Today in History

Today in History: May 3

A Couple of Kansans

William Inge
Portrait of William Inge,
Carl Van Vechten, photographer, September 4, 1954.
Creative Americans: Portraits by Van Vechten, 1932-1964

Gordon Parks in an office
Gordon Parks, circa 1943.
FSA/OWI Black-and-White Photographs

Playwright William M. Inge was born in Independence, Kansas on May 3, 1913. Inge wrote several hit plays including Come Back, Little Sheba, Bus Stop, and Picnic, for which he won a Pulitzer Prize. His first play, Farther Off From Heaven (1947), was revised ten years later for Broadway as The Dark at the Top of the Stairs. Many of his plays were made into films and, in 1961, Inge won an Academy Award for his original screenplay Splendor in the Grass.

Photographer Gordon Parks was a contemporary of William Inge. He was born less than six months prior to Inge on November 30, 1912 in Kansas. He also pursued a career in the arts.  Parks began taking photographs during the Great Depression and was earning his living as a self-taught fashion photographer by 1940. A fellowship allowed him to come to Washington, D.C., in 1942 and work for the Farm Security Administration. Working through the medium of photography, Parks went on to become one of America's finest social commentators. His autobiography, A Choice of Weapons, was published in 1965.

Government Charwoman
Government Charwoman

corner store
Corner Store Which Is Patronized by Mrs. Ella Watson, a Government Charwoman

Mrs. Ella Watson, a Government Charwoman, Receiving Annointment
Mrs. Ella Watson, a Government Charwoman, Receiving Annointment from Reverend Clara Smith…

Adopted Daughter of Mrs. Ella Watson
Adopted Daughter of Mrs. Ella Watson, a Government Charwoman

Gordon Parks, photographer. Washington, D.C., August 1942.
America from the Great Depression to World War II: Black-and-White Photographs from the FSA-OWI, 1935-1945


Wild Banana Plants
Wild Banana Plants, Jamaica, West Indies, copyright ca. 1901.
Touring Turn-of-the-Century America, 1880-1920

On May 3, 1494, Christopher Columbus sighted the island of Jamaica. Spanish colonists settled the island fifteen years later, and it fell into British hands in 1655. Although the Spanish introduced slavery to Jamaica, the British oversaw its development. By the end of the eighteenth century, Jamaica was one of the most valuable colonies in the world, its profitable plantation economy based on the production of sugar through the labor of African slaves.

Some measure of the human cost of this economy is apparent in African Slave Trade in Jamaica, and Comparative Treatment of Slaves, an essay read before the Maryland Historical Society in October 1854. In this treatise, which includes a statistical comparison of the cost of slavery in the United States and Jamaica, Moses Sheppard attempts to undercut British criticisms of American slavery by emphasizing Britain's role in the introduction of slavery to the Americas and by recounting British atrocities in Jamaica. Sheppard's essay is featured in African American Perspectives, 1818-1907; to locate more documents on this subject, search the collection on slave trade.

Folklorist, author, and anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston collected material in both Jamaica and Haiti for her 1938 book Tell My Horse. In addition to her independent research, Hurston also worked closely with John and Ruby Lomax and others in the Southern U.S. capturing the voices of everyday folks. A description of the Hurston material available in the Library's Folklore Collection gives an indication of Hurston's broad range of skills.

A smiling Zora Neale Hurston
Zora Neale Hurston,
Alan Lomax, photographer, Eatonville, Florida, 1935.
"The Harlem Renaissance and the Flowering of Creativity" in African American Odyssey: A Quest for Full Citizenship

Jamaica gained its independence from England in 1962 but remains a member of the British commonwealth. The U.S. has long been one of Jamaica's principal trading partners.