Juneteenth: Building on Freedom

On June 19th, 1865, Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger issued General Order #3 in Galveston, Texas. It read, in part:


GENERAL ORDERS, No. 3. — The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, “all slaves are tree.” This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor.¹

Though Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered his army in April of 1865, it took some months for hostilities to cease and for word to travel to the western arm of the Confederacy. The Emancipation Proclamation, which went into law on January 1st, 1863, was supposedly difficult to enforce in Texas due to the weak Union presence in that state at the time.

June 19th, 1865 saw more confusion than celebration, but the following year marked the first-ever celebration of the Juneteenth holiday – a combination of “June” and “nineteenth” – commemorating emancipation. The Southern Historical Collection has few holdings related to Juneteenth celebrations in particular, but we have many items that recorded how Freedpeople recognized and built new lives after emancipation.

The image gallery below features two sharecropping contracts (1866 and 1868) signed by a number of Freedpeople from Green, Hale, and Marengo counties in Alabama. Click on a thumbnail to expand and learn more about the contracts.

All images from the Johnston and McFaddin Family Papers (#02489-z), Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Posted in African American, Civil Rights, Civil War, Collections, From The Search Room, Labor, Politics, Slavery, Staff Finds | Leave a comment

A Visit Home for the Meck Dec

Library lore says that Carolyn Wallace, Director of the Southern Historical Collection from 1975-1987, once declared that the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence was the single most valuable item in our entire collection.

It is thus no surprise that we have blogged about the Mecklenburg County, NC native before, that digital copies are available online, and that DocSouth provides a full transcript of the document.

Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence - the Davie Copy

A quick “Meck Dec” crash course, for those unfamiliar with this corner of Southern history: On April 30th, 1819, the Raleigh Register published an article by Dr. Joseph McKnitt Alexander. In it, Alexander said that his own father was present for the signing of the very first Declaration of Independence ever written in the Colonies – dated May 20th, 1775, more than a year before the other Declaration of Independence. He went on to explain that, though the original version of the document was lost in a fire, he owned an exact copy of it. Thomas Jefferson scoffed, but Mecklenburg locals claimed they had witnessed the original declaration with their own eyes.

While scholars still disagree over the document today, each May 20th is celebrated with much enthusiasm in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina. This past “Meck Dec Day” was particularly exciting, as the document was able to make the 140-mile journey from our secure storage in Chapel Hill to a public exhibit in Charlotte. Present for the one-day event was McKnitt’s own great-great-great-great-great granddaughter, along with descendants of many other Meck Dec signers.

Meck Dec on display in Charlotte

Meck Dec on display in Charlotte

Meck Dec on display in Charlotte








Nearly all of our collections are available to access within the library, but we are particularly pleased when we have a chance to let the items come out to the public. If you were in the Charlotte area, we hope you were able to swing by and see this treasure from the collection.


Special thanks to sponsors, hosts, and supporters at the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library, the May Twentieth Society, the Bank of America Heritage Center of Charlotte, and UNC School of Information and Library Science alumni Anne Harding.

Posted in Digital SHC, Events, Exhibitions, In the News, Links, Politics, Revolutionary War | Leave a comment

New Collections: Activists, Educators, Families, and War

We have over a dozen new collections that are preserved, processed, and now available for research. Some highlights:

  • New materials span from 1764 to 2010
  • Subjects geographically range from Mexico to China (with plenty of Alabama and North Carolina in between)
  • Grassroots organizing, coal mining, and educational activism are common themes
  • There are 3 Civil War photographs and 2 books containing personal sketches from much of the UNC Chapel Hill classes of 1859-1865

Click on any of the collection titles to learn more about the materials, view any digital items, and request them for use in our reading room.

Records of Activists & Educators

James Franklin Cooley Papers (5663)

James Franklin Cooley was an educator, minister, police officer, World War II veteran, judge, civil rights activist, and college administrator in Little Rock, Ark. The collection contains Cooley’s resume; scattered printed materials relating to his candidacy in statewide and local elections; proclamations, certificates, and awards; pages from biographical dictionaries containing James Franklin Cooley’s entry; and clippings about him.


Lynch (Ky.) Colored High School-West Main Alumni Association, Inc. Collection (5590)

Lynch Colored School in Harlan County, Ky., served African American children, kindergarten through twelfth grade, who lived in the neighboring coal camps and company towns of Lynch, Ky., and Benham, Ky. United States Coal and Coke Company, a subsidiary of United States Steel Corporation established a segregated school system in 1923 to accommodate the children of the company’s black coal miners, many of whom had migrated from Alabama and Georgia.


Carol Wills Materials on Eddie Hatcher (5668)

Carol Wills worked for The Independent in Durham, N.C., during the time that Eddie Hatcher was on trial for holding hostages at the The Robesonian newspaper office. Eddie Hatcher was a Lumbee activist in Robeson County, N.C. He and Timothy Jacobs said they held hostages at The Robesonian to draw attention to racism, drug trafficing, and poverty in Lumberton and the county.


Leah Wise Papers (5645)*

Papers documenting social justice activities of Durham, N.C., activist Leah Wise including her work with global social justice organizations and in community action groups. There is particular focus on African and African American issues, workers’ rights, anti-racism and anti-Ku Klux Klan groups, women’s rights, and agricultural and agriculture workers’ issues.

*These materials are currently available only by request, and may require additional processing time to access. If you are interested in accessing materials in this collection, please contact wilsonlibrary@unc.edu.


Kathleen Kitchen Wood Collection (5620)

The collection documents the local and grassroots political efforts of Kathleen Kitchen Wood (1926-2011) during the 1960s in Mobile, Ala., and Atlanta, Ga. Printed items, correspondence, and organizational documents illustrate the work of politically moderate and mostly white or all white organizations with which Wood affiliated including Alabamians Behind Local Education (A.B.L.E.), which advocated for keeping Mobile’s public schools open during the court ordered desegregation crisis, and the Georgia Council on Human Relations.

Family Collections

Benjamin Hickman Bunn Papers (5677)

Papers of lawyer, North Carolina state legislator, congressman, and Democratic Party politician, Benjamin Hickman Bunn (1844-1907) include political correspondence, legal documents, financial materials, and some items related to the Bunn family of Nash County, N.C. Political correspondence chiefly concerns congressional elections and North Carolina Democratic Party conventions in the 1880s and 1890s and contains frequent references to the North Carolina Farmers’ Alliance.


James McNeill Papers (5624)

The James McNeill Papers consist of letters written between 1846 and 1866 by James McNeill in Lauderdale and Kemper counties, Mississippi. The letters reveal that James McNeill was a Democrat, a slaveowner, and invested in several businesses, including lumber, cotton and corn crops, and buying and selling land in Mississippi and North Carolina. McNeill also wrote about family matters, settlers enacting vigilante justice against Mexicans in San Antonio, Tex., and the futility of the Civil War.


Guilford Mortimer Mooring Papers (5643)

Guilford Mortimer Mooring (1847-1916) was a farmer and politician in Pitt County, N.C. The Guilford Mortimer Mooring Papers consist chiefly of land indentures, deeds, and grants; personal receipts; and receipts relating to Mooring’s work as sheriff of Pitt County, N.C. Also of note are an 1862 promissory note pledging payment to Temperance Congleton for keeping a group of enslaved children and an 1867 indenture for Alexander Brown, a six-year-old orphan.


Knox Family Papers (5553)

The Knox family is from Rowan County, N.C., where they have lived since the 1740s. The Knox Family Papers contain business and legal receipts for the Knox family through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, but also includes account books, indentures, intestate succession documents, slave lists, and receipts for blacksmithing, ministerial services, and other everyday purchases.


Ellen Whitehurst Papers (5634)

Ellen Cook Whitehurst was born in 1856 in Elizabeth City, N.C., to Nancy Cook, an enslaved woman, and an unknown father. The collection includes a letter, circa 1930, from Ellen Cook Whitehurst of New York to William White Griffin of Kinston, N.C., a cousin through their common Cook family line. The letter is a twenty-page manuscript written as reminiscences of Whitehurst’s life and family history.

Experiencing War

Jesse I. Ledbetter Reminiscence (5650)

Jesse I. Ledbetter (1922-2015), of Buncombe County, N.C., served as a U.S. Army Air Corps B-24 bomber pilot with the 485th Bomber Group, 831st Bomb Squadron in Venosa, Italy during World War II. The Jesse I. Ledbetter Reminiscence documents a 26 July 1944 bombing mission to Vienna, Austria.


John Grant Rencher and William Conway Rencher Autograph Books (5651)

John Grant Rencher and William Conway Rencher were students at the University of North Carolina during the Civil War. The John Grant Rencher and William Conway Rencher Autograph Books contain autographs, biographical information, quotes, and personal notes to the brothers from University of North Carolina students of the classes of 1859 through 1865.


Isaac O. Shelby Diaries and Photographs (5674)

The collection contains two diaries kept by Union solider Isaac O. Shelby while he served in the 25th Iowa Infantry Regiment during the Civil War and three carte des visites portraits of him. Diary entries describe his regiment’s involvement in the siege of Vicksburg; the Battle of Chattanooga; the siege of Atlanta; the Battle of Bentonville, and the surrender at Bennett Place.

Posted in Activism, African American, Civil Rights, Civil War, Collections, Education, Family, Journalism, Labor, New Collections, Personal archives, Politics, Race Relations, Slavery, Southern Culture, University of North Carolina, War, Women | Leave a comment

Poetry in the Stacks

The Academy of American Poets marks each April as National Poetry Month, and it did not take much digging to find poetry among our many collections.

North Carolina Poet Laureate, Dr. Shelby Stephenson, came to mind very quickly. We are honored to be the repository for his personal and professional papers, with over 120,000 individual items in the Shelby Stephenson Papers (#04653). Materials in this collection range from personal letters, to literary rejection notices, and even conversations on bluegrass and jazz (Stephenson had an early love for the guitar).

His papers also contain many working versions of poems. Below are two drafts – one handwritten and one typed – of “Gathering Scattered Corn,” both dated November 7, 1975. The handwritten copy even includes a time (10:15 am). Click to view a larger image of each.

Handwritten draft of Stephenson's poem, "Gathering Scattered Corn"

“Gathering Scattered Corn” (longhand), in the Shelby Stephenson Papers #4653, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

A later, typed draft of Stephenson's poem, "Gathering Scattered Corn"

“Gathering Scattered Corn” (typed), in the Shelby Stephenson Papers #4653, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Posted in Collections, Just for Kicks, Personal archives, Writers | Leave a comment

Announcing the launch of the Student Health Coalition project website

A pioneering online archive about student activism in the 1960s and 70s goes public on Thursday, March 31, 2016.  The website (studenthealthcoalition.web.unc.edu) is the digital home for video clips, historic photos, and personal profiles from former activists in the rural south with a focus on health care.

The archive is the outcome of a partnership between the Southern Historical Collection at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the Student Health Coalition.

The Southern Historical Collection encourages the study and appreciation of the history and culture of the American South by collecting, preserving and promoting the use of unique documentary materials of enduring historical value. The Collection does this to enable users to derive meanings from the southern past and to support the University’s mission of teaching, research and service.

The Student Health Coalition was a student-run organization based primarily at Vanderbilt University and eventually at other colleges around the south.  They were active over several decades beginning in the late 1960s.  Student activists and rural community leaders worked together on issues related to health care and empowerment.

The new website unveiled on March 31 is a unique community-driven archive of historical documents and other treasures.  Its goal is to encourage the study of the Coalition’s public health and community organizing work throughout the Appalachian region. The online archive is by design interactive, dynamic, and open to the public.


Circa summer 1971: Student Health Coalition participants gather in front of the Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Photograph from the Richard Davidson Photographic Collection, Southern Historical Collection, UNC Chapel Hill.

Discoveries and advantages have already begun to surface even as the site was in development.  The Southern Historical Collection has uncovered little-used archives in their collection whose relevance has been magnified by the interactive site. Links to other archival resources throughout the region, including Vanderbilt University Medical Center, are beginning to shed new light on old stories about health care issues in the rural south.

According to Biff Hollingsworth, Collecting and Outreach Archivist at UNC, “Scholars are often drawn to a project or area of research because of the depth of resources available to them. So sometimes marketing those opportunities is tantamount to developing them further.”

North Carolina’s organic farming celebrity Bill Dow was a co-founder of the Student Health Coalition and a graduate of Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.  His newly-published memoirs, What I Stand On, received acclaim around North Carolina. The memoirs contain stories from the Coalition days as well as from Bill’s farming innovations.

Just after Bill Dow died in 2012, his family made arrangements for his collection of historical documents about farming to be left in a conventional archive at UNC. When archivists learned about Dow’s early work in health care, they engaged with a reunion of the Coalition to explore this new model for interactive, community-driven archive building. Beginning March 31, the public is invited to explore and engage.

If you were part of the Student Health Coalition or would like to learn more about this project, please contact Biff Hollingsworth at the Southern Historical Collection, by phone at 919-962-3353 or by email at biff@unc.edu.

Student Health Coalition website: http://studenthealthcoalition.web.unc.edu

Posted in Collections, Community Archives, Links | 1 Comment

NEH Challenge Grant Kick-Off!

You have probably seen a recent flurry of announcements and excitement about our National Endowment for the Humanities Challenge Grant. This grant will go toward endowing our African American Collections and Outreach Archivist position, making it a permanent fixture of the Southern Historical Collection.

Receiving this grant is excellent news, and it means that we need the support of our patrons and partners more than ever. Every dollar of this Challenge Grant must be matched by three dollars that we raise ourselves.

Many people rely on the expertise and resources this position provides, from families tracing their ancestry to students developing research projects. Raising the money necessary to meet this Challenge Grant will insure that this position is secure, and that we can continue to preserve African American history in the South.

Here’s how you can be a part of something lasting


Photo courtesy of the Eastern Kentucky African American Migration Project

Posted in African American, grants, Links, SHC In the News | Leave a comment

Celebrating Bill Dow: Readings from “What I Stand On”

Last year, the Southern Historical Collection was pleased to make two collections available to the public, the William W. Dow Papers and the Richard Davidson Photographs of the Appalachian Student Health Coalition and the Mountain People’s Health Council. Both collections relate to the community of Vanderbilt alumni from the Appalachian Student Health Coalition, which began in 1969 to provide health fairs to rural communities without health care in Appalachia.

In addition to h9780997043402is work as a doctor, William (Bill) Dow became the first organic farmer in North Carolina and the founder of the Carrboro Farmer’s Market (among many other accomplishments).

Before his death in 2012, Dr. Dow recorded his thoughts on sustainable farming with the hope that it could be compiled into a book. His friend, Fred Broadwell, and his partner, Daryl Walker, completed this project resulting the book titled: What I Stand On: Practical Advice and Cantankerous Musings from a Pioneering Organic FarmerIt is now available for order at your local independent bookseller.

Though much of the book contains Dr. Dow’s pioneering farming philosophies, small mentions of the Student Health Coalition are peppered throughout.

Broadwell and Walker will be doing readings from the book at local bookstores during the next few months. If your interested in a pioneering farmer’s wisdom and philosophy, or perhaps enjoy homegrown food, please join them at:

  • McIntyres Books in Pittsboro on Feb 27, 2016  at 2:oopm.
  • Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill on Feb 29, 2016 at 7:00pm .
  • Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill on March 8, 2016 at 7:00pm. With an appearance by
    Isaiah Allen, the chef of The Eddy in Saxapahaw and owner of Rocky Run Farm, who wrote the book’s introduction.
  • Regulator Bookshop in Durham on March 10, 2016 at 7:00pm.

Posted in Community Archives, New Collections | Leave a comment

Midcentury Artists Communicating in Big and Small

We are a manuscript collection, meaning that much of our materials are black and white, paper and ink items: letters and ledgers, deeds and diaries, wills and writs. However, if you know where to look, you can come across many bright, bold, beautiful items.

"Jesters" by Hale Woodruff. Linocut and screenprint.

“Jesters” by Hale Woodruff. Linocut and screenprint.

Our current exhibit in the Wilson Special Collection Library’s fourth floor gallery space is Tiny Paintings: Handmade Artist Cards from the Charles Alston Collection. Charles Henry Alston (1907-1977) was an artist, educator, and arts advocate in the middle of the twentieth century, and kept up vigorous correspondence with his many friends, students, and colleagues.


This exhibit, created in concert with UNC Art Professor Dr. John P. Bowles, selects cards from the Charles Henry Alston Papers #04931. Learn about ways that artists in the 1940s-1960s used handmade greeting cards to share work with distant colleagues, to test new techniques, and to question social, political, and artistic norms.


"Merry Christmas Haiti" by unknown artist, 1949.

“Merry Christmas Haiti” by unknown artist, 1949.

"Prehistoric Images" by Hale Woodruff. Linocut.

“Prehistoric Images” by Hale Woodruff. Linocut.

Coincidentally, Alston and many of his close friends are better known for their work at the other end of the size spectrum: murals. Just across campus, the Ackland Art Museum is hosting Beyond Walls: Designs for Twentieth-Century American Murals (open through April 10th, 2016) featuring some of Alston’s large-scale mural work.

This unique opportunity to view Alston’s work – from miniature to immense – on UNC’s campus is only available until March 31st, 2016.


Tiny Paintings: Handmade Artist Cards from the Charles Alston Collection is free and open to the public during Wilson Special Collection Library’s regular business hours.

Posted in African American, Art/Artists, Exhibitions, Featured Collections | Leave a comment