Archives and Manuscripts Blog 9, Nixon, Government, and Access

Racist remarks shared between Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon while the latter was still president came to light earlier this year. This was not exactly surprising; Nixon’s bigotry and antisemitism had been previously exposed through similar tapes, though in this exchange the remarks were particularly shocking due to Reagan being the one instigating them and Nixon being encouraged by them. Tim Naftali who was the first director of the Nixon Presidential Library gave an illuminating interview to The New Yorker back in August that came to my attention recently and reminded me of similar issues with archives in presidential archives and the families of said presidents. In our course the issue was regarding letters that revealed years of infidelity while also giving some political insight. In regards to the Nixon tapes, they were part of a collection of tapes that span over 4000 hours. Naftali discusses how the Nixon estate initially sued the government that lead to some of the tapes being either redacted or turned over as private property, and that while the family established a private library they later gave up to the federal government. This happened around the time Naftali was director and so that was why these tapes took until fairly recently to come out. The protracted legal battles combined with sudden change of the estate deciding they didn’t want to maintain the archive themselves reflects a lot of the struggles with archiving and access as well as the interesting ways things work themselves out.

Here’s the link to the article: https://www.newyorker.com/news/q-and-a/how-a-historian-uncovered-ronald-reagans-racist-remarks-to-richard-nixon

Leave a comment