Southwestern University and Southern Methodist University have been working together to help the public learn more about a famous graduate of both universities: the late Sen. John Tower.
The two have created The John G. Tower Digital Media Collection, which contains selected video, film and audio clips that provide valuable insight into U.S. and world history during the 24 years Tower served in the Senate.
To date, more than 200 clips from 1963 to 1992 have been posted online. The clips were selected from the John G. Tower Papers, which are housed at Southwestern, and were digitized and formatted for the web by the Norwick Center for Digital Services at SMU.
The clips include many of Tower’s weekly radio addresses to constituents, as well as interviews he gave to radio and television stations.
“Before this project it was extremely difficult to access this material,” said Kathryn Stallard, director of special collections and archives in Southwestern’s A. Frank Smith Jr. Library Center.
Stallard said the project was started because many of the clips that were on 16 mm film were starting to deteriorate. One of Tower’s daughters, Jeanne Tower Cox, provided funding for the project.
In selecting clips to digitize, Stallard said she tried to pick ones that reflected the important events of Tower’s era such as the moon landing, Vietnam, energy, civil rights, environmental issues and arms control. At the same time, staff also focused on topics that would be timely today and of interest to researchers. One of the most popular clips is Tower reading the last letter that William Barret Travis wrote from the Alamo. The collection also includes Tower’s introduction of Barry Goldwater at the 1984 Republican Convention and Tower’s conversations with President Richard Nixon on busing.
SMU is home to the John Goodwin Tower Center for Political Studies, and project organizers hope experts who are affiliated with that center will analyze the video and audio files, and add information that explains why the recordings are important from a political, economic and/or sociological point of view.
“The John Tower Collection is an unique source for all who are interested in the politics of the 1960s through 1980s,” said Tim O’Neill, professor of political science at Southwestern and holder of the Tower-Hester Chair in Political Science. “This was a seminal era in the history of American politics and society and Senator Tower was one of the most powerful molders of the era. The Southwestern/SMU digitalized collection will permit scholars and students from around the world to tap into this great research repository.”
Southwestern owns more than 800 audio, video and film clips related to Tower, but not all of them can be posted online due to copyright restrictions.
Stallard noted that this is not the first time that Southwestern and SMU have collaborated on projects related to Tower. For many years, Southwestern sent an exhibit based on materials from the Tower Papers to the Tower Center.
A native Texan, Tower received his undergraduate degree from Southwestern in 1948 and his master’s degree from SMU in 1953. His political career began in 1961, when he became the first Republican senator elected from Texas since Reconstruction. Tower was named to the Senate Armed Services Committee in 1965 and served as chair of that committee from 1981 to 1984.
Following his retirement from the Senate, Tower was appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1985 to serve as a member of the United States arms negotiation team in Geneva. He also served as chair of a commission that investigated the Iran Contra scandal and as chair of President George H. W. Bush’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. Tower’s career was shortened by his untimely death in a plane crash in 1991.
Stallard said she hopes to begin scanning some of the printed material Southwestern has in its Tower collection to supplement the audiovisual material.