OPC Digital Archives Help Uncover Lost Family History

Dear Editor of the Overseas Press Club Bulletin, 

In the eleven short months since 1,751 historical OPC Bulletins and other unique OPC records have been digitalized and preserved online at Archive,org, they have been accessed by 5,909 unique individuals. As one of those individuals, I would like to briefly share with you my personal story of accessing them, what I learned, and to express my most sincere and heartfelt thanks and gratitude.

Read an article announcing the archival collection here.

Read tips for how to use the archive and refine searches here.

I was born in 1944 and will turn 79 in just a few months. Until only recently, I have never known who my father was. As a young child, my mother had relinquished me, putting me up for adoption, and declaring to the court that my unnamed father was dead. The unstated implication was that he had been killed in World War II. This, it would turn out, was a lie.

I have always yearned to know who was my father. With the dogged assistance of my beloved friend and a professional Investigative Genetic Genealogist, John F. Suggs, the two of us ultimately discovered through DNA analysis that my father was, in fact, Lionel Durand, a highly respected and accomplished journalist and a member of the OPC of America and the Anglo-American Press Association of Paris.

Born in Haiti in 1920, the son of the last prewar Haitian Ambassador to France, Lionel studied at the Sorbonne, Heidelberg and Oxford and spoke French, English, German, Russian, Spanish and Italian. He and his family would find themselves trapped in France when the Germans invaded in 1940. Both The New York Times, along with the Bulletin, recounted that Lionel had fought in the French Resistance and was “twice arrested by the Gestapo and twice escaped.”

In the US National Archives, we discovered as part of a wartime special investigation by the FBI, a report, filed under the signature of J. Edgar Hoover, that noted that Lionel’s father, Louis Durand, had returned to his home in Le Havre, France on July 16, 1941, and encountered four German soldiers who demanded his passports and those of his family. The soldiers confiscated the following: “diplomatic passports and passports of Durand’s family; exequatur and act of nomination by Haitian Government; marriage certificate of Durand’s son, Lionel; official and private letters; all consular seals; blank passports; and notes belonging to Durand’s son and a photograph.” They were now without any diplomatic identification papers to protect them in occupied France.

In the summer of 1942, the family finally successfully fled France for New York, where Lionel was appointed director of Voice of America’s French section regularly broadcasting to the people of occupied France. It was while there, at the Voice of America desk in New York, that he met my mother who was working down the hall at the Office of War Information department. Besides the racial challenges stemming from the fact that Lionel was Black and my mother was white, there was also an additional complication due to the fact that my mother was married at the time to a soldier serving overseas. Thus, my very “being” represented a scandal for her that she ultimately resolved by unilaterally declaring my father dead and turning me over for adoption.

After the war, from 1945-1948, Lionel would work for the Paris Presse as New York and UN bureau chief before returning to France as its foreign editor. In 1956 he joined Newsweek as a staff correspondent in Paris and became Newsweek’s Paris bureau chief in 1958. Thanks to the 1950’s Bulletins in the archives, I was able to track his journalistic career progression. His various promotions, reporting assignments, exclusive interviews, election to the Executive Committee of the Anglo-American Press Association of Paris, chairing their Dinner Committee for the annual black-tie dinner and even a 1958 ski vacation in the French Alps were all dutifully noted and recorded in the weekly Bulletin.

And then, in January of 1961, the Bulletin sadly reported news of his tragic death just weeks after turning 40. He had been interviewing Muslim leaders and was covering the violence and unrest that had erupted at the Casbah in Algiers when a tear gas canister landed at his feet. Choking and gasping for air, he nevertheless managed to make it out of the melee and successfully filed his story. Tragically, he never recovered from his injuries and, shortly thereafter, died of a heart attack in his sleep.

The Bulletin would continue to report on him in the coming weeks. First, to announce the naming of his successor, Larry Collins, as Newsweek’s Paris Bureau Chief and then to announce that the OPC had voted to posthumously award both him, and Henry N. Taylor of Scripps-Howard Newspapers, the 1961 George Polk Memorial Award “For best reporting, requiring exceptional courage and enterprise abroad.” (Note: The final George Polk Memorial Award was bestowed in 1973.)

In its story about the award, the OPC’s 1961 annual Dateline carried a photo of him towering over Nikita Khrushchev in an informal press gaggle. (I had never seen this picture before, and it simply took my breath away. Thank you OPC for making this photo available to me!) Finally, in June, the Bulletin announced that, in a formal ceremony on the 17th anniversary of D-Day, his name had been added to the OPC Memorial Room Honor Roll. The story explained that “This roster, which honors newsmen killed in the performance of their journalistic duties, now totals 93 names.” (A photo that accompanies the story shows his name prominently displayed on the Honor Roll wall. Seeing it for the very first time brought me to tears.)

I want to close by thanking everyone in your organization who made the effort required for digitalizing all the OPC historical Bulletins and records and thereby making these archives available online to the public and to me. Specifically, I want to thank by name, Patricia Kranz, your executive director, who so kindly reached out to inform us of the existence of these treasures. Patricia, you have given an old man a truly priceless gift – my father!


Morgan Zo Callahan