Harold Pinkett at Luncheon for NARS Agriculture Conference (1977-01-04) by National Archives and Records AdminsitrationU.S. National Archives
On April 16, 1942, historian Harold T. Pinkett began his career at The National Archives. Pinkett's appointment at NARA would blaze a trail initiating a legacy of promoting diversity and equity in the archival profession in America.
Photograph of Harold T. Pinkett (circa 1920s) by Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, Howard University.U.S. National Archives
From the Eastern Shore
Harold T. Pinkett was born on April 07, 1914 in Salisbury, Maryland. Pinkett was the descendent from Free Blacks whose lineage dates back to 1820. Pinkett attended Morgan College where he graduated with honors and later graduate school at The University of Pennsylvania.
After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, Pinkett continued his career of teaching at institutions of higher learning including Livingston College and Florida Normal College. It was during this tenure when Pinkett wrote his first publication titled, "Report to Annex Santo Domingo to the United States 1866-1871" in the Journal of Negro History in 1941.
A Three Year Wait
In 1938, Pinkett accepted a one-year position as a instructor at Livingston College (shown on map). After his tenure, Pinkett enrolled in the PhD Program in history at Columbia University. It at this time Pinkett took the civil service exam for an archivist position at NARA.
Florida Normal and Industrial Institute (1915) by Florida Memorial University University of Miami Digital ArchivesU.S. National Archives
Executive Order 8802 (1941-06-25) by National Archives and Records AdministrationU.S. National Archives
Executive Order 8802
In 1941, millions of jobs were being created, primarily in urban areas, as the United States prepared for World War II. When African Americans moved to cities in the north and west to work in defense industries, they were often met with violence and discrimination.
In response, A. Philip Randolph, president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, and other Black leaders, met with Eleanor Roosevelt and members of the President’s cabinet. Randolph presented a list of grievances regarding the civil rights of African Americans, demanding that an executive order be issued to stop job discrimination in the defense industry. Randolph, with others, threatened "ten, twenty, fifty thousand Negroes on the White House lawn" if their demands were not met.
In reaction to the fear thousands of African Americans marching on the nation’s capitol, and after consultation with his advisers, President Franklin D. Roosevelt responded to the Black leaders and issued Executive Order 8802 on June 25th. To investigate “complaints of discrimination in violation of the provisions of this order” Executive Order 8802 established the “Committee on Fair Employment Practice.”
Excerpt from Committee on Fair Employment Practice Report, page 1 (1942-01-08) by National Archives and Records AdminsitrationU.S. National Archives
Excerpt from Committee on Fair Employment Practice Report, page 1, August 17, 1942, National Archives
List of African American Employees at National Archives (1942-11-23) by National Archives and Records AdministrationU.S. National Archives
On April 16, 1942, Pinkett began his career at The National Archives as an archival assistant. One month later, Pinkett accepted a professional (grade P-1) position in the Agriculture Archives Division, making him the first Black professional archivist at The National Archives.
Maine Avenue, Washington, D.C. (1953-06-04) by National Archives and Records AdministrationU.S. National Archives
Race and Washington
Although discrimination did not impact Pinkett's experience during his inception at The National Archives, he was not immune to the same sentiments when he stepped outside of NARA's doors and walked the streets of the nation's capital.
Photograph of Dr. Harold T. Pinkett (1943-01-12) by Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, Howard UniversityU.S. National Archives
"I was drafted, so that was not voluntary"
In December of 1943, Pinkett received his draft notice to serve in World War II. Stationed out of Camp Holabird, MD, Pinkett went on to serve in Europe and the Philippines, and Japan.
Pinkett would serve in the armed forces for three years. During his tenure, Pinkett achieved the rank of technical sergeant in the Army Signal Corps and earned the following recognitions: the Good Conduct Medal; the American Theater Ribbon; the European, African, Middle Eastern Theater Ribbon; the Atlantic-Pacific Theater Ribbon; the Army Occupation Medal (Japan); and the World War II Victory Ribbon. Pinkett also wrote with ferocity of the injustices associated in the segregated armed forces.
In a book review written by Pinkett on journalist Carey McWilliams Brothers under the Skin, he praised the book as a "forceful, fearless, and highly in- formative summary of past and present discriminations against colored groups in this country. It teems with facts and refutes many notions which have made these groups victims of race prejudice. However, perhaps its chief merit lies in the manner in which it shows the relation of the various minority problems to each other."
Ebony Magazine Piece on Dr. Harold T. Pinkett (1959-08) by Johnson Publishing Company, Chicago, ILU.S. National Archives
Trailblazer at The Society of American Archivists
In 1943, Pinkett joined the Society of American Archivists. In his tenure with SAA, Pinkett would seed the growth of diversity in the organization. In 1962, Pinkett became an SAA Fellow and was appointed editor of the SAA primary publication "The American Archivist" from 1968-1971. Pinkett was also elected to the SAA Council from 1971-1972. Pinkett would continue to write several articles related to the professional issues of minorities during the Civil Rights Movement.
Photograph of Dr. Harold T. Pinkett at table (1970) by Forest Historical Society, Durham, North CarolinaU.S. National Archives
The Quest for Equity at NARA
As Pinkett continued his career at NARA, he was conscious of obstacles in place to prevent his professional progression due to his race. Pinkett's fight for job equity laid the cornerstone for the continual changing landscape of diversity at The National Archives today.
Images of Dr. Harold T. Pinkett and Gifford Pinchot (1900/1960) by Forest History Society, Durham, NCU.S. National Archives
Pinkett and Pinchot
In 1942, Pinkett was hired by renowned archival theorist T.R. Schellenberg in NARA's Agriculture Archives division. Pinkett's work included arrangement and description of records and reference service.
One of Pinkett's projects was the creation of a descriptive inventory of records of the United States Forest Service. The scope of these records consists of 1,400 cubic feet related to American forestry history. Within these records, Pinkett noticed a constant mention of Gifford Pinchot. As Pinkett scholar Dr. Alex H. Poole stated, " Pinkett soon realized that little scholarly attention had been devoted to Pinchot’s professional training and early work as the first professionally trained forester who became the first head of the United States Forest Service. Hence Pinkett stumbled upon the seed of his dissertation."
When Pinkett began working on his doctorate at American University in 1948, he focused on his works on Pinchot and his contributions to the early Conservation Movement in America. After graduating with his PhD in history and archival administration in 1953, Pinkett published his dissertation, “Gifford Pinchot and the Early Conservation Movement in the United States,” as Gifford Pinchot: Private and Public Forester; it earned the Agricultural History Society’s 1967 book of the year award.
Pinkett would continue his affinity for forestry and conversation by joining the Agricultural History Society where he served on the Executive Committee (1972-1975) and editorial board (1977-1979). Pinkett was also active in the Forest History Society where he served on the board of directors from 1971-1991 and organization's president between 1976 and 1978.
Pinkett would retire from The National Archives in 1979, but continued to make contributions in the archival by helping Howard University establish its University Archives and serve as an archival consultant for several prominent African American organizations such as the NAACP, the National Urban League, and the United Negro College Fund.
Pinkett's pursuit to push the narrative of diversifying the archival field, and use his intellect and astuteness to obtain professional power when Black archival professionals were taboo is unequaled. Pinkett's efforts are forever engrained in the fabric of American Archives.
Curated by the Say It Loud! African American Employee Affinity Group, National Archives
Special thanks to the following for making this exhibit possible:
Rod Ross, former Archivist at the National Archives
Elizabeth Hill, former Archivist at the National Archives
Moving Image & Sound Branch, National Archives
Dr. Alex Poole, Associate Professor, Drexel University
The Association for the Study of African American Life and History
Forest History Society
Johnson Publishing Company
Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, Howard University
Florida Memorial University Special Collections
The University of Miami Digital Collections (Coral Gables, FL)
Society of American Archivists
Poole, A. 2018. "Biographical Portrait: Harold T. Pinkett (1914-2002)", Forest History Today, Forest History Society, Spring/Fall 2018.
Walker, Alan. 2014. "Dr. Harold T. Pinkett, The First African-American Archivist at the National Archives", 06/17/2014, Rediscovering Black History, National Archives