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The Articles started December 2007.
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Handwritten letters vital to history
By Barry Schrader.................................October
The Regional History Center and Northern Illinois University
Archives are featuring an exhibit this month on the first floor
of the Founders Memorial Library that interested me. Titled Somethin
to Write Home About
it includes letters home from
soldiers, items about college life, university business, something
about the Chicago Worlds Fair, personal family correspondence,
and much more.
I happened to be viewing the four
display cases at the same time one of my former NIU instructors,
Dr. Jack Bennett, was there. My first contact with him was in
1959-60 when I took general biology, not one of my strong subject
I had other dealings with him during my
college years as he became adviser to the new Young Republicans
Club, and later I sought his advice on the creation of a new
student magazine called The Quarterback A Journal
of Fact, Opinion & Literature, which I edited the first
year or so of its existence. Being an underground
student magazine, we sought faculty opinion pieces and advice
on how to navigate around university policies and restrictions
on freedom of the press.
at the library perusing his own letters donated a few years ago
to the Archives when he retired. In addition to his files on
the early years of the American Federation of Teachers, which
he helped establish at NIU, he had turned over a box of old
Jack Bennett looks at his old correspondence in display case
at NIU library. (NIU Archives Photo)
MUG SHOT OF JACK BENNETT
letters from his late mother, which were mainly written by him
when he was in the Army at the end of World War II.
got drafted late in the war, so he never saw duty overseas. But
one letter was particularly revealing. In it he told his mother
he had been stationed in Denver at a military hospital and then
was transferred to another military installation in Oklahoma.
It was during a train ride between the two posts that he experienced
Jim Crow laws for the first time.
related how he boarded a civilian passenger train for the trip,
sitting next to an African-American sergeant. When they changed
trains farther south, he innocently got on the same car with
that sergeant and did not notice only black soldiers
were in that car. The conductor came aboard and told Bennett
to move to another car where the white soldiers were
Being a small-town boy from Wisconsin,
he hadnt been exposed to segregation, so he refused. He
was then physically removed from the car along with his duffel
bag and placed in the all-whites car. This left an indelible
impression on him, which was brought back to light when he saw
his correspondence on display this month.
are the kind of gems that the Archives people Cindy Ditzler,
Joan Metzger, and Katharine White love to find and share
with others. You can see several examples in the current display
that ends Sunday. Or go online to the Regional History Center
and NIU Archives and see the thousands of other collections they
have in storage, just waiting for someone to come and look them
I worry that todays correspondence
will be lost to our children and grandchildren because I estimate
about 80 percent of all communication over any distance is now
done online and not preserved for future generations. Think now,
how many of your e-mails or tweets to family members and close
friends do you save in hard copy form and file away. When was
the last time you wrote a letter by hand and mailed it to a loved
one or friend in another part of the country? Do you get my point?
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DeKalb, Ill 60115