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50 Years/50 Collections: The Marr-McGee Family Papers

This week we turn the spotlight to the Marr-McGee Family Papers, a collection that first arrived at the Amistad Research Center in 1971 and was subsequently expanded and developed through the end of the 20th century. This collection documents the rich lives of Warren Marr II; his wife, Carmel Carrington Marr; and his sister, Grace Marr Nugent. Guided by a desire to collect and share African American history, the Marr family played an instrumental role in the founding of the Amistad Research Center in 1966. Warren served as the Executive Director of Friends of Amistad, and in an effort to preserve the legacy of the Amistad Event, helped found the Amistad Affiliates and the creation of a replica of the schooner La Amistad. Warren sadly passed away in 2010 after devoting a large portion of his life to cultivating the legacy of African American history and culture.

The Marr-McGee collection is notable for its depth and richness of material that traces the lives of Marr family members as activists and entrepreneurs in the late 20th century. Warren’s accomplishments as a writer, photographer, and cultural promoter feature prominently in the collection. A true renaissance man during a time of great political and social upheaval in the United States, Warren left an indelible impact on the world of American cultural arts. Not only does the Amistad serve as a repository for his remarkable photography series “Gateway for Freedom,” showcasing the uniqueness of African American student life at six American Missionary Association colleges, but also houses his correspondence with noted cultural and political figures such as Harlem Renaissance poet Bruce Nugent, singers Cindy Lou and William Veasey, and Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.

The materials related to Carmel Carrington Marr and Grace Nugent Marr document their prolific careers. Carmel was an attorney, community activist, and energy consultant. She worked extensively in public service and was a legal advisor to the U.S. Mission of the United Nations. Grace Nugent Marr rose to prominence through her position as the first African American nurse to hold the position of instructor at Teachers College, Columbia University, and through her founding of “Operation Democracy,” a program designed to attain the “universal acceptance and understanding of people of all races and cultures.”

Beyond the extensive number of materials from the lives of Warren, Carmel, and Grace are documents probing the far-reaching genealogy of the Marr-McGee family. Throughout his life, Warren appointed himself the unofficial family historian and the Marr-McGee papers feature original and secondary materials that trace both the African American and Caucasian branches of the Marr family back to his great-great-grandparents John Quincy Marr, the first Confederate casualty of the Civil War and, Eliza Nickens, his Cherokee mistress. Of particular note are Warren’s publications on his family’s history titled, Genealogy of the Marr Family in the United States, The Marr Family: What Do We Know?, and The McGee Family: Mid-1800 to 1994. The comprehensive collection of family papers reflects Warren Marr II’s dedication to the preservation and dissemination of African-American history, and for that virtuous motivation the Amistad Research Center is greatly indebted.

The finding aid for the Marr-McGee papers can be found here.


Images from the Marr Family papers. Images from Amistad’s website, newsletters, and blogs cannot be reproduced without permission.

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