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Thomas Battle

Librarian, artist, curator, and historian Thomas Cornell Battle was born on March 19, 1946, at Howard University’s Freedman’s Hospital in Washington, D.C., to Thomas Oscar Battle and Lenore Thomas Battle. Battle attended Colonel Charles Young Elementary School, Bishop Henry McNeil Turner Elementary School, River Terrace Elementary School and Carter G. Woodson Junior High School. Battle graduated from William McKinley High School in 1964 while working at Mt. Pleasant Public Library. At Howard University, Battle was mentored by Loraine Williams and Rayford W. Logan and was influenced by Stokeley Carmichael, James Nabrit, Leon Damas, and Nathan Hare, among others. Battle was awarded his B.A. degree in history in 1968; he earned his M.L.S. degree from the University of Maryland College of Information Studies in 1971, and his Ph.D. degree in American studies from George Washington University in 1983. Battle’s dissertation was a bibliographical study of slavery in the District of Columbia.

In 1972, advised by Oswald Person, Battle applied for and was hired as a reference librarian by Howard’s Moorland-Spingarn Research Collection, then under distinguished director, Dorothy Porter. During this period, Battle was granted a fellowship through the Black Caucus of the American Library Association to study in Sierra Leone for a year. Michael Winston was director of the Moorland-Spingarn Research Collection as Battle became founding curator of the manuscript division in 1974; later, Battle became university archivist. In 1986, Battle was named director of Howard’s Moorland-Spingarn Research Collection, the largest black owned archive of black history and culture in the world.

Committed to illuminating the lives of pioneer bibliophiles like Arthur Schomburg, Alexander Cromwell, and Jesse Moorland, Battle, with Paul Coates and Eleanor Des Virney Sinnette, authored Black Bibliophiles and Collectors: Preservers of Black History in 1983. The realization of Howard’s unique place in world history prompted the book, Howard in Retrospect: Images of the Capstone co-authored with Clifford L. Muse, Jr. in 1995. Battle co-edited with Donna M. Wells on the 2007 work, Legacy: Treasures of Black History, which features more than 150 historic items including documents, letters, images, artifacts and articles by twelve scholars including: Joseph E. Harris, Greg Carr, James Turner and Deborah Willis.

Battle taught history at Howard University, the University of Maryland, and Amherst College. In 2006, the University of Maryland College of Information Studies (CLIS) presented Battle with the James Partridge Award.

Accession Number

A2007.058

Sex

Male

Interview Date

2/9/2007

Last Name

Battle

Maker Category
Schools

McKinley Technology High School

Charles E. Young Elementary School

Carter G. Woodson Junior High School

River Terrace Elementary School

Bishop Henry McNeil Turner Elementary School

University of Maryland

George Washington University

Howard University

First Name

Thomas

Birth City, State, Country

Washington

HM ID

BAT07

Favorite Season

Fall

State

District of Columbia

Favorite Vacation Destination

Home

Favorite Quote

I Am Unbought And Unbossed.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

District of Columbia

Birth Date

3/19/1946

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Washington

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Crab ( Maryland Blue)

Short Description

Archivist, cultural heritage chief executive, and historian Thomas Battle (1946 - ) was the director of Howard University's Moorland-Spingarn Research Collection, the largest black owned archive of black history and culture in the world.

Employment

District of Columbia Public Library

Moorland-Spingarn Research Center

Favorite Color

Black

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Thomas Battle's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Thomas Battle lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Thomas Battle describes his mother's background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Thomas Battle describes his father's upbringing and personality

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Thomas Battle talks about his ancestry

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Thomas Battle describes his early life experiences

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Thomas Battle describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Thomas Battles recalls his early education and personality

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Thomas Battle remembers his early religious experiences

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Thomas Battle recalls his early interest in African American history

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Thomas Battle describes his extracurricular activities

Tape: 1 Story: 12 - Thomas Battle remembers segregation in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 1 Story: 13 - Thomas Battle recalls his decision to attend Howard University in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 1 Story: 14 - Thomas Battle describes his experiences at Howard University

Tape: 1 Story: 15 - Thomas Battle lists his siblings

Tape: 1 Story: 16 - Thomas Battle recall graduating from Howard University

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Thomas Battle talks about the problems in the public schools of Washington, D.C.

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Thomas Battle describes the student tracking system in Washington, D.C., pt. 1

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Thomas Battle describes the student tracking system in Washington, D.C., pt. 2

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Thomas Battle describes his father's career

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Thomas Battle recalls working at the Mt. Pleasant Neighborhood Library in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Thomas Battle describes the history of Federal City College in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Thomas Battle recalls the influential figures at Howard University in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Thomas Battle remembers graduating from Howard University

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Thomas Battle describes his position at the Federal City College

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Thomas Battle recalls enrolling at the University of Maryland in College Park, Maryland

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Thomas Battle talks about the Civil Rights Movement

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Thomas Battle describes his involvement in the Civil Rights Movement

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Thomas Battle remembers the Black Power movement at Howard University in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Thomas Battle recalls the academic environment at Howard University

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Thomas Battle talks about his approach to learning

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Thomas Battle remembers the University of Maryland in College Park, Maryland

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Thomas Battle recalls the student protests at the University of Maryland

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Thomas Battle reflects upon his African American identity

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Thomas Battle talks about President Richard Nixon's administration

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Thomas Battle remembers graduating from the University of Maryland

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Thomas Battle recalls joining the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Thomas Battle remembers Dorothy Porter Wesley

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Thomas Battle describes the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Thomas Battle describes the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center's collection

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Thomas Battle recalls the patrons of the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Thomas Battle recalls serving as an exchange librarian

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Thomas Battle recalls arriving in Sierra Leone

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Thomas Battle talks about the national library in Sierra Leone

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Thomas Battle describes Sierra Leone's national library collection

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Thomas Battle recalls meeting Sierra Leonean librarians

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Thomas Battle talks about the access to the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Thomas Battle talks about theft from libraries

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Thomas Battle describes the history of the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Thomas Battle recalls returning from Sierra Leone

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Thomas Battle remembers Michael R. Winston

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Thomas Battle describes his roles at the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Thomas Battle remembers the faculty of Howard University

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Thomas Battle recalls his decision to attend George Washington University

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Thomas Battle describes his doctoral dissertation

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Thomas Battle talks about the history of African Americans in Washington D.C.

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Thomas Battle recalls publishing his dissertation

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Thomas Battle talks about the acquisition of materials by the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Thomas Battle talks about private collectors

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Thomas Battle talks about the collections of historically black institutions

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Thomas Battle describes Mayme Clayton's collection

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - Thomas Battle talks about his speaking engagements

Tape: 6 Story: 10 - Thomas Battle describes his book, 'Black Bibliophiles and Collectors'

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Thomas Battle describes the collectors of black artifacts

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Thomas Battle talks about African American historical collections

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Thomas Battle talks about the misallocation of African American collections

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Thomas Battle describes his book, 'Legacy: Treasures of Black History'

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Thomas Battle describes his challenges at the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Thomas Battle describes his favorite artifacts at the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Thomas Battle describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 7 Story: 8 - Thomas Battle describes his involvement in professional organizations

Tape: 7 Story: 9 - Thomas Battle talks about the Association for the Study of African American Life and History

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Thomas Battle reflects upon his life

Tape: 8 Story: 2 - Thomas Battle reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 8 Story: 3 - Thomas Battle talks about his family

Tape: 8 Story: 4 - Thomas Battle describes how he would like to be remembered

Tape: 8 Story: 5 - Thomas Battle narrates his photographs

DASession

1$1

DATape

3$7

DAStory

7$6

DATitle
Thomas Battle recalls the student protests at the University of Maryland
Thomas Battle describes his favorite artifacts at the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center
Transcript
I also remember at the University of Maryland [College Park, Maryland], the--I think it was the invasion of Cambodia. And--or Route 1 [U.S. Route 1], which runs through the campus was closed down and the university was closed down and there was a lot of activity going on and lots of student, and not necessarily violence, but things going on. And there were two things of interest. One, the individual I referred to was with a black student union, in being asked about these activities, made it very clear of the disappointment of black students in the university being closed down because of the impact it was having on our ability to become educated. And I thought that was very telling since there had not been this great desire for us to be there anyway. That black students and the black cause was something that was featured as an important issue. And I also remember it was one of the few times that white students felt that they would be safer by walking with black students, because as it turned out no one was bothering the black students on campus, although, white students were having their own problems among each other. And I clearly remember white classmates, and certainly some of the white women I was in class with, saying, "Do you mind if I walk with you to the parking lot," or "Do you mind if we do this." And the reason was because they felt much safer being with us as their black classmates and other black students, than they felt being out on the campus and subject to being abused, if you will, by the police forces that had been brought on the campus to quell the student disturbances that were going on. And, in essence, the feeling was that black students are not responsible for and involved in this. So the black students are immune from this because there's no reason to bother the black students. It's the white students who were starting all of the trouble. And I've always found that, that's probably one of the few times that white people felt that the safest place for them to be was to be with black people who could provide for their security.$What do you think, of all the holdings you have here, what would you consider to be the most valuable piece that you (simultaneous)?$$(Simultaneous) You know, I am frequently asked what, what's the most valuable, what's the most impressive. I, I--my, my answer sometimes is like, "Well, it's like the blind man and the elephant; depends on where you touch it." There is no single item. There's an item in the collection that has a certain appeal to me, it's a, it's an image, a rare image called 'The Hunted Slaves' [Richard Ansdell]. This is a, a, a print based upon a, a painting that is in a museum in England and it took its inspiration from a Wadsworth--Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem, 'The Slave in the Dismal Swamp,' which is actually reproduced on, on this engraving. But what appeals to me about the engraving is that--and, as I say, it's the, the--this inspiration to 'Slave in the Dismal Swamp,' is you see these vicious dogs that are in the process of attacking this black man and this black woman. But what you do not see is this fear and this docility that is often projected about the enslaving experience, but what you see is this black man there with this, this hatchet or axe in his hand protecting and preserving not only his freedom, but that of his woman and by extension for me, that of the black family. And I think that whether or not that was the, the true intent of the, of the artist, that's sort of the inspiration that I draw from it. That this was not a situation in which we just accepted our fate, but that shows that these were and we were at people that was willing to stand and fight for our rights and, and for the preservation of our lives; that for me, is a, is a very powerful piece. Every member of our staff has his or her own favorite piece. For me, it is the, the collection, this is the comprehensiveness of what is here [Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, Washington, D.C.] that is important. That you have in one place, the largest collection of materials documenting the black experience. A library of more than two hundred thousand volumes, all of it on the black experience from Africa throughout the Americas; north, central, south, Europe and all other aspects of the black diaspora. It is that, that wealth of material that I think is overwhelming and helps us to put to lie black people have no history; here is the documentation right here. If I offer you another ques- example, I could say we have a Babylonian clay tablet from several centuries B.C., that might be the rarest, the most valuable, but there are others. And something that might appear to be insignificant could really be something that is vitally valuable because it might have a, a bit of information that expresses or exposes something about our history that is otherwise unknown. It may have no real monetary value, but the informational value should--could be key. So depending upon how one interprets value and how meaningful things are to one as an individual, probably gets you to answer the question, we have a million items, we have a million favorites.