courtney taylor '19
Courtney Taylor ‘19, BA English, spent the summer of 2019 traveling to the Lyndon B. Johnson Library and Museum in Austin, Texas to carry out research directed toward the completion of a creative project, an experience made possible by the support of the Guiliano Global FelIowship Program. She shares how she landed on such a unique area of scholarly interest and what it’s like to perform archival research, and conveys the thrill of contributing one of her findings to the official historical record.
Courtney’s research project was unique in that it was split equally across the scholarly
and the creative:
I sought to continue my research on Walter Jenkins, a top Johnson aide who was arrested just before the 1964 election, in order to develop a play I’m writing titled Jenkins: An All-American Outing . Walter Jenkins was a long-time friend and aide to President Johnson, a Catholic father of six, and was arrested for “indecent gestures” with another man in a Y.M.C.A. bathroom. His arrest prompted a range of personal reckonings within the Johnson White House, in which prejudice and politics were weighed against the profound duties of friendship.
Research at the Lyndon B. Johnson Library & Museum involved the careful handling of preserved original documents, an invaluable resource when it comes to the study of any historical event:
At the Johnson Library, I worked with incredible archivists in order to procure Walter Jenkins’ personal papers, files charting his work with Lyndon B. Johnson prior to and following Johnson’s presidency, and files of other Johnson aides in which discussions of Walter’s work and arrest appear. The archivists in the museum’s Reading Room provided me with guidance about where to find files pertinent to my research, and took time to discuss various people and particulars of my story. I had my own desk and cart for files in the Reading Room, which was super exciting, and over the course of the week, I went through hundreds of memos, personal letters, speeches, press releases, and more.
Courtney’s careful attention to detail while performing work in the archives was rewarded:
I was even a part of a small revision to the historical record. It was widely believed that Lyndon B. Johnson and Walter Jenkins did not reconcile their friendship until after Johnson left the White House, but a surprising document in the Jenkins family’s social file revealed that Johnson sent Jenkins a Christmas gift of $300 (at that time, about the cost of one semester of college), just two months after Jenkins’ arrest. I also got my hands on a handwritten letter from Lady Bird Johnson to Walter Jenkins, in support of him post-arrest, which was really moving to see.
Throughout this experience, Courtney was able to explore a range of resources:
After researching in Austin, I traveled to visit The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza in Dallas. The Kennedy assassination propelled both Johnson and Jenkins into larger positions of responsibility, and following Johnson’s ascent to the presidency, the press at large became more interested in Walter Jenkins, writing articles about his work within the White House, so I found it important to gain a sense of that element of the story as well. In Dallas, I got to see the historical sites around Dealey Plaza as well as tour The Sixth Floor Museum, which was really interesting to see, and added a new dimension to my project.
As is often the case with great ideas in research, Courtney’s interest in Jenkins
blossomed out of what was initially an offshoot:
I found Walter Jenkins’ story in January 2018, when I was researching while writing a separate play about the Kennedy assassination. Jenkins’ story was a footnote in my larger research, but I was struck by the humanity of the tale, as well as the wealth of archived documents that track it (recorded phone conversations have been saved, for example, where you can hear the news of Jenkins’ arrest being broken to President Johnson, as well as discussions between Lyndon and Lady Bird Johnson about how best to deal with the news). The story struck my interest and was something I researched on the side for a long time, so I was incredibly excited when I found out about the Guiliano Fellowship and saw it as an opportunity to advance my research.
The support from the Guiliano Fellowship allowed Courtney to push the nature of her
work to a new level of storytelling and human depth:
Without this fellowship, I certainly would not have been able to go on this incredible scholarly adventure. Some documents about Jenkins’ arrest were available online, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to gain a full sense of the story without traveling to Texas and seeing the available records firsthand. When I first heard about the Guiliano Fellowship, I was struck by the thought that this could be my chance to perform the research I’d wanted to do. One particular research goal for me was to get a better sense of Walter Jenkins’ voice as I worked on writing my play. Getting to see his personal files and read his correspondence gave me a much stronger sense of who he was, and allowed me to bring a truer dimension to my play in progress.
Courtney’s research experience provided benefits that extended beyond the scholarly realm:
At the Johnson Library, I worked with archivists from a range of different backgrounds and gained new perspectives on my work. It was incredibly enlightening to see the letters and memos of the past. Walter Jenkins’ story provides an interesting entrypoint into the prejudices of the past, showing us what’s changed since his 1964 arrest and what has stayed the same. I spoke with archivists about what these stories deemed history can teach us about this historical moment, and learned about the ways in which excavating and presenting these past stories can help foster a larger sense of understanding and compassion in the present.
Courtney’s research experience had a great impact on her, both personally and professionally:
My fellowship experience has already led to advances in my professional development. I pitched an article about the issue of archival withholding policies, which I encountered firsthand during my fellowship experience; that article is forthcoming on Literary Hub. This experience is something I cite on job interviews and in other grant applications. It was a transformative trip, opening my eyes to new information as well as new career possibilities. In terms of personal development, it was one of the most exciting experiences of my life thus far; getting to experience what researching on a fellowship is like has fueled my drive to apply for further fellowships and seek out more research opportunities.
Courtney's experience is a testament to the wide range of projects possible through
the support of the Guiliano Global Fellowship:
If you’re even slightly considering applying for the Guiliano Fellowship, I would encourage you to go for it. Right before I submitted my application, I had a bit of a crisis of confidence, particularly due to the unusual nature of my project — I feared that the fact that I was researching to write a play, and not performing research in a lab, would bar my application from consideration. I was absolutely elated to find that the Guiliano Fellowship supports creative endeavors like this. This opportunity was an absolute dream come true and is an experience I will always be grateful for. If there’s an idea you’re passionate about pursuing but don’t have an apparent channel to pursue it through, this is the fellowship for you!
The Guiliano Global Fellowship Program offers students the opportunity to carry out
research, creative expression and cultural activities for personal development through
traveling outside of their comfort zone.
Fall deadline: October 1 (Projects will take place during the Winter Session or spring semester)
Spring deadline: March 1 (Projects will take place during the Summer Session or fall semester)
Please submit any questions here.