Wikipedia and the Case of the McNair Imposter

For many of us, Wikipedia is the first stop when researching any topic or person that we’re unacquainted with.  I forgot who was Lieutenant Governor in 1957?  Check Wikipedia.  There’s a government agency I know nothing about?  Check Wikipedia.  Naturally then, such an ubiquitous source should have the best, most complete information we can provide.  Using our wealth of collections here at SCPC, we’re starting a project to improve and even create entries on our donors on Wikipedia.

Robert McNair

Portrait of S.C. Governor Robert McNair, now on his Wikipedia page

The most eye catching part of each page is the lead photo.  We found that many of the photographs of our donors simply aren’t of a high enough quality, or the pages are missing one altogether!  Luckily, we have a wealth of photographs in our collections.  For the first part of the project, we will be periodically uploading and adding some of our photographs to the pages.

In one case, as we surveyed existing pages for our collection donors, we discovered that the photograph for Gov. Robert E. McNair (1965-1971) wasn’t even McNair at all!  The photograph came from a misidentified photo in the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library’s online photo archive (misidentification can occur in any archive).  We emailed the LBJ Library and were greatly assisted by archivists Margaret Harman and Jennifer Cuddeback.  Ms. Harman replied with a detailed message correcting the information and filling us in on where the error may have come from.

It turns out that Gov. McNair had visited President Johnson at the President’s ranch along with a cadre of other Democratic governors to discuss their grievances, past political help, and new education guidelines.  McNair arrived with the first group of governors, while the unidentified man mistaken for Gov. McNair had actually arrived with Gov. Hearnes of Missouri as part of the second group.  To confirm all this info, Ms. Harman tracked down the photographic contact sheets of the visit as well as the President’s diary entry for the day.  Governor McNair does appear in several of the photos on the contact sheet.

LBJ Library photo

The man to the right of Lady Bird Johnson was identified as Robert McNair, and his photo – cropped from this one – was being used on the McNair Wikipedia page.
(LBJ Library photo c4170-27)

Hats off to the great archivists at the LBJ Library for their diligence and knowledge.  It’s simply amazing to know what resources are held in our presidential libraries!  You can find more great stuff at their digital archive and main website.

We’ll be posting updates on the blog as our Wikipedia project progresses.

Zach Johnson

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