Leon Poyner: Supporting the Archives for 25 Years

The National Archives History Office continues to highlight past employees in celebration of Black History Month. 

Leon Poyner began his career at the National Archives as a chauffeur in 1936. He worked his way up to Transportation Manager and ultimately Chief of Archival Services in the Archives Handling Branch.

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Leon D. Poyner’s ID card near the beginning of his career at the National Archives, February 3, 1941. (National Archives Identifier 12091409)

Although he was not an archivist, Poyner’s 25 years of devoted service supported the needs of the National Archives during its first quarter-century of existence.

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Leon D. Poyner receives a service award from Archivist of the United States Wayne Grover, August 26, 1955. (National Archives Identifier 12169403)

Leon dePonce Poyner was born in Norfolk, VA, in 1906. After spending some time in Boston, Poyner moved back south—this time to Washington, DC, to work at the National Archives, where he remained for the rest of his life.

He was known for being hard-working, reliable, and friendly. He earned numerous awards and accolades over the years, including a cash award in 1948 and sustained superior service awards from the General Services Administration (which operated the National Archives from 1949 to 1985) in 1955, 1957, and in 1959.

He was also instrumental in getting the John F. Kennedy papers to the National Archives.

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Photograph of (front, L to R) W. Neil Franklin, Dr. G. Philip Bauer, Clarence E. Carter, and Grace Quimby. Rear, L to R: James L. Gear, Al Leisinger, Leon Poyner, Alexander (Pop) Stiles, and John F. (Mike) Simmons, on the steps of the National Archives Building in Washington DC, 1958. (National Archives Identifier 12169202)

After Kennedy was elected President in 1960, the National Archives secured his pre-Presidential papers for his eventual library. This was a major coup, but as the inauguration approached, the Archives still hadn’t received final approval to remove the papers from the U.S. Capitol.

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Leon Poyner and Alexander “Pop” Stiles at Stiles’ Retirement Party, April, 29, 1960. (National Archives Identifier 12169819)

Three days before the inauguration, they finally got word they could move the records. Karl Trever, Special Assistant to the Archivist for Presidential Libraries, and Poyner went up to the Capitol with Poyner’s staff to bring the papers and memorabilia to the Archives.

Poyner and his crew had to assemble, pack, and move the Kennedy materials, which were stored all over the place.

Kennedy’s staff had taken over a large hearing room in the Capitol that held a mountain of gifts Kennedy had received during the campaign.

Poyner and his staff also packed Senate staff and administrative assistant files, which filled several offices. They had to go around to several storage spaces in the Capitol and Senate Office Building to pack noncurrent records, memorabilia, and numerous boxes and crates of paintings and other objects that Jacqueline Kennedy had acquired.

Poyner and his crew packed and moved all of the material in just a few hours. He and his men brought the last load down Pennsylvania Avenue just as a big snowstorm, often referred to as the Kennedy Inaugural Snowstorm, began.

That is just one example of how Poyner left his mark on the National Archives.

Poyner died at the National Archives Building of a heart attack later that year on August 18, 1961.

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Photograph of Mr. Ford’s Crew (Archival Labor Service) at Leon Poyner’s Christmas Party, December 1960. (National Archives Identifier 12170482)

Interested in more? Read Alexis Hill’s post on her late father who worked at the National Archives for 30 years in the Rediscovering Black History blog.

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