New Archive of Brooklyn High School Newspapers Feature Young Bernie Sanders and Shirley Chisholm

A photo of Bernie Sanders with his high school track team in a December, 1958 issue of James Madison High School’s newspaper, the Madison Highway. Courtesy of Brooklyn Public Library.

Before Bernie Sanders became the Democratic frontrunner for the 2020 presidential election, he was a mean track runner.

In December of 1958, Sanders helped bring his James Madison High School track team to victory with a high score of 18. That year, Sanders was also elected co-captain of the team, called the Black and Gold.

While Sanders himself never divulged this information, it’s now fully accessible to the public through the Brooklyn Public Library, which recently completed the digitization of over 1,000 newspapers from 55 Brooklyn high schools. Featured schools include Erasmus Hall in Flatbush, Girls High in Bed-Stuy, as well as James Madison High School in Sheepshead Bay.

Published over the last 150 years, the papers feature some of Brooklyn’s most recognizable figures, like Sanders, chess champion Bobby Fischer, economist Janet Yellen, and politician and author Shirley Chisholm, who was the first Black woman elected to congress. In the papers, whose pages are slightly discolored but otherwise perfectly legible, anyone can read about the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy, narrated by young journalists.

A press release from the library states that many of the papers were in poor condition, limiting public access. In their new, digital iteration, these papers are now fully keyword searchable online.

“BPL generally is very big on access,” Natiba Guy-Clement, manager of Special Collections, who oversaw the digitization project, told us. “The coolest part [of the project] is that everyone, anywhere in the world, can view these newspapers.”

Guy-Clement was excited about the project because it captures pivotal moments in history through the eyes of students. Several papers contain coverage of D-Day, Guy-Clement said, and one student interviewed Martin Luther King, Jr. in Philadelphia. Not all the content is as hard-hitting, however — the pages also contain numerous snapshots of everyday student life. Guy-Clement spoke of an entire April Fools Day-inspired fake news issue.

The digitization was carried out by Hudson Archival, the digital preservation company that digitized some of the library’s other historic materials, like their maps collection.

The archive is part of the library’s Brooklyn Collection, which, the release states, is “the world’s largest public archive for the study of Brooklyn’s social and cultural history in the 19th and 20th centuries.” There are over 20,000 items in the collection, including books, newspapers, and artifacts, Public Library Press Officer Fritzi Bodenheimer told us.

The project was funded by grants from the Morris and Alma Schapiro Fund, Epstein Teicher Philanthropies, Hearst Foundation, and Festa Family, all of whom help to support the library’s education partnership program, Brooklyn Connections. Educators involved with the Brooklyn Connections program teach around 1,700 Brooklyn students from 4th through 12th grade how to do archival research. Last year, the program received the Archival Innovator Award from the national association, the Society of American Archivists.

The archives can be accessed here.

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Rachel Lindy Baron

Rachel is a freelance writer and recent Brooklyn transplant who is a bit obsessed with food.

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