Magazine article Humanities

In Focus

Magazine article Humanities

In Focus

Article excerpt

Stories Behind the Documents

Michael Gillette of Texas

Inside Michael L. Gillette's garage sits the same car he drove in high school-a 1963 Chevrolet convertible in mint condition. As the new executive director of the Texas Council for the Humanities, Gillette plans to turn his penchant for preserving toward marking the thirtieth anniversary of public humanities in his home state.

"We want to use this opportunity to raise the organization's visibility in the public mind," Gillette says. "One of the things I would like to do is make sure that the records of the organization are archived in a repository so that in another thirty years researchers can have a record of what we've done."

The council has produced a number of projects, including more than 2,860 programs and more than seventy-five exhibitions that travel to local libraries and historical societies. Gillette and his staff use electronic pushpins on a Texas map to indicate places where grants have gone. "I hope that in the end of our exploration we will come up with some very compelling programs that we can replicate around the state," Gillette says.

The native Texan brings his experience in archival work. While attending the University of Texas at Austin and Louisiana State University, Gillette collected the oral histories of Huey Long's campaign workers, New Deal policy makers, and Texas Civil Rights activists. His research led him to Herman Sweatt, the first African American admitted to the University of Texas Law School.

"One of the questions that I asked Herman Sweatt, was how his family responded to the news that he had volunteered to be the guinea pig and file a lawsuit against the state of Texas," Gillette says. Sweatt describes his father convening a family dinner. "It was a risk for all of them. They were exposing themselves to possible retaliation," Gillette says. "It's a very dramatic story about how the family rallied around the family member who had decided to take on the state of Texas."

From 1976 to 1991, Gillette directed the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library's Oral History Program. "You learned a lot about how Lyndon Johnson's mind worked, and how he was as persuasive and effective as he was," Gillette says. …

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