Collection (1802-2008) of two East Carolina University history professors, includes their academic works, historical reviews, correspondence with various organizations of educational, historical, political, and philanthropic persuasions. Also includes family files on Steelman and Edmisten families, plus large collection of familial correspondence.
Dr. Joseph Flake Steelman was a longtime faculty member of the History Department at East Carolina University where he was instrumental in creating the Master's Degree Program in History and the East Carolina Manuscript Collection. Born in Moravian Falls, North Carolina, to Joseph Sankey Steelman (1887-1983) and Gertrude née Edmisten (1982-1965), he was the eldest of three, his two brothers being Hoke Hayes Steelman and John Britt Steelman. His father was a farmer and his mother a schoolteacher. He completed his undergraduate education in history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1943. He then was recruited into the United States Army Specialized Training Program for foreign language skills. After his honorable discharge from the US Army in 1946, Steelman returned to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to complete a doctorate in history. He then went on to teach at Cortland State College, now SUNY at Cortland, in New York. In 1959, he came to what was then East Carolina College as a professor of history; he retired in 1985 as Professor Emeritus of History. Dr. Joseph Steelman passed away on January 21, 2015 at the age of 92.
Dr. Lala Carr Steelman was born in 1926 in Milledgeville, Georgia, to Iverson Curry Carr and Ruth A. Hardie Carr. She attended Georgia State College for Women (now Georgia College) and received her M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in history for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In 1955 she became an assistant professor of history at East Carolina College (now East Carolina University) where she taught for the next thirty years before retiring as a Professor Emeritus of History. After a short illness, Dr. Lala Carr Steelman passed away on May 13, 1998.
Joseph Flake Steelman married Lala Carr on August 30, 1947. They had two children, both named for their parents. A daughter, Lala Carr Steelman II, and a son Joseph Flake Steelman Jr. known as Joey. Joey was killed in an electrical accident in New Bern, North Carolina, in 1969.
This third addition (encompassing boxes 23 through 35 and oversize folder os3) is predominately the correspondence of Dr. Joseph Flake Steelman from 1939 to 2001, but also includes some genealogical information on the Edmisten and McNeil families consisting of birth and marriage records from 1809 to 1920. The academic, employment and financial records of Drs. Joseph Flake and Lala Carr Steelman from 1930-2001 are also included in the series titled Steelman Family Records. The Drs. Steelman were also great travelers and theatre goers, and their itineraries, programs, and other ephemera are also included in the series Ephemera. Within this series are many reproductions of British and German land and cityscapes from the 1930's. Several of the prints were removed from guidebooks that Dr. Joseph Steelman came upon during his army service in Germany during World War II. They also include handwritten notes by Dr. Joseph Steelman describing the destruction of many landmarks pictured.
Dr. Joseph Flake Steelman was a long-time tenured faculty member of the History Department at East Carolina University. His research on western North Carolina railroad creation and expansion in the first quarter of the twentieth century is included in the series titled Academic Research Projects.
The final two series consist of correspondence. The first, Dr. Joseph Steelman's WWII correspondence, is further divided by author and recipient. The second series of correspondence is divided into subseries by decade, and includes letters for both Drs. Steelman. A prolific writer of letters, Dr. Steelman's prodigious collection of his correspondence covers a wealth of topics. Most noteworthy are his letters from 1943 to 1946, when he was enlisted in the United States Army. Recruited out of college at UNC-Chapel Hill, the not-yet Dr. Steelman, was sent to bootcamp for six weeks in the summer of 1943 at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. Upon the completion of bootcamp, Steelman was posted to Kessler Field in Biloxi, Mississippi, with the US Army Specialized Training Program and promoted to Private First Class. By October of 1943, he was enrolled in classes at the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) in Oxford, Mississippi, and then to Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana, from December 1943 to September 1944. Already considered fluent in French, Steelman was undergoing language immersion in Finnish and German. In late September of 1944, Steelman was posted back to a military base in preparation for overseas deployment. In January of 1945 he left Fort Benning, Georgia, attached to the 271st Engineer Combat Battalion, to join his fellow servicemen in France. In a letter to his brother, Britt, Steelman gave a code that he would use to tell his family his location when it was impossible to outright state his location due to censorship. Unfortunately, only one letter to his parents in January of 1945 contains the code.
As a trained historian, Steelman was acutely aware of his living in the midst of history, and as such he took great pains to be a recorded witness. He documents his surroundings, impressions, and anecdotal stories, often by writing multiple letters a day. Though Steelman was attached to both the Third and Seventh Armies who were blitzing through the Nazi defenses in France, Germany, and Austria during the last months of the war, he was not a member of the infantry and in his own words "did not fire his gun once" (May 9, 1945), however he does offer accounts of several skirmishes he witnessed. In letters to his brother Britt on April 28, 1945, he gives an account of Nazi regular troops trying to surrender to the Allies but being gunned down by the Schutzstaffel (SS).
On May 8, 1945, what remained of the Axis powers surrendered. Deep in Austria, Steelman recounts how this news was delivered to them by Soviet troops who had approached from the east. Of interest is how his recollection of these events change, in his original letters to his parents and brothers he speaks of how young the Soviets seemed in comparison to the American troops. In regards to the Soviets, however when reminiscing in a letter to his daughter, Lala in 1995, after living through the Cold War, he recalls them as harsh and brutish.
Steelman was now a member of an occupying army. He takes great pains to describe the attitudes of not only his fellow servicemen, but Germans, and refugees as well. In a letter to his parents in August 5, 1945 he compares Germany to the post-1865 South with the general sense of 'helplessness'. Steelman uses refugees and displaced persons as interchangeable terms and as references to both Germans fleeing the encroaching the Soviet Army, the Eastern Europeans displaced by the Germans, and the Jewish populations liberated from the concentration camps. (April 5, 1945)
His letters are littered with references to the attitudes of the American troops, the general concerns of the men, and their living conditions. Of special note, while in Kremsmünster, Germany, he mentions an army unit of "curators of art" who were tasked with "preserving the treasures of Europe." He explains that they met them because the soldiers were billeted in a medieval Benedictine Monastery that was filled with priceless treasures. (June 1, 1945)
Until the Japanese surrender in August, Steelman reports all the rumors he has heard, probably because his younger brother Hoke is being sent to the Pacific Theatre. On July 30, 1945, he knows that something is being planned to force the Japanese into unconditional surrender. The following week he reports rumors of a proposed 'final blow' to Japan. (August 6, 1945) After the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Steelman gave his reactions as "like walking out on a mountain and seeing new horizons" in a letter to his parents dated August 8, 1945.
After the Japanese surrender, Steelman began to focus on what to do when he returned home. Taking his Uncle Elisha's advice he took advantage of military programs for education and spent some time in Liverpool, England. While on leave, he took jaunts to Edinburgh, Paris, Rome, and Switzerland. He would finally be honorably discharged from the United States Army and return home in February of 1946.
Steelman's letters to his brother Hoke, who was a non-flier in the Army Air Force, are just as informative as the letters to his parents, but in a more relaxed tone. He gives his brother practical advice on what extras to pack for deployment. (March 20, 1945) Though Hoke Steelman would not see active combat as Japan surrendered while he was en route to the Pacific Theatre, Joseph Steelman who was already a member of an occupying force in Europe, gave the sage advice that the most dangerous thing in an occupation was the trigger happy new recruits. (April 5, 1945) In the more relaxed tone between the brothers, Joseph's description of VE and VJ celebrations in Europe are elaborated on a bit more fully, as well as the rampant fraternization that the soldiers all took part in even though it was forbidden. (May 1945)
Hoke's letters to Joe are not as numerous, but his reactions to VJ Day aboard a transport ship and the general impressions of Leyte, Philippines and Sapporo, Japan, are well documented. By November of 1945, Hoke was working as the Chief Clerk of the Judge Advocate General Department with the 77th Infantry Division.
Aside from letters to and from his family, Steelman also received a great deal of post from friends both civilian and military. Letters from fellow service men out of Indiana University, John Taylor and Ken Ahola, who were posted to China with the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), are particularly informative on the oft overlooked Chinese element in World War II. Taylor, in Kunming, China, elaborates on the situation in the interior including Nationalist fighting and localized skirmishes. He also gives a descriptive account of the Chinese celebration of VJ Day (1945). Ahola gives an in-depth account of the mobilization/demobilization of US troops to and from China via India, as well as his impressions of Shanghai. He describes the 'depravity' of the city and the soldiers, the massive shortages, and the extensive and dangerous black-market.
Returning to the United States, Steelman stayed in contact with his Welsh friend, Elisabeth 'Beti' Griffiths, whose accounts of daily life in post-war England illustrate how disastrous the war and the end of the Lend-Lease Agreement had been to Great Britain.
By August 1947, Steelman had married Lala Carr when they were both attending university to finish their doctorates in history. Steelman attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Lala attended Georgia College in Milledgeville, Georgia. Their separation witnessed a great surge in letter writing. While most of the correspondence falls into the territory of love letters, in 1948 they discuss the recent outbreak of polio in the United States, and the concerns and precaution that medical institutions distributed.
After 1946, the collection's correspondence is organized by year. The Drs. Steelman were both very political and were registered members of the Democratic Party. Election years contain his letters giving his opinions on the candidates, as well as the popular issues of the time. The breaking of the Watergate scandal and the successive congressional hearings were followed closely and commented on. He went to many Democratic conventions and attended several inaugurations as well. In a 1992 letter to his daughter, Lala, he relays his meeting with and subsequent conversation with Hilary Rodham Clinton, while at a political rally for the Clinton/Gore ticket. The Lewinsky Scandal of 1998 is not mentioned in much detail by Steelman, as his wife, Lala, passed away suddenly that May.
The oversized folder contains several maps of German towns, including one of Höchstädt, Germany, that Steelman annotated and has a letter dated July 14, 1945 on the reverse.
Gift of Joseph F. Steelman
Encoded by Mark Custer, January 4, 2008
Partial processing completed by Samantha Sheffield, April 15, 2016
Literary rights to specific documents are retained by the authors or their descendants in accordance with U.S. copyright law.