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50 Years/50 Collections: The Peggy Fleming Papers, 2013

Members of the 1961 OCA team in Enugu, Nigeria. Peggy Fleming is third from right in the front row.

This blog post marks the last month of Amistad’s “50 Years/50 Collections” blog series. The series has met with an overwhelming response and we thank all of our readers who wrote to communicate their interest in the series and Amistad’s wonderful collections. However, selecting one collection to highlight from each year wasn’t easy! In trying to find a balance between collection themes, formats, etc., we had to choose some collections over others.

Personally, some of my favorite collections at Amistad pertain to U.S. policy and engagement with the African continent. The records of the American Committee on Africa and Operation Crossroads Africa, as well as the personal papers of individuals who worked with those two organizations, are some of the mostly frequently consulted collections at the Amistad Research Center, but they haven’t been featured in this blog series until now.

So, it is with great pleasure that we highlight the newest collection pertaining to the history and legacy of Operation Crossroads Africa (OCA) – the papers of Peggy Fleming, which were donated to the Center beginning in 2013.

Peggy Fleming is a Washington, DC-based photographer who formerly worked in the Civil Rights Division in the administration of President John F. Kennedy and with the National Park Service. At the time of her participation with OCA, Fleming was employed in President Kennedy's White House under Harris Wofford, who was working with Sargent Shriver to establish the foundation of the Peace Corps. When OCA founder James H. Robinson visited the White House to talk about his organization, Wofford suggested that Fleming participate in the OCA Overseas Youth Program for the summer to learn more about it.

The Peggy Fleming Papers document her participation in an OCA-sponsored trip to Nigeria in 1961. Established in 1958, Dr. Robinson – an influential clergyman and community activist based out of Harlem – foresaw Operation Crossroads Africa as a “clear, honest, hard-hitting program” in which young North Americans would work at the grassroots level with young Africans. OCA’s chief program was (and remains) the summer service program, which has sent over 11,000 young people to Africa to engage in community and public works projects in over thirty countries throughout the continent. The 1961 Nigeria team was divided into three groups, with Fleming’s group working on the construction of a path and steps leading to the water supply for the town of Achina.

Front cover of the report on OCA’s activities in 1961.

The collection consists of photographs, correspondence, notes, newspaper clippings, reports, and various ephemera received and collected by Fleming during her trip. Of special note is Fleming’s 119-page travel journal she kept during her time with OCA. It documents the everyday life of Fleming and her OCA team in and around Achina, their travels throughout the country, and their encounters and interactions with Nigerians.

Fleming’s papers not only reflect her experience with Operation Crossroads Africa and the organization’s program in Nigeria, but offers insight into the influence of OCA on the formation of the Peace Corps. Her papers have joined the records of OCA, as well as the personal papers of its found, Dr. Robinson, and fellow OCA alumni Charlotte and David Brown and Martin Harvey at the Amistad Research Center.

Images from the Peggy Fleming Papers. Images from the Amistad’s website, newsletters, and blogs cannot be reproduced without permission.

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