News Briefs, March 2006
Bruce Craig, March 2006
On January 30, 2006, the Smithsonian Institution's Board of Regents announced that it would like to place the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., on a five-acre parcel just 800 feet from the Washington Monument, at the intersection of 14th Avenue and Constitution Avenue, N.W., just across the street from the National Museum of American History.
Placement of the museum on the National Mall is likely to make it a popular tourist destination once construction of the $350 million facility is completed in 2016. Critics of the Mall location fear that the museum's height could obscure the view of the Washington Monument. Others believe the proposed site is one of a few remaining parcels of open land that presently is used for Mall events and that construction on it will have a detrimental impact on large events. Additional challenges for the museum's planners are traffic congestion and a lack of parking space, as well as the fact that the site is in a flood plain. Officials will now begin working on architectural plans with the National Capital Planning Commission and the Commission of Fine Arts and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, all of which must also pass judgment on the site.
About 50 percent of the cost of the projected 350,000 square-foot facility will be provided by the federal government, the balance being raised privately. The museum's collections will cover the gamut of the black experience in America from the slave experience through post-Civil War Reconstruction, the Harlem Renaissance, and civil rights movement.
The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) has released a copy of the draft deed of gift agreement that will be entered into by NARA and the Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace Foundation once the private library is absorbed into the presidential library system. That donation is expected to take place later this year. According to NARA officials, the Nixon Foundation has agreed to the terms of the agreement and will sign the deed at the time of transfer of the Nixon Library to the National Archives. Sharon Fawcett, assistant archivist for presidential libraries, said that the Nixon Foundation accepted the NARA draft without revision.
Under the terms of the deed, the Nixon Foundation will donate and convey to the federal government the portions of tapes and textual materials that have been determined to be private returnable information concerning political activities in accordance with the terms of the Presidential Recordings and Materials Preservation Act (PRMPA). NARA will review Nixon political materials in the tapes and historical materials held by NARA at its College Park repository as part of the package for transfer. The deed states that NARA will review the political materials using the same standards that it used in reviewing the constitutional and statutory conversations on the Nixon records and other so-called "c" and "s" materials from the Nixon presidency. It is worth noting that the deed of gift in no way affects the portions of tapes and textual materials that have been or will be determined to constitute information of a purely personal nature to President Nixon or his family.
Among the items to be transferred are conversations in the Nixon White House tapes, textual and other audiovisual materials still in NARA's custody, and such materials returned by NARA to the Nixon estate that are currently located at the Yorba Linda library. Furthermore, according to the agreement, it is the donors' wish that the political/returnable materials be made available for research as soon as possible and to the fullest extent possible, in accordance with NARA's review standards.
A PDF copy of the agreement is available on the AHA web site at http://www.historians.org/Perspectives/NewsBriefs/2006/0601/Nixon.pdf.
On December 21, 2005, Bruce Cole, chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), was unanimously confirmed for a second four-year term as head of the NEH by the U.S. Senate. Cole is only the second individual to be nominated and confirmed to a second term as chair of the NEH. Created in 1965 as an independent federal agency, the NEH supports learning in history, literature, philosophy, and other areas of the humanities. After his confirmation Cole issued the following statement:
I am grateful to President Bush and the United States Senate as I begin a second term as Chairman of the NEH. It is a great honor to serve the American people for another term. Over the past four years, we've seen a number of successes at the NEH, including the ‘We the People' initiative and major budget increases that enabled new humanities programming. I am confident that over the next four years the endowment will build upon these accomplishments and continue to provide the wisdom and vision needed to sustain our vibrant democracy. . . . I am honored to serve at its helm.
Several major history organizations have sent a letter to Education Secretary Margaret Spellings requesting that she find within her department's discretionary budget the funds necessary to initiate a state-by-state assessment of student performance on history tests.
The letter, signed by representatives of the American Historical Association, the National Coalition for History, the National Council for History Education, the National Council for Social Studies, the Organization of American Historians, and the Society of American Historians, urges the secretary to find the requisite funds in the fiscal 2006 budget authorization for the Department of Education to carry out provisions of Senate bill 860 (S. 860).
The referenced legislation was introduced last year by Senators Lamar Alexander (chair of the Education and Early Childhood Development Subcommittee) and Edward Kennedy (the ranking minority member for the Senate's Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee). At first, congressional funding to implement the measure seemed assured, but the specific funding for implementation was struck at the last moment by House and Senate managers. Reportedly, they struck the funding from the conference report that appropriates funding for the department in its fiscal 2006 budget in order to lessen the projected budget deficit. The conferees did, however, reference the legislation in the Department of Education conference report for Public Law 109-149 and urged the Education Department to begin work on the assessment using other departmental funds.
The letter from the historical associations declared, "In our collective view, this year state accountability in U.S. History must be made a departmental priority. . . . We urge that you carefully scrutinize the budget Congress authorized your department for FY 2006 and find the necessary funds to begin work on the first state-wide comparison of the 2006 N.A.E.P. U.S. History assessment."
No response to the letter has yet been received from the secretary's office.
On January 27, 2006, the American Historical Association, along with many other scholarly associations and leading history and archival organizations as well as a number of prominent scholars of the presidency and the Vietnam War, filed an amicus brief in a lawsuit brought by Larry Berman, professor of political science at the University of California at Davis. The case involves Berman's effort to obtain release under the Freedom of Information Act of two almost 40-year-old CIA memos to President Johnson. Represented by Matthew W.S. Estes, the scholars seek to alert the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to the broad implications of the lower court's ruling.
In the lower court, U.S. District Judge David Levi held that the CIA may categorically refuse to review for release all President's Daily Briefs, in perpetuity, regardless of their content, because these reports are a protected intelligence source. Levi also held that the briefs could be categorically withheld also because they are protected by a limitless presidential privilege for confidential communications with advisers. The scholars argue that this holding contradicts the Supreme Court's decision in the Nixon tapes cases that privilege erodes over time and Congress's clear finding in the 1978 Presidential Records Act that the privilege no longer applies 12 years after the president leaves office. Moreover, the rationale for the privilege makes no sense in light of the extensive public availability of President Johnson's deliberations, including over 400 hours of tapes of his oval office conversations.
The amicus brief, along with other court papers and supporting documents, is available on the National Security Archive web site at http://www.nsarchive.org.