“Print Shop Maintenance Worker”, 1960s
Authored by Sarah Jane Kline ’21 in “Who is Included? Black Staff and Study at Davidson College“
last updated 02.09.2021
The mid-twentieth century brought about a change on Davidson’s campus, and in “Print Shop Maintenance Worker” (1960s), I hope to underscore that while it may appear that Black staff was not directly involved in academia, as recipients, before the 1960s, they were nevertheless crucially inculcated in Davidson’s academia as contributors. During a time when racialized academic policy was being contested by Black people locally and nationally via mass political organizing and uprising, the ultimate “success” of Davidson’s academic “progressive” prowess rested on the shoulders of the dissemination of knowledge. In “Print Shop Maintenance Worker” (1960s), I examine what ground-work was laid for the foundationalizing Black study on Davidson by Black workers for Black students. The large piece of printing machinery centers the dynamic space of the print room; however, the main focal point is the “maintenance worker,” caught in a candid “snapshot” of him loading paper into the printing machinery (“Print shop maintenance worker,” 1960s). The printer itself connotes knowledge production throwing into question the meaning or applicability of the title “maintenance worker”? What does that mean, and is this label accurate for this particular worker’s roles and duties? What type of text is he printing? How might his labor be particularly important to and for Black study? “The university is a site for contestation and struggle,” writes Crawly (2018), “because what is being argued over, and argued against, is epistemology itself, the method of knowing and the path to such knowability” (p. 215). With this in mind, the printer this man works on, I argue, acts as the primary site for him to contest the university’s understanding of epistemology. In this photograph, this man is not a “maintenance woker,” he is the arbiter of knowledge and its dissemination. His connection with the printer, as a “method of knowing,” subverts the path to conventional knowability. Furthermore, if this is the space in which he is the sole operator, first in charge, first to call, and the knower of the machine, then those files stacked in heaps behind him are perhaps a physical manifestation of his brain – all of the documents he has handled, read, studied, learned, and organized (“Print shop maintenance worker,” 1960s). He is the archivist, connected to the knowledge passed through the printer and into the records, the records in which he is lost.
Printed in 1962, the above issue of The Davidsonian could have come from his hands, considering the exact year in the 1960s this photograph was taken remains unknown. However, the 1960s was a crucial decade for Davidson given the title of the The Davidsonian edition. Crawley (2018) continues about the university: “the university as a space of thought … has not allowed thought in its imaginative leaps and bounds, in its imaginative blackness and queerness” (p. 215). Thus, if we imagine this Black man as once a “maintenance worker” and now a “collector of knowledge,” his candidness, or rather organicness, in the print shop is also an exercise in imagining a scenario in which he in fact was the individual who printed this edition of The Davidsonian. Even after this one photograph, he continued to contribute to the collective education and information dissemination of Davidson. Indeed, he literally frames the words of change on Davidson’s campus as the edition reads “Congolese Students May Enter in Sept.” (Dillard, 1962, p.1.). However, I am hesitant to assume that this man’s relationship with Davidson changed in light of these two, international, students. I am hesitant because despite the walls of archival materials and the paper he loads into the printer, the digitized image of his labor, The Davidsonian print I included above, is blurred to the point of erasure (Dillard, 1962, pp. 1-2). When whomever in the Davidson College library staff scanned this edition rendering the printed text illegible, this man’s contribution to Black study was literally erased, erasing his presence, and labor, from the archive. This erasure exposes some predominantly white archivists’ nefarious toolkit for disregarding this particularly radical moment in college history without legible integrity. Finally, to return to the wall of papers, boxes, and binders, that wall forces me wonder what this man had access to (“Print shop maintenance worker,” 1960s)? What would a re-imagining of Black study, as learned through this print shop and this man, look like? What kind of access does this photograph give the viewer in seeing Black study as not centered only around the labor of the minds of faculty and students?