Robert F. Kennedy Papers: A dark corner of Camelot

Source: Boston Globe, 1-23-11

50 years after President Kennedy asked his brother Robert to oust Castro, RFK’s files at the JFK Library remain in family control, largely out of view

Documents on Robert F. Kennedy’s service as attorney general could help fill gaps in the history of US covert operations against Cuba, relations with Fidel Castro, and the Cuban missile crisis, but many are secret. Documents on Robert F. Kennedy’s service as attorney general could help fill gaps in the history of US covert operations against Cuba, relations with Fidel Castro, and the Cuban missile crisis, but many are secret. (Bettman/ Corbis)

Stacked in a vault at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Dorchester, individually sealed and labeled, are 54 crates of records so closely guarded that even the library director is prohibited from taking a peek.

And yet, archivists contend, the trove contains some of the most important records of Cold War history: diaries, notes, phone logs, messages, trip files, and other documents from Robert F. Kennedy’s service as US attorney general, including details about his roles in the Cuban missile crisis and as coordinator of covert efforts to overthrow or assassinate Fidel Castro.

A half-century after those critical events, a behind-the-scenes tussle continues over the Kennedy family’s refusal to grant permission for researchers to freely review them. The disagreement lingers even as the JFK Library this month celebrated the 50th anniversary of John Kennedy’s inauguration by providing “unprecedented’’ access to thousands of records of his presidency.

“The RFK papers are among the most valuable, untapped archival resources of foreign policy and domestic history left to be excavated,’’ said Peter Kornbluh, a senior analyst at George Washington University’s National Security Archive, who has been rebuffed several times in his attempts to gain access to the papers.

“This history is immediately relevant to the ongoing debate over US policy toward Cuba,’’ he added. “I look forward to the day — hopefully sooner than later — that access to the RFK papers contributes to advancing that debate.’’

Access to the papers is tightly controlled by Robert Kennedy’s ninth child, Matthew Maxwell Taylor Kennedy, a lawyer whom library officials said has been designated by his mother, Ethel, to take on the responsibility.

In a written response to Globe questions, Max Kennedy denied that access to the papers is closed, saying he has “selectively granted full access’’ to prominent biographers, including Evan Thomas and Robert Dallek….READ MORE


Annette Gordon-Reed: Pulitzer Prize winner to participate in Festival of Books

Source: Arizona Daily Star, 1-23-11

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Annette Gordon-Reed, whose new book on President Andrew Johnson was released Tuesday, will participate in the third annual Festival of Books March 12-13.

Gordon-Reed, a historian and law professor, won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize in History and the 2008 National Book Award for her book “The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family.”

She was named a 2010 MacArthur Fellow – commonly referred to as a “genius” grant – for “dramatically changing the course of Jeffersonian scholarship.”

In “Andrew Johnson: The American Presidents Series,” Gordon-Reed explores our nation’s 17th president – a man who never expected to be president, but stepped into the office six weeks after becoming Abraham Lincoln’s vice president.

Gordon-Reed explores Johnson’s strengths, weaknesses, philosophies, stubbornness and how ill-suited he was to reconcile a nation divided by the Civil War.

Gordon-Reed is scheduled to speak on March 13 in the Arizona Daily Star tent.

Th Festival of Books stretches over the University of Arizona Mall and campus buildings. Find out more about the Tucson Festival of Books at http://www.tucsonfestival

Paul Gaston: Martin Luther King, Jr.’s controversial views often glossed over, experts say

Source: Miami Herald, 1-23-11

A symposium last week at the University of Virginia on the private writings and conversations of Martin Luther King Jr. turned into a pointed debate on the image of the slain civil rights leader conveyed during his January holiday.

“It’s terribly important to emphasize the political and economic nature of King’s life in the last three years – it was a much more economically, politically radical message that he left in the last three years of his life,” said Paul Gaston, a history professor emeritus at the University of Virginia. “I wish this part of his legacy had not been airbrushed out of history, which I think it has been.”

As the nation honors King this month, some academics, historians and even King associates say the story of his dream for America is a tale half told. They lament that, to the public, King has been boiled down to feel-good sound bites from his Aug. 28, 1963, “I Have a Dream” speech and photo-ops of elected officials performing community service on his national holiday.

Glossed over and rarely discussed, they say, are King’s controversial economic philosophy of social justice and his strong stance against the Vietnam War, which earned him scorn in many circles and a cold shoulder from then-President Lyndon Johnson, who had championed the 1964 Civil Rights Act that outlawed racial segregation….READ MORE

Dolen Perkins-Valdez: A tender spot in master-slave relations

Source: WaPo, 1-21-11

Novelist Dolen Perkins-Valdez

Novelist Dolen Perkins-Valdez (Photos By Mark Gail)

Dolen Perkins-Valdez was reading a biography of W.E.B. DuBois when she came across the small aside. It was piece of history she hadn’t known, and couldn’t stop thinking about.

The land for Ohio’s Wilberforce University, the nation’s oldest private historically black college, where DuBois had once taught, at one time had been part of a resort – a place called Tawawa House, where wealthy Southern slaveholders would take their slave mistresses for open-air “vacations.”

“I had never heard of anything like that,” says Perkins-Valdez, then a writing professor at the University of Mary Washington. She knew of masters taking slaves north to attend to them, “but the thought of them taking women to a vacation resort was just stunning to me. I didn’t know what to do with that.”

What she did first was wonder: How would they have gotten there? And what did the resort look like? Then she asked: Why would a slave taken to a Northern free state not run?

Her attempts to answer those questions turned into the novel “Wench,” out in paperback Tuesday, just in time for the 150th anniversary of the Civil War…READ MORE

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