“They Can Tropical Fruits”

In my first weeks as an archival assistant for the Digital PV Panther Project, I helped process the manuscript collections of former professors and administrators involved in building the Prairie View community. On my first day, Dr. Moore gave me a tour of Room 109 in the library, the Archival Annex, which contains collections that date back to the 1920s, including the media collections of PVAMU staff photographer Tom Goodwin, longtime History Department chair George Ruble Woolfolk, and the Cooperative Extension & Home Demonstration Collection. The Archives Annex also contains an unprocessed collection of blueprints for every single building on campus. As an architecture major, I’m sure this collection might provide the source material for a future project of my own.

As we continued the tour, we entered the last of three elevators in the library–one of two that go up to the 5th floor, which many students, including myself, did not know existed. The library’s fifth floor contains the Special Collections & Archives Department at PVAMU.

Zynitra Durham at her high school graduation
(Photo: Donzel Jefferson, 2020)

As we exited the elevator onto the fifth floor, Dr. Moore introduced me to a fellow archival assistant, Malachi McMahon, and Ms. Phyllis Earles, the University Archivist and Co-Principal Investigator for the Digital PV Panther Project. Dr. Moore also introduced me to Ms. Lisa Stafford, the Special Collections Librarian working in the archives. I also had the opportunity to discuss the processing projects with Miguell Caesar, the manager & head archivist at the Gregory School in Houston, Texas. He works alongside Ms. Sheena Wilson, the processing archivist at the Gregory School.

After the tour, I sat in one of the wooden chairs in the archives reading room beside Malachi, and I asked him several questions about onboarding, such as how to fill out my timesheet in Workday. He also explained more about the work and his experience working in the archives thus far.

Zynitra Durham, Malachi McMahon, and Kalayah Jammer
in Room 111 in the Coleman Library
(Photo: T. DeWayne Moore, 2022)

After the brief introductions, I got to dive right into archival processing, specifically rewriting the titles of old folders in manuscript collections onto new, acid-free folders. In the first weeks, I worked on the collections of Calvin Hoffman Waller, who worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. His research focused on scientific farming techniques, particularly more efficient ways to plant and conserve food. He conducted one research project in the Belgian Congo. In an article titled, “Live-at-Home Principles Stressed at Mission in Belgian Congo,” he explained how the residents in McKinney, Texas, and Kabinda in the Sakura District of the Belgian Congo found ways to prolong the preservation of food to make it last a lifetime. During the years of the study, Presbyterians found ways to cook and seal all types of fruit, meats, and vegetables to save them for a later time.

“The natives in the picture aid in canning fruits, vegetables, and meats at a Presbyterian Mission in the Belgian Congo. Fruits shown in the picture are pineapples, lemon, mangoes, and cocoanuts.”

The picture shows a wide selection of tropical fruits, including mangoes, papayas, lemons, coconuts, oranges, and grapefruit, which were canned for later consumption. Some of the fruit in the Belgian Congo was extraordinary, such as the pineapples that weighed roughly 12 to 13 pounds and grew larger than the average human head. “During the orange and grapefruit seasons, we bottle a good supply of the juice for use out of season,” Waller stated in one interview, “We can bottle tomato juice.”1 During the growing season, natives hunt wild hogs and several types of antelopes, and they can put the different meats together to enhance the flavor.

The collection of Calvin H. Waller was not the only one I had the chance to help the process. I also worked on the manuscript collections of PVAMU History professor Florida Yeldell and Home Demonstration agent Patricia Brown. The task of rehousing and rewriting titles on acid-free folders was tedious and laborious. Yet, it helped the archivists move forward with the larger processing effort for 31 manuscript collections. In the coming weeks, we will assist in the creation of finding aids for the collections, and I look forward to digitizing and adding the collections to the Digital Commons.


Zynitra Durham

End Notes

  1. C. E. Dowell, “They Can Tropical Fruits,” Texas Extension Service Farm News, 17:1 (Fall 1946): 4. This periodical can also be found in the Calvin H. Waller Papers.