George Mason University Mentioned in the Film Hidden Figures

When was the last time you heard George Mason University mentioned in a major motion picture? For this author, never. But in the 2016 film Hidden Figures, which was nominated for three Academy Awards including Best Picture, George Mason University found its way into the script during a memorable part of the film.  The reference to Mason was made by Janelle Monae in her portrayal of Mary Jackson, a NASA engineer and one of three African-American women who played key roles in the early development of the United States’ space program.

Janelle Monae as Mary Jackson in “Hidden Figures” Twentieth Century Fox Studios. Screenshot from video clip accessed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7aiWlZJ6Pfg on 8 Mar 2016.

During the scene Mary Jackson is standing before a judge in a Hampton, Virginia courtroom to ask permission to attend night school classes in graduate-level math and physics sponsored by the University of Virginia and held in the then-whites-only Hampton High School.  When the judge informs her that segregation is the law in Virginia, and that an African American woman attending a white school is unheard of, Jackson pleads with him:

“Your Honor, you of all people should understand the importance of being first…You were the first in your family to serve in the  armed forces. U.S. Navy. The first to attend university.  George Mason… Your Honor, of all the cases you will hear today, which one will matter in a hundred years? Which one will you make the first?”

While the scene in the movie takes place sometime in 1961, as a later reference in the scene to Alan B. Shepard implies, we know that Mary Jackson actually attended the classes several years earlier and completed the program in 1958. A 1961 reference to George Mason University would have been a bit premature.  Mason was known as George Mason College (it became George Mason University in April of 1972), was a two-year community college, and had only been in operation for four years by 1961. So, it is highly unlikely that this jurist would have just finished his work at George Mason and became a high-ranking judge.

Nevertheless, it was gratifying to see that the writers of the film chose George Mason as the institution for the judge to have attended. This might spur some interesting reference inquiries in the future!

Vietnam Moratorium “Scroll” Documents George Mason College Community’s Activism

Student representative from the George Mason College Vietnam War Moratorium Committee presents Chancellor Lorin A. Thompson with petition asking college administration to excuse members of the campus community from classes on October 15, 1969. From The Gunston Ledger, Volume 7, Number 4. October 14, 1969.

Student representative from the George Mason College Vietnam War Moratorium Committee presents Chancellor Lorin A. Thompson with a petition asking college administration to excuse members of the campus community from classes on October 15, 1969. From The Gunston Ledger, Volume 7, Number 4. October 14, 1969.

On October 10, 1969 a neatly dressed George Mason College student presented Chancellor Lorin A. Thompson with a loosely-rolled scroll of paper containing the signatures of over 600 Mason students, faculty, and staff. The document petitioned Thompson to excuse students, faculty, staff and administration from classes and college business on October 15 so that they might have the opportunity to take part in local events pertaining to the Vietnam War Moratorium.  The Moratorium was a day-long series of events held in municipalities and on college campuses across the United States and the world to call attention to, and protest the United States’ involvement in, the Vietnam War. Thompson, photographed while receiving the petition, displayed a less-than-enthusiastic reaction to the document both in his facial expressions and in his words. He insisted that the college’s obligations to the state and its citizens mandated that it remain open, and students, instructors, and staff must be present on that day. He left the matter of attending the Moratorium activities up to the individual, who would be responsible for any consequences for missing class or work.

Vietnam War Moratorium petition photographed while taped to the wall of an unidentified George Mason College building. From The Gunston Ledger, Volume 7, Number 4. October 14, 1969.

Vietnam War Moratorium Petition photographed while taped to the wall of an unidentified George Mason College building. From The Gunston Ledger, Volume 7, Number 4. October 14, 1969.

George Mason College was not known for news-making protests or acts of civil disobedience during the Vietnam War era. Nearly all 1,890 George Mason students lived at home in their quiet suburban neighborhoods, most of them hailing from families with military or civil service backgrounds. Though students spoke their mind about the war regularly in the student newspaper, The Gunston Ledger, there had only been a handful of isolated incidences of antiwar activities at Mason. These were limited to symbolic draft card burnings and teach-ins, involving a few Mason students and faculty. The Vietnam War Moratorium movement of October 1969 marked a high point in activism at George Mason College. Just under one-third of the entire student body, faculty, and staff played a part in this movement-even if it was as small as putting a name to a piece of paper.

Box containing Moratorium Petition. From the George Mason University Office of the President records, 1949-2004 #R0019.

Box containing Vietnam War Moratorium Petition. From the George Mason University Office of the President records, 1949-2004 #R0019.

While working in our collections storage area in SCRC, the author came across a map storage box with a label reading: “Petition (Anti-Vietnam War) 1969”.  It was opened, and the 12-foot-by-16-inch manuscript was carefully unrolled for a few photographs before gently re-boxing it. The document still bears the masking tape that was used to attach it to a wall of one of the six campus buildings that comprised George Mason College in 1969.  Attached to the bottom of the document is a memorandum of October 3, 1969 from Mike Baker, the president of the Student Government, acknowledging that the body had voted 8 to 3 to endorse the Vietnam Moratorium. Student, faculty, and staff signatures grace the manuscript, which, when unrolled, bears a slight resemblance to the scroll containing Jack Kerouac’s original manuscript to On the Road.

The Vietnam Moratorium Scroll opened up in the SCRC collections storage area. The document is over 12 feet long. From the George Mason University Office of the President records, 1949-2004 #R0019.

The Vietnam Moratorium Petition opened up in the SCRC collections storage area. The document is over 12 feet long. From the George Mason University Office of the President records, 1949-2004 #R0019.

Moratorium Petition. From the George Mason University Office of the President records, 1949-2004 #R0019.

Top part of the Moratorium Petition. From the George Mason University Office of the President records, 1949-2004 #R0019.

It appears that this document itself played a relatively minor role in the larger Moratorium movement, judging by the small amount of newspaper space (a few sentences in two small articles) dedicated to it. The Moratorium events and corresponding editorial commentary received major coverage in the student paper for weeks afterwards.  But the scroll has survived as an artifact to help tell the story of this brief moment in the institution’s history, and it enables us to take a little trip into the past and understand what was important those who were here nearly 50 years ago.  Discoveries like this one help illustrate the value of archives and the archives professionals who preserve them.

The document is part of George Mason University Office of the President records, 1949-2004 #R0019.

Before a Mason Team Made it to the Final Four, We Made it to the Final Two. And Won!

George Mason University Soccer team members (left to right) Sis Koskinen, Pam Baughman, and Meg Romaine lift the NCAA Division I National Championship trophy. Mason Magazine, George Mason University Archives, University Publications, Special Collections Research Center, George Mason University Libraries.

George Mason University Women’s Soccer team members (left to right) Sis Koskinen, Pam Baughman, and Meg Romaine lift the NCAA Division I National Championship trophy. Image is from Mason Magazine. George Mason University Archives, University Publications, Special Collections Research Center, George Mason University Libraries.

While many college sports fans are familiar with the George Mason University Men’s Basketball team’s run to the Final Four in 2006, not as many know about the Mason Women’s Soccer team’s National Championship title of 21 years earlier. The author of this post recalls reading about this achievement in the student newspaper, then called Broadside, while an 18-year-old freshman at Mason back in 1985. With the A-10 Conference Championship Tournament beginning this Thursday, November 3, it is as good a time as any to take a look back at what happened 31 years ago this month.

In November of 1985, the George Mason University Women’s Soccer team captured the highest prize in collegiate athletics, the Division I National Championship. After a 15-2-1 season, the Patriots earned a spot in the NCAA tournament.  The tournament began with a first-round thriller against William and Mary, where Mason scored two goals in the final 13 minutes to tie and send the match into overtime. Mason would eventually win in a penalty kick shootout after two overtime periods. Next, after a 1-0 win over Cortland State, Mason faced off against nationally number-one-ranked University of Massachusetts, who had gone into the tournament undefeated. Mason beat UMass 3-0, scoring more goals than had been scored against them during the entire season.  All that remained for Mason was to defeat then 4-time National Champion, North Carolina. Carolina had beaten Mason 4-0 in an NCAA semifinal match in 1983.

1985 George Mason University Women's Soccer team. From 1986 yearbook By George, George Mason University Archives, University Publications, Special Collections Research Center, George Mason University Libraries.

1985 George Mason University Women’s Soccer team. From the 1986 yearbook, By George. George Mason University Archives, University Publications, Special Collections Research Center, George Mason University Libraries.

Mason had drawn home field for the Final on November 24th.  Before a partisan crowd of 4,500 and an ESPN television audience of millions, Mason scored first at 3o minutes on an 18-yarder from All-American Pam Bauman. The Patriots held the Tarheels scoreless for the rest of the game, while All-American Lisa Gmitter scored for Mason in the 86th minute to seal the 2-0 victory. The win, against a team that had a record of 99 wins and 4 losses during the previous 4 years, was indeed the first shot heard round the world for Mason athletics.

Let’s do it again, Patriots.

New Exhibit in SCRC! Celebrating “Nobelity”: Thirty Years Later

 

Dr. James Buchanan is seen here at a reception given in his honor at George Mason University. George Mason University photograph collection Box 16, Folder 6.

Dr. James Buchanan is seen here at a reception
given in his honor at George Mason University.
George Mason University photograph collection
Box 16, Folder 6.

Celebrating “Nobelity”: Thirty Years Later

On the morning of October 16, 1986 Dr. James M. Buchanan received a phone call from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences informing him that he had been selected as the winner of the Alfred Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences.

It had been nearly fifty years since he had begun his academic career as a student at a small college in Tennessee, and now, a faculty member at George Mason University, Buchanan had been selected for the most prestigious award given to a scholar.

Some years after being awarded the Nobel Prize, Dr. Buchanan shared his thoughts on the award in an essay entitled “Notes on Nobelity”. The essay became a chapter in his 1992 autobiography, Better than Plowing. A man who came from a humble background, Buchanan felt slightly uncomfortable with the status conferred upon him by this honor.  He believed that he was not an elite academic, and he found it gratifying that he was put in a position to represent the “outsider” and “great unwashed scattered throughout the academic boondocks”.[1]

This exhibition, Celebrating “Nobelity”: Thirty Years Later,  features materials from various collections as part of the George Mason University Archives.  Materials also come from the newly-acquired James M. Buchanan Papers.  It traces the life and work of one of George Mason University’s most renowned scholars, Dr. James M. Buchanan. The exhibition can be viewed in the SCRC Exhibitions area and runs through December.

[1] James M. Buchanan, Better than Plowing (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992).