Don Lennon oral history interview, July 17, 2013




SPECIAL COLLECTIONS ORAL HISTORY COLLECTION
ORAL HISTORY INTERVIEW #95-01
Donald Lennon
July 17, 2013

Jonathan Dembo:

University Archives Oral History Interview conducted 17 July 2013 with Professor Emeritus Donald R. Lennon of the East Carolina University's History Department and Joyner Library's Special Collections Department, by Professor Jonathan Dembo of Joyner Library's Manuscripts & Rare Books Department in his Joyner Library office Room #4014. This is Interview number 1.

Jonathan Dembo:

First off, let me begin by asking you some questions about you and your background. Where were you born and when?

Donald Lennon:

Well, I am a product of Eastern North Carolina being born in Brunswick County, just across the river from Wilmington in 1938. I was reared in the family home in Leland and I went to school at a small, consolidated school that had 1st through 12th grades in the building of Leland High School, graduating from there in 1956.

Jonathan Dembo:

I have to ask you what did you feel about that? I know it can be . . . . I went to a school like that. It seemed that, I was, I remember being awed by being in a classroom, a school with high school seniors. How did that affect you?

Donald Lennon:

That's all we'd ever known, so that was the norm and I really didn't understand the difference between that kind of school and a larger school system such as in Wilmington until after I graduated from Leland. I spent two years at Wilmington College, which was a junior college in Wilmington, that became UNC Wilmington a few years later. There were a lot of New Hanover High School graduates in there which was a huge program -- one of the largest high schools in the state at the time. That was something of an awakening because you always felt like you didn't have the background that they had because in a school the size of Leland you didn't have advanced classes, quality classes, you didn't have science labs, what have you. It was very basic and elementary and so after I went to Wilmington College, I realized, you know, that there was a difference, although many of the students at the college who graduated from there were no better prepared than I was. [Laughs]

Jonathan Dembo:

Did you play sports when you were in high school?

Donald Lennon:

No.

Jonathan Dembo:

Did you have a job after school?

Donald Lennon:

Yes. From the time I was 15 [ca. 1953] I worked for the A & P [Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company]? . . . .

Jonathan Dembo:

What was that like?

Donald Lennon:

. . . which was the largest supermarket chain in the nation at the time and I worked there when I was in high school and all the way through college until. . . I was in the master's program before I ever [ended] my association with A & P.

Jonathan Dembo:

What did you do for A & P?

Donald Lennon:

Just about anything that needed to be done, primarily stocking shelves, what they called "bagboy" back in that time also, a variety of things.

Jonathan Dembo:

Were you the only one that was doing this or did they have a large crew?

Donald Lennon:

It was a large store, a large supermarket. It was back before the days of barcodes and computers and what have you, and so all merchandise had to be stamped with prices and what have you and so there was a lot of need for part time, young, help, cheap help, and, of course, they also delivered the groceries to people's car. People didn't carry their own groceries back in those days and that was part of the responsibility of the staff . . . [unintelligible].

Jonathan Dembo:

What did your father do for a living? And your mother?

Donald Lennon:

My father was actually with Armour Fertilizer Plant. In fact I reckon about four generations of our family not all of them but a big number of them were in the fertilizer business and my mother was a housewife. My father, when he finished school, had enrolled at what was then known as Buie's Creek Academy. It later became Campbell University and he was only there for a short period of time and he became homesick. He was a hypochondriac, so he managed to get sick after a couple of months at Campbell, so he went home and never went back to school again. My mother back in those days, and we're talking about prior to 1920 - 1918, 1919 - she . . . back in those days they had programs at the colleges for teacher training that you could take a summer session and get indoctrination as to how to teach and then you teach and then you go back to college during the summers, and what have you. I had an aunt who had done that. My mother was one of seven girls and so one of her older sisters did that and taught school all her career. And, as I said, Mamma came to East Carolina in the summer after she finished high school and took the program and went back and took a contract to teach in a little one-room country school that was in the real backwoods of Brunswick County and [Laughs] she used to say that it was the worst experience of her whole life. It was just horrible. She hated every minute of it and so she quit that at the first opportunity and as a result, she never when back to school again, because there wasn't much else for women to do other than to teach school in a professional position. She, I think, went to the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad, which was headquartered in Wilmington, the national headquarters, and worked there for a while until she and my father were married.

Jonathan Dembo:

What were your academic interests in high school? What were . . . ?

Donald Lennon:

History and English literature.

Jonathan Dembo:

What was it that particularly attracted you about History and English literature?

Donald Lennon:

Well, you have to keep in mind that I am from the Cape Fear and there's not a lot of an opportunity to survive in the Wilmington area without an interest in history. . . .

Jonathan Dembo:

That's true . . . I've been down there.

Donald Lennon:

So, that came as a natural. My family have been in Brunswick County for over . . just about . . my father's family was there by about 1743. And my mother's family originally drifted south from Connecticut and had holdings and lived for several generations farther up in North Carolina and drifted on down to the Cape Fear and were buying land by the 1790s. So, both sides of my family are 18th century North Carolina, Coastal North Carolina, residents. As far as literature was concerned, when I was in the 4th grade, the teacher that year, named Mrs. Forbes, was always encouraging us to read, and she gave us an assignment -- to some of the 4th grade -- in which we tried to see how many books we can read [during the summer].

Jonathan Dembo:

They're still doing that. [Laughs]

Donald Lennon:

And it's a good exercise [Laughs] and I read a lot of fiction and what have you and so it stayed with me. Some years later I got absorbed by Thomas Wolfe - the Thomas Wolfe, not Tom Wolfe - and I had quotations from Look Homeward, Angel [1929] and Of Time and the River [1935] and You Can't Go Home Again [1940] and other Wolfe books typed up and stuck on the walls in my bedroom, forever. They probably fell down from where I had them in the past 10 or 15 or 20 years.

Jonathan Dembo:

When did you graduate from high school?

Donald Lennon:

1956.

Jonathan Dembo:

And then you went to community college?

Donald Lennon:

I went to Wilmington College for two years.

Jonathan Dembo:

Tell me about that?

Donald Lennon:

Well, at that time, two community colleges had been established in North Carolina, Wilmington College and Charlotte College. I think they were established in 1948, something like that, it may be [unintelligible]. Later on Wilmington became UNC Wilmington and Charlotte College [established 1946] became UNC Charlotte [established in 1966]. At the time I was there, in '56-'58, it was in one big building -- in one fairly decent sized building, two-three stories, or something -- directly across the street behind the high school. [The college] was small but had some first rate faculty. It was a very good experience.

Jonathan Dembo:

What were your ambitions in doing that [i.e. attending Wilmington College]?

Donald Lennon:

Ah, it was doable.

Jonathan Dembo:

What were your goals for yourself in attending Wilmington? Were you heading for a job like your father's?

Donald Lennon:

Oh, no. No way.

Jonathan Dembo:

So, after graduating from there, after two years there, did you immediately transfer to ECU?

Donald Lennon:

When I was a senior in high school -- junior or senior year, one or the other - my class made a field trip to Greenville, a visit to East Carolina College, as it was known then. And, I found that very interesting and liked the campus, too. I actually ran into a cousin of mine who was here at school. And so it seems like the normal progression goes from there to here.

Jonathan Dembo:

And, uh, what was your . . . early impression of Greenville?

Donald Lennon:

Well, Greenville, of course, was a small town at the time. Back in those days there was very little in the way of scholarship money or loan money, so most of us worked on the side, and I transferred to the A & P, here in Greenville, in '58, and for the first . . . we were on the quarter system at the time . . . so for the first quarter I worked at the A & P here.

Jonathan Dembo:

Where was that located?

Donald Lennon:

It was at . . . on Dickinson Avenue, right where 10th runs into Dickinson. And there's a tire place there now. There's some carpet place [in the building that] used to be the old A & P. It was a small store. The manager was dreadful. He was just completely incompetent. You couldn't get enough hours working there to be any benefit to you at all and so at Christmas, when I was . . . Christmas or Thanksgiving, one or the other, when I was home I went into the old A & P, where I worked before, and they asked if I didn't want to come to work. And so I said "Well, I could go back to work on weekends if you wanted me to." And, so I could leave Greenville on Friday, as soon as I got out of class, go down there, work from then until 9 O'clock, Friday night, and then be back at the A & P at 7 o'clock on Saturday morning, work until 7, and make way more hours and way more money than I could staying here in Greenville and working the few hours that they would let me work at this A & P.

Jonathan Dembo:

That must have really ruined your social life?

Donald Lennon:

It did. It really did. Well that's the point I was getting to. It didn't allow much extra-curricular activities or social activities, at all, here in Greenville, because I was only here from Sunday to Friday, around Noon.

Jonathan Dembo:

Were you, again, interested in History? Is that what you still wanted to do?

Donald Lennon:

Yes. I would have preferred to have been in English Literature, something like that, but I didn't think I was a good enough writer to write novels. So History seemed to be more of a safe bet. At that time they did not have a degree in History. It was in Social Studies. So I was actually a Social Studies major and English minor.

Jonathan Dembo:

Over the years you were in graduate school were there any members of the faculty that you particularly remember?

Donald Lennon:

Oh, of course! And these are the same people that I've been most closely involved with when I came back as a faculty member years later. Herbert Paschal taught North Carolina History and he later would be chairman of the History Department for many, many years. He's the one who hired me. Joe Steelman, of course, and Lala Steelman his wife, are wonderful. Charles Price - Charlie Price - was one who had a strong influence on me. I was getting a BS degree and Herb Carlton taught methods and student teaching. And so I had methods and student teaching under Herb Carlton.

Jonathan Dembo:

Would you say that that's a historiography class or is it more attuned to teaching than to methods?

Donald Lennon:

It was teaching, yes. And he was really first rate. And he's still a very good friend to this day. I have lunch with a group of these men every month. Every month a group of us gets together.

Jonathan Dembo:

When did you first begin to think you could have a career as a college teacher?

Donald Lennon:

Ah, you see, I didn't come here as a college teacher. Well, I shouldn't have put it that way. After completing a degree here in 1960, I was offered a graduate fellowship. I looked for master's programs and I looked around a bit and actually communicated with Rice [University] thinking of where I wanted to go to school. But they offered me a fellowship here in the master's program, so I took the easy way out and did that.

Jonathan Dembo:

What were the classes -- the elective classes -- that you took in your master's program?

Donald Lennon:

Elective classes? Well, primarily, my master's thesis was on a colonial North Carolina topic. That was very important to my interest. I took all that I could get in the way of colonial [history] which wasn't a lot.

Jonathan Dembo:

Where did you find the resources?

Donald Lennon:

The North Carolina State Archives.

Jonathan Dembo:

Not here?

Donald Lennon:

[Laughing] No. I'm afraid not. Then Joe Steelman had a very good course in the Progressive Era, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. And Charlie Price had a great course in Economic History. And, uh, those were some of them.

Jonathan Dembo:

Do you remember any of your fellow students?

Donald Lennon:

Someone I did not know as a fellow student at the time but he was one year ahead of me in all of this was Fred Ragan. One of my class mates who was not a History major, he was a Math major, I still communicate with and talk to frequently. He lives in Florida. He taught math in Florida all of his career but he and I were very good friends. Years later one friend I had here as a student and I came together in Raleigh, when I was living in Raleigh, and wound up sharing an apartment part of the time I lived up there. There were others that I knew and that I was good friend with and some of which I have had occasional contact with in years since.

Jonathan Dembo:

When did you get your MA?

Donald Lennon:

I completed [it] at the end of fall quarter in 1961. We were still on the quarter system at that time. I had finished all the course work in '60-'61 and then spent the summer of '61, fall of '61 writing the thesis. I defended the thesis in December of '61.

Jonathan Dembo:

After you got your degree you must have immediately looked around for a position?

Donald Lennon:

No, I didn't. I had been in school so long, it seemed like, I was ready to get out of teaching. I had been offered a job in Edenton, teaching high school in Edenton, and by accepting that I could have been deferred from the draft [but] I applied with the Small Business Agency in the federal government and they offered me a job in Atlanta, but that would not be deferred, and so I knew I would be drafted out of the Small Business Agency very shortly after I went to Atlanta. So I thought it wasn't worth going through with. The simplest thing to do was to let them draft me because I had been deferred a couple of times while I was in school and the draft was a certain thing back in '61 and '62. So I was drafted in February of '62.

Jonathan Dembo:

Where did you spend your military service? Where did they send you for training?

Donald Lennon:

Fort Gordon, Georgia. Then I went to signal training, also at Fort Gordon. And, from there, I was shipped to Fort Bliss, Texas and spent a couple of months at Bliss and then shipped back to the East Coast to Fort Meade, Maryland. I was there for a short while, and from there [was] sent to Fort Eustis, in Virginia. Shortly after arriving at Fort Eustis, the Cuban Missile Crisis broke out and we were all flown to Miami, Florida, Fort Opa-locka, preparing for an immediate invasion of Cuba.

Jonathan Dembo:

Signal training? That covers a lot of territory. What was your specific training for?

Donald Lennon:

[Laughing] You won't believe this. [I] never, never, spent one day doing it after I got the training as a radio switchboard operator.

Jonathan Dembo:

A job that no longer exists?

Donald Lennon:

I'm sure it might not have existed back then because that was something of a joke. But I was with a movements control unit as a switchboard operator. When I was transferred from Fort Meade, Maryland to Fort Eustis, Virginia, reporting in to Fort Eustis, the staff sergeant who ran the office there, looked at our records, and there were three or four of us who were sent to the same unit at Eustis at the same time -- one of the people who I had been training with met me there -- and I remember that Sergeant Carter looked at our files and [said] "What in the hell do we need with a radio switchboard operator?" All four of us were radio switchboard operators. I hadn't had shorthand. I had typing and a masters' degree, so Sergeant Carter said "You are my morning reports clerk!" So I spent the rest of my military career in the office of the movements control unit.

Jonathan Dembo:

So you were in the Army from '62 to '64?

Donald Lennon:

Uh huh.

Jonathan Dembo:

And, uh, what did you do when you got out of the military?

Donald Lennon:

I got out of the military, in February 1964, went home, then went to Raleigh and applied for a job with the North Carolina State Archives. There were no vacancies. I was offered a job at New Bern High School teaching Civics; so I finished out that year teaching Civics at New Bern High School. In late April the State Archives called and offered me a summer job working in the Archives. They didn't have any slots to hire anyone permanent but they could give me a summer job and so I accepted that of course and signed the contract to go back to New Bern teaching in the fall. Before the school year had actually ended that spring [1964], H. G. Jones of the Archives called me and said that they had had a vacancy open up. I immediately prepared my resignation and carried it down to the principal's office and resigned again. [Laughing] So I resigned from New Bern High and prepared to go to Raleigh.

Jonathan Dembo:

So, you began in '63?

Donald Lennon:

'64, June of '64.

Jonathan Dembo:

And what was your job with the State Archives?

Donald Lennon:

A variety of things. Most of my work was with manuscript collections. Preparing finding aids, preparing them for use, organizing them, and all that goes into it. H. G. Jones, who was head, State Archivist, had me working on a project that was a national consortium of election returns for local and state races. Back in 18th and 19th centuries, there were few official election return records, so this project required the examination of all existing records, looking for election returns if they were printed in the newspapers back in the 18th and 19th centuries. So that was a major project.

Jonathan Dembo:

How long did you work for the State Archives?

Donald Lennon:

I was there for three years [1964-1967].

Jonathan Dembo:

Was that during the life of this project or did you do other things?

Donald Lennon:

Oh, no. I did other things. As I said, I organized collections, I prepared finding aids, I worked at the reference desk, and everything. That was just one project that Dr. Jones assigned to me that was very interesting and had more than just in-house use.

Jonathan Dembo:

So you must have left the State Archives in about 1965, then?

Donald Lennon:

No. I went there in '64 and left in '67.

Jonathan Dembo:

And, uh, that is about the time you were hired at ECU?

Donald Lennon:

It was when I was hired at ECU. The General Assembly was meeting every year and the State Archives recorded the Senate [sessions]. It was during the administration of Robert Scott. He was a good friend of H. G Jones's. They were like brothers in many ways, and so Governor Scott and H. G. worked out a program whereby the State Archives recorded sessions of the General Assembly . . ..

Jonathan Dembo:

Audio recordings?

Donald Lennon:

Yeah: Audio recordings of Senate sessions. It was the State Archives staff that was doing the recording and while I was not directly involved in it, from time to time I would go over there to observe what we were doing. When I went over one day Herb Paschal and, I don't know, Charlie Price and who else was there, observing, and Leo Jenkins was president of ECU or East Carolina [College, President, 1960-1972; Chancellor, 1972-1978]. He would send various faculty members to lobby the General Assembly and to "observe" what was going on at the General Assembly. Herb Paschal and the others were there observing the session. I forget what legislation was pending. It may have been University status for ECU, probably, at that time, and so Herb went down to the snack bar and Herb and Charlie and I don't know if Fred [Ragan] was with them or not. Those three were always together so it's a possibility. They waylaid me and Herb said they were trying to get a manuscript collection started at ECC and they had been given approval to hire a curator for the collection and they wanted to know if I would be interested in applying. They assured me that I would be the number one candidate. I later found out that that was because they couldn't get the person who they wanted. They wanted, I think, Gerald Ham from Wisconsin Historical Society, somebody like that, and he wasn't about to leave Wisconsin. A friend of mine from the State Archives, Paul Hoffman, had also been a possible candidate but Paul had gotten his undergraduate degree from Yale and had then gone to UVA [University of Virginia] and decided to skip his masters and go directly into the Ph.D. program. He just never quite finished his Ph.D. He only had the [baccalaureate] AB degree, and so they couldn't hire him here because he didn't have at least a masters. Anyway, that's how I came to be at East Carolina.

Jonathan Dembo:

Tell me about the early days of the manuscript collection. Where was it located physically? What type of materials did you have? When did you begin to collect?

Donald Lennon:

At that time, when I came in the fall of '67, they had, I want to say, 21 collections, 22 collections, and if you look at the first newsletter that I put out, the collections up to the Inglis Fletcher [Papers #21] are ones that came in before I arrived. I think it was 21. Inglis Fletcher's collection was number 21, I think. So that's what they had. Most of them are little, tiny, just a few items, some of them photocopies, a lot of them photocopies, and things like that, and then Inglis Fletcher's Papers. The Library had given us -- had given the History Department, rather, it was a History Department project - space in the Library building. The Library was not interested in it at all, but Wendell Smiley, who was the library director, was always a very accommodating, agreeable, supportive person. He had a couple of seminar rooms on the second floor of the East Wing of the Library that they weren't using, so he had given those to the History Department. And that was the manuscript collection: those two seminar rooms. They are still there. They're not overly large. That was it. No shelving. No furniture. Well, the furniture that they had moved in there were some old library tables and a few things like that.

Jonathan Dembo:

So, how did you go about acquiring collections? What was your organizing principle? What were you looking for?

Donald Lennon:

Well, when you start, when you have nothing, you are a lot less discriminating than you can afford to be when you have a mature program. And so, initially, primarily, what we were getting was North Carolina-related material, although it seems like there were a few small collections that we had gotten that had nothing at all to do with North Carolina. It seems that there was one that was from South Carolina, some ledger books, or something like that, and a few things of that nature, but you are less discriminating when you have nothing [unintelligible].

Jonathan Dembo:

How successful do you think you were in those early days in acquiring useful collections? Obviously Inglis Fletcher? What were some of the others?

Donald Lennon:

Elias Carr [Papers #160] was a magnificent collection. J. Y. Joyner [James Yadkin Joyner Papers #345]. I don't know. There were a lot of substantial collections that were very good that came our way during the early years.

Jonathan Dembo:

In those days did you do all the processing by yourself?

Donald Lennon:

The History Department provided some graduate students and that was the staff. Myself, and I was also teaching US History.

Jonathan Dembo:

What classes? What history classes did you teach?

Donald Lennon:

Initially, for the first year or two, I taught a US History Survey, freshman survey classes; and then after a couple of years, they moved me into teaching North Carolina and so from then on for several years I taught North Carolina History. Then, after several years, we, in consultation with Herb Paschal, primarily, he was interested in archival administration -- he had worked in the State Archives, himself, when he was a young man -- and he was interested in developing a program in the History Department for Archives Administration and so that's when the course, HIST 5910, was developed.

Jonathan Dembo:

So that was the first public history course?

Donald Lennon:

Yes.

Jonathan Dembo:

Tell me about your physical location at this time? Were your offices as well as the collection storage area in Joyner, what's now Joyner East?

Donald Lennon:

Yeah. [The two seminar rooms eventually became three rooms that served all purposes.] They gave me an office, in . . . . at that time the History Department was in Brewster Building, I'm sorry. . .

Donald Lennon:

It's in Brewster now.

Donald Lennon:

Oh, well I'm sorry, let me veer back. What is the name of it? New Austin. New Austin. And they tore down Old Austin. It was in New Austin Building. When Brewster was built, the History Department moved to Brewster. And I had an office over there for years but I used it very seldom and so eventually they needed that for other things.

Jonathan Dembo:

Well, so, you're teaching History 5910?

Donald Lennon:

One semester and North Carolina History the other semester.

Jonathan Dembo:

And it, but it wasn't officially a public history program at that time?

Donald Lennon:

Well, there was nothing called "Public History". There was no program but just that one course.

Jonathan Dembo:

So, at what point did a public history program begin to evolve?

Donald Lennon:

Well, that's something that I cannot answer. I remember us doing it but I don't know what year it was. It was whenever we hired John Tilley [to teach Museum Administration and Bill Still began his Underwater Archaeology Program].

Jonathan Dembo:

I know that they hired Tilley in the fall of 1983.

Donald Lennon:

OK, well Public History Program as such came into existence when we were able to expand from just Archives Administration, to Museum Administration and Underwater Archaeology.

Jonathan Dembo:

So, but were the decision to hire then had obvious consequences? What were the factors leading to hiring of John Tilley?

Donald Lennon:

Well, they wanted to offer Public History and you couldn't just do it with just one course in archives administration. You have to have more to offer than that and Museum Administration was a logical way to go with that. I may be mistaken in this, that it seems like for a year or so they, before they hired John, they approved the courses for Museum Administration and someone from the state archives would come down and teach it, come down once a week. I may be mistaken in that.



Jonathan Dembo:

You were saying . . . .?

Donald Lennon:

Until they could hire a person qualified to teach museum administration full time. And, uh, . ..

Jonathan Dembo:

What were the goals of the program? I mean, were they hoping . . . . . I doesn't seem that there have ever been more than 12 or 13 or 14 students in the program at any one time?

Donald Lennon:

Well, . . . .

Jonathan Dembo:

Is that what they expected?

Donald Lennon:

Yeah. You don't expect, in a specialized area like that, to bring in 150 students, for example. It's very selective. And part of the thinking behind that: a person getting a history degree, traditionally, people always say, "What can you do with a history degree other than teach?" and so they were trying to answer that question by showing that people with a history background do more than just teach. They work in archives and manuscripts, they work in museums, they work in historic sites, they [do] a variety of things.

Jonathan Dembo:

What kind of administration effort does having a public history program require? What does the faculty have to do to keep the program going? How do you recruit students for instance?

Donald Lennon:

Well, you recruit people based in being history majors. And, now, that was broadened a little bit with the Underwater Archaeology Program because that's multi-cultural and it's not just history per se, it brings in the archaeology aspect and archaeologists.

Jonathan Dembo:

Were both programs developed at the same time, or did Underwater Archaeology come later?

Donald Lennon:

Well, keep in mind that all of this is a gradual progression. And back when I first came to EC, the History Department was the leading department in the school. Leo Jenkins, [who] was anxious for a Ph.D. program, had earmarked the History Department to be one of the first departments to offer Ph.D's. Which, it didn't work out that way . . . at all.

Jonathan Dembo:

[There were] too many Ph.D's at the time?

Donald Lennon:

Well, uh, yeah. You get to a period that Ph.D. is in History weren't needed in the real world. And so, some of the sciences and the needs for the sciences kind of overwhelmed any of your social sciences.

Jonathan Dembo:

Can we . . . let's focus for a while on HISTORY 5910, Introduction to Archives and Historical Manuscripts? Please tell me about the way you taught that course, what kind of readings students had to do, what kind of exams and papers they had to write, and what kind of practical experience they got?

Donald Lennon:

OK. The course was broken down into I think it was three parts or four parts. I'm not quite sure at this point. When I got ready to retire I left all of my publications here in the collection and [I moved] all of my paperwork into the attic [at home] where no one would have any desire to dig through it just to see what courses looked like.

Jonathan Dembo:

Your memory has been good so far? Let's rely on that?

Donald Lennon:

The first two or three weeks of the course was devoted to archival history, with extensive readings in Ernest Posner and T. R. Schellenberg and some of the other archival innovators.

Jonathan Dembo:

Schellenberg [Modern Archives: Principles and Techniques (1956)] is still on my shelf right here? [Laughing]

Donald Lennon:

[Laughing] Is it? OK. So Posner and Schellenberg were the big names at that time. And H. G. Jones was very much involved in all the activities of the Society of American Archivists and what was going on on the national scene in archives administration. In fact, if I'm not mistaken, when the Society of American Archivists began to give . . . was it the Posner Award or was it the Schellenberg? - anyway it was an award for the best state archival program in the nation.

Jonathan Dembo:

I should know. I'm on the [Awards] Committee right now? But I couldn't tell you?

Donald Lennon:

North Carolina was the first state to win the award. And I used to know what the award was called. But North Carolina was the first state to receive that award for the best archival program in the country. [Note: The North Carolina Department of Archives and History won the Society of American Archivists' first Distinguished Service Award in 1964].

But there was extensive readings from Archives in the Ancient World, from Modern Archives Reader, Archives in the Public Interest, all of Posner's books, as well as Schellenberg's Modern Archives, and that provided the core of the course, not only of the archival history. The second segment of the course was Principles and Practice which covered several weeks. And, uh, all of this is just a [unintelligible] because I haven't been here in 15 years much less taught the course. The final several weeks of the course was a practicum. It varied what form that took. Some years it was probably simply a research paper. But more often than not it was practical experiences. The year that Martha Elmore was in the class was the year that . . . back until we established a University Archives [1982/1983] , the records of the University were stored - and you've heard this many times - on a concrete slab underneath Fleming Dorm [Fleming Residence Hall].

Jonathan Dembo:

Not the best conditions?

Donald Lennon:

Not the best conditions. Some of them were actually on the dirt instead of on the concrete slab. And so the class that year, when we were finally given authorization to get them out from there, was to inventory all that mountain of records that were just in boxes split open poured out on the concrete slab and some file cabinets, and just a mass of stuff, that had no rhyme or reason or organizational structure or anything else, and I'm sure that somewhere in the photographs here there are photographs of the students inventorying those records and pictures we took of the records as they were underneath that dorm on the slab. They were not, some of them were not in very good condition. It was probably remarkable how good a condition they actually were in. There was no organization. There was no indication of . . . What happened was that when they needed more space in the file cabinets up in the Administrative offices they would call the movers and tell them to put that stuff under Fleming Dorm and the movers would just basically move it down there and leave it. And nothing was organized. Nothing was in any kind of structure at all. And whenever they needed something, which happened frequently, whatever administrator needed a particular record would tell one of the secretaries "Go under Fleming Dorm and find me such and such a document." Sometimes they could find it. Sometimes they couldn't.

Jonathan Dembo:

Sometimes they probably put it back in the wrong place.

Donald Lennon:

Oh, yeah. Or never put it back at all. But, the practicum one year was to inventory all of that to see what was there. And, probably, another year was working toward preparing schedules for things, and what have you. Other years, I had them working manuscript collections that needed organizing and structure and what have you. So, the practicum varied from year to year as to what the need was and what experience they would benefit from.

Jonathan Dembo:

How did the program change over the years if it changed at all? Did some parts become more important and others less important? Did the, for example, the practicum become a bigger part of the program?

Donald Lennon:

I tried to keep, you know, I didn't feel they could do the practicum until they had some background. Until they knew something about the structure of how archives worked and the history of it. And, so I tried to keep those in place. Depending on the needs, there may have been more emphasis on the practicum in some years than in others.

Jonathan Dembo:

Between the time it was established in 1983 as a regular program and the time when you left in 2001?

Donald Lennon:

Well, I was out of it by May 1998.

Jonathan Dembo:

Well, but you were here?

Donald Lennon:

I was here but I was not involved with it [i.e. public history program].

Jonathan Dembo:

1998. During that time do you recall any particular crises or events that occurred that threatened the existence of the program?

Donald Lennon:

Uh.

Jonathan Dembo:

Or was it pretty solid and stable and there was never any doubt that it would continue on?

Donald Lennon:

I don't think there was ever any serious threat. One thing that I have told many times but I shouldn't be re-telling it but I won't use names this time but I . . . before the University Archives came into being officially [unintelligible] we were trying to get approval to move the records out from underneath Fleming Hall and also begging for a University Archivist. We requested an archival program in every annual report from probably around 1969, 1969-1970, somewhere along there.

Jonathan Dembo:

Was that the History Department, or the Library, at this point?

Donald Lennon:

It was in the Manuscript Collection's annual report. The Manuscript Collection was part of the History Department until I reckon 1975 or '76 and then I personally remained part of the History Department even after the Manuscript Collection officially became part of the Library.

Jonathan Dembo:

Do you remember when that was? When you officially became part of the Library?

Donald Lennon:

The Manuscript Collection? 1975 or '76. That's when we moved onto the first floor of the Library. But the story I was going to tell was back in that time when we were agitating, begging and pleading, trying to get recognition for an archival program, the top administrator on this campus said "There is nothing with less priority on this campus then a University Archives. We don't need it. We have access to the records whenever we need them. We can get anything we want. We don't need a University Archives." And I'm not talking about somebody in History. I'm talking about the University Chancellor.

Jonathan Dembo:

What changed his mind? Or was it changed for him?

Donald Lennon:

The chancellors changed, changed in office. [Laughing] And, so there's always a gradual [evolution].

Jonathan Dembo:

Who was the first University Archivist to be hired? And When?

Donald Lennon:

The first University Archivist, well here again, that's kind of a . . . Back in, I need a date, around 1978, I'm guessing, I managed to get a couple of grants, one from the Z. Smith Foundation and a federal grant . . .

Jonathan Dembo:

NHPRC [National Historical Publications and Records Commission], probably?

Donald Lennon:

NHPRC, thank you. And, with those we hired Maury York [Maurice C. York], in a temporary slot. He worked on the Inglis Fletcher Papers and a couple of other collections. And then we hired Dennis [Dennis Roger Lawson, 21 November 1977 - 31 March 1980] . . . [to work on University Archives].

Donald Lennon:

. . . The idea -- in my head at least -- was that Maury would become the Manuscript Curator and Dennis would become the University Archivist. Well, when the grants ran out, we were trying to get more money. Getting support from the University, or anywhere else was very problematic. I know that at one time a supporter, a faculty member in Political Science, who was on the Manuscript Committee Si Sugg [H. A. I. "Si" Sugg], provided money to keep one of them employed for several months out of his pocket and, uh, one time we resorted to using regular graduate fellowship money to keep one of them employed part time. We played a shell game. And so finally when we got some money, Dennis said he wasn't interested. He was going to move on. He was tired of this having to do without payment at all, you know, including putting him on leave for a few weeks, trying to scrabble together some money from somewhere. Money was not easy to come by back in those days at all. There was very little money and it was not easy to come by. But Dennis wound up as archivist / records manager for Duke Power Company and spent the rest of his career there. And, uh, the first actual University Archivist would have been Morgan J. Barclay [ECU University Archivist 14 March 1983 - 2 December 1991].

Jonathan Dembo:

When was he hired?

Donald Lennon:

I don't know off the top of my head. I couldn't tell you.

Jonathan Dembo:

And was it located in the same place as the Manuscript Collection?

Donald Lennon:

Yeah. Oh, Yeah. It's always been in the Manuscript Collection. It's always been part of the same structure. Morgan became the first University Archivist and he was with us for some years. And when he left Gene Williams [Gene Jerome Williams, University Archivist, 1 August 1992 - 29 November 1996] was hired.

Jonathan Dembo:

That would have been in the mid-1990s? [Editor's note: Williams was succeeded as University Archivist by Suellyn Lathrop, 1 August 1997 - 28 September 2007; then by Kacy Guill, 1 August 2008-.]

Donald Lennon:

Probably. Now, one other old fact that needs to be included in that was Martha Elmore started here as an undergraduate student assistant working on self-help. In her years since then, she has held every position that Special Collections had to offer, except mine. [Laughing] That's the only one that I know of that she did not serve in. She was Acting University Archivist at one time, I think the record will show; Manuscript Curator two or three times. . . .

Jonathan Dembo:

So, let's . . . .

Donald Lennon:

on a short-term basis.

Jonathan Dembo:

When did you officially move from the History Department to the Library?

Donald Lennon:

Me, personally?

Jonathan Dembo:

Yes, your . . . your position?

Donald Lennon:

My position?

Jonathan Dembo:

If not exactly, approximately?

Donald Lennon:

I'm going to say, going to guess, around '92, somewhere in there, in the early '90s.

Jonathan Dembo:

At that time from what I have heard it seems like most of the public history programs were taught by History Department faculty? Today, of course, it seems like most of the courses are taught by adjunct or visiting faculty, and uh, people like myself who are in other departments?

Donald Lennon:

Who's teaching the Museum Administration course?

Jonathan Dembo:

That would be [John] Tilley, I believe?

Donald Lennon:

Well, Tilley's retiring.

Jonathan Dembo:

Well, he's still . . . he's got three more years! He's doing [phased retirement].

Donald Lennon:

He's doing phased retirement.

Jonathan Dembo:

. . . . like you? He's just started that?

Donald Lennon:

You probably told me that.

Jonathan Dembo:

He's just started that.

Donald Lennon:

I run into John from time to time, in the grocery store or somewhere like that.

Jonathan Dembo:

Right. But there . . . the one faculty member you told me about, the person from the State Archives who drove here once a week, it seems like it's more common now than it was then? Do you have any impression when that was? When that occurred?

Donald Lennon:

I just have a vague recollection that they did that for a year or two before they hired John Tilley.

Jonathan Dembo:

Um. It seems to me that aside from . . . since you left, there's really only been one significant change in the Department, that we have stopped giving the Public Program [i.e. Public History] degree and it's been merged in with the general History degree with the addition of the language requirement for all History majors and the . . . did, in the time before that, were there any significant changes in like that in the program, changes in the requirements for the degree?

Donald Lennon:

Not that I'm aware of. It's possible, but if so that was handled by the Curriculum Committee in the History Department. It was not something that I was too directly involved in, I don't think, beyond when we set up the Archives Administration course.

Jonathan Dembo:

From you impressions of the changes that have occurred in the Library and the History Department Public History Program since you left, do you have any predictions for the future?

Donald Lennon:

I don't know. I don't know anything that's happened since I left. I've been completely outside of the loop on any of this. The only time I ever hear anything about the Library is if I . . . .happen to run into someone and we start talking about the Library, or something like that. And, uh, it happens [unintelligible]

Jonathan Dembo:

OK. No predictions is good predictions! [Laughing] I want to thank you for taking the time to come in and talk to me and do this interview. If you have any further comments or questions?

Donald Lennon:

I had one question about good students.

Jonathan Dembo:

Yes. Did you have any notable students? Please feel free to list them.

Donald Lennon:

There were one or two. Students taking the archives course: One lady came here specifically because she wanted Archives 5910. That's the only reason she enrolled at East Carolina, according to what she told me. And she went on to work at the National Archives and spent her entire career at the National Archives after that and rose to a pretty high level in the structure there. I used to see her occasionally when I was in Washington. Fred Ragan and some of us would go up on research trips and we'd always make a point of having [lunch] with her [unintelligible].

Jonathan Dembo:

I've had a number of similar experiences.

Donald Lennon:

I'm sure she's long retired by now.

Jonathan Dembo:

Well, I have had a number of students, from when I've taught the Archives course, that are currently employed as archivists all around North Carolina. I would say a dozen or more.

Donald Lennon:

We had quite a few at the State Archives that got jobs at the State Archives and at Historic Sites. One student, who was before your time entirely, a young lady, who was one of the Maritime Students, one of Parkerson's [Prof. Donald H. Parkerson, History Department] students, who spent more [time] working up here than she did on maritime projects and she was Ann Merriman, she would have stayed around if we could have found a job for her. She would never have left. But she married one of the other maritime students [Editor's note: Christopher Olson] and they, for some years now, have operated a maritime program in Minnesota, near St. Paul [Editor's note: Maritime Heritage Minnesota, established 2005], and they constantly send updates of what is going on with them. She finally finished her Ph.D. and her doctoral dissertation on Egyptian boat models [Editor's note: Her Ph.D. in Maritime Egyptology, entitled Egyptian Watercraft Models from the Predynastic to Third Intermediate Periods, is from the Institute of Archaeology, University College London]. She got that finished last year after all kinds of bumps, problems, and complications. Brilliant girl! They operate their own organization up there, I reckon, entirely on grant money and things like that because they're constantly getting grants. She was one who really merged her archives, manuscripts, and underwater skills.

Jonathan Dembo:

Well, I thank you very much. I thank you for taking the time to come down and talking with us. We appreciate it.

END

Transcriber:

Date:


Title
Don Lennon oral history interview, July 17, 2013
Description
Interview features East Carolina University professor Donald Lennon. Don Lennon was a longtime director of the East Carolina Manuscript Collection and Coordinator of Special Collections. Born in Brunswick County, North Carolina, he attended junior college in Wilmington, NC before completing his studies at East Carolina College. He taught school and worked in the North Carolina state archives before returning to East Carolina to assist with the creation of a historical manuscript collection. His experiences as a faculty member, head of Joyner Library Special Collections Department, and a citizen of eastern North Carolina are included. Interviewer: Dr. Jonathan Dembo.
Date
July 17, 2013
Original Format
oral histories
Extent
Local Identifier
UA95.01
Creator(s)
Contributor(s)
Subject(s)
Spatial
Rights
This item has been made available for use in research, teaching, and private study. Researchers are responsible for using these materials in accordance with Title 17 of the United States Code and any other applicable statutes. If you are the creator or copyright holder of this item and would like it removed, please contact us at als_digitalcollections@ecu.edu.
http://rightsstatements.org/vocab/InC-EDU/1.0/

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