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KEEPING ANARCHY IN ORDER [PART 2 of 2]
F A R - S I G H T E D R E G E N T S
Labadie was known as the "Gentle Anarchist" because he wrote about love as well as politics and made friends with anyone who was interesting, whether they agreed with his ideas or not. It was his wife, Sophie, a teacher and pious Catholic, who helped him preserve his materials for later donation.
Not much was done with Labadie's materials until 1924, when the first curator, Agnes Inglis, began to catalog them. A friend of Labadie's and a fellow anarchist, she spent the rest of her life organizing and building the Labadie Collection, often buying serials and books with her own money. By her death in 1952, the Labadie was well known internationally by scholars of radical movements. Edward Weber continued building the collection when he became curator in 1960, and in an effort to bring more diversity to the kinds of social protest material available, he began adding more from the radical right to the archives, including Ku Klux Klan and White Aryan Resistance publications.
When Weber retired in January 2000, Herrada, who had served five years as assistant curator, took over stewardship of the collection. Herrada was an activist in Detroit in the 1980s and earned a master's degree in library science from Wayne State University in 1990, with a focus on archival administration. She describes herself as a "news junkie," drawing on US, British and Canadian radio broadcasts and the Web to "try to keep up with controversies around the world." She also keeps in touch with a wide range of friends and colleagues involved in movements for social change.
Herrada is not just an archivist and collector but an educator as well. She gives talks throughout the country and internationally to promote the collection and encourage more people to use it, and she is increasingly posting the Labadie's holdings on the Web: http://www.lib.umich.edu/spec-coll/labadie/.
"It has been a tradition to keep a low profile, because we don't want negative attention," she says. "Of course, that prevents positive attention too." She got both in the summer of 2000 when the national news picked up the story about Herrada's acquisition of the correspondence of Ted Kaczynski '67 PhD, aka the Unabomber, since his arrest in 1996. Most of the letters were written to Kaczynski, not by him. (The writers' names are being kept confidential until 2049.) While the majority of the coverage about this archive was positiveacknowledging its connection with some other radical projects documented in the collectionone radio show host in Los Angeles told his listeners that the Labadie was honoring Kaczynski and that people should call the University to complain. More than a hundred did, Herrada says.
"Collecting material that might be controversial educates people," Herrada says. "And education is a way of inspiring people to make changes in their lives." Herrada attends conferences on such topics as underground publishing to teach activists about the importance of preserving their own history. Back at the library, she welcomes visits from high school students who want to learn what the Labadie is all about.
Bruce Kezlarian, a teacher at Model High School in the Bloomfield Hills School District, brings his American Government class to the Labadie Collection each year. "Culturally, economically, and socially, we're being driven in a certain direction," he says, "and we usually never think about where we're going. I want my students to see how people throughout history have looked at alternatives." The Labadie Collection reinforces his message that social changewhether it is suffrage for women or ending slaveryusually comes from small groups on the fringe. He hopes that exposure to some of these thinkers gives his students a new perspective about their lives and assumptions.
The Labadie also hosts occasional presentations to bring its materials off the shelf and into people's living experience. Last November, it held a public symposium on the life and works of Mike Gold (1893 - 1967), author of the 1930 novel Jews Without Money and a columnist and critic for leading leftist and Communist Party periodicals of his day.
About 15 boxes of Gold's correspondence, biographical writings, notes, poetry and photographs arrived at the Labadie Collection a couple of years ago to be organized into files and preserved for future research. ideologically incorrect.
Another Gold panelist, Paula Rabinowitz '86 PhD, a professor of American culture at the University of Minnesota, tells her students to go to the Labadie "and just hang out," so they can get a "sense of the milieu" of the subjects they are researching.
Rabinowitz says the Labadie was indispensable for her dissertation (later published as Writing Red) on radical women writers of the 1930s who had been all but forgotten by history. Spending hours in the Labadie reading through every issue of "teeny journals," she developed a feel for what people's days were like, the meetings they went to, the debates they were having. She read book reviews, letters to editors and even ads for businesses like the local communist dry cleaners, and discovered that the women were writing about the same feminist issues discussed today: birth control, domestic violence, middle class and working class differences. "And this was supposed to be the lull in feminism," Rabinowitz says of the 1930s.
A third member of the panel, biographer David Roessel, told of his initial steps toward writing Gold's life story. Roessel, who lives in Washington, DC, will spend a lot of time at the Labadie in the coming months, using the yellowing letters, manuscripts in their original tattered paper covers and Gold's hand-written editing of his own work to reshape the author into a living, breathing man still trying to change the world.
All of the researchers depend on the continuing cycle of discovery and donations to the Labadie by family members, friends and other concerned persons, and the selection, archiving and preservation of the items by Herrada and her staff. In reflecting on her goals for the collection, Herrada says, "I want it to be used for good." Then she laughs. "That sounds so Miss America, I know. But I want it to educate people about ideas that they wouldn't normally have exposure to that would help make the world a better place."
Stephanie Kadel-Taras '91 MA, a local freelance writer and owner of TimePieces Personal Biographies, keeps history alive by helping people record their life stories. You can contact her at email@example.com.