:

[Congressman at desk reading memo, “Let us continue,” L.B.J.] 1963.

Teaching Notes

Jenn Hanson searched for LBJ and wrote this rationale for selecting this primary source.

We are in Austin and I went to the LBJ Library yesterday. I thought this cartoon was a good description of his presidency. The larger image of this cartoon is available from the Library of Congress Exhibit, Herblock Gallery 

Gordon as he entered our lines. Gordon under medical inspection. Gordon in his uniform as a U.S. soldier

Teaching Notes

Kyle Decker searched for "runaway slave" and wrote this rationale for selecting this primary source.

This is a news article of a self emancipated man who escaped Mississippi and joined the Union. It tells his story, as well as shows images of him in the stages. As our students learn about the Civil War it is essential for them to understand what it would have looked like for the former slaves to escape to the Union Army.

Reference note

Summary: Gordon, a runaway slave from Mississippi, in tattered clothes; bare back showing scars; and in Union Civil War uniform.
Created / Published: 1863.
Subject Headings: -  African Americans--Military service--1860-1870
-  Fugitive slaves--1860-1870
-  United States--History--Civil War, 1861-1865--Military personnel--Union
Notes: -  From photographs by McPherson & Oliver.
-  Illus. in: Harper's weekly, 1863 July 4, p. 429, bottom.
Repository: Digital Id: cph 3b44593 //

Report from the Detroit Branch of the NAACP

Teaching Notes

Lindsay Behne searched for Great Migration & Segregation in the North and wrote this rationale for selecting this primary source.

The Great Migration brought thousands of black Southerners to the North faster than the region could assimilate them. They were confronted with discrimination, socially sanctioned segregation, and racial violence born of white resistance. The majority who went to Michigan settled in Detroit to work in the auto industry, which was willing to hire black workers for lower wages. The NAACP founded a branch there in 1912. This monthly report notes the efforts of the Ku Klux Klan to set up a chapter in Detroit, segregation in Eastern High School, and the refusal of a drug store soda fountain counter to serve black customers.

Pennsylvania Division looking south on the border, Camp Stewart, El Paso, Tex. / J.U. Medley & I. Shulman, El Paso, Tex.

Teaching Notes

Emma Hine searched for Mexico Texas Border and wrote this rationale for selecting this primary source. Emma works at The Academy of American Poets one of our TPS participating organizations.

I wanted to find an image I could pair with a contemporary poem about the Mexico/Texas  border conflicts today. The contemporary poem I was thinking about is The Border: A Double Sonnet by Alberto Ríos.

Reference note

Summary: Photograph shows tents, building under construction, soldiers, and horses at Camp Stewart, established to defend the Texas-Mexico border against attacks by Pancho Villa and his followers during Pershing's Punitive Expedition into Mexico, also known as the Mexican Border campaign.
Contributor Names: Medley, J. U., photographer
Shulman, Isaac, photographer
Created / Published: [El Paso, Texas] : [J.U. Medley & I. Shulman], 1916.
Subject Headings: -  United States.--Army--History--Punitive Expedition into Mexico, 1916--People--1910-1920
-  Military camps--American--Texas--El Paso--1910-1920
-  Soldiers--American--1910-1920
-  Military uniforms--American--1910-1920
-  Horses--1910-1920
-  Tents--1910-1920
Genre: Panoramic photographs--1910-1920
Photographic prints--1910-1920
Notes: -  Title from item.
-  Gift; Dan Vogel; (PR 13 CN 1997:125)
Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA
Digital Id: ppmsca 55725 //

Discussion Post by TPS Mentor, Michelle Zupan: Gender Non-Conforming Historical Figures

Teaching Notes

This discussion post comes with a trigger warning that the contents may make some readers uncomfortable.  That being said, Michelle quotes from an NPR story about Charley Parkhurst, a famous stagecoach driver from the Gold Rush Era who was born a woman but passed as a man until she died.  The post goes on to list other famous historical figures who were gender non-conforming.

This discussion post is linked directly to the NHD theme for 2020, "Breaking Down Barriers". It also connects directly to this album for finding primary sources about difficult and controversial topics.  It has sent me off to Chronicling America to see if there are articles about Parkhurst in California newspapers at the time of his/her death.

Thanks   Michelle Zupan !