Myles Horton Papers, 1851-1990

Scope and Content Note

The Myles Horton Papers at the State Historical Society of Wisconsin is one of several archival collections documenting Horton's career and influence. In addition to this collection, the Highlander Center holds a group of Horton papers. The relationship between the two collections is unknown, however. The Highlander records at SHSW and at the University of Tennessee also contain extensive information about Horton's career, influence, and personal life.

The Horton Papers in this collection largely consist of personal and career materials that predate the establishment of Highlander in 1932 and that postdate his retirement in 1970, with the majority of the documentation dating from the mid-1960s through 1990. Although the collection essentially documents his work before and after Highlander, it is of value to researchers interested in that institution, for Horton was repeatedly contacted by historians for information on topics related to the civil rights movement, labor, and education, as well as to Highlander itself. The collection also includes a subject file in which Horton occasionally included original or Xerox copies of early Highlander documents.

Unfortunately, the usefulness of the Horton Papers is hampered by the fact that a substantial portion consists of handwritten draft material and notes that are unidentified and difficult to read. This same problem plagues some of the outgoing correspondence where the illegibility of Horton's handwriting is compounded by the poor quality of the Xerox copies he made of his outgoing letters.

The PERSONAL AND FAMILY MATERIAL consists of general biographical information, documentation relating to his career before he established Highlander, and information about his family. Included are letters to his first wife, a resume and some writings of his second wife; biographical and historical clippings; brief autobiographical statements; interviews; and genealogical material relating to the Falls and Horton families. Also filed here is information relating to the house given to the Hortons by Highlander in partial compensation for their years of unsalaried work.

Myles' correspondence to Zilphia consists of handwritten and typed personal letters. Most of the letters are undated, although many are thought to date from the early years of their marriage. Zilphia's letters to Myles, as well as her other papers, are part of a separate series described below. The information about Horton's second wife is also fragmentary, consisting primarily of material relating to her own research on Highlander.

Myles Horton was the frequent subject of interviews and oral histories about Highlander, adult education, and other related topics, and many of these are included in the collection. Over time Horton tended to repeat the same historical information and anecdotes, but his longer interviews are quite useful. The interviews include discussions with wife Aimee (1966), the Southern Labor History Program at the University of North Carolina, Frank Adams, and Studs Terkel. Horton's published interview with Bill Moyers is available in the SHSW Library.

Most useful among the diaries are two documents (both dated 1928--one probably incorrectly--and both incomplete) which contain brief entries about his studies at Cumberland College. Several folders of typed and handwritten notes concerning abnormal psychology, economics, etc. are unidentified but thought to date to Horton's study either at the University of Chicago or Union Theological Seminary. Similarly unidentified are several folders of reports on interviews conducted by Horton and others with several Protestant congregations in McHenry County, Illinois, 1930-1931. (The precise purpose of this research is unexplained either in the collection or in The Long Haul.) Also part of the early career materials are confidential reports on patients at Worcester State Hospital that Horton prepared during his work as a chaplain in 1930.

SPEECHES AND WRITINGS is a chronologically-arranged file. Except for a speech delivered to some Tennessee Presbyterians in 1928 and a 1944 article, the documentation begins in 1961. It ends with a printed copy of The Long Haul, the autobiography Horton wrote with Herbert and Judith Kohl. Other materials filed here (handwritten notes, miscellaneous writings, poetry, and stories) are arranged alphabetically by type. Although they are undated, the handwritten material filed as “Miscellaneous writings” are thought to relate to the religious work Horton did in Tennessee during the late 1920s. (Researchers should also consult the subject files for some scattered additional remarks and handwritten notes that were probably used as the basis for informal remarks.)

The CORRESPONDENCE is divided into an alphabetical name file and a chronologically-arranged general file. Correspondents in the name file typically include people Horton met during his travels; individuals who had attended workshops at Highlander; and students researching and writing on Highlander, adult education, and related topics. One such file that contains exchanges with historian John Glen (as well as with Tom Ludwig and other Highlander staff) concerns Glen's controversial interpretation of the circumstances surrounding the death of Zilphia Horton.

The general correspondence contains scattered items, 1930-1979, with the majority dating from the years 1985 through 1989. Among the interesting early items is a 1930 note from Fannia Cohn of the Garment Workers Union in New York City which thanked Horton for his support during a strike, a letter from Perry Horton expressing satisfaction over his son's decision to dedicate his life to helping others, and a 1933 note from John Dewey endorsing the objectives of the Highlander Folk School. A 1937 letter to writer Louis Adamic contains background information about Highlander, and an isolated 1958 letter to a Horton relative provides an interesting view of activities at the school during that period. One undated (but early) letter may have been written by Don West.

The later correspondence in the collection came primarily from people who met Horton during travel, from people requesting interviews or from organizations inviting him as a speaker. Only a few items in the correspondence of this period relate to contemporary matters at Highlander. This type of correspondence, although brief and personal in content, generally indicates Horton's influence and the high regard in which he was held. Of special interest among the letters thanking Horton for hospitality are several 1983 notes from Pete Seeger.

The TRAVEL RECORDS, which are alphabetically arranged by country, primarily document the trips Horton made in behalf of adult education after his retirement, although the collection also includes postcards relating to his travel in Denmark in 1931 and a few items pertaining to a 1959 trip to Cuba. The travel files vary greatly in extent and completeness. Some contain little more than itineraries and lists of potential contacts, while others contain correspondence, unusual publications, notes on background reading, and summaries of his observations. The correspondence in the Nicaragua file is particularly extensive, dating from 1977 to 1988. These files include papers relating to the popular education conference Horton attended in 1983, information about his work as an observer for Witness for Peace in 1984 election, and a tape recording of the 1987 meeting which took place between a Highlander delegation and Fernando Cardenal, the Nicaraguan minister of education. Also of interest is a transcribed interview with Brazilian opposition workers in 1978; a report by Aleine Austin on her visit to China with a Highlander group (also including her comments on the place of “We Shall Overcome” in the Democratic reform movement in China); a report on Peru written by Helen (last name unknown) for the Highlander staff; a transcribed diary of Horton's 1978 trip to Cuba that was organized by Promoting Enduring Peace; and extensive notes on a 1985 visit to South Africa.

The SUBJECT FILES were received from the donor in considerable disorder and in poor physical condition. As a result, much of the current arrangement was established in the archives. Whenever possible, however, folder titles used by Horton (such as “capitalism and the individual,” “community empowerment,” “conflict management”) were utilized. The folders variously contain handwritten and typed notes, correspondence, speeches and papers by Horton and others, annotated references to readings, and some documents relating to the history of Highlander.

Of particular interest among the files relating to Highlander are those on the citizenship schools, the relationship with the CIO, the beginnings of the Appalachia program, the Summerfield Nursery School, and many workshops. There are also transcriptions of several staff and board meetings that are not included in the Highlander Records (March 3-4, 1956; May 14, 1965; and Spring, 1968). Several staff and former students, including Esau Jenkins, May Justus, Rosa Parks, Bernice Robinson, Don West, and Hosea Williams, are prominently represented here by correspondence, oral history interviews (these are apparently copies of originals at the Tennessee State Library and Archives), and other materials. However, Martin Luther King, Jr., who was prominently associated with Highlander, is only represented by material relating to his historical reputation rather than by primary documentation.

Among the educational files of interest are those on decision making, educational philosophy, and participatory research. Several folders relate to Horton's relationship with John Hurst and the Peace and Conflict program at Berkeley. Also of interestsophy, and participatory research. Several folders relate to Horton's relationship with John Hurst and the Peace and Conflict program at Berkeley. Also of interest in the subject files is the dismantled scrapbook of Lilian Wyckoff Johnson, the original owner of the property that became Highlander, concerning her efforts to establish a college for women in the South. Prominent correspondents related to her work include John Dewey, Frederick Jackson Turner, and Woodrow Wilson. There is also interesting information in the subject files concerning Horton's association with Paulo Freire, Huey Long, and Lillian Smith.

The ZILPHIA HORTON PAPERS include biographical information about her musical career; an inventory of her folk music papers at the Tennessee State Library and Archives; poetry, drawings, short stories, and other writings; information about the theater program at Highlander; several folders of personal letters to Myles; and one folder of correspondence with others. Also here is a copy of the mimeographed form letter issued by Myles after Zilphia's sudden death and numerous letters of sympathy that he received in response.