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KU Libraries marking 50 years of 'radical political literature' collection with online exhibition

Thursday, March 12, 2015

LAWRENCE — The American political landscape of 50 years ago was full of radical movements and ideology, from violent opposition to the Vietnam War to lesser-known ideas about the supposed danger of fluoridating water. It was also when the University of Kansas Libraries purchased the collection of a young student chronicling activities of different political movements across the ideological spectrum. KU is marking the 50th anniversary of the Wilcox Collection of Contemporary Political Movements, one of the world’s premier collections of political ephemera and literature, with an online exhibition from the collection.

The collection, which has been a resource to researchers and authors around the world and generations of KU professors and students, has grown considerably since it first found a home in the Kenneth Spencer Research Library. In 1965 KU student Laird Wilcox sold his already impressive collection to the libraries. He was fascinated by fringe movements, regardless of their ideas or purpose, and began collecting leaflets, fliers, newsletters and other political materials as a teenager.

“The Wilcox collection doesn’t just represent politics in general, it takes a  more focused look at what Laird considered as ‘left wing’ and ‘right wing’ politics and preserving what has been part of those various positions over the years,” said Sheryl Williams, curator of collections in KU Libraries. “It’s not all what would be considered ‘extreme,’ though some of it certainly is.”

KU Libraries will host an event to celebrate the anniversary March 25. A reception will begin at 5:30 p.m., followed by a presentation by Bill Tuttle, professor emeritus of history, at 6:15. RSVP to Rachel Karwas by March 20 at 785-864-8961 or rkarwas@ku.edu. An online gallery of materials is included at http://lib.ku.edu/wilcox.

In the collection’s 50 years, it has grown to include more than 28,000 books, pamphlets and periodicals, 187 cubic feet of manuscripts and nearly 200,000 pieces of ephemera. Wilcox continues to collect and donate materials to this day, while donors from around the country have contributed materials and the library has purchased items as well.  The strength of the material has drawn countless visitors, scholars and classes to view, study and cite the materials over its first half-century. Biographers, and authors chronicling everything from the militia movement to the rise and fall of the Ku Klux Klan as well as professors, students and journalists have all been drawn to the unique collection. A large part of its value is preserving aspects of American history that might have otherwise been lost or forgotten.

“It resonates with students especially,” Williams said. “It’s a powerful collection that covers many research interests. A large part of the collection contains printed materials, including leaflets, fliers and newsletters. The items are ephemeral in that their purpose was to support a cause, and they weren’t originally intended to be preserved in a library like a book.”

Many well-known names are represented in the collection. Newsletters published by Ron Paul containing what many consider to be racist and inflammatory material are included. Writings by and materials pertaining to Pat Buchanan, Phyllis Schlafly, Lyndon Larouche, Angela Davis, Ralph Nader and many others are housed within as well. Well-known and at times powerful organizations such as the John Birch Society, Liberty Lobby, Black Panthers and others are documented. Books related to movements such as “Cesar Salad,” a cookbook including recipes based on the theme of Cesar Chavez’s United Farm Workers strike, and unique items such as Wilcox’s own FBI file are part of the holdings as well.

Wilcox grew up in a politically diverse family and their conversations would cover points all over the political map. Those wide-ranging conversations sparked his interest in political movements, and as a teenager growing up near Washington, D.C. he started collecting materials and attending all manner of political events, which became a lifelong passion and laid the foundation for a world class collection.

“His parents didn’t know it at the time, but he established a post office box and started asking people to send him things, and many did,” said Becky Schulte, university archivist and curator of the Wilcox collection. “He was interested psychologically in why people believe what they do and why they feel so strongly. And he is a strong proponent of free speech.”


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Museum Events

Art Cart: Painted Fans
Saturday, January 20 | 1 p.m.-4 p.m.
Spencer Museum of Art, Sam and Connie Perkins Central Court, 317
1301 Mississippi St.
The Art Cart is a drop-in activity station where children and grown-ups enjoy hands-on art projects together, taking inspiration from original works of art. After traveling the world, Sallie Casey Thayer donated her collection of objects to KU to form what is now the Spencer Museum of Art. Learn about Mrs. Thayer and create a painted folding fan to start your own collection.

Slow Art Sunday: Steel Wool Peignoir
Sunday, January 21 | 2 p.m.-3 p.m.
Spencer Museum of Art, Kemper Family Foundations Balcony, 408
1301 Mississippi St.
Slow down at the Spencer and spend time getting to know one great work of art. Slow Art Sunday features one work for visitors to contemplate and converse about with Museum staff. In January, get to know Steel Wool Peignoir by Mimi Smith.

Science on Tap: The Cambrian: More than just Trilobites
Wednesday, January 24 | 7:30 p.m.
Free State Brewing Co., 636 Massachusetts St.
The Cambrian is a time in Earth’s history when many modern animal relatives make their first appearance. It is also a time when many bizarre animals without modern relatives appear in the fossil record. At this Science on Tap, Dr. Julien Kimmig will talk about the diversity of animals during this amazing period and what it can teach us about the future of life on earth. 

Career Close-ups: Developing a Career in the Museum World
Friday, January 26 | 2 p.m.-4 p.m.
Spencer Museum of Art, Auditorium 309
1301 Mississippi St.
Undergraduate and graduate students are invited to explore how any major can lead to a career in a cultural organization. A panel of museum professionals will share their experiences, followed by a networking reception and behind-the-scenes tours of KU’s museums. This year’s panelists include: Dina Bennett (Mulvane Art Museum, Washburn University), Glenn North (Black Archives of Mid-America), and Adrianne Russell (Cabinet of Curiosities). Advance registration is required at www.spencerart.ku.edu/career-closeups. Please register by January 24. Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/events/476618689399321/
Sponsored by the Spencer Museum of Art, KU Natural History Museum, University Career Center, and the Museum Studies Program.

Final Friday: Community and Culture Closing Celebration
Friday, January 26 | 6 p.m.-7:30 p.m.
Watkins Museum of History, 1047 Massachusetts St.
The Watkins, in partnership with the Max Kade Center and the Lawrence Opera Theatre, present an evening of 19th-century German-American music and cuisine.

Discovery Day: Celebrating Kansas
Sunday, January 28 | 1 p.m.-3 p.m.
KU Natural History Museum, 1345 Jayhawk Blvd.
In honor of Kansas Day, join us for hands-on activities that are all about Kansas wildlife, plants and fossils. 

Kenneth A. Spencer Lecture: An Evening with Eve L. Ewing: Poetry in Context
Wednesday, January 31 | 7 p.m.-8:30 p.m.
Liberty Hall, 644 Massachusetts St.
Eve L. Ewing is a sociologist, poet, essayist, artist, and educator whose research focuses on racism, social inequality, urban policy, and the impact of these forces on American public schools and the lives of young people. Dr. Ewing earned a Ph.D. from Harvard University and is recognized as a leader and social influencer, especially in conversations involving academia, writing, black women, and the intersection of politics and popular culture. Sponsored by The Commons.

University in the Art Museum for Graduate Students
Thursday, February 1 | 3 p.m.-4:30 p.m.
Spencer Museum of Art, 1301 Mississippi St.
University in the Art Museum introduces graduate students to opportunities for object-based teaching, learning, and research through collaborative partnerships with the Spencer Museum of Art. This workshop includes discussions led by graduate students in the departments of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies; Geography; and Atmospheric Science. Advance registration is required by Monday, January 29. Register online at https://spencerart.ku.edu/uam.

Extraordinary Animals: Awesome Adaptations
Sunday, February 4 | 1 p.m.-3 p.m.
KU Natural History Museum, 1345 Jayhawk Blvd.
At this new monthly animal event, parents and children are invited to learn about animals of Kansas. Museum Animal Specialist Ashley Welton will offer presentations about animal adaptations using touchable specimens from the museums collections at 1:15, 1:45 and 2:15 pm. 

FeBREWary at the Watkins
Thursday, February 15 | 6 p.m.-9 p.m.
Watkins Museum of History, 1047 Massachusetts St.
The Watkins, in partnership with Lawrence Beer Co., presents an evening of beer, food, and knowledge! Enjoy beer and a fascinating talk on brewing provided by Lawrence Beer Co., plus food from local restaurants and an informal museum tour. Tickets are $15 for DCHS members, $20 for non-members. You may sign up online or contact the museum at 785-841-4109. We recommend buying in advance. Ages 21 and over only, please. More information and registration.

Winter Table: An Evening of Herpetology
Wednesday, February 28 | 6:30 p.m.
KU Natural History Museum, 1345 Jayhawk Blvd.
A celebration of more than 100 years of KU herpetology research programs and the careers of Linda Trueb and Bill Duellman. Explore the Natural History Museum's reptile and amphibian collections and enjoy appetizers and drinks. Dine in the Panorama Gallery with KU herpetology scientists and students conducting reptile and amphibian research across the globe. 

6:30 pm: appetizers, drinks and science salon
7:00 pm: dinner and program
$50 per person 

Reserve your space now at the 2018 Winter Table by ordering tickets online. Tickets are $50 per person. You may also call 785-864-4450 to purchase by phone or you may purchase tickets at the museum lobby during business hours. Questions? Contact biodiversity@ku.edu or 785-864-4450.

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