After Slavery, Searching For Loved Ones In Wanted Ads

In 1886, Nancy Jones placed an ad seeking her son, Allen, in an ad in The Christian Recorder of Philadelphia.

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Courtesy of Last Seen

In the waning years of the Civil War, advertisements like this began appearing in newspapers around the country:

INFORMATION WANTED By a mother concerning her children.

“Mrs. Elizabeth Williams, who now resides in Marysville, California was formerly owned to-gether with her children, vis: Lydia, William, Allen, and Parker, by one John Petty, who lived about six miles from the town of Woodbury, Franklin County, Tenneesee. At that time she was the the wife of Sandy Rucker, and was familiarly known as Betsy, – sometimes called Betsy Petty.

“About twenty-five years ago, the mother was sold to Mr. Marshal Stroud, by whom, some twelve or fourteen years later, she was, for the second time since purchased by him, taken to Arkansas. She has never seen the above named children since. Any information given concern-ing them, however, will be gratefully re-ceived by one whose love for her children sur-vives the bitterness and hardship of many long years spent in slavery.”

More than 900 of these “Information Wanted” notices — placed by African-Americans separated from family members by war, slavery and emancipation — have been digitized in a project called Last Seen: Finding Family After Slavery, a collaboration between Villanova University’s graduate history program and Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia.

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The ads, which date from 1863 to 1902, come from six newspapers: Philadelphia’s Christian Recorder, the newspaper of the AME Church; New Orleans’ Black Republican, Nashville’s The Colored Tennessean, Charleston’s South CarolinaLeader, the Free Men’s Press of Galveston, Texas, and Cincinnati’s The Colored Citizen.

“It’s important to think about that moment in time when it looks like slavery is really falling apart, that that opens up the opportunity for people who’ve either lived their lives as fugitives, or who are recently freed, to begin the long process of trying to find family members from whom they’d been separated,” Judith Giesberg, who oversees the project and directs Villanova’s graduate history program, said.

Margaret Jerrido, archivist at Mother Bethel, is a partner in the project, which is believed to be the first of its kind. She has transcribed hundreds of these newspaper ads. “A lot of the ads that I transcribed were siblings looking for each other. But when I found one where a mother was looking for their child, I’d have to stop and sort of blink my eyes a little, because it was a little emotional for me,” Jerrido said.

Evans Green searches for his mother, Phillis, through an ad placed in The Black Republican of New Orleans in 1865.

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Courtesy of Last Seen

The project began last August, and Giesberg says she hopes it will continue at least through the summer. It relies on graduate students and volunteers to transcribe the ads.

“What I think is most extraordinary about these ads [is] they’re just a few lines, but, in just those few lines, they put people together as a family. It’s a snapshot of a moment in time when this family lived together and existed as a unit. They name names and places and dates, so each one is a small poignant family history,” Giesberg said. “These [ads] are from the mouths of these people and they’re claiming this family as having existed.”

In sometimes spare language, the ads represent the deep family ties that endured through the Civil War and beyond slavery, despite the best effort of slave owners to sever those ties. In some instances, the ads are placed decades after the family members have last been in contact.

So far, the majority of the ads have come from The Christian Recorder, which reaches across the country through the influential AME Church. The archives of behemoths of the black press such as The Chicago Defender have yet to be tapped. But the fact that a newspaper such as The Defender, which was founded in 1905, was still publishing these ads into the 1910s — half a century after the Emancipation Proclamation — casts the postwar era in a different light, Giesberg notes.

Jane Givens searches for her father, Phil, and sister, Biddy, through an ad placed in Cincinnati’s The Colored Citizen in 1866.

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Courtesy of Last Seen

“It makes you rethink that idea that the generation that grew up after the Civil War really wanted to distance themselves from slavery, wanted to forget about it, when these ads are running in these newspapers 50 years after,” she says.

Of the 915 ads currently in the database, only two have been identified so far that suggest family members were reunited as a result. But providing a tool for historians — and finding evidence of reunions — aren’t the only goals of the project.

“The ads are also doing another important service,” Giesberg said, “and that is simply commemorating families that were lost during slavery.”

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Agnes Obel On World Cafe

Agnes Obel’s latest album is called Citizen Of Glass.

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Alex Brüel Flagstad/Courtesy of the artist

  • “Familiar”
  • “Golden Green”
  • “Stone”

Danish songwriter Agnes Obel‘s session might give you the shivers for more than one reason. Her latest album, Citizen Of Glass, was named for a pretty eerie concept. “I got the idea from the German term gläserner mensch, which is the term you use when an individual in a state has lost all his or her privacy,” she says.

If you think that’s unsettling, wait until you hear Obel’s army of strings and crunchy harmonies, not to mention lyrics that explore guilt, love and the green monster of envy. It’s compelling, a little unnerving and entirely beautiful. Hear the complete session in the player above.

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Nick Dupree Fought To Live 'Like Anyone Else'

Nick Dupree arrives at the Federal Courthouse in Montgomery, Ala. on Feb. 11, 2003. His success in getting the state to continue support past age 21 enabled him to finish college and live in his own home.

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Jamie Martin/AP

Disability rights activist Nick Dupree died last weekend. Tomorrow would have been his 35th birthday.

Back in 2003, he told NPR: “I want a life. I just want a life. Like anyone else. Just like your life. Or anyone else’s life.”

He got that life.

Dupree had a severe neuromuscular disease and was living in Mobile, Ala. He was in a wheelchair and depended on a respirator to breathe. The state paid for nurses to come into his home — even take him to college classes. But that care was about to end the day he turned 21. He faced going to a nursing home, where he feared he would die.

Every state has a program that pays for care for severely disabled children to live at home, but not every state continues that care into adulthood. When Dupree was 19, he started Nick’s Crusade — an online campaign to change the rules in Alabama.

Just a few days before his 21st birthday, he won. In 2008, he decided to move to New York City.

“I assisted him moving to New York, which was very, very scary for me,” says Dupree’s mother, Ruth Belasco. “But, I figured that his joy would outweigh my fear.”

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In New York, Dupree made friends. He went to museums. He could move just the tip of his thumb and his index finger. And if someone placed his hand on a computer track ball, he could draw. That’s how he made online comic books that reflected his quirky humor.

Dupree created webcomics — occasionally featuring Theodore Roosevelt and zombies — that reflected his quirky humor.


Superdude Comics/Courtesy of Alejandra Ospina
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Superdude Comics/Courtesy of Alejandra Ospina

Like Theodore Roosevelt and the Rough Riders versus Zombies.

Something else happened in New York, too:

“It was just wonderful that he fell in love,” Belasco says. “And it was a wonderful story. And it was something that he always hoped for; [he was a] very romantic young guy and he actually found someone who loved him and he loved in return.”

He’d met the love of his life — Alejandra Ospina — online. Their wedding ceremony was in Central Park.

“We had vows. We had lots of people,” says Ospina, who has cerebral palsy and also uses a wheelchair. “There was food. And it was very windy that day, which didn’t play well with the ventilators. But it was all right.”

Still, like many other people with disabilities, they didn’t legally marry. If they had, their incomes would have been counted together, and Medicaid would have cut Nick’s benefits.

“He lived with me in an apartment in the community for seven years and 8 months,” Ospina says.

She knows exactly because that’s how Nick — who wasn’t supposed to live past his 21st birthday — counted time.

A chapter Dupree wrote about his life and struggles was included in a disability rights anthology.

Courtesy of Alejandra Ospina

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Courtesy of Alejandra Ospina

The ending to Nick’s story, though, isn’t a happy one.

The people who loved him ended up feeling helpless and guilty. Providing the round-the-clock care became difficult. When nurses didn’t show up for their shifts, Ospina and Dupree would fight over caregiving.

They separated last spring and Dupree decided to move to a hospital — the place he’d tried to avoid his whole life.

In the past 10 months, he moved between a hospital and nursing homes. He got pneumonia and bed sores.

“Each time he got sick again, it would be worse and worse and worse,” Belasco says. “And his ability to withstand that just ran out.”

Belasco says she wanted her son to come home to Alabama. But that wasn’t easy. She already cares for his younger brother who has the same disease. She takes the night shift seven nights a week, sleeping during the day.

And then last week, Nick fell ill with sepsis and heart problems. He died at a hospital in New York City.

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From George Washington To Barack Obama, Tracing The Evolution Of Presidential Secrecy

Since the formation of the United States, presidents have struggled with what to keep secret from the American people and what to reveal.

As co-director of the Transparency Policy Project at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, Mary Graham has studied how various presidents have handled the problem over the years.

Graham joins Here & Now‘s Jeremy Hobson to talk about her new book “Presidents’ Secrets: The Use and Abuse of Hidden Power.”

Book Excerpt: ‘Presidents’ Secrets’

By Mary Graham

Introduction

The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, which shattered the nation’s prevailing notions of national security, also called into question a generation of limitations on presidents’ secrets. Threats from elusive networks of extremists created an urgent need for secret intelligence in order to locate terrorists before they attacked. But those threats also created an urgent need for public information so that citizens could understand the new challenges, protect themselves and their communities, guard their rights, and grant their consent to new policies.

New threats and advances in digital technology meant that old bargains didn’t work anymore. In the years that followed, presidents could no longer protect the nation’s vital secrets. Nor did they provide the openness that Americans now expected.

Uncertainty bred confusion and suspicion. Fewer than a quarter of Americans trusted the federal government most of the time, close to an all-time low since the 1950s. Nearly all of those polled said that they had lost control of their personal information. Most believed they were being watched as they went about their daily lives. Growing distrust deprived leaders’ actions of legitimacy and kept the nation from responding with its full strength to new crises.

In this time of rapid change, the aims and instincts of the first two presidents of the twenty-first century took on unusual importance. Determined to prevent the next attack and intent on demonstrating executive authority, George W. Bush circled around settled law and practice. His new programs of stealth detention, interrogation, and surveillance tested the limits of presidents’ secret, unilateral actions. Eight years later, Barack Obama revealed some of those programs, anchored anti-terrorism policies in national and international law, and made a bold promise that the president’s secret actions would always be accompanied by oversight from Congress and the courts. However, secretive oversight of secretive programs no longer worked. Citizens no longer trusted Congress, and they expected open debate about presidents’ proposals that affected their rights or their safety. When information leaked out about surveillance, armed drones, and cyberattacks, the president demonstrated belatedly that it was possible to have a productive debate about security measures without revealing operational secrets.

Amid presidents’ steps and missteps, partisan rancor, media hype, and changing threats, the nation is seeking an accommodation between openness and secrecy for the digital age. Far from being helpless, ordinary citizens have a leading role to play in deciding what the new bargain will be.

Three times in the past, Americans have recalibrated the role of secrecy in open government when confronted with new threats and advancing technology. Change was never part of a grand plan and often was not even recognized while it was taking place. Instead, new accommodations emerged from political conflict, personal power struggles, and presidents’ ad hoc efforts to solve pressing problems. Each time, however, recalibrating the role of secrecy led to lasting changes in American democracy.

From PRESIDENTS’ SECRETS: THE USE AND ABUSE OF HIDDEN POWER, by Mary Graham, published by Yale University Press in February 2017. Reproduced by permission.

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Low-Income PoCs Still Don't Trust The Police, But Would Work With Them

A protester shakes hand with a Denver Police officer during a peaceful demonstration July 11, 2016 downtown Denver.

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While trying to catch a bus to school, Emilio Mayfield, 16, jaywalked. When he didn’t comply with a police officer’s command to get out of the bus lane, a scuffle ensued. Mayfield was struck in the face with a baton and arrested by nine Stockton, Cal. police officers. The arrest was captured on video by a bystander and the video went viral.

A police officer responding to a domestic violence call shot Jamar Clark, 24, in the head as he lay on the ground. He died the next day, sparking weeks of protests. A Minneapolis Police Department internal investigation later cleared the two officers involved in the shooting of any wrongdoing.

Devon Davis crashed his car and was running away from cops when they caught up to him. A witness says officers severely beat Davis in the legs before carrying him away. Police assert that Davis injured his legs in the car crash. Davis sued the city of Pittsburgh and six police officers.

These incidents — which all took place in 2015 — may have been on the minds of residents in these cities when they were asked to participate in a study of their views on the police.

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The study, released Wednesday, reveals that while the majority of residents in high-crime, high-poverty areas have a negative view of the police, they also have great respect for the law and are willing to work with law enforcement to make communities safer.

The majority of residents surveyed hold a very negative impression of the police. Less than a third believe that the police respect people’s rights, “treat people with dignity and respect,” and “make fair and impartial decisions in the cases they deal with.” More than half of residents say that “police officers will treat you differently because of your race/ethnicity” and that officers act “based on personal prejudices and biases.” Survey respondents identified as black (66 percent), white (12 percent), and Latino or Hispanic (11 percent). The majority are female (59 percent). Most respondents live in extreme poverty, reporting a total annual income of less than $20,000.

Residents also expressed a firm belief in the law and a willingness to partner with police to improve community safety. Seven in 10 respondents believe that the “law should be strictly obeyed” and that laws benefit the community. More than half agree with the statement “the laws in your community are consistent with your own intuitions about what is right and just.”

And while only 38 percent of respondents say that they feel safe around the police or find them trustworthy (30 percent), they also say they would work with police. More than half are willing to attend a community meeting with police and close to half say they would volunteer their time to help the police solve a crime or find a suspect.

The Urban Institute, a think tank based in Washington, D.C., conducted the study in partnership with local organizations in six cities: Birmingham, Alabama; Fort Worth, Texas; Gary, Indiana; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and Stockton, California. The focus on households located in the highest crime, lowest income areas — with predominantly residents of color — is a marked departure from most surveys about perception of law enforcement which sample the general population.

Using data from the U.S. Census and crime data provided by police departments in the six cities, researchers identified the areas with the highest concentrations of crime and poverty in each city. Focusing their research in this way allowed them to survey the “people who live in the areas where trust may be weakest, but who may benefit the most from increases in public safety.”

“General population surveys often mask differences between groups,” the authors said. “Those who are white and more affluent are the most likely to respond to general population surveys and tend to have relatively favorable views of the police.” Researchers conducted surveys in person, instead of using the more common methods of mail or phone because residents who are low income, have less education, or are racial or linguistic minorities tend to be underrepresented in phone and mail surveys.

According to 2010 U.S. Census data, of the six cities, the ones with majority black populations — Gary, Indiana (85 percent) and Birmingham, Alabama (73 percent) — had the highest percentages of individuals living in poverty (37 percent, and 31 percent, respectively).

Forth Worth, Texas, Minneapolis, and Pittsburgh have majority white populations of around 60 to 65 percent. Roughly 20 percent of residents in these cities live in poverty.

Stockton is the only city in the study without a racial majority. Forty percent identified as Latino or Hispanic, 23 percent as white, 22 percent as Asian, and 12 percent as black. It also had the highest percentage of individuals reporting mixed-race identity (7 percent). A quarter of its residents live in poverty.

While there have been in-depth looks at disparities in various aspects of the criminal justice system (such as over-representation of blacks and Latinos in solitary confinement), little has been reported on the views of those most affected by heavy police presence in their neighborhoods. “The people most likely to experience high rates of violence and heavy police presence in their communities have limited resources, social capital, and political voice,” the researchers said.

“Quite simply, reductions in violent crime are not possible without meaningful representation of — and engagement with — the residents most affected by it,” the study concluded.

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How 3 American Families Went Off The Grid In Search Of A Simpler Life

The American quest for authenticity and a simpler life amid consumerism and the onslaught of modernity has long been a part of our nation’s history.

In his new book “The Unsettlers: In Search Of The Good Life In Today’s America,” author Mark Sundeen follows modern homesteaders who’ve gone off the grid and taken other radical steps to live differently. Sundeen (@SundeenMark), a correspondent for Outside Magazine, profiles three families who try to break away from global capitalism and live a more sustainable, ethical life.

Here & Now‘s Eric Westervelt (@Ericnpr) talks with Sundeen about the book and what he learned from writing it.

Book Excerpt: ‘The Unsettlers’

By Mark Sundeen

I was looking for people freed from commercial civilization, who might give me direction for doing it myself. Yet after a full year, everyone I’d met fell into one of five categories, none of which was exactly right.

First were single men. These guys had achieved self-reliance, but in cutting ties with the economy, they had also severed family bonds, the opposite of what I was on the verge of doing. I wanted blueprints for cohabitation, not hermitry.

Next I met people who, after leading a simple life for some period of time, decided to quit—Cedar’s parents, for example. After years of eking out a living growing food and selling stained glass at craft fairs, they both got full-time jobs and eventually replaced the barn with a beautiful on‑grid home. “We took poverty as far as we could,” her dad told me with a laugh. A friend of mine who birthed a baby in a school bus in a snowstorm on a mountain told me that tripping in the snow on the way to the outhouse one night—pregnant, shitting herself—was not what had finally nudged her and her husband to abandon the
homestead. It was the prospect of driving the kids forty minutes to school each day. People who quit the simple life were the rule; I wanted the exceptions.

In the third group were people who had launched their vision with considerable wealth or inherited land. I met a family who had deftly flipped a house in the suburbs before the crash, paid cash for acreage, and built an off-grid straw-bale house. I envied and admired them, but I couldn’t afford to replicate what they’d done. Perhaps the most famous modern homesteader is Ree Drummond, who spun her massively popular Pioneer Woman blog into a series of books and TV shows that extol home cooking and homeschooling. But Drummond acquired her piece of paradise by marrying into a family that ranks
among America’s largest landowners.

There were also those from a tradition of simple living, such as the Amish and the Mennonites. But you had to be born into such a culture. You couldn’t just join. And then there were the moonlighters. Western Montana and southern Utah, where I’d lived for two decades, were meccas for back‑to‑the-landers, as were Vermont and Northern California. But those places were all expensive now, and buying in these days—or even staying afloat—required working an outside job to support a homestead hobby. I admired the commitment of those who’d figured out how to make it work. But for me a crucial motivation for living simply was to gain more freedom, not to sprint on some treadmill just to pay the bank.

“What can I actually do?” asked the British economist E. F. Schumacher in his 1973 book Small Is Beautiful, in the face of intractable tentacles of industry. “In the excitement over the unfolding of his scientific and technical powers,” he wrote, “modern man has built a system of production that ravishes nature and a type of society that mutilates man.” Meanwhile, the wealthy were stripping the world of its cheap fuels at such a quick rate that poor countries would never get a fair share.

Schumacher’s solution: “We can, each of us, work to put our own inner house in order.” He viewed economics through a Buddhist lens, asserting that “the essence of civilization [is] not in a multiplication of wants but in the purification of human character.” Instead of productivity for its own sake, Schumacher heralded the Buddhist ideal of “right livelihood,” whose function he defined as threefold: to excel at one’s craft, to overcome selfishness by working in common cause with others, and to create useful goods and services.

Wendell Berry echoed this: “How can a man hope to promote peace in the world if he has not made it possible in his own life and his own household?”

So after a year of searching for the people who had taken Wendell Berry’s challenge to quit destructive technology, I found that I was equally interested in finding people who had taken his challenge to put their households in order.

Where to find homesteaders more radical, more committed, yet less isolated than the ones I’d met thus far? Not personally knowing any, I launched my search—where else?—on Facebook. Through a short chain of acquaintances I learned about a place in Missouri, the Possibility Alliance. Some people I met at an anarchist collective told me they had gone there to launch a monthlong bike ride devoted to service—a ride they’d all done dressed as superheroes. But in these instantly searchable times, it was surprisingly hard to find out more. The alliance was shrouded in analog mystery: no website or social media, no major press coverage. Was it a commune or a school or an ashram or a summer camp or a training ground for revolutionaries?

Gradually I gathered this much: Members of the Possibility Alliance used no electricity, cars, or computers. They lived by candlelight and grew their own food and rode bicycles and horses and trains. They lived in voluntary poverty rather than pay an income tax that financed war. Knowledge of the place spread by word of mouth.

I eventually obtained a phone number—landlines don’t require electricity—and after a series of messages spoke with Ethan Hughes, who, along with his wife, Sarah Wilcox, had founded the Possibility Alliance after they’d disembarked that Amtrak train in La Plata in 2007. He told me that the alliance hosted 1,500 visitors per year, some for a two-hour tour or a half-day course in canning or knitting, others for a weeklong natural-building workshop or a two-week permaculture course.

“People pull up in the train and are picked up by horse and buggy or by bike,” he said. “We call it ‘necessary simplicity.’ I don’t know how to build another planet, but I know how to simplify. It creates a myth. In the age of the Internet, people get bored. There’s this mystery. People track us down.”

I asked what sort of people showed up.

“All kinds. Catholic Workers and anti-religious anarchists, permaculturists and Buddhists.” At present they were so inundated with visitors that they could accommodate me only during “Experience Week.”

The price for the nine-day visit: zero. They operated strictly on the “gift economy.” I asked what that meant.

“I see objects and money like water,” he said. “It’s flowing. If in nature one tree kept all the water, everything downstream would die. By studying nature we see—” He stopped mid-sentence.

“The bell of mindfulness just rang,” he said. “Do you mind taking a moment of silence with me?”

Exceprted from THE UNSETTLERS by Mark Sundeen. Copyright © 2017 by Mark Sundeen. Published by arrangement with Riverhead Books, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC.

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An Attempt To Save South Carolina's Historical Documents Is Destroying Them

Pat McCawley, left, and Eric Emerson look at a drawing of an asylum built in Columbia, S.C., in the 1820s.

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When you think of an old map or manuscript, you might picture something yellowed, tattered or even torn because of how long it’s been around. But millions of historic documents, from presidential papers to personal slave journals are facing an issue apart from age: a preservation method that has backfired.

In a cold, white room on the first floor of South Carolina’s state archives, a dehumidifier keeps a mass of old documents safe.

“We try to keep this to be an odor-free zone,” says Eric Emerson, director of the state’s archives and history department.

Past a row of 10-foot metal shelves sit the department’s crown jewels.

“These are the seven constitutions of the state,” Emerson says.

From left to right, the constitutions range from those written during the Revolutionary War all the way through Reconstruction.

Emerson’s colleague Patrick McCawley is worried about these historic papers. He points to South Carolina’s first constitution from 1776. It’s stiff, stuck together, with a plastic outer coating like a restaurant place mat.

“Some of these documents like this? We really can’t put it on display because it’s in such poor condition,” McCawley says.

The other constitutions look the same.

“You can see how brown this is coming,” McCawley says. “This should not normally be this brown.”

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South Carolina’s Constitution of 1861 underwent a lamination preservation process. Archivists no longer use the process after it was realized the laminate material degrades into an acid, doing more damage to the documents.

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Cooper McKim/South Carolina Public Radio

For 20 years, beginning in the 1950s, the state laminated documents like this to try to protect them from again. This discoloration is not supposed to be happening — it’s caused by a chemical reaction. The natural acids from the paper mix with the degrading laminate to create a noxious vinegar. Each passing year will further degrade the document until it’s gone.

“You’re effectively forming an envelope where you’re keeping the acids in the paper, not allowing them to migrate out,” says Molly McGath, a researcher at Johns Hopkins University.

McGath has written extensively about lamination and she says South Carolina isn’t the only state having this problem. She says the method was performed around the U.S., and other countries, throughout the 20th century. There are as many as 6 million laminated historical documents.

She says the method was first popularized as a cheap and easy way to preserve them.

“You put plastic on either side, and then you put it through the press and it’s done,” McGath says. “You had a very high through-put.”

McGath says some archives laminated 20,000 pages a year. In the 1960s, approximately 10 years later, curators began to notice a problem: the scent of vinegar. After the 1970s, the method ground to a halt. Now, states are stuck with slowly-degrading documents.

“We are sort of fighting the clock,” McGath says.

In Texas, archivists have started scanning their collection, like the 1836 treaty between state commissioners and the Cherokee Indians. In Virginia, the state conservator Leslie Courtois is choosing to remove the lamination entirely. Courtois has spent 20 years delaminating thousands of important, old papers.

“It’s tiring, it’s tedious, it’s very laborious, it’s messy,” Courtois says.

Plus, it’s expensive and time-consuming. Courtois has to place each page of a document in a chemical bath. South Carolina doesn’t have all the materials or the staff to do this, so they’re seeking $200,000 to have a private lab take it on.

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Beth Hart's Advice To Fellow Musicians: 'We Have The Right To Say No'

“Don’t do it for the applause or anything else,” Beth Hart advises other artists. “Just do it because you love it.”

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Mona Nordøy/Courtesy of the artist

Beth Hart just released her ninth album, Fire On The Floor. It exemplifies her signature, raw, bluesy storytelling about women down and out, surviving and taking control. But Hart, 45, says that when she was younger, she herself wasn’t in control. She started drinking and doing drugs as a preteen; that exploded into full-blown addiction after she launched her career from the Los Angeles rock scene in the ’90s.

“With [my] second record, Screamin’ For My Supper,there was pressure,” Hart tells NPR’s Audie Cornish. “I was getting calls, and I guess ‘LA Song‘ was doing super good. We were doing lots of music videos and all these things. So that really triggered me, and that’s when the things the I’d kept kind of in control — they say ‘functioning alcoholic,’ a ‘functioning addict’ — all of a sudden, I couldn’t function anymore. It was daily drug-taking, daily drinking and starving to the point where I was just skin and bones and my hair was falling out.”

Hart says “LA Song” wasn’t as massive a hit as “Back To Black” was for Amy Winehouse, another star who famously battled addiction. If her song had been that big, she says, Atlantic Records wouldn’t have dropped her or taken her off the road. She believes that’s part of the reason she survived.

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“People who do care about you and love you — even they can be in total denial and are saying to themselves, ‘Look at all these great opportunities around you! Look at all this that’s happening! You’re strong enough, you’re stronger than what you think.’ Instead, you’re not hearing me when I say, ‘That’s too much for me,’ ” Hart says. “So it’s a majorly important thing for young artists, as well as older artists like myself, to know that not only do we have the right to say no, but if we don’t say no, we’re gonna die.”

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These days, mainstream artists are becoming more public about their mental health struggles. Kendrick Lamar has talked about depression, and Selena Gomez took some time off last year, saying she just needed a break. But it’s taken a long time to get to this point, and Hart says that the public stigma attached to mental illness is the reason the music industry has had trouble addressing it.

“You’re in a business where you’re taught that your image and the way people perceive you is important,” she says. “But at some point, you realize it’s not important at all. Fame doesn’t matter, people approving of you doesn’t matter. And if it does matter, you’re in store for something very difficult and painful.”

Hart is healthy now, and says she’s focused on the challenge of songwriting, singing and performing, as well as setting boundaries with her label and management.

“Something I would stress the most to any artist is number one, don’t ever allow success [to] determine your worth as an artist or as a person,” she says. “And number two, do it because you love it. Don’t do it for the applause or anything else, just do it because you love it. ‘Cause it really is a gift to enjoy, it’s nothing to prove. And you have a lifetime to learn and grow and search in music. It’s not a business, it’s just something to enjoy and love and have a good time in.”

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