Sydney Nathans collection, 1975-2018 and undated

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Nathans, Sydney
The papers in this collection include Duke history professor Sydney Nathans' documentation on the Richard Nixon Presidential Library debate, including his participation in Academic Council resolutions regarding the location of the library on Duke's campus; the Greensboro Massacre (1979), when the Ku Klux Klan murdered several people during a shoot-out at an Anti-KKK demonstration planned by the Communist Workers' Party; Nathans' copies of negatives and contact sheets from the Durham bicentennial photography project (1981 and undated); and materials used in the writing of his book A Mind to Stay, including original interviews, transcripts, and other research materials.
3.5 Linear Feet (5 boxes; 1 oversize folder)
Material in English
Collection ID:
University Archives Record Group:
29 -- Papers of Faculty, Staff, and Associates
29 -- Papers of Faculty, Staff, and Associates > 02 -- Individuals


Scope and content:

The Nixon Library papers contain correspondence (including that of Terry Sanford, and of the creator of the collection, Sydney Nathans); newspaper and magazine clippings as well as scholarly articles; text from speeches; official statements from groups opposing the Nixon Library; and Sydney Nathan's handwritten notes from a variety of meetings. Documents also include Nathan's research on existing presidential libraries.

The Greensboro Massacre papers contain flyers and other mailings and newsletters from the Communist Workers Party and other socialist organizations; mailings from Greensboro Justice Fund and other sympathetic groups following the massacre; media and press coverage of the massacre and the subsequent trials; a police report from Greensboro's police chief; academic and other literature researching the history of violence between the Communist and Klan organizations; and other miscellaneous materials.

The Durham Bicenntenial photography project relates to a project now held in the Durham Arts Council and consists of negatives and contact sheets for a photographic history of Durham assembled in 1981.

The A Mind to Stay Interviews and Transcripts contain materials used by Sydney Nathans in writing his book A Mind to Stay: White Plantation, Black Homeland, on the descendants of enslaved families forced to migrate from North Carolina to plantations in Greensboro, Alabama, and Tunica, Mississippi, in 1844, and the communities those families formed in the following years. Materials include recordings of interviews with residents of the two towns, Nathans' transcripts and extensive notes of those interviews, photos of interviewees and local landmarks, background material and research, the text of speeches and eulogies, and Nathans' personal correspondence with historians, editors, and Greensboro, Alabama, residents.

Biographical / historical:

Sydney Nathans is a Professor Emeritus in the Duke University History Department. He has written several books on United States history and the lives of African Americans, including To Free a Family: The Journey of Mary Walker and A Mind to Stay: White Plantation, Black Homeland. He is a fellow of John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, and was born in 1940.

Greensboro Massacre

A shoot-out between the Ku Klux Klan and the Communist Workers' Party during a Death to the Klan march on Nov. 3, 1979, led to the death of five anti-Klan demonstrators in Greensboro, N.C. Subsequent criminal trials led to the acquittals of several KKK and American Nazi Party members; a later civil suit found the Klan and the Greensboro Police Department liable for failing to prevent violence.

Nixon Presidential Library

In July 1981, Terry Sanford initiated negotiations with former U. S. President Richard Nixon (Duke Law '37) to locate the Nixon presidential library on the campus of Duke University, Nixon's alma mater. When this information was revealed to faculty members during the week of August 10, 1981, many opposed the proposition, citing Sanford's failure to consult the faculty prior to initiating negotiations.

Many who opposed the library had moral objections to memorializing a President whose behavior in office was reproachable, and they feared a negative effect on the university's reputation. Other concerns included the effects of increased tourist traffic on campus and the uncertain aesthetic nature of the proposed structure. However, supporters of the Nixon Library argued that the scholarly and academic benefits of locating the Nixon Presidential Materials collection on campus should and would outweigh other concerns. These supporters tended to denounce the actions of vocal dissenters as divisive and arrogant. To learn more about these and other issues concerning the potential impact on Duke of the proposed Nixon Library, Professor Sydney Nathans researched modern presidential libraries. His findings were presented to members of the Duke Academic Council as well as the Board of Trustees, and he based his own formal statement in August of 1981 to the Council on these findings.

Meetings of the Academic Council and Board of Trustees during September and October 1981 were dominated by the Nixon Library debate, and a group of faculty formed the Committee Against the Nixon-Duke Library (CANDL) to organize the efforts of faculty, students, alumni, and others opposed to the proposed library. Although the Academic Council voted not to pursue further negotiations with former president Nixon in a 35-34 decision at a September 3, 1981 meeting, the Board of Trustees later voted 9-2 to proceed. By April 1982, negotiations had stalled. One year later, Nixon's representatives announced that a site at Chapman College in San Clemente, California, had been chosen for the Richard M. Nixon Presidential Library.

Acquisition information:
The Sydney Nathans Collection was received by the University Archives as a transfer in 1985. A Rubenstein Library-held portion of the papers was merged with the University Archives collection in 2017 to form one Sydney Nathans Papers. Another gift was received in 2018.
Processing information:

Processed by Mike Millner, September 2006

Encoded by Mike Millner, October 2006

Updated by Molly Bragg, July 2011

Merged with Sydney Nathans Papers in Sept. 2017.

Accession 85-30 is described in this finding aid.

Accession UA2018.0004 was processed by Benjamin Broman and Tracy M. Jackson, and this collection guide updated by Tracy M. Jackson, in August 2018.

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Use of audiotapes and videotapes from this collection requires the creation of reference copies. Reference copies for some materials may have been made, and if a reference copy exists, it is noted in this finding aid. To arrange for the creation of reference copies of other items, please contact University Archives staff. Although these recordings are now stored in a stable environment, their condition and playback quality is unknown.

Terms of access:

Copyright for Official University records is held by Duke University; all other copyright is retained by the authors of items in these papers, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law.

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Preferred citation:

[Identification of item], Sydney Nathans Papers, Duke University Archives, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.