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Remnants of a freedmen’s colony in Cologne, Texas–The Washington Family Papers, 1885-1972

November 13, 2017

Lora Washington and unidentified boy, undated

Several months ago we discovered a treasure tucked away in a box with a few small collections. The Washington Family Papers, though diminutive in scope, contains some important historical remnants that reveal an important chapter in African American history in Texas.

The Washington family were members of a freedmen’s colony in Cologne, Texas founded by ex-slaves George Washington and Joseph Smith. After emancipation, Washington and Smith started a freight hauling business moving goods from the Gulf Coast to Victoria, Texas and the surrounding area. With their earnings they purchased lots and houses in Victoria. During Reconstruction, violence against blacks increased. Washington and Smith, using their savings, moved to a more remote location, purchasing over 700 acres of land between Goliad and Victoria.

Land purchase lien receipt, 1893

Washington and Smith invited other African American families to purchase land from them and thus, a new colony began along Perdido Creek. Perdido, as the new village was called, was only open to black settlers; no whites were allowed. As the population increased, slaugterhouses run by residents in Perdido fueled the prosperity of the town. The town’s name went through several changes over the years but the village finally settled on Cologne as the official name, an ironic homage to the smell of the slaughterhouses.

Ollie Washington, undated

Linford Washington, undated

In 1888, successful land transfers from Cologne residents and others in neighboring counties brought the railroad through the town. As the town prospered, parents sent their children to the school which not only served as a place of education but also as a social and recreational center. During the late twentieth century, the population of Cologne dwindled. The headstones in the Cologne cemetery are all that remain of the town. No grave marker is evident for George Washington but the gravestone of his son Nathan and his wife Lora remain within a family plot where nine of their children are also buried.

The collection includes land purchases and related receipts from 1894 through 1957. Also included are tax receipts including those for poll taxes. Photographs are of family members, a house, and gravestone. Many photographs have hand written notes on the back identifying the person or place in the image. Correspondence is minimal with only one letter in the collection. A remnant of fabric exists in the collection as well.

Unidentified women, 1925


Walter Washington, undated

Poll tax receipt for Nathan Washington, 1905

Poll tax receipt for Lora Collins, 1922

The Washington Family Papers are in the queue for digitization and will be available online in 2018. The collection can be accessed at the  Special Collections reading room in the John Peace Library on UTSA’s main campus. Please submit a visit request form.

A Month In Special Collections: October

November 6, 2017
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SVREP: October Events

October 29, 2017

The SVREP team has had many opportunities to promote the upcoming opening of the collection. This month we were fortunate enough to attend two events: “Dia de la Raza,” and “An Evening with UTSA Special Collections: Latinos in San Antonio.”

IMG_4023The 6th Annual Dia De La Raza Celebration took place on Friday, October 13, 2017 at the El Tropicano Riverwalk Hotel. The event paid tribute to the Chicano movement activists and also featured Andrea-Teresa Arenas from the Wisconsin Historical Society as the guest speaker. Ms. Arenas gave a wonderful speech about the work she has completed in Wisconsin involving her students, which included creating oral histories with the community. Her enthusiasm could be felt throughout the audience, and I appreciated her dedication and passion for her work. I am looking forward to reading her new book, “Somos Latinas, Voices of Wisconsin Latina Activists,” which will be available next May.


Amy Rushing, Jennifer Longoria and myself represented UTSA by featuring a pop-up exhibit at the event from our activist collections. We were grateful for the enthusiasm we received from the exhibit and had an amazing time mingling with the guests and the activists that were honored, as well as sharing the mission and materials from UTSA Special Collections. I was especially honored to be at this event because I was able talk with Willie Velasquez’s family, including his wife Jane Velasquez, as well as his brother and wife, George and Andrea Velasquez, who were honored later that night for their work.


The second event was held on Thursday, October 19, 2017 at UTSA. Sonya and Jon Rodriguez invited their close friends to attend a private event that showcased materials relating to an area of their interest.  Amy Rushing, Katie Rojas and myself set up an exhibit that focused on Latinos in San Antonio. The small group allowed each of us to discuss their connections to different subject areas covered in the featured collections, which was very special. A lot of the guests recognized or knew people in the photographs and documents that were on display. Everyone who attended communicated their sincere appreciation and fascination with San Antonio history and the importance of preserving such history.


Both events this month are a constant reminder of why I love what I do as an archivist. As someone who constantly gets a puzzled look whenever I explain what I do, I enjoy going to community events in order to offer people a better understanding of what archivists do and why it is so important.



***This project is generously funded by the NHPRC**

San Anto Zine Fest and Alumni Tour

October 23, 2017

On October 7th Special Collections participated in the first–ever San Anto Zine Fest. We showed off examples of zines, poetry chapbooks, and underground publications from our collections. We also made our own mini-zines to hand out, and made sure to purchase even more zines to add to our growing collection. We were honored and excited to participate! Check out the San Anto Zine Fest Facebook page, Tumblr, Twitter, or Instagram to see more from the event.

Katie Rojas and Amy Rushing tabling at San Anto Zine Fest. Image credit: Donna Guerra

Additionally, this past Thursday UTSA Special Collections held a private tour and pop-up exhibition of select items from our collections. The tour was a silent auction item at the UTSA Alumi Gala, and the winner of the auction had the option of selecting a theme for the exhibit. The selected theme was “Latinos in San Antonio.” UTSA Special Collections has a rich array of resources to choose from on this topic, and the exhibit featured items from collections such as the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project, Mexican American Democrats of Texas, the Jacinto Quirarte papers, the Francisco Chapa family papers, and the Bárbara Renaud González papers.

Southwest Voter Registration Education Project materials on display for the Alumni Tour

Mexican American Democrats of Texas materials on display for the Alumni Tour

Having done several pop-up exhibits and other outreach events similar to these, I must confess that a lot of work goes in to curating these exhibits. Looking through long collection inventories and rifling through box after box to find just the right items to display and share is a time consuming process. We know it’s important to put thought and care into the items we select, even if the exhibit is only for one day or night.

Ballet Folklorico de San Antonio materials (left) and Rosita Fernandez collection materials (right) on display at the Alumni Tour

Sharing these resources with others, whether at a private tour or a large community event, highlights some of the Core Values of Archivists that give purpose to our professional work, such as access to and use of resources, advocacy for archives, preserving history and memory, service to others, and fulfillment of social responsibility. Ultimately, all the effort is well worth it when the materials are finally on display and people are interacting and engaged. Seeing people’s faces light up when they make meaningful connections to the collection material is a great reward that helps us remember why we love what we do!

LGBTQ History Month-Preserving Queer History Through T-shirts

October 16, 2017

T-shirts as historical objects? When it comes to LGBTQ tees-yes! A recent donation of lesbian and feminist t-shirts by Lucy E. Duncan and Jill Zimmerman tells the story of queer activism and feminism Fistacross several decades. T-shirts depicting woman power, Ladie’s Sewing Circle and Terrorist Society, and Women’s March on Austin recall the early days of feminism as women shaped new identities, shed the yoke of patriarchy, and came together in spaces they called their own.

The central space for feminists in San Antonio, as in other cities across the U.S., was the women’s bookstore. Las Mujeres, located near downtown San Antonio, served as the nexus for the city’s women’s collective. Duncan and Zimmerman were founding members of Las Mujeres and put in many hours voluntarily staffing the store.

If the purpose of the Second Wave was to empower women through knowledge, feminist bookstore were key sites in that process.

Diane Spain in Constructing Feminism: Women’s Spaces and Women’s Rights in the American City


In addition to their contributions to Las Mujeres, Duncan and Zimmerman belonged to the WomanSpace Collective. The collective published a community newsletter also called WomanSpace which provided an open forum for the women’s community to exchange ideas, tackle issues, and communicate topics of interest. WomanSpace was the longest continuously published women’s community newsletter in San Antonio running from 1986 to 2007.




Duncan and Zimmerman were involved in organizations that fought for women’s and gay rights. As professional librarians, they were members of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Round Table of the Texas Library  Association and the American Library Association. They attended the Texas Lesbian Conference annually and participated in the March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay, and Bi Equal Rights and Liberation in 1993. At these events, they made sure to purchase t-shirts and other memorabilia-a way to mark the important moments in their personal and community histories.



Statement t-shirts critiqued the assault on women’s reproductive rights, and identified cats as a lesbian’s best friend, celebrated Pride in San Antonio. The Lucy E. Duncan and Jill Zimmerman Lesbian and Feminist T-Shirt Collection can be viewed at Wearing Gay History. The collection is housed at UTSA’s main campus and can be accessed by submitting a visit request form

Gelatin Dry-Plate Glass negatives in the San Antonio Light Photograph Collection

October 6, 2017

Shortly after purchasing the San Antonio Light in 1924, Hearst newspapers hired Jack Specht to be their first full-time staff photographer for the daily paper. Specht used a Graflex camera with 4×5 inch glass negatives to capture the image. The negatives were ordered from photographic supply companies. Since the camera was bulky and the glass negatives somewhat expensive, Specht often took only one photograph to accompany most news stories. Specht and the other staff photographers processed approximately 23,500 glass plates before switching to film negatives in 1936. The Hearst Corporation donated the glass negatives to our collection in 1979.

Specht established a routine that was followed by subsequent photographers. The photographer returned from the assignment and immediately developed and fixed the glass plate in chemical solutions. Once the plate was dry, he wrote the names of the subjects in graphite in the margins on the emulsion side—a procedure that often confuses viewers because the inscriptions appear in reverse.  After the negative was printed, it was given to the San Antonio Light librarian to be stored for possible use at a later time.


Gelatin dry-plate glass negative showing boy scouts posing outside their headquarters at 2519 Broadway. Photograph by Jack Specht, February 1930. (MS 359: L-0073-C)


Emulsion side of a glass negative, inscribed with subject’s name and file box number.


Jack Specht uses his Graflex camera, with glass-plate holder, to photograph a rattlesnake, ca. 1928. (MS 359: L-0072-H)


Boxes for glass negatives manufactured by Gevaert Photo-Producten, Mortsel, Belgium.


Box for glass negatives by Thomas Illingworth & Co. Ltd., photographic materials manufacturers, London, U.K.


Box for glass negatives by Wellington & Ward Ltd., photographic materials manufacturers, Elstree, Hertfordshire, U.K. and purchased from Medo Photo Supply Corp., New York.


Empty boxes that were numbered and used as permanent storage boxes for the negatives.  With them are the index cards used to access the images in the library at the San Antonio Light.


Scan of a glass negative of the excavation of the San Antonio River cutoff channel, circa 1929 (MS 359: L-0562-D). This important negative was stained due to the emulsion-side being stored long-term in direct contact with the lid of the acidic cardboard box. While most of the negatives remained in good condition, some were permanently damaged before rehousing in individual archival sleeves.

A Month in Special Collections: September

October 2, 2017
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