As part of our ongoing effort to move history from the closed pages of our library's books and onto our walls and into people's lives, we put together a slide presentation last night for a heterogeneous group of Tangier residents, both Moroccan and expat. The event was sponsored by the Rotary club of Tanger Détroit.
The reaction was enthusiastic, and a highlight of the evening was the gift to the Legation of a signed photo of President Theodore Roosevelt, presented to us by a descendant of Emily Cherifa of Wazzan.
The handwritten inscription reads "To Her Highness The Cherifa of Wazan with the high respect of Theodore Roosevelt, Jan 12th 1904."
Emily Keene, the "British Bride of Tangier," was married to the Cherif of Wazzan, ally of the Sultan and an intermediary in the Legation's negotiations to free kidnapped American Ion Perdicaris in 1904.
The photo has been a prized family possession for over a century, and we are honored that Asmaa Cherif Ouazzane has deemed that it should reside at the Legation, where it will join our exhibit on this important episode of Roosevelt's "Big Stick" gunboat diplomacy.
It's always heartening to hear native Tanjawis say that they learned about their own history at the Legation – "I had always thought this was just a museum" said one woman. Well, yes, and here's why there is a museum. The art helps us provide the historic context to over two centuries of Moroccan – American ties.
Our discussion of the "protégé" system, where foreign powers extended protection to Moroccan subjects, often in exchange for services rendered, also generated discussion. The US played the protégé card too, sometimes controversially, leading to sparks flying in the 1880s between Perdicaris and the Matthews, father and son, respectively Consul General and Vice Consul in Tangier. Accusations of trafficking in protection included according an entire village of 300 "protégé" status in exchange for their services as beaters during wild boar hunts, which the villagers then used to avoid the Sultan's taxpayers. Not a high point in the annals of American diplomatic history.
Great interest too in the Legation's role during World War II: Operation Torch, the intervention of the Chargé d'Affaires to save Jews during the Holocaust, and the delicate balancing act dealing with Franco's Spain and its occupation of Tangier, Vichy French authorities, and Moroccan nationalists. President Franklin Roosevelt's reaching out to then-Sultan (and future King of independent Morocco) Mohammed V was a story that Moroccan audiences like hearing.
And we enjoy recounting the Peace Corps' role in the transition of the Legation during the 1970s, when Peace Corps Morocco training was centered here. The story of the "Cistern Chapel" (the Volunteers' disco in an empty water cistern under the Legation kitchen) is always good for a few laughs.
But we were especially happy to have in the audience a distinguished lawyer who learned his English thanks to a Peace Corps Volunteer teacher, one of that same cohort who hung out at the Legation and discoed at the Cistern Chapel.
And that's what made yesterday's program such a joy. Photo identification by members of the audience, helping us determine who might be The Man in the Bicorne, for example (the latest hint is that he is pictured in front of what was the Danish Legation).
Tanjawis reliving their own city's – and country's – history, via this sole vestige – the Legation – of the time when Tangier was Morocco's diplomatic capital. It's a rich history, and we're happy to share it with our growing public.