The following is a guest blog post by Candace Milburn, a liaison specialist for the Veterans History Project (VHP).
You might ask, “What’s the meaning behind a ‘Go Box?’” To answer your question, the story began when former VHP Director Karen Lloyd shared that during her service in the Army, each service member was given a “Go Bag.” The contents included survival essentials packed in advance to easily grab and keep on hand if needed for an extended amount of time. In comparison, she thought it would be a great idea to gather a preselected group of VHP collection surrogates, placards and background information, prepared in advance and placed in a box ready to share with congressional families, VHP donors and Library of Congress patrons who come to visit the VHP Information Center, located in the Library’s historic Jefferson building. The team immediately got busy thinking of themes and selecting collections that could be used for the first few “Go Boxes.”
Recently stepping into a new role with the Veterans History Project’s Program, Coordination and Communications (PCC) team gave me an opportunity to view the archive from a whole new perspective—communicate, promote participation, connect, engage, encourage and collection discoverability. To recognize Black History Month, one of my first assignments allowed me to dive into some of our African American collections to showcase their significance through what we at VHP now call a “Go Box.”
After surfing through tons of oral histories and supporting materials, I chose the collections of five courageous African American veterans who stood out to me. These veterans are also featured in a few of VHP’s online exhibits displayed under Serving: Our Voices at www.loc.gov/vets.
Just to name a few, I selected the collection of Odra W. Bradley, who heroically served in the Army during World War II and was sent to Camp Carson, Colorado to form a segregated non-commissioned officers corps, where he soon became a non-commissioned officer. He went on to serve with the 3053rd Quartermaster Salvage Collecting Company in the European Theater as a salvage collector. His unit supplied the fighting front line with supplies, and then collected military vehicles and equipment after a battle. In his oral history interview, he mentions how respectful the Europeans were to his segregated unit.“We found, in Europe, that people treated us just like any other unit of soldiers.”
Bradley’s story resonates strongly with me because he graciously instills words of wisdom throughout his interview that are still so vital for us today; this is especially noteworthy for Black History Month.
The military taught me how to get along with people of all races, all religious groups, it didn’t make any difference!
I think if everyone on our jobs and through all walks of life would put this encouraging insight into practice, it would definitely make a world of difference. Bradley lived to be a miraculous 100 years old! We honor him for his outstanding military service and positive insights that will live on for generations to come.
Ellis L. Ross is another amazing veteran’s collection I selected; it is one that has received much publicity over the years. His collection is full of more than 270 eye-catching photographs that depict his off-duty sightseeing experiences in the Army during World War II. Even though Ross served with the Quartermaster Corps segregated unit, his rest and relaxation periods were the same as any unit in the European Theater. He got the chance to visit places that he couldn’t have imagined otherwise! He captured some remarkable photographs while touring Rome, Paris and London.
Over the years, VHP has ventured into lots of ways to honor African American veterans for Black History Month, including blog posts, a new research guide, online exhibits and a video loop of oral history clips currently available in the VHP Information Center. You name it, VHP has probably done it! In the archive, there is a vast amount of African American veterans’ oral histories, manuscript materials and photographs that provide a deeper look at their heroic and honorary service. As we close out Black History Month, remember that VHP highlights and makes accessible these stories all year long, not just in February, and not just in a “Go Box.” There’s never a bad time to peruse the collections, because Black history is American history.
Special thanks to all the previous and present VHP staffers who have created some impressive “Go Boxes,” and for helping me to accomplish my first PCC assignment!