Eyewitness to the Civil War and Reconstruction: Historic Newspaper Added Through Alumnus James Mason’s Bequest
By Alice Bampton
Falvey Memorial Library recently received a bequest from the estate of James L. Mason ’64 A&S , who died in 2009. Mason’s gift was used to purchase the Christian Recorder, which began regular publication in Philadelphia in1861.
History professor Judith Giesberg, Ph.D., teaches the History Practicum graduate seminar in which her students actively use the Christian Recorder, “the premier journal for news about emancipation and civil rights,” for news stories about legal cases from the 1860s through the 1880s and “the activism of black communities around the country.”
Last fall several students used parts of the Recorder to find want ads “placed by former slaves looking for lost loved ones in the ‘Information Wanted page,’ school integration cases argued in … Pennsylvania and elsewhere, and the paper’s coverage of the passage of Reconstruction amendments and the 1876 Civil Rights Act.”
Dr. Giesberg notes that students will now have access to the full run of the newspaper and “will be able to expand their understanding of the nineteenth and early twentieth century antecedents to the 20th century civil rights movement.”
The Christian Recorder was published by the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church with the stated purpose of “the Dissemination of Religion, Morality, Literature and Science.” (Accessible Archives)
A four-page weekly, in its early years it covered major incidents of the Civil War as well as news about the African American regiments. Church burnings and “other Southern outrages” were reported factually as were more mundane events such as sermons, marriages, obituaries and advertisements. The Christian Recorder even included prose and poetry, typical of other newspapers of the time.
The masthead for the December 25, 1902, issue proclaims that it is the “Oldest Negro Paper Published.” In 1902 an annual subscription was $1.00 per year, in advance.
Mason’s cousin, Gail Ciociola, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the English department, said, “It comes as no surprise to me that Jim left a bequest to Villanova and, in particular, to the library. He loved the university and with his passion for reading knew there was no better way to serve it in his passing than to honor the library where he likely spent so much of his time.” Dr. Ciociola shares fond memories of her cousin and his influence on her in her piece written for the occasion of his bequest to the library.
Jutta Seibert, coordinator for Academic Integration and liaison to history and sociology, was instrumental in obtaining the Christian Recorder for Falvey.