Scope and Contents Note
This collection documents the life and work of John L. Seigenthaler: prominent figure in Tennessee social and political history, longtime editor and publisher of The Tennessean newspaper, and lifelong First Amendment activist. The bulk of the collection dates from 1962, when Seigenthaler became editor for The Tennessean, to his death in 2014. Researchers will note a marked shift in the types of documents produced (and their arrangement) upon the retirement of Seigenthaler from The Tennessean in 1991 and the founding of the First Amendment Center.
The Correspondence series consists of incoming and outgoing correspondence. A majority of this is correspondence received by Seigenthaler from individuals and organizations. Correspondence was not separated in any consistent manner between incoming and outgoing, and the original filing structure was kept intact where possible. The following subseries were created to assist the researcher: - Alphabetical - Invitations - Organizations - Persons - Topical
For more detailed descriptions, see the Correspondence series notes. The majority of the correspondence consists of personal communication, but work letters were often intermingled. The filing system for correspondence, as with other files in the collection, was uneven until the later 1970s when a more rigid organization-by-letter system was used. There is some indication that early correspondence may have been thrown out to make room for more “current” files.
The Tennessean series is a large series that consists of material related to Seigenthaler’s work at The Tennessean newspaper. Seigenthaler began his career at The Tennessean as a reporter in 1949, became editor in 1962, and was promoted to publisher in 1973. Seigenthaler retired from his active role at The Tennessean in 1991 but maintained close ties to the newspaper.
The bulk of The Tennessean series dates from the late 1970s to the 1980s and mostly deals with running the large operation of a statewide newspaper. One interesting set of material is Seigenthaler’s Call Logs and Appointment books, beginning in 1963 and running all the way to 1990 with only a one month gap. Another large series contains material related to Jacque Srouji, a reporter at The Tennessean who was simultaneously working with the FBI. There are also large series related to Personnel, Stories and Research, and Features.
The USA Today series is a small series related to Seigenthaler’s association with USA Today after he helped found it in 1982, becoming its first editorial director. There are some materials related to the 2004 internal investigation into Jack Kelley, and these materials may not be used until 2040.
The Gannett series contains material related to Gannett Corporation, which purchased The Tennessean in the 1970s. Gannett also owns USA Today among many other properties.
The Freedom Forum series contains material related to the Freedom Forum nonprofit organization, founded in 1991 from the Gannett Foundation. The Freedom Forum runs the Newseum and the First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University. A large portion of this series relates to the Board of Trustees of the Freedom Forum and the Forum’s various foreign Media Forums.
The First Amendment Center series relates to the First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University, owned and operated by the Freedom Forum. When material related to both the First Amendment Center and the Freedom Forum, the archivist defaulted to placing the materials with the First Amendment Center series. Of particular note are the materials related to the Advisory Board, events hosted by the First Amendment Center, and the Visiting Scholars program.
The Topical series consists of many different kinds of files, mostly related to individuals and organizations. When the archivist was unsure where to place a file, they often ended up in Topical. Topical files were not always maintained in consistent ways, but the original filing structure was kept intact where possible. The following subseries were created to assist the researcher: - Alphabetical - Organizations - Persons - Jimmy Hoffa - A Word on Words
Materials related to Jimmy Hoffa and the “A Word on Words” program were separated due to their importance in Seigenthaler’s career. The filing system for topical files, as with other files in the collection, was uneven until the later 1970s when a more rigid organization-by-letter system was used.
The Robert F. Kennedy & Department of Justice series contains materials related to Seigenthaler’s work as Administrative Assistant to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy from 1961-1962, as well as general material related to RFK. Seigenthaler maintained a close relationship with Robert Kennedy and the rest of the Kennedy family his entire life. These materials were separated from the larger collection due to their importance and restricted nature. These materials may not be used until 2040 without permission from the Seigenthaler family.
The Personal series contains materials that do not belong in those series documenting Seigenthaler’s long professional career. These items document many aspects of Seigenthaler’s life outside of work. Large subseries in this series include calendars and call logs, events attended by Seigenthaler, materials related to his Nieman Fellowship at Harvard, and the Wikipedia controversy involving Seigenthaler.
The Speeches series has one of the deepest descriptions of the collection and documents all the speeches given by Seigenthaler – and the research to create them – from the 1940s until 2014. They are arranged in chronological order. Where possible, a title, speech location, and date were given.
The Writings series contains all kinds of published and unpublished material written by Seigenthaler. Seigenthaler worked on a number of books during his career, including one about the trial of Jimmy Hoffa, an unpublished book on Robert F. Kennedy, an unpublished biography of Alice Paul, and a biography about James K. Polk. Writings related to Alice Paul, John Peter Zenger, and Robert F. Kennedy may not be used until 2040 without permission from the Seigenthaler family.
The Clippings series is a small series the contains news clippings and articles about Seigenthaler, articles that mention Seigenthaler, and articles that were written by Seigenthaler. There are some other folders of unrelated clippings. This series is not an exhaustive account of all articles, but rather a collection of articles separated or easily separated while processing.
The Dolores Watson Seigenthaler series contains material related to Seigenthaler’s wife, Dolores. Before marrying Seigenthaler, Dolores was a popular singer in Nashville, and much of the material relates to her singing career. There are also some yearbooks from Rome, Georgia, where Dolores grew up.
The Photographs series contains the many photographs taken of Seigenthaler throughout his career. Photographs were encountered all over the collection but were almost always moved to this series. Context for photographs is provided at the folder level where possible, but photographs for that subject are not always only contained in that folder. Many of the photographs include staged photographs and pictures of Seigenthaler at various events.
The Oversize series contains material from all over the collection that did not fit into standard archival boxes. Many of these materials were previously framed but were removed for preservation purposes. This series also contains some original newspaper articles that are duplicated in the Clippings series.
The Realia and Memorabilia series contains 3d objects that were important to Seigenthaler. He was given many plaques and awards throughout his career, but only a representative sample was saved.
The Audiovisual series contains VHS tapes, DVDs, Audio cassettes, and other ausiovisual materials. This collection has been roughly organized and inventoried. For further assistance or information, please contact an archivist.
- 1920 - 2014
Conditions Governing Access
This collection may be viewed only in the reading room of Special Collections in the Jean and Alexander Heard Library. Collections should be requested 2-3 days prior to visiting in order to facilitate easier access. For questions or to request a collection, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
From the Collection: 200 Linear Feet (406 Hollinger boxes, 2 tall Hollinger boxes, 13 oversize flat boxes, approximately 2850 audiovisual items)
Language of Materials
From the Collection: English
Part of the Vanderbilt University Special Collections Repository
Special Collections Library
1101 19th Ave. S.
Nashville TN 37212 United States