This is the first in an occasional series that will examine specific collections drawn from HSP’s extensive archives. This week, I’m exploring the Thelma McDaniel collection. (Link goes to finding aid.)
Though little is known about Thelma McDaniel, we know that she collected radical literature of the 60’s and 70’s. The documents in her collection relate to events, correspondence, and calls to action in and around Philadelphia during the time period. The specific movements represented in these documents include Civil Rights, Black Power, and the Communist Party of America (CPA).
Overall, the collection is one of irreplaceable primary documents, evidence of activism that led to over a decade of upheaval and change. The collection is made up mostly of fliers, newsletters, and related ephemera from these movements, which show that they influenced one another. Labor activism intertwines with civil rights, as in the first issue of “The Negro Longshoreman”. Communism and Black Power interact in a number of materials relating to Angela Davis and her work with CPA and African-American communities.
Though the collection is primarily focused on events and publications related to the Philadelphia area, there are archival materials from national and international publications. For example, an issue of the scholarly journal Masses and Mainstream contains articles by a number of prominent contributors including Patrice Lumumba, then-prime minister of the Congo.
Unsurprisingly, many of the documents refer to issues that are still addressed by activists and radical movements today. They also show the dealings of people still active in public life. John Cornyn is advertised as a speaker for an event, as is Nikki Giovanni. A bumper sticker demands the release of Angela Davis. Lectures and shows are announced at the Lee Cultural Center, which exists at 44th and Haverford Avenue to this day. Posters and newsletters discuss voting rights and the prevalence of racism. They call political leaders out and demand change.
The Thelma McDaniel collection isn’t the only source of primary documents from political and civil rights movements of the era – other collections at HSP include documents from NOW, a booklet from Students for a Democratic Society, and much more. But this collection in particular contains a vital record of Philadelphia’s activist history, and provides a link between the fights of the past and the ongoing struggle today.