In February of 2016, the author Max Geier came to OSU to give a book talk about his recently published book, The Color of Night: Race, Railroaders, and Murder in the Wartime West – the OMA was in the process of making a collection of Oregon African American Railroad Porters oral histories available, and Geier’s new book was a perfect compliment to the rich content within the collection. In the spring of 2016, Geier donated the research files he used to write The Color of Night, and during fall term of that year, an intern named Cody Hess processed the collection, which is now available to the public!
Below is Cody’s reflection about his internship and the work he completed:
“One of the first things I did upon moving to Corvallis this fall was seek out an opportunity to work in the Oregon State University Special Collections and Archives Research Center (SCARC). My interest in library science was piqued while an undergraduate and was nurtured throughout years of recreational research, stack scanning, and adventures in state, university, and county archives.
It was in Southern Oregon that I decided to gain practical experience in the library science discipline, and I soon began interning at the Special Collections and University Archives at Southern Oregon University. There, I helped create a finding aid for a collection of records and documents related to the Warm Springs tribe and other Native American communities within Central and Southern Oregon. Having enjoyed the experience and the subject matter, I was excited when an opportunity arose within SCARC and the Oregon Multicultural Archives to help process a collection.
The collection I processed was one of research materials, court documents, and book drafts used by Professor Max Geier (emeritus, Western Oregon University) while writing his book, The Color of Night: Race, Railroaders, and Murder in the Wartime West. The Color of Night concerns the murder of Martha James on the Southern Pacific Railroad and the subsequent execution of Robert E. Lee Folkes, an African American dining car cook, who had been found guilty of her murder The collection is broken into three series; History of African Americans and Railroading, Robert E. Lee Folkes Case, and The Color of Night Manuscript Materials.
A relatively small collection – originally composed of only two boxes – the first step in processing Geier’s files was poring over and reading through the documents to see just what was there. Geier’s digital material, including back-ups of much of his physical collection, was reviewed as well.
After getting an idea of what comprised the collection, I could begin re-organizing folders based on type, topic, time period, and subject matter. Summaries of each folder were written down for future analysis of content and reorganization of folders thematically and alphabetically in particular series. The amount of material used by Geier to study the Folkes case and to write The Color of Night was considerable. A majority of material within the collection are court statements and correspondence by everyone from Folkes himself to passengers on the train to the Pullman Car Porters who worked on the train. Once multiple subject series were created – separating Geier’s personal documents, such as his contract with OSU Press and book draft critiques, from the rest – I reviewed the folder summaries again to organize by subject and then alphabetize the folders for entry into Archon and creation of the collection’s finding aid.
Ultimately, three series were created, with each series featuring a general summary focused on the highlights of the collection. The next step was housing the documents and materials in new folders. Geier’s documents featured lots of Post-It notes, which he appeared to use in place of a highlighter. These notes were removed. Certain court documents, including statements, printed on legal-sized paper were removed from standard manila folders to legal length folders. Also, posters and Pullman Car diagrams were laid out separately for placement in other folders or boxes.
The entire process was personally very eye-opening, and my interest in library science and archival studies has certainly grown. Also, as a writer, it was informative to see how one local author went about collecting his sources, writing his drafts, and working with publishers. I very much enjoyed getting to work within the Oregon Multicultural Archives, and I look forward to learning about and working with other collections and continuing my efforts in other aspects of SCARC.”
~ Cody Hess, OMA Intern Fall Term 2016