|Provenance:||Deed of gift from Frieda E. Stillerman, on January 23, 1996|
|Size:||7 linear feet (11 archival boxes)|
|Repository:||Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection of Afro-American History and Literature, Carter G. Woodson Regional Library (Chicago Public Library), 9525 S. Halsted Street, Chicago, IL 60628|
|Citation:||When quoting material from this collection the preferred citation is: Evans, Charles J. Papers (Box #, Folder #), Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection of Afro-American History and Literature, Chicago Public Library|
|Processed by:||Jeanie Child, Harsh Archival Processing Project|
|Supervised by:||Michael Flug, Senior Archivist, Harsh Archival Processing Project|
Charles J. (Jeffries) Evans worked throughout his life as a teacher, writer and labor activist. He studied and taught English and social studies at the high school, college and university level. He was perhaps best known as an early advocate for black studies programs at the university level. Throughout his professional life he assumed a leadership role in the labor unions and faculty organizations to which he belonged. Evans achieved his many professional accomplishments through constant hard work and belief in the special value of education for African Americans.
Charles Evans was born March 16, 1920 in Greenville, Ky., to farmer and housewife Wesley and Cleo (Cleopatra) Evans. From an early age, he served his surrounding community as “scribe,” by preparing correspondence and documents for those who asked his help.
He graduated from Western High School in Owensboro, Ky., in 1937 and immediately commenced studies at Indiana Central College in Indianapolis. Sometime later he transferred to City College of New York, but before graduating he entered the U.S. Army in 1943. Achieving the rank of sergeant, he served in combat in Germany before his honorable discharge in 1945. Evans returned to the United States dedicated to the pursuit of both an education and also social justice, particularly for working people. His many early jobs included duty as a railroad station redcap, as he studied writing and literature as well as labor organizing.
He continued his studies at Long Island University in Brooklyn and in 1948 completed his bachelor of arts there in English, with a minor in social studies. In 1950 he joined the staff at Sampson Training School in Clinton, N.C. By 1951 Evans had completed his master of arts in English at New York University, writing his thesis on Mark Twain's depiction of African American characters.
Charles Evans described himself as a man who “always had a job,” but he also never stopped adding to his formal education. After teaching English and social science from 1952 to 1954 at St. Paul’s College in Lawrenceville, Va., Evans commenced a 12-year teaching career in the Chicago Public Schools (1954-1966). He also taught evening school at Englewood High School, and he directed more than a dozen plays in addition to teaching courses in dramatics and public speaking. He continued his education during this time by taking a number of courses in librarianship at Chicago State College.
In 1966 Charles Evans joined the staff of what soon would be the new Olive-Harvey College, part of the City Colleges of Chicago. At Olive-Harvey he taught English, speech, social sciences and African American studies. After completing coursework in psychology at Chicago State University, and having acquired a master of education in counseling from Loyola University Chicago in 1968, Evans added a counseling component to his teaching work. In 1974 he completed his third master's degree, for which he wrote “Black Poetry: An Essay and an Index,” at Northeastern Illinois University’s Center for Inner City Studies. In 1982 he received his doctorate in English from Loyola University Chicago. His dissertation analyzed stereotypes in the works of Richard Wright.
Evans’ arrival at Olive-Harvey College coincided with the beginnings of the black studies movement nationally. Evans promoted black studies programs throughout his career in higher education. Not only did he serve as chairperson for Olive-Harvey’s flourishing Center for Contemporary Black Studies, but he also co-founded the college’s Department of African American Studies as a degree-granting program with considerable national influence. Evans helped found Olive-Harvey’s annual Black Studies Conference in 1978. He even spent some 15 months at Western Illinois University helping to establish a bachelor of arts degree program in black studies.
During his nearly 25 years at Olive-Harvey, Evans also taught courses simultaneously at other Chicago-area institutions of higher learning, including DePaul University, Indiana University NW, Chicago State University, Governor’s State University, Northeastern Illinois University and Roosevelt University.
Evans also worked to strengthen employee unions organized in the educational institutions where he taught. He was a founding member and president of Black Faculty in Higher Education, an organization made up of faculty at City Colleges of Chicago. He co-founded and served on the executive committee of the United Black Staff at Olive-Harvey College. Throughout his Chicago career he was an active member and sometime steward in the Cook County College Teachers Union (Local 1600), chairing the Olive-Harvey chapter. Academically, at Olive-Harvey he helped establish and then served as co-chair of the Labor Studies Program.
In 1986 Evans was named distinguished professor at Olive-Harvey College. He retired from Olive-Harvey in 1989 but continued to teach at Roosevelt University for about three years. He remained committed to a number of other organizations that supported union organizing, particularly the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (Chicago Chapter) and the Charles Hayes Labor and Community Center. In retirement he continued his active membership in such organizations as Friends of Amistad (Chicago Chapter), National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, and the Council for Biomedical Careers.
Despite his heavy teaching loads, Evans left nearly 90 works of poetry in manuscript form. These comprise the bulk of the literary works in this collection.
Charles J. Evans was married and divorced. His children include Josephine Kamper-Knight, Lenore Ina Evans-Gonzalez, Judy Barron-Batey and Charles Barron.
Charles J. Evans died January 12, 1994.
Charles J. Evans’ professional career spanned an eventful period. It commenced during the Jim Crow era before Brown v. Board of Education in the 1950s, and it encompassed the full flowering of the black studies movement during the 1970s into the 1980s. This collection documents the end of that journey, but few of his papers from the earlier years survived to be included here. However, the collection does show the role he played in building the black studies movement into a permanent part of academe. Also, Evans’ undated works of poetry appear to represent his writing from even before the 1960s until the time of his death.
The Charles J. Evans Papers contain his manuscripts, both poetry and works of nonfiction, from his college years through the early 1990s. His doctoral dissertation, “Richard Wright’s Depiction of the Black Experience: A Study in Stereotypes,” demonstrates his gifts of analysis and prose writing. The small amount of correspondence included here—and the materials from Evans’ work at Olive-Harvey and other Chicago City Colleges, as well as at Roosevelt University—date mostly from the later 1980s and early 1990s. Programs and other materials from various organizations to which Evans belonged, focusing particularly on African American history, labor union issues and civil rights, date from this same period. Other files from these years contain subject research materials concerned with African American literature, history and social issues.
Photographs taken at Evans’ 1989 retirement celebration and his subsequent trip to Africa comprise most of the photographic record.
The collection was accessioned with no original order present. The material has been arranged into nine series: Biography, Manuscripts, Correspondence, City Colleges of Chicago and Other Academic Institutions, Organizations, Programs, Subject Research Files, Photographs and Memorabilia.
Hundreds of books and pamphlets related to African American studies were removed from the papers and cataloged into the general holdings of the Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection.
Series 1: Biography
Series 1 is divided into two sub-series. The first sub-series features Charles Evans’ own personal records, and the second contains material related to his family members. The Charles J. Evans personal records are arranged into groupings of vital records, academic certificates, professional milestones and posthumous memorials. The Concord Players theater program booklet (circa 1960) is of particular interest. It offers early portraits of Evans as an actor and director, as well as views of his two daughters in their respective acting roles. Researchers may find additional items in Series 3 (Correspondence) relating to family members and in Series 4 (City Colleges of Chicago) documenting Evans’ teaching achievements.
Series 2: Manuscripts
The Charles J. Evans manuscript materials are arranged in four sub-series:
- academic works;
- other works by Charles Evans;
- works by other authors.
Prose materials include a selection of his academic student works, his doctoral dissertation and a few published articles. These materials demonstrate the high level of Evans’ literary criticism, such as his analysis of Richard Wright’s works. Evans’ published work Black Studies in the State of Illinois: A Directory was an important compilation of the schools, academic departments and other venues that had developed African American studies by 1969. Missing from his academic works here are Evans’ 1951 master's thesis, “Mark Twain’s Treatment of Negro Characters,” and another later master’s degree project, “Black Poetry: An Essay and an Index” (1974).
The bulk of Evans’ manuscripts consists of about 90 poems, nearly all in sonnet form. Almost all undated, and received in disarray, the individual poems appear to have been originally organized over time into four compilations:
- a long, 99-stanza untitled poem;
- a compilation titled A Gentle Breeze, containing some 30 poems;
- The [Sonnet Collection], an elaborately annotated collection of about 60 poems with accompanying index charts;
- a short set of four poems under the title “The Devil’s Cycle.”
This probably represents the chronological order in which the poems were written, and it has been applied to the arrangement of the Manuscripts Series poetry materials.
The untitled 99-stanza poem appears to be the oldest work, and variations of the stanzas therein reappear as new poems in the other compilations. This work, missing the first five stanzas, arrived in some disarray but was easily arranged by numbered stanzas.
A Gentle Breeze contains some of these stanzas, along with additional content that might be autobiographical as well as historical. A Gentle Breeze, which was originally scattered, has been arranged by following its table of contents and its pagination. However, the poems have been foldered by title for ease of research. Many poems in A Gentle Breeze were found in a variety of versions. All versions of each poem were foldered together under that single title.
The untitled [Sonnet Collection], received intact with its index charts, was disassembled and the poems also foldered separately by title in alphabetical order (the original arrangement). The poems’ titles are listed in accordance with the accompanying charts, which are dated 1976. These charts not only index each poem by “preferred” title and by first line; they also list other “alternate” titles when available.
“The Devil’s Cycle,” found mixed among other poetry material, has been arranged by title in numerical order of its sections 1 through 4. “The Devil’s Cycle” poems originally appeared in the [Sonnet Collection]. Although undated, “The Devil’s Cycle” appears in typeface that was dated elsewhere in the poetry from the 1990s.
Nearly all of the poetry was typewritten, on a succession of machines. Except for the untitled 99-stanza poem, the majority of manuscript poems display handwritten additions, corrections and abbreviated notes made with a variety of pencils and inks. No accompanying correspondence or other documentation was found to indicate whether any of the poems was submitted to a publisher.
Series 3: Correspondence
Representing a mixture of family, professional and business matters, the materials in this series date primarily from the time of Charles Evans’ retirement in 1989 to that of his death. The series has been arranged in alphabetical order by correspondent last name, followed by correspondence between persons other than Charles Evans.
Series 4: City Colleges of Chicago and Other Academic Institutions
This series illustrates the accolades Charles J. Evans received at the end of his long career at Olive-Harvey College, as well as the City Colleges milieu at the time of his 1989 retirement. Included are memos, agendas and other records of various faculty committees, as well as contemporary Olive-Harvey College newspapers. The series also includes student work generated during Evans’ post-retirement teaching position at Roosevelt University. Material has been arranged alphabetically with items specific to Olive-Harvey placed together in the overall alphabetical arrangement. Researchers will find Charles Evans’ academic awards, honors and achievements in Series 1 (Biography).
Series 5: Organizations
This series includes two dozen organizations with which Charles Evans was most deeply involved during the years just before and after his retirement. Primary issues involved union organizing, the interests of African American faculty in the City Colleges of Chicago, the preservation of African American history and furthering civil rights. Content ranges from organizational correspondence, memos and minutes to event programs or flyers.
Series 6: Programs
Event programs not represented by an organization in Series 5 (Organizations) have been arranged separately in Series 6.
Series 7: Subject Research Files
This series includes materials supporting Evans’ curriculum interests, in the form of articles, clipping files, reports, syllabi, etc., mostly dating from the 1980s and early 1990s.
Series 8: Photographs
Nearly all of the photographs in this collection reflect the last few years of Charles Evans’ life. They have been arranged into three sub-series. The first and largest sub-series comprises photos taken at Charles Evans’ retirement celebration in 1989. The researcher should note that these provide views of many contemporary faculty, administrators and staff at Olive-Harvey College, as well as other Chicago City Colleges, some identified by name and/or position. Sub-series 2 comprises Charles Evans’ trip to Egypt on an African American studies tour, circa 1990. Sub-series 3 includes a few photos of family members and colleagues from an unidentified academic event. Also in this sub-series are several portrait views of Charles Evans, one taken when he was a young man.
Series 9: Memorabilia
Charles Evans’ memorabilia include a number of plaques he received for his distinguished professorship and his retirement, along with his retirement medal and retirement celebration guest book.
Published materials by Charles J. Evans not included in this collection:
- “Black Poetry: An Essay and an Index” [project title]. Master’s paper, Inner City Studies, Northeastern Illinois University, 1974
- A Directory of Black Studies in the Chicago Metropolitan Area. Chicago City College, Innovations Center, 1968.
- “Literary Sources in Afro-American Literature”—D. Alexander Boyd, Charles J. Evans, Ernece B. Kelly and Sophia P. Nelson. In Searching for America, Ernece B. Kelly, ed., and CCCC/NCTE Review Committee, for the NCTE Task Force on Racism and Bias in the Teaching of English. 1972
- “What Happens to Black Administrators in White Universities.” In Negro American Literature Forum, v. 5, n. 3, Fall 1971
Unpublished materials by Charles J. Evans not included in this collection:
- “Mark Twain’s Treatment of Negro Characters.” Master’s thesis, New York University, 1950.
At the Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection of Afro-American History and Literature, see the Abdul Alkalimat Papers, Leonidas Berry Papers, Timuel D. Black Papers, Coalition of Black Trade Unionists Archives, Clementine Skinner Papers, Val Gray Ward Papers and Leonard Wash Papers.