The Chester Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) honored two Widener University librarians for their work to preserve the history of the organization and the Civil Rights movement in the city of Chester. They were honored on April 27 at the 101st Annual NAACP Chester Branch Awards Dinner.
Jan Alexander, archivist and reference librarian, and Jill Borin, assistant archivist and reference librarian at the Wolfgram Memorial Library at Widener, received the George T. Raymond Freedom Award for preserving the historic papers of George T. Raymond, the man for whom their award is named.
“I am deeply honored to have received this award,” Alexander said. “The Raymond papers are such a huge part of history and are a very valuable historical resource. There is a movement across Pennsylvania to preserve Black history in the state. The Raymond papers are a perfect example of what needs to be preserved.”
In the 1950s, Raymond received an award for his work in the field of human rights from Thurgood Marshall, then chief of the NAACP's legal staff. Marshall went on to become a Supreme Court Justice.
Raymond was also an activist for civil rights. He marched on Washington in 1963 with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.; co-founded the Boys' Clubs of Chester under the auspices of the "Negro-Y-Council,'' a branch of the YMCA of Chester, and was a familiar face on picket lines and at court proceedings.
Raymond received numerous awards from social groups, civic organizations, government councils, and local and state branches of the NAACP for his service in the fight for equal rights. The George T. Raymond Freedom Award was established in his name by the NAACP in the early 90s.
The award is given every year to someone in Chester who has helped improve the quality of life for the citizens of Chester. Raymond served as president of the Chester NAACP for 25 years including during the height of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. He died in 1999.
“Raymond…virtually founded the modern Civil Rights Movement in Chester,” said John McLarnon, author and historian. “He worked for more than thirty years to insure that state laws prohibiting racial discrimination were enforced. Raymond fought the city administration, the school board, the courts, and one of the most powerful political machines in the history of the state. Largely through his efforts, Chester was transformed from a totally segregated city to a city where Blacks could expect fair treatment in employment, housing, and education.”
Both Alexander and Borin scanned and digitized hundreds of documents, newspaper clippings, and photographs from three scrapbooks which were part of the Raymond papers that were donated to the university by his family in 2009. Two of the scrapbooks, created by Raymond, chronicled the Civil Rights Movement in the ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s.
The third book, created by Patricia Taylor for the Chester NAACP, captures the tumultuous year of 1963–64, which drew national attention to the city. They also scanned numerous additional documents that were part Raymond’s collected papers.
“When we received these papers, I realized what a treasure trove of history they contained,” Borin said. “I was so pleased to have the opportunity to make them available to researchers. Raymond has made a huge impact on the city of Chester. He should be remembered for his accomplishments and that is what the Raymond papers are all about; having people learn about Raymond as an activist and man.”