Outfit Evokes Courage of Little Rock Nine
LETTERS AND NUMBERS randomly decorate the skirt set Carlotta Walls LaNier wore when she and eight other black teens desegregated all-white Little Rock Central High School in 1957, but they spelled out the beginning of the end of separate-but-unequal education in the United States. Now LaNier has donated this outfit—an icon of the first major integration attempt following the Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education ruling—and 15 boxes of artifacts to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, set to open in 2015. “My mother is an excellent seamstress,” says LaNier, “but my great uncle gave my mother two bills and said, ‘I want her to have a new store-bought dress to go to Central.’” She looked smart, she was smart and she made history.
Daguerreotype Adds to Emily Dickinson’s Mystique
THE ENORMITY of poet Emily Dickinson’s literary talent is rivaled only by the mystery about her personal life. So the recently announced discovery of a daguerreotype, perhaps from 1859, that might show the belle of Amherst, Mass., in her late 20s has become a sensation. On the left sits a young woman who may look familiar to anyone who has seen the only photo definitively known to show Dickinson, made around her 16th birthday. She is reaching out to another woman, thought to be Catherine Scott Turner Anthon, a friend of Dickinson who, according to some experts, may have been romantically involved with the poet.
The anonymous owner of the “new” daguerreotype reportedly bought it in Springfield, Mass., in 1995. Failing to confirm that it showed Dickinson, he then tried to identify the other woman and found images at the New York State Historical Association that indicate it is Anthon. A detailed anatomical study of the two daguerreotypes by Dr. Susan M. Pepin, a neuroophthalmologist at Dartmouth, said facial similarities make “a strong argument” that the later image shows Dickinson, but unresolved questions about the date of the daguerreotype might contradict this identification.
If the image really is of Dickinson, and if it was made in 1859, it might have a profound impact on our understanding of the person and the poet. “She is in the middle of a few difficult years,” says Jane Wald, executive director of the Emily Dickinson Museum, “and also in the middle of an extremely prolific period of poetry.”
Memorial Celebrates FDR’s Four Freedoms
THE FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT Four Freedoms Park on New York City’s Roosevelt Island opened recently after surviving everything from the death of its architect, Louis I. Kahn, just after he completed his design in 1974, to last-minute quibbles over donor recognition. Spearheading the $53 million project, which looks across the East River to the United Nations, was former ambassador William vanden Heuvel, who, as the 14-yearold son of working-class immigrants, took a bus and hitchhiked from Rochester, N.Y., to Hyde Park for FDR’s 1945 funeral. “In my heart,” says vanden Heuvel, “Roosevelt described and defined the America that I truly believe in.”
Pivotal Revolutionary Battle Pinpointed
A TURNING POINT can be small. And it can disappear. The rural South Carolina site of the July 12, 1780, Battle of Huck’s Defeat was recently identified in a thicket of trees after more than 13 years of historical and archaeological research. Fewer than 300 troops— roughly equal forces—fought there for perhaps as little as five or 10 minutes, as the Americans ambushed the British at daybreak and killed their loyalist commander, Christian Huck. The guerrilla success became influential, says York County, S.C., historian Michael Scoggins, who led the discovery process: “The Americans said, ‘This is the way we do things from now on. We don’t fight them on their terms, we fight them on our terms.’” Coming on the heels of a series of defeats, Huck’s downfall revitalized the American war effort.
Solar Dispute Flares Up at Pearl Harbor
THE LEGENDARY AIRSTRIP on Ford Island in the middle of Pearl Harbor is the center of a dispute between historic preservationists and the U.S. Navy. Acting upon a mandate to increase the use of renewable energy, the Navy announced plans to install 60,000 solar panels on the runway, provoking an online petition (www.facebook.com/PacificAviationMuseum) by Ken DeHoff, executive director of the nearby Pacific Aviation Museum. A Navy spokesman, Bill Doughty, says it is now “looking at all the options,” but DeHoff says, “We’ll keep pushing this.”
Lewis Hine Photos Revisited
A PICTURE may be worth a thousand words, but none of them tell you what happened after the shutter was triggered. To learn the fate of child workers photographed by Lewis Hine—more than 5,000 of his images are in the Library of Congress, taken on behalf of the National Child Labor Committee, which successfully lobbied for laws to protect youngsters—Massachusetts retired social worker Joe Manning has spent more than 12 years tracking down descendants of about 300 subjects (morningsonmaple street.com/lewishine.html). “To me history is not about events, it’s about people,” says Manning, “and it’s not about famous people, it’s about ordinary people.”
Gettysburg Map Gets New Home
A HUGE TOPOGRAPHIC MAP of Gettysburg, complete with blinking lights to show key locations, entertained and educated battlefield tourists for more than four decades. Now, four years after it was mothballed—with much fretting about its fate—a real estate developer in Hanover, Pa., some 15 miles east of the sacred turf, has bought the 12-ton wonder for $14,010, with plans to make it the centerpiece of a new conference center. “I’ve asked people in town, ‘Am I stupid here, or is this a cool idea?’” says Scott Roland. “And they’re all like ‘It’s crazy, but it’s really good.’”
Originally published in the February 2013 issue of American History. To subscribe, click here.