University Libraries Special Collections Processes Sue Sojourner Collection

News item published on: 2023-06-13 13:18:00

Susan Hasalo Sojourner fought tirelessly for social justice throughout her life, through her work with civil rights in Mississippi, and for women’s liberation and LGBTQ+ rights. In 2011, Sojourner donated a collection of her personal writings, publications, correspondence, and photographs to University Libraries Special Collections.

Through the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) grant, Jaq Jefcoat, a graduate student in the School of Library and Information Science, worked over the last year to preserve this important collection.

Photograph of clippings from old magazines and books. Sojourner’s activism began in 1984 in Holmes County, Mississippi when she and her husband spent five years working with local African Americans in their struggle with voting rights and equality. The movement in Holmes County helped build one of the strongest chapters of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party and started one of the nation’s first Head Start Programs. Sojourner served as a witness, documented meetings, took photographs, and recorded hours of meetings, saving everything she could. After concluding her work in Mississippi, Sojourner left the state and started to explore her own identity.

Settling in Washington D.C., Sojourner turned her energies toward the women’s liberation movement and helped create resources for feminist readers and writers. She started the First Things First fe-mail order book company in 1971, as profiled in the New Woman's Survival Catalog. She became active in D.C.’s lesbian community as a volunteer. During this time, Sojourner began to suffer from serious mental health issues. She wrote candidly about her condition and treatment in her creative writing and correspondence to friends and family. She likewise addressed such contemporarily taboo topics as toxic relationships, alcohol abuse, and sexuality in her writing. After her husband passed in 1982, while raising their son, she worked as a temp then copy editor then associate editor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Washington Quarterly.

Photograph of newspaper clipping that reads Women Declare War on Rape In 2013, the Mississippi Legislature honored Sojourner and her husband for their years working with African American Holmes County Mississippians. The Mississippi Civil Rights Museum in Jackson, MS includes many of her photos of leaders and community members active in the Holmes County civil rights movement. In 2014, she was honored for her contributions to civil rights by Duluth’s Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial, as described in the Duluth News Tribune.

The Susan Hasalo Sojourner collection was selected to be processed with support through a grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC). The NHPRC is a statutory body affiliated with the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) whose mission is promotion of the preservation and use of the country’s documentary heritage essential to understand the nation’s democracy, history, and culture.

Lorraine A. Stuart, Head of Special Collections and Curator of Historical Manuscripts and Archives, is leading the two-year grant project. The purpose of the grant is to increase access to collections and will support processing, digitization, and development of finding aids for existing collections significant to the history and culture of Mississippi. The grant is also providing multiple opportunities for hands-on materials preservation and presentation experiences for the University’s Library and Information Sciences and Humanities graduate students.

Photograph of Jaq Jefcoat standing in an office holding a poster from the collection. When Jefcoat saw the opportunity for the graduate assistantship and the types of collections available for processing, they knew they wanted to apply. Their similar passions and interests made Sojourner’s collection a perfect fit for Jefcoat. Their work on the collection consisted of condensing the collection and evaluating the different ways to arrange the materials. Jefcoat wanted to make sure that all aspects of Sojourner’s life and personality were portrayed well in the arrangement and descriptions while also respecting parts of the collection that had to be restricted due to sensitive information.

Of their experience working in Special Collections, Jefcoat said, “What I enjoyed most about working in Special Collections was how challenged I was working on the collection. I also learned more than I knew before about archives and my efforts have only made me want to pursue LGBTQI+ archives more. I also felt thankful for the opportunity to process and arrange this collection in a way that showed who Sue’s authentic self was and ensured that there was proper representation.”