In 1961, Alvin Josephy moved from Time Magazine to American Heritage, where The American Heritage Book of Indians was his first major assignment. The text was written by William Brandon, but Alvin oversaw designers and assistant editors who fact checked and copy read, and I am sure it was Alvin who scoured the country’s libraries and museums for images to accompany the text. The early reviews, neatly summarized by American Heritage staff members and stuffed behind the cover of Alvin’s own copy of the book, which sits in our library, extol the effort, and comment on the breadth and depth of text and illustration. General readers will love it, one reviewer says, but even scholars will find something new.
I think I’d glanced at the one page introduction by President John F. Kennedy at some point, but recently found myself reading it again—and it struck me that Kennedy’s message was or became Alvin’s message throughout his long career as writer, editor, and Indian activist: “American Indians remain probably the least understood and most misunderstood Americans of us all,” says JFK. And he goes on to say that we have things to learn from Indians, etc.
I don’t know how editor Josephy got JFK to introduce this volume, or who actually penned the words—speechwriter Ted Sorenson? Or JFK himself, who had a strong background in history and was no slouch as a writer. But this one page “Introduction” could neatly serve as our mission statement here at the Josephy Library of Western History and Culture.