Dr. Robert Allen’s Port Chicago and Civil Rights Archive and Oral History Collection

By Julie Musson and Lisa Monhoff

This July marks the 75th Anniversary of the Port Chicago Naval Magazine disaster, a massive explosion that resulted in the largest loss of life on the U.S. mainland during WWII. The explosion happened while African-American sailors were loading a munitions ship in the Suisun Bay. Munitions detonated and two cargo ships exploded killing 320 and injuring 390 sailors and civilians. After the explosion, hundreds of African-American servicemen refused to return to segregated, unfair, and unsafe work conditions and 50 of those sailors held out for better work conditions. In response, the Navy charged the men with mutiny and sentenced them to 15 years of hard labor. The disastrous event at Port Chicago and media coverage of the ensuing mutiny trial was a pivotal moment in the discussions of racial inequality in the U.S. and contributed to desegregation in the Navy beginning in 1946.

In 2016, the Port Chicago Naval Magazine National Memorial under the stewardship of the National Park Service acquired the Dr. Robert Allen Port Chicago and Civil Rights Collection. The collections comprised of 35 linear feet of research archives and 34 hours of oral history interview content produced by Dr. Robert L. Allen as the result of over 40 years of primary research, documentation and scholarly works. The work of Dr. Allen to understand and publicize the disaster and the mistreatment of the sailors culminated in the publication of The Port Chicago Mutiny in 1989 and has continued with decades of appeals for official pardons and exoneration for those charged with mutiny. 

The Robert L. Allen papers on Civil Rights consist of correspondence, primary research, writing and teaching materials created by Dr. Allen in his capacity as activist, editor, writer and educator. Dr. Allen’s body of work includes several books written and published about civil rights and labor leaders, including Bay Area activists Lee Brown and C.L. Dellums. He also served as Senior Editor and writer for many years at The Black Scholar, co-founded a small press with Alice Walker called Wild Trees and taught in the Ethnic Studies and African-American Studies programs at the University of California, Berkeley.

In collaboration with the National Park Service, the Bancroft Technical Services processed and digitized the National Park Service’s Dr. Robert Allen Port Chicago papers and the Bancroft’s Robert L. Allen papers on Civil Rights. The Oral History Center digitized and transcribed the Port Chicago Oral History interviews.

Links to the resources are below.

The Bancroft’s Robert L. Allen papers http://www.oac.cdlib.org/findaid/ark:/13030/c8sq966g/ 

NPS Allen (Dr. Robert) Port Chicago Papers http://www.oac.cdlib.org/findaid/ark:/13030/c8f195h3/ 

Oral History Center Port Chicago Interviews http://www.lib.berkeley.edu/libraries/bancroft-library/oral-history-center/projects/poch

Ferlinghetti at 100

by Steven Black, Head of Acquisitions

Lawrence and Kirby Ferlinghetti, 1959

From across San Francisco Bay, the explosion of civic pride that is being expressed in the lead-up to Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s 100th birthday (March 24) is felt in Berkeley, and in particular at The Bancroft Library.  As the proud repository of Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s literary archive, as well as records of his publishing house City Lights Books, generations of Library staff have been privileged to meet with Ferlinghetti over the years.

In 1996, Bancroft hosted the symposium “Ferlinghetti, City Lights, and the Beats in San Francisco: From the Margins to the Mainstream” which was followed by the Friends of The Bancroft Library keepsake  The poet’s eye : a tribute to Lawrence Ferlinghetti, edited by Richard Ogar.


City Lights Books


More recently, Bancroft’s curator of Rare Books and Literary Manuscripts is seen here with Ferlinghetti in 2016 to arrange the acquisition of the most recent installment of his papers.

David Faulds and Lawrence Ferlinghetti

One interesting characteristic of the poet’s creative method is the use of reporter’s notebooks in the composition of his verses, which recalls these oft-quoted lines from William Carlos Williams:   “It is difficult/ to get the news from poems/ yet men die miserably every day/ for lack// of what is found there” !

“One Stream of Consciousness” in Reporter’s Notebook

Far from resting on his well-earned laurels, Ferlinghetti has marked this milestone month with the publication of a new novel, Little Boy, released just this week.

Notes from the Backlog: Education of the Sun King

By Randal Brandt

This is the first entry in an occasional series (perhaps very occasional) of articles describing Bancroft Library materials that have recently been made available for research.

Cartes des rois de France
Cartes des rois de France, t DC36.6 .D47 1645  

Playing cards can be used for many purposes other than recreation. Three decks of playing cards designed for a very specific purpose–to further the education of a young monarch–have been cataloged at The Bancroft Library.

France’s Louis XIV (1638-1718), known as the Sun King, ruled for 72 years, longer than any other European sovereign. Born on September 5, 1638, to King Louis XIII of France (1601-1643) and Anne of Austria (1601-1666), the future Louis XIV was his parents’ first child. When his father died on May 14, 1643, young Louis ascended to the throne at the tender age of four under the regency of his mother, who was assisted by her chief minister, the Italian-born Cardinal Jules Mazarin (1602-1661).  

One of Cardinal Mazarin’s duties was to supervise the education of the young king. To that end, he commissioned Jean Desmarets de Saint-Sorlin (1595-1676), a member of the Académie Française, to devise a series of card games, which were in vogue at court, to interest Louis in his studies. The series comprises four sets of educational cards, each bearing a full-length figure, designed and engraved by the noted Florentine engraver Stefano della Bella (1610-1664), with descriptive text and a number. In 1644, Desmarets de Saint-Sorlin published an explanation of them with the title Les jeux de cartes, des roys de France, des reines renommées, de la géographie, et des fables, cy devant dediez à la reine régente, pour l’instruction du roi (“The Card Decks [or Sets] of the Kings of France, Renowned Queens, Geography, and Fables, Previously Dedicated to the Queen Regent, for the Instruction of the King.”)

Bancroft holds three of the four sets of cards. The Cartes des rois de France (“Cards of the Kings of France”) set contains 39 biographical cards, beginning with Pharamond and ending with young Louis himself, who is depicted as a boy riding in a triumphal chariot with his mother, Anne, holding the reins. The descriptive texts recount the territorial gains and losses, marriage alliances, royal character, and political and military adventures of the kings of France. Jeu des reynes renommées (“Deck [or Set] of Renowned Queens”) has 52 biographical cards ranging from Martesie, Queen of the Amazons, to Anne of Austria. The set comprises four series of 13 cards each, with descriptive legends and a single descriptive adjective (pious, clever, cruel, saintly, wise, brave, etc.) at one of the upper corners. Jeu de la géographie (“Deck [or Set] of Geography”) also has 52 cards, with figures emblematic of the country and text recording the nation’s size, borders, natural resources, principal cities, etc. Thirteen of the cards relate to America.

The cards are known to exist in four states, with later versions having numbers and suits added, and some of the images modified or replaced (for example, the image of the young Louis XIV was later substituted with a depiction of a statue of the king as a grown man). Bancroft’s sets, which were purchased in 2013, are all in the second state. Each card has been cut out and mounted on a separate leaf. The three sets are bound together as a single volume in a contemporary vellum binding. These cards, which were later reprinted twice, first in 1664 and again in 1698, are well-known in the literature documenting the history of playing cards. However, very few examples survive in libraries. With three complete sets, Bancroft’s volume represents one of the most comprehensive collections available for research.

Cartes des rois de France (“Cards of the Kings of France”)

Jeu des reynes renommées (“Deck [or Set] of Renowned Queens”)

Jeu de la géographie (“Deck [or Set] of Geography”)

Now Available! The Japanese American Internment Sites: A Digital Archive

The Bancroft Library is pleased to announce the completion of the “Japanese American Internment Sites: A Digital Archive” which includes important historic materials from our archival holdings that are now available online.

The project was generously funded as part of the National Park Service’s Japanese American Confinement Sites Grant Program and includes approximately 150,000 original documents from the Japanese American Evacuation and Resettlement Records (BANC MSS 67/14 c). The records represent the official documentation of the U.S. War Relocation Authority.  Existing from March 1942 to 1946, the WRA was created to assume jurisdiction over the relocation centers, administered an extensive resettlement program, and oversaw the details of the registration and segregation programs.


“We are very grateful to The National Park Service for funding the digitization of these important historical documents.” said Mary Elings, Assistant Director and Head of Technical Services at The Bancroft Library. “We hope researchers will find the content informative and that we will see new digital scholarship emerge as a result of this material now being available in digital form.”


The project builds upon two previous grants conducted between 2011-2017 to digitize 100,000 documents from the Japanese American Evacuation and Resettlement Study and 150,000 original items from Bancroft’s archival collections including the personal papers of internees, correspondence, extensive photograph collections, maps, artworks and audiovisual materials. Together, these collections bring the total number of digitized and publicly available items to about 400,000 and form one of the premier sources of digital documentation on Japanese American Confinement found anywhere.

The Japanese American Evacuation & Resettlement Digital Archive website, http://bancroft.berkeley.edu/collections/jacs provides context to this rich and substantive digital archive, and directs users to collection guides on the Online Archive of California and curated searches of digitized objects on the Calisphere website.


The Japanese American Evacuation & Resettlement Digital Archive website
The Japanese American Evacuation & Resettlement Digital Archive website


This project was funded, in part, by a grant from the U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Japanese American Confinement Sites Grant Program. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Department of the Interior.  


by Steven Black, Bancroft Acquisitions

Bill Reese, February 2001
Bill Reese, February 2001

In quick succession, joy followed by tears, June 2nd and 4th, 2018.

At the Annual Meeting of The Friends of The Bancroft Library, Carla A. Fumagalli was introduced as this year’s awardee of the William S. Reese Fellowship in American Bibliography and the History of the Book in the Americas.

For a number of years Bancroft has been favored to host a Reese fellowship, along with other peer institutions, including American Antiquarian Society, the Beinecke library at Yale University, the John Carter Brown library at Brown University, the University of Virginia Library, the Huntington Library, the Bibliographical Society of America, and the Library of Congress .

Two days later news reached us of the passing of William Reese, one of the foremost U.S. antiquarian booksellers and bibliographers of our time.

Celebration, punctuated by grief and mourning, then, hopefully, more celebration (if not stoic acceptance) —is a rhythm we accept without relish. Closer to home, our mortal persistence was tested in February with the passing of eminent Berkeley bookseller, Ian Jackson, who was a familiar presence to many on the UC campus and in bookshops around town.

Bancrofters most recently saw Bill Reese in February at the California International Antiquarian Book Fair in Pasadena.

Looking back on decades of our working together to build the Bancroft Collection of Western Americana, brought to mind a special visit he made to the Library in February 2001.  His talk was about major and minor colorplate travel and exploration books on the American West, using a small selection assembled for display on that occasion.

Here are some pictures of this informal exhibition, after hours in Bancroft’s Edward Hellman Heller Reading Room.

Bill Reese in Bancroft's Edward Hellman Heller Reading Room

Bill Reese in Bancroft’s Edward Hellman Heller Reading Room - February 2001
Bill Reese in Bancroft’s Edward Hellman Heller Reading Room, February 2001

Bancroft Welcomes Digital Project Archivist

Please join us in welcoming Lucy Hernandez as our new Digital Project Archivist on the NPS-funded Japanese American Confinement Sites (JACS) grant project. Lucy will manage the two-year JACS project to digitize materials from Bancroft collections related to the Japanese American Internment. She will begin her new appointment on Monday, May 15.

Lucy comes to us from her position as the Archivist at The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota, Florida where she worked on processing, digitizing, and providing reference services for archival collections. Prior to that, Lucy worked as the Archivist at the Tom & Ethel Bradley Center, California State University, Northridge for 10 years.

She earned her Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Art History from University of California Santa Cruz and a Masters of Arts in Art History from California State University, Northridge, and she is certified by the Academy of Certified Archivists.

Lucy Hernandez

The Bancroft Library Announces New Head of Technical Services

After an extensive national search, the Bancroft Library is pleased to announce the appointment of Mary Elings as the Head of Bancroft Technical Services and Assistant Director of The Bancroft Library. In this role, Elings will provide leadership for Bancroft’s largest division responsible for technical services operations for rare books, archival, and special collections as well as for the use of advanced technology to establish administrative and intellectual control over Bancroft collections.

Mary W. Elings
Mary W. Elings

Before taking on this role, Elings served as the Interim Head of Bancroft Technical Services from 2016 to 2017. Prior to that, she held the position of Bancroft’s Principal Archivist for Digital Collections and served as Head of the Digital Collections Unit. Elings began her career at Bancroft in 1996 as a pictorial archivist before expanding her expertise in operational support for public services, archival information systems, digital research collections, and born-digital archives. Her leadership in developing digital research collections has not been limited to Bancroft but has also served the University Library, the Berkeley campus, and the University of California system. Her teaching in the field of librarianship, as adjunct faculty for library and information science schools at Catholic University in Washington, D.C., and Syracuse University in New York, has enhanced her leadership in this area. Her current research focus is on developing “research ready” digital archival collections in support of computational research needs and working with faculty and students on collaborative research projects in the digital humanities.

Elings succeeds David de Lorenzo, who served as the Head of Bancroft Technical Services from 2001 until 2016 when he was appointed the Giustina Director of Special Collections and University Archives at the University of Oregon.

Elings can be contacted at melings@berkeley.edu.


Camera Use Now Free

The Bancroft Library is happy to announce that camera use is now free for all of our researchers. Starting today (15 August 2016), we will no longer charge a daily fee for camera use in our reading room. We believe that this new policy enables us to better support the research, learning, and scholarship conducted in The Bancroft Library every day.

Please note that all researchers must still agree to and sign our Camera Use Policy.

Happy researching!

Tebtunis goes to Vegas

What do Tebtunis and Las Vegas have in common? Well, not the gambling (at least not as far as we know!). Surprisingly enough, the two towns do show some similarities: they are both surrounded by a desert, they both see, at some point in their history, the presence of a lively community of people of Greek descent, who far away from Greece, gather together to preserve their Hellenic heritage. The chronological span of this presence of course differs from a place to another: while a Greek community could be identified in Tebtunis for several centuries from the third century BC into the third century AD, a Greek community gathered in Las Vegas only for a few days in October 2015. I’m talking about the annual meeting of the National Hellenic Society (NHS), a festive event that gathers together members of the Society as well as a number of guests, for one purpose: the celebration of Hellenic culture.

One of the highlights of the weekend was the inclusion of CTP in the Heritage and Culture Panel, during which Tebtunis was in great company. Patricia Moore-Pastides, the University of South Carolina’s first lady and public health professional, engaged the public with a fascinating defense of the Greek diet, convincingly demonstrating how eating well can improve our overall lifestyle. Chad Cohen and Jared Lipworth, National Geographic producers, presented a preview of the documentary ‘The Greeks’ (aired next Spring on PBS), impressing with images and clips of some of the cultural achievements of the ancient Greek civilization, including the spectacular Sicilian temples and Greek tragedies.

But first came Tebtunis and its papyri.In the spirit of the event, my presentation explored, through a selection of papyri from CTP, the ways in which the Hellenic culture penetrated into a remote but lively Egyptian village during the Hellenistic and Roman periods: through literature, as documented by the papyri including the work of Sophocles and Homer; through social gatherings and communal celebrations, as attested, for example, by the festival for Demeter, the Greek goddess of the harvest; and through the language, which over time became the official language of the administration of Egypt.

How did the people of Tebtunis live? What do we learn from the papyri? These were the central questions asked in the presentation. Among the papyri discussed are of course some of the unique pieces yielded by the Berkeley collection, like a fragment in Greek of the lost original, in Latin, Chronicle of the Trojan War, but Dictys of Crete

and a fragment of a lost satyr play by Sophocles, the Inachos.

The Tebtunis papyri give voice to the people who read Homer and Euripides, to those who owned estates and land, and to women, like Zois, who appears in a sale of land as a consenting wife. Her husband Didumos is selling his plot of land, and to be final the sale needs his wife’s approval. ‘Hellenism’ and the celebration of it could be seen everywhere over the weekend, and once the panel presentations were over it was time for party. At the Glendi dinner offered on the Friday night, everybody dressed in white and delicious Greek food and wine were appropriately accompanied by live Greek music and group dances.

The setting (an open portico), a sky full of stars and the warm air all contributed to recreate the vibe and atmosphere of a Greek late summer evening, and it was exciting to see the Tebtunis Papyri showcased at this unique event!

Euripides, Dionysus and school exercises

‘I, the son of Zeus, have come to this land of the Thebans’

The beginning of one of the greatest (and most famous) Greek tragedies, this line from The Bacchae by Euripides has resonated countless times in theatres from all over the world for the past two millennia. The son of Zeus speaking is Dionysus, the unconventional god of wine and theatre, who went to the city of Thebes to take revenge against those who had claimed that he was not the son of Zeus. With him came the Bacchae, the possessed female followers of Dionysus, mad and murderous.

Theatrical performances and books, however, were not the only places where this line could be heard or read. Indeed in antiquity the incipit of The Bacchae was also used as a writing exercise. That is exactly what happened in Egypt, as documented by an unpublished papyrus from the village of Tebtunis, dated approximately to the second century BC, when Egypt was a Hellenistic kingdom.

Despite the fragmentary state of the papyrus, words from the first line of The Bacchae are still clearly visible. I add here the Greek version of the line for those who would like to do some matching game:

The Euripidean line is repeated at least four times in these fragments, and it is written in a somewhat school boy hand. Someone here was learning to write in Greek. The pupil in question was not a beginner, as he already knew how to write letters and words. Writing short passages from poets represented indeed some sort of intermediate educational level, appropriate for those, like our pupil, needed to improve their handwriting skills. Among the favorite authors chosen for this level (and for the upper level too) there were Homer, Euripides and Menander, each representative of a specific literary genre, respectively epic poetry, tragedy and comedy. There was not, however, a formal school, with a standardized program, where pupils attended classes to learn to read and write. There were, instead, what we might call ‘school contexts’, that is places and situations where teaching and learning took place, which could have been a private house, a porch as well as a temple. Pupils were not only young people, but also adults. It is difficult to tell who the pupil of our papyrus was: an Egyptian who was learning Greek? Or a Greek who was learning to write? It doesn’t really matter. What really matters is that people in Egypt were learning to write Greek and were doing so by reading passages from the tragedies of Euripides or the epic poems of Homer. Our school exercise was not an isolated case. A large number of similar examples have come down to us from Egypt for both the Hellenistic and Roman periods, documenting the widespread will (or pressing necessity) of the people of Egypt, Greeks as well as Egyptians, to learn how to write in Greek (below are two more examples from Tebtunis). How not to be amazed at this phenomenon! To put this in context, think of our contemporary multi-cultural societies. People move continuously, they migrate to other countries, learn new languages. In England, for example, there is a large community of Indian people who, though speaking perfect English, still strive to preserve their own language, culture and traditions. English people, however, are certainly not learning any of the languages of India. That is because, despite the presence of several different ethnic groups, England remains fundamentally English, socially more multi-cultural, but still English. In Egypt things went differently. With the arrival of the Greeks in the third century BC, Egypt did not remain fundamentally Egyptian, and although native language and traditions never disappeared, Greek language gradually took over (see http://blogs.lib.berkeley.edu/tebtunis-papyri.php/greek-takes-over). School exercises represented just another way through which Greek spread.

Sayings about Demosthenes and Epaminondas (P.Mil. Vogl. VI 263, AD II) Miscellaneous collection of poetic lines (PSI XI Congr. 3, AD I)