Teamwork: Saving History the William & Mary Way
In 1997, the College of William & Mary purchased property on Ironbound Road from a prominent African American couple, Charles E. (d. 2001) and Zelda DeBerry Gary (d. 2010). He, the owner of the West End Valet Shop and a notary public, and she, a nurse who once worked for the James City County school system, were long-time residents of Williamsburg. Both tremendously enriched the community through years of civic involvement in a number of local organizations.
In Spring 2015, a team from W&M’s Department of Facilities Management, recognizing their value, rescued from destruction a few boxes of documents and artifacts belonging to the Garys (though the majority belonged to Charles). Facilities Management contacted Susan Kern, Executive Director of the Historic Campus, who in turn, contacted Gerald "Jay" Gaidmore, Marian and Alan McLeod Director of the Special Collections Research Center. As a result of this team effort, the Charles Edward Gary Jr. Papers are now arranged, described, and preserved in the Special Collections Research Center. They are of great value to the study of both twentieth-century African American history and Williamsburg history.
As a graduate assistant, I had the honor of processing the collection from beginning to end.
After collecting the Gary papers from Facilities Management, I first dusted the materials, inspecting for bugs and mold as I went along. Then, to help me assess how to best arrange the collection, I browsed through the documents and surveyed the artifacts. Special mediums, such as a great number of photographs and a rare example of late nineteenth/early twentieth century charcoal portraiture, received special housing care for long-term preservation. West End Valet Shop business ledgers from the 1940s and 1950s, drafts of speeches for church and civic assemblies discussing race in America, WWII letters, and an officer training notebook, as well as an Improved Benevolent Protective Order of Elks of the World ceremonial collar, are only a few examples of the countless treasures found in this collection.
Promoting diversity, inclusiveness, and social activism in academic research, the College of William & Mary’s Lemon Project is dedicated “to better understand, chronicle, and preserve the history of blacks at the College and in the community." The Project compiled several resources of interest to students and researchers, including collections housed in the Special Collections Research Center. The Charles Edward Gary Jr. Papers can now join them.
Eve Bourbeau-Allard was a graduate student in the Department of History and a 2014-2015 Archives Apprentice in the Special Collections Research Center, Swem Library. She is now pursuing her education in archives management at the University of Michigan.