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50 Years/50 Collections: William J. and Bernice McSweeney Papers, 2010

William J. and Bernice McSweeney, circa 1959-1960.

In recent years, Amistad’s holdings related to the United States’ interactions with the continent of Africa have become a much sought after aspect of the Center’s collections. Students, scholars, filmmakers, government officials, and alumni of development and cultural organizations that worked in various African countries have all sought access to Amistad’s archival and library sources on this topic. As Amistad has expanded access to its collections, we have realized that this topic is indeed a true strength of the Center’s collections.

Africana-related holdings at Amistad include missionary records related to the establishment of the Mendi Mission in Sierra Leone in the 1840s, as well as the Galangue Mission in Angola in the 1920s. James H. Robinson’s interest in cross-cultural interactions through the development of Operation Crossroads Africa (OCA) are seen in the records of OCA, as well as Robinson’s personal papers, and those of participants Martin Luther Harvey and Peggy Fleming. Efforts to educate the U.S. populace and policymakers about issues of apartheid, anti-colonialism, and divestment campaigns are extensively documented in the records of the American Committee on Africa, The Africa Fund, and the Campaign to Oppose Bank Loans to South Africa. Travel, politics, activism, and development issues are well covered in various other collections.

One of the most recently acquired collections related to U.S.-Africa interactions are the papers of William J. and Bernice McSweeney. The collection was donated by the McSweeney’s daughter, New Orleans poet, Lee Grue in 2010. The McSweeneys lived and taught in Uganda during the late 1950s and early 1960s while taking part in a Trades and Technical Institute program sponsored by the International Cooperation Administration, which was the precursor to USAID. Mr. McSweeney taught at Delgado Community College in New Orleans, the institution through which the McSweeneys participated in the educational program. Working at the Kampala Technical Institute, William taught basic electricity while Bernice taught sewing.

Final issue of the I.C.A. Star, a publication of the Kampala Technical Institute.

The collection consists of correspondence, photographs, two scrapbooks of news clippings, receipts, and printed ephemera. The correspondence is mostly from the McSweeneys to their daughters, Alice and Ann Lee, in New Orleans. Photographs and printed ephemera document students and teachers at the Kampala Technical Institute, while the scrapbooks concern a visit by Queen Elizabeth to Uganda, as well as the formation of the Uganda National Movement and its trade boycott of Asian and European-owned shops in 1959 and 1960. Also present are seven 8mm films of footage taken by the McSweeneys during their time in Africa and during other travels. Moving image footage includes urban and rural scenes in Uganda, Kenya, and Zanzibar (specific locations include: Kampala and Masindi in Uganda, Kaptagat and the Nairobi National Park in Kenya, and Zanzibar Town on Zanzibar); African wildlife; African youth dancing; and a track and field competition.

The collection not only documents the personal experiences of William and Bernice, but the political climate of Uganda in an era where the country moved from a British protectorate to an independent nation. The accession record for the William J. and Bernice McSweeney papers can be found here.

William McSweeney’s students at the Institute.

Images from the William J. and Bernice McSweeney papers. Amistad’s images from its website, newsletters, and blogs cannot be reproduced without permission.

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