The Abraham L. Freedman papers

Written by Annalise Berdini on April 7th, 2014

For our first project as student processors for the PACSCL/CLIR Hidden Collections Project at the Temple University Special Collections Research Center, my partner Steve Duckworth and I got to work with the Abraham Freedman Papers, a collection of business-related and personal documents from the Honorable Abraham L. Freedman, who notably served as Philadelphia’s City Solicitor and served as counsel in a landmark discrimination case against Girard College.

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Campaign materials for the Clark-Dilworth campaign.

This collection was, first of all, completely fascinating in ways I could not expect from papers that seemed mostly made up of case file documents and office memos. However, the fact that most of the order was Judge Freedman’s own made for a collection that was not only very well suited to MPLP, but also rich in contextual information that could not have been gleaned from the documents alone.  If anything, this collection was a case in proving how important that context can be to telling the whole story. These boxes were not simply filled with rusty legal bindings and onionskin, there was a whole life hiding in the spaces between the folders.

This isn’t the easiest concept to provide examples for, but one of the ways having this context helped us was when the original order filled in the gaps in our information. A folder full of bulletins from an event that didn’t seem to have to do with the rest of the box made sense when discovering the next folder was full of drafts of a speech Freedman gave there. Often, he kept his materials together so that searching wasn’t even necessary; everything was in its place with purpose. Each segment of his career was generally already together; his early private legal practice manuscripts in one section, his City Solicitor papers in another. Folder titles were clear and usually included accurate dates and descriptions; we were often able to tease out helpful research information without too much digging. There were often notes and edits on folder titles, clearly added when new documents were added; and often, not only were documents kept together by career, but often even by subject.

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Letter to Freedman signed by President John F. Kennedy.

Because we were able to use Freedman’s organization and order to figure out answers to our questions, this collection was quite easily minimally processed. Our only problems occurred when working with a smaller, separate accession within the collection, which had been previously processed and which unintentionally removed much of the context that Freedman’s order had provided. The stark contrast between processing those materials and Freedman’s original order highlighted how important it is to consider the shape of a collection before choosing MPLP as the processing method.

Aside from the ease of processing, learning about Freedman’s life was an experience in and of itself. Freedman was a huge advocate for equal rights and worked to end discrimination throughout his entire life. His correspondence with colleagues and friends is often beautiful and thoughtful, even for short notes. Some of his own personal writings, short stories and musings on his career, highlight his creativity and appreciation for the written word. For a first collection and foray into minimal processing, it’s hard to imagine a better place to have started.

 

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