Paddling Upstream

Alvin Josephy passed away almost two decades ago, but time and again, during this coronavirus/Black Lives crisis, I have heard him shout in my ear that when our history books don’t lie about Indians, they ignore them.

When the NYT sends a reporter to the Navajo Nation to document the terrible impact of Covid-19 on the people, the world reads and sighs—and then the story goes to the back pages or to no page at all. When George Floyd is killed by police in Minneapolis, and Indigenous singers and jingle dancers from many tribes go to the site of the killing to pay homage and honor the man, a video from Indian participants sneaks out on Facebook. Indians and their tribute are barely visible in the national press.

When people come into the Josephy Center where I work and get the first pages of the Nez Perce story—the one about Wallowa lands left to the Joseph Band of the Nez Read The Article

Alvin Josephy, the Listening Man

Gordie High Eagle, Millie Zollman, Albert Barros 

On Sunday at the Josephy Center we honored Alvin with Nez Perce drums and talk and a new exhibit highlighting some of the milestones in his life. This all followed the opening of a splendid Nez Perce Art Show. The show, mounted in celebration of the Nez Perce National Historical Park’s Fiftieth Anniversary, features art that tribal members make for each other—the buckskin shirt, cornhusk bag, moccasins, beaded horse regalia and headdresses worn for ceremony and parade. It’s here for June, then goes to the History Center in Lewiston, Idaho.

The Josephy exhibit stays put!

And, it seems to me, the story it tells—and the honoring of him on Sunday made this explicit—is that Alvin Josephy was a “listener.”

Bobbie Conner, the director of the Tamástslikt Cultural Institute on the Umatilla Reservation, spoke emotionally about conversations between her grandfather and Alvin in the 50s and 60s. Alvin, she said, listened to Indians, and Read The Article

New Intern—and a Life Magazine find

Dave Struthers, a recent graduate of Stanford University from Sacramento, California, is our new Josephy Library intern. He started yesterday, and we started him tracking down the Time Magazine “color” spreads that Alvin did from 1951-61. We have about a dozen old mags here, with color articles on Oceanography, The Interstate Highway System, the Amazon, Central Asia, US National Forest, The Amazon, etc. In a note from the publisher in one issue, Alvin is credited with traveling 400,000 miles in four years on such assignments!
In this, Alvin’s “centenary year,” we aim to get all of the Time Magazine issues he had anything to do with—my recollection is that he was charged with doing one 8-12 page color spread per month. Maybe we can eventually figure out how to post them electronically…
July 2, 1971

But I couldn’t resist a morning diversion, and the result of which, courtesy Dave, is that we can give you, electronically, the complete article that

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Alvin, Henry Luce, and their times

“You don’t know what it was like to work for Henry Luce!” Alvin blurted, and ran from the room to fetch an old folder. Alvin, Betty, daughter Allison and I were in the Josephy family living room in Greenwich, looking at home movies which had been transferred to a VCR tape. The scene was Mexico in the mid fifties. The kids—teenager Diane and the younger Alvin, Allison, and Kathy—were cavorting for the camera in and around a gorgeous swimming pool. The camera occasionally switched to a pipe smoking Alvin, wearing a bathing suit, hunched over a typewriter set on a small table at the edge of the pool.

I knew that Alvin had been working for Time Magazine when he found the Nez Perce story, that he had been waiting in Los Angeles to go to Utah to do a story on that state when a telegram from Henry Luce, whose flight had been forced down in Boise, advised him Read The Article

Josephy and David McCullough—the narrative historian

Always, for Alvin, “story” was the important notion in “history.” He insisted on accuracy, trusted the testimony of individuals, and was disgusted by some of the stilted prose and arcane argument of the academics. He loved the idea of history permeating our lives. And capturing its excitement and making it available to the greatest number of citizens was done by writing clean prose and telling good stories.

In 1961, Alvin left Time Magazine for an upstart hard cover magazine called American Heritage. In 1964, he hired a literature major from Yale who had worked for Sports Illustrated and the Unlisted States Information Agency to join him. Multiple Pulitzer Prizes and National Book Awards later, David McCullough would say that American Heritage was his “graduate school.”

In the fall of 1984, I went to Jackson Hole, Wyoming to sit in the audience as the Snake River Institute honored Alvin Josephy with a weekend of readings, speeches, films and discussions

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