One of the smaller collections within the University Archives and Special Collections Department at UT Tyler is our brief collection of papers regarding the Sister Cities International organization here in Tyler in the 1980s. The national organization was created by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1956, where he emphasized the power of citizen diplomacy to fuel educational, civic, social, and governmental relationships between cities to tackle issues of water, sanitation, and health. Not only did it initially help repair ties in Europe and the Pacific after World War II, it helped diplomatic relationships on the world stage in times of tension in the Cold War with the U.S.S.R. and China. By 1989, a lot of cities in the U.S. not only had one sister city, but sought out partnership from many cities across the globe. In 1983 over 700 U.S. cities were a part of this program, making nearly 1050 twining affiliations around the world. This was in accordance to certain criteria. This may include similarities in population, a history of diplomatic relations, a large number of local foreign residents, and so forth.
Focusing on the years from 1982 to 1989, the Tyler Sister City program began in 1982 largely through Dr. George F. Hamm, the then-president of the University of Texas at Tyler, after touring French universities in Metz, France, and hearing about their desire to be a part of the Sister City program. Tyler and Metz’s twining of cities resulted in opportunities for sponsoring host families, travel/study programs, student/faculty exchange programs in higher education and to the public as a whole. UT Tyler utilized many of these travel/study programs, sending students from Tyler Junior College and area high school students to Metz to learn the history, culture, and language of France. Some UT Tyler faculty were involved in teaching including Vivian Hicks and Dr. Patricia Gajda. Several times over the decade, a delegation from Metz visited Tyler to sightsee the city. Most of the visits included receptions and welcome ceremonies, but also included tours of UT Tyler and the Tyler Rose Garden. There are documents and newspaper clippings telling how the French deputy mayor of Metz, Eugene Philippe Rheims along with ten other council members enjoyed their visit to Tyler, and how for the Bicentennial year of the French Revolution a visiting professor from Metz visited UT Tyler and spoke at an event. The Sister Cities program also hosted a youth art exhibition in 1989 called “Expressions of Peace”, to emphasis how glimpses of world peace could be attained through the nonprofit organization.
Although Metz was Tyler’s very first Sister City, documents within the collection suggest Tyler officials were looking to add other cities to entwine with for economic development, cultural exchange, and education during the 1980s. In particular, Tyler was doing research in becoming sister cities with communities in Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, Japan (after being prompted that Eastern cities will lead the global economy in the 90s), Mexico, Belize, Scandinavia, Taiwan, Israel, and even China
The Tyler Sister City program continues to exist as an independent organization and is currently entwined with cities in Japan, Poland, Costa Rica, and Chile, but there are plans to entwine with a city in Mexico. Metz, unfortunately, is no longer a Sister City to us. It had to make ties with larger cities that matched it in population and development, such as Atlanta, Georgia. Regardless of the fact that Metz, France and Tyler, Texas are no longer considered “Sister Cities”, the relationship allowed both cities to engage with each other and experience the Sister Cities International program. Although we take for granted how connected the world is in 2017 thanks to the internet, in the 1980s, it was a big deal to be able to have such connections on a global scale.