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Come on Along!

Posted By craigc1 On December 5, 2011 @ 9:59 am In Fall 2011, Feature | No Comments

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One of Vanderbilt’s most well-known graduates, U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (BA’62) and his wife, Honey Alexander, have made one of the most important donations in the Jean and Alexander Heard Library’s history by giving their pre-Senate papers to Special Collections.

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U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (BA'62)

The collection contains a wealth of historical documents from Alexander’s political campaigns, his two terms as governor, Honey Alexander’s roles as wife, mother, first lady and advocate for family causes, along with the senator’s correspondence with close friend and author Alex Haley. Papers from Alexander’s tenure as president of the University of Tennessee and U.S. secretary of education are also included.

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Sen. Alexander (left) and Chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos share a light moment at the September opening of the exhibit.

“Honey and I felt that the archives should reflect the voices of the countless Tennesseans who have worked with us to raise educational standards, attract industry and build confidence among the state’s residents,” Alexander said. “To support this, Vanderbilt’s libraries have already begun an oral history project recording the stories of those who played major roles.”

The collection speaks richly of Alexander’s two terms as governor, which began in 1979 when America was still pulling itself out of the Watergate quagmire and struggling to regain confidence in its political leadership. Alexander’s pre-Senate papers reflect the challenges that Republicans across the country faced during the 1980s along with the opportunities in education and business development that he and other state leaders identified and moved forward.

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(above) Nissan CEO Marvin Runyon and Lamar Alexander shake hands as the first Sentra rolls off the production line in March 1985. Alexander was instrumental in drawing both Japanese manufacturing and the auto industry to Tennessee. (top of page) As Tennessee’s governor, Lamar Alexander addresses the crowd at his inauguration in January 1983.

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Sen. Alexander relaxes on a porch swing in Henning, Tenn., with author Alex Haley. It was here that Haley first heard the stories that led to his book Roots.


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Sen. Alexander demonstrates an interactive display for (counterclockwise from bottom left) Memphis attorney and former Alexander state commissioner Lewis Donelson, Nashville Mayor Karl Dean and Alexander’s Deputy Chief of Staff and State Director Patrick Jaynes at the exhibit opening.


“An archive of papers such as Senator Alexander’s enables Vanderbilt students and faculty to conduct original research—to reveal nuances and details hidden in th­­e historical record, producing new insights and new questions about matters of great significance,” said Carolyn Dever, dean of the College of Arts and Science.

“Sen. Alexander’s unique set of experiences as governor, U.S. secretary of education, university president and presidential candidate comprise an archive that will be a national treasure mined by scholars for generations,” said Connie Vinita Dowell, dean of libraries. “This is clearly one of Vanderbilt’s most important collections.”

“Come on Along! Lamar Alexander’s Journey as Governor,” opened in September in the Central Library’s newly renovated galleries. It will be on display through August 12, 2012. Included in the exhibit are photos and memorabilia highlighting Alexander’s 1,000-mile walk across Tennessee, instrumental in his election success, his historic early swearing-in as governor which brought a halt to outgoing Gov. Ray Blanton’s pardoning of convicted murderers, and Alexander’s education innovations. A special highlight is the successful Homecoming ’86 celebration, co-chaired by Alex Haley and Minnie Pearl, which provided Tennesseans an opportunity to rediscover their past and identify the uniqueness of their communities. His piano performances with Tennessee symphonies and on the Grand Ole Opry are also featured.
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