Category Archives: African American

Breaking New Ground – now online with the Southern Oral History Program

This post was contributed by Adrienne Petty.

Three years ago, historians Mark Schultz and Adrienne Petty set out on an urgent mission to record the stories of African American farm owners. Time was of the essence. Land ownership among African Americans peaked during the early twentieth century and continues to decline. Fearful of losing their stories forever, Schultz, a professor at Lewis University, and Petty, a professor at the City College of New York, led a team of undergraduate and graduate students from universities throughout the South in collecting and preserving digitally recorded oral history interviews for their project, “Breaking New Ground: A History of African American Farm Owners Since the Civil War.” The fruits of their labor are now available on the Southern Oral History Program site. Funded by a $230,000 collaborative research grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the collection includes more than 300 interviews with black farm owners and their descendants from Maryland to Oklahoma. The collection covers a range of topics related to farming, landownership and post Civil War U.S. history, including Reconstruction, the Great Depression, the world wars, the Civil Rights Movement, and the contemporary black farmers’ activism.

The goal of “Breaking New Ground” is to explore how rural black families “made a way out of no way” and became farm owners against considerable odds, how land ownership affected their experience of the Jim Crow era, and how their privileged positions shaped the destinies of their descendants. We want to ask, How did some black farmers acquire land? Did land ownership empower African Americans in the racially segregated South? How did African American land ownership differ in different parts of the region? What was their legacy? Answers to these questions and others will deepen our understanding of an essential, but overlooked, element of southern history.

Adrienne Petty is a descendant of black farm owners and is currently working on a book entitled, Standing Their Ground: Small Farm Owners in the South. Mark Schultz, author of The Rural Face of White Supremacy: Beyond Jim Crow, has recorded hundreds of interviews with Georgians, many of which are already in the SOHP collection at the Southern Historical Collection in Carolina’s Wilson Library.

We hope that the oral histories we collect as part of this project will not only lay the foundation for a history monograph that fills a glaring gap in the scholarship, but also creates a rich resource for historians, students, teachers, and researchers of all kinds.

You can access the 300+ interviews from this project in the SOHP database here.

Daniel Webster recommendation letter on behalf of former slave Paul Jennings

Paul Jennings was born a slave at Montpelier, James and Dolley Madison’s Virginia plantation home, in 1799. He served as President Madison’s personal body servant before and during Madison’s time in the White House. Jennings was with Madison when he died in 1836. Struggling financially after her husband’s death, Dolley Madison eventually sold Paul Jennings to an insurance agent for $200. Senator Daniel Webster interceded and bought Jennings from the agent for $120. Webster then arranged for Jennings to work to purchase his freedom, which Jennings obtained in 1847.

Recently, archivists in the Southern Historical Collection re-discovered a short recommendation letter written in 1851 by Daniel Webster on behalf of Paul Jennings. The letter is filed with the SHC’s Alfred Chapman Papers (#1545). We have now updated the description in the finding aid to make specific mention of this letter. Please see below for a scan and transcription of Webster’s letter.

For a more complete history of Jennings’s life, please see:
A Slave in the White House: Paul Jennings and the Madisons, by Elizabeth Dowling Taylor (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012).

*****

Item description: Recommendation letter, dated 23 June 1851, written by Daniel Webster (1782-1852) about his former slave, Paul Jennings (1799-1874).

Item transcription:

Paul Jennings was a servant in our house, for a considerable time. We think him very honest, faithful and sober; and a competent dining room servant. Formerly he was body servant to Mr. Madison.

Daniel Webster
June 23, 1851

Item citation:

From folder 3 of the Alfred Chapman Papers, #1545, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

New Collection: Lewis Family Papers, #5499

We are pleased to announce that the newly acquired Lewis Family Papers (SHC #5499) collection is open and available for research. For more about this collection, please view the finding aid. Here’s a brief summary…

The Lewis family arrived in Raleigh, N.C., in 1923, when John D. Lewis Sr. took a job as a district manager for North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company of Durham, N.C. He and his wife, Luella Alice Cox Lewis, and their two children, J.D. Lewis (John D. Lewis Jr.) (1919-2007) and Vera Lewis Embree (1921-2004), lived in southeast Raleigh and were members of First Baptist Church. J.D. Lewis was a Morehouse College graduate, one of the first African American members of the United States Marine Corps, and the first African American radio and television personality, corporate director of personnel, and director of minority affairs for WRAL of the Capitol Broadcasting Company (CBC). J.D. Lewis also worked as the special markets representative for the Pepsi Cola Bottling Company; as the project director of GROW, Incorporated, a federally funded program for high school dropouts; and as the coordinator of manpower planning for the state of North Carolina. Lewis was active in many civic and community organizations as well. Vera Lewis Embree (1921-2004) graduated from the Palmer Institute for Young Women and Hampton Institute. She built a successful and celebrated career as a choreographer and professor of dance at the University of Michigan. The collection consists of papers, photographs, and audiovisual materials that chiefly relate to J.D. Lewis’s working life and the civic and community organizations he supported. Lewis’s career is documented by materials from Capitol Broadcasting Company, including editorials he wrote and produced; GROW, Incorporated; Manpower; Pepsi-Cola Bottling Company; National Association of Market Developers; and the National Business League. Lewis’s civic leadership is evident in records of the Raleigh Community Relations Committee, which worked to integrate Raleigh public schools; political campaigns; and the Team of Progress, a group interested in political leadership at the city and county levels of government. Community organizations represented in the collection include the Garner Road YMCA; Alpha Kappa Alpha Debutante Ball; the Eastside Neighborhood Task Force; the Citizens Committee on Schools; Omega Psi Phi; and Meadowbrook Country Club, which was founded in 1959 by a small group of African American community leaders. Other materials document the Method Post Office dedication in 1965; the Montford Point Marine Association; and a youth charrette, possibly on integration of Durham schools. There are also clippings and printed materials on such topics as black power, African American history, Morehouse College, and Shaw University. There are several issues ofPerfect Home, a home design and decorating magazine published by John W. Winters, a real estate broker, home builder, city councilman, state senator, and civic leader. Family materials are mainly biographical and include newspaper clippings, funeral programs, school materials, awards and certificates, and photographs. There are a few family letters, including one from 1967 with a first-hand account of rioting on Twelfth Street in Detroit and a copy of a 10 January 1967 letter in which the Lewis family opposed the selection of Mark Twain’s Mississippi Melody for student performance on the grounds that it perpetuated stereotyped images of African Americans. Photographs include portraits and snapshots of four generations of the Lewis and related Cox families, documenting family life from the 1910s through the 2000s. There are non-family group portraits of Omega Psi Phi members of Durham, North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company employees on its 21st anniversary, and of unidentified groups at other civic and community events. There is one folder of J.D. Lewis photographs that depict him in various work contexts. Also included is a portrait of a young Clarence Lightner, who owned a funeral home business and later served as the first African American mayor of Raleigh. Audiovisual materials chiefly relate to J.D. Lewis’s work at Capitol Broadcasting Company/WRAL and his interest in African American community and history. Included are audiotapes of his editorials for WRAL; videotape ofHarambee, a public affairs program about the concerns of the general public and especially African Americans; audiotape of musical performances, possibly for Teen-Age Frolic, a teenage dance and variety show; audiotape of Adventures in Negro History, an event sponsored by Pepsi-Cola Bottling Company of Raleigh; and film of unidentified wedding and seashore scenes. Also included are several published educational film strips on African American history with accompanying audio.

Please click here to view the finding aid.

Four activists to be honored in Chapel Hill, SHC preserves documentation of their legacy

This Sunday, August 28, 2011, four names will be added to a plaque at Chapel Hill’s “Peace and Justice Plaza.” Yonni Chapman, Rebecca Clark, Rev. Charles M. Jones and Dan Pollitt will all be honored posthumously for their contributions to civil rights, social justice and equality in the Chapel Hill community. The ceremony will begin at 3pm in front of the Historic Chapel Hill Post Office on Franklin Street, just across the street from UNC’s McCorkle Place. For the full story, see the article, “Four Honored for Activism,” from the Chapel Hill News.

The Southern Historical Collection is proud to preserve a large body of material that documents the lives and legacies of these four activists, including:

Charles Miles Jones Papers – The collection includes correspondence, church documents and publications, clippings, and other items reflecting Jones’s ministry and concern for civil rights. Materials generally focus on his public rather than personal life with a special emphasis on the 1952-1953 investigation of his Chapel Hill Presbyterian Church ministry. General correspondence includes letters from supporters (among them Frank Porter Graham) and detractors, commenting on the investigation, Jones’s sermons, and several well-publicized actions in support of social justice causes.

Oral history interview with Rebecca Clark (1 interview available online via DocSouth’s Oral Histories of the American South project) – In this interview, Rebecca Clark recalls living and working in segregated North Carolina. She finished her schooling in all-black schools, so the bulk of her experience with white people in a segregated context took place in the work world. There she experienced economic discrimination in a variety of forms, and despite her claims that many black people kept quiet in the face of racial discrimination at the time, she often agitated for, and won, better pay. Along with offering some information about school desegregation, this interview provides a look into the constricted economic lives of black Americans living under Jim Crow.

John K. Chapman Papers (available Fall 2011) – This collection documents Yonni Chapman’s social activism and academic achievements, and offers an account of nearly four decades of progressive racial, social, and economic justice struggles in the central North Carolina region. Organizational materials, including correspondence, notes, newsletters and reports, document the activities of the Communist Workers’ Party, the Federation for Progress, the Orange County Rainbow Coalition of Conscience, the New Democratic Movement, the Freedom Legacy Project, and the Campaign for Historical Accuracy and Truth, among other organizations on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus, in Chapel Hill, N.C., Durham, N.C., Raleigh, N.C., and Greensboro, N.C. Workers’ rights and racial justice campaigns and commemorations, including those of the Greensboro Massacre and the campaign to end the Cornelia Phillips Spencer Bell Award on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus, are documented in paper, audio, visual, and photographic formats.

Daniel H. Pollitt Papers (available Fall 2012) – This collection documents Dan Pollitt’s distinguished career as an attorney, professor in the University of North Carolina Law School, and civil rights activist in the American South. The collection documents Pollitt’s activities with a number of organizations, including: the National Labor Relations Board, the National Sharecroppers Fund, the NAACP, the North Carolina Civil Liberties Union, the American Association of University Professors, the Rural Advancement Fund, and other organizations. Material also covers Pollitt’s involvement with the Speaker Ban controversy at the University of North Carolina, his opposition to the death penalty in North Carolina, issues of congressional misconduct, and many other legal and ethical matters.

Oral history interviews with Daniel H. Pollitt (13 interviews, many of which are available online via DocSouth’s Oral Histories of the American South project)

Featured Z- Collection: Lizzie Chambers Hall (#4145-z)

Lizzie Chambers Hall was the wife of W. T. Hall, who was the  pastor of Baptist churches in Danville, Virginia from 1897-1907, and in Roxborough, Pennsylvania from 1913- 1928.

Photo of Lizzie and an article she wrote from her scrapbook

The Lizze Chambers Hall Papers contain  photographs, scattered family correspondence, and a scrapook which Lizzie compiled.

The scrapbook contains news papers clippings, pictures, religious tracts and broadsides,  printed and manuscript poems (some of which were written by Lizzie herself ) and other memorabilia. It is a fascinating record of certain elements of African American family life and religious practices in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Click here to link to the finding aid for the Lizzie Chambers Hall papers.

Video of Governor Terry Sanford’s “emancipation” speech to the North Carolina Press Association

We are pleased to share this video of Governor Terry Sanford’s remarkable January 18, 1963 speech, given before the North Carolina Press Association at the Carolina Inn in Chapel Hill, N.C. In this speech, delivered on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, Governor Sanford called on citizens, “to quit unfair discrimination and to give the Negro a full chance to earn a decent living for his family and to contribute to the higher standards for himself and all men.” Sanford’s address is preserved in the SHC’s Terry Sanford Papers (Collection #3531, Videotape VT-3531/1a; view finding aid).

Special thanks to Wilson Library’s Moving Image Archivist Stephanie Stewart for transferring the film to a digital file, and to James Leloudis, UNC Chapel Hill history professor, for uploading the video to YouTube so that all could view this moment in Southern history. Prof. Leloudis is co-author of a new book on the anti-poverty work of the North Carolina Fund, To Right These Wrongs (out this month from UNC Press). Prof. Leloudis and his co-author, Robert Korstad, professor of public policy and history at Duke University, will present a lecture at Wilson Library later this fall on their new book.  Check back soon for more details about this program.

Dr. Reginald A. Hawkins: North Carolina’s first African American gubernatorial candidatecan

“The establishment has discounted the poor, the black, the low-income and liberal whites. It had been divide and conquer. This is the dream I have for North Carolina: to bring us together, black and white…Too long have black people sought a place at the bargaining table, only to receive the crumbs after dinner is over.”

These were the words of Dr. Reginald Armistice Hawkins, given in a speech in 1968 as part of his campaign to become North Carolina’s governor.  Dr. Hawkins, a dentist and ordained Presbyterian minister from Charlotte, made history with his 1968 gubernatorial bid as he was the first African American in the history of the state to make a run for the office.

Today we feature this photograph, from the SHC’s Allard Lowenstein Papers (#4340), of Dr. Reginald Hawkins (at right) with Dr. Ralph David Abernethy, head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.  This photograph is included in our current exhibit, “We Shall Not Be Moved: African Americans in the South, 18th Century to the Present,” on view until February 5, 2010.

Dr. Ralph David Abernethy (left) and Dr. Reginald Hawkins, from Allard Lowenstein Papers, #4340

Dr. Ralph David Abernethy (left) and Dr. Reginald A. Hawkins at a campaign event in Raleigh, N.C., 27 April 1968. Photograph from Allard Lowenstein Papers, SHC #4340.

Creator of the Month…William Jesse Kennedy, Jr.

William Jesse Kennedy, Jr. (1889 – 1958) was a prolific businessman and community leader in Durham, N.C., who also served as the fifth president of the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company.  During his lifetime, Kennedy participated in numerous professional and civic activities in addition to his duties at NC Mutual. He served as chair of the board of directors at Mechanics and Farmers Bank, and as a member of the Howard University Board of Trustees. He was a life-long proponent of education and a member of the James E. Shepard Foundation, an organization that awarded scholarships to students attending North Carolina Central University. In addition, Kennedy was very active with the Boy Scouts of American, the NAACP, and Durham’s Lincoln Hospital, among many others.

The collection is rich with correspondence, photographs, and organizational records that document Kennedy’s myriad business and civic activities. A few examples of photos from the collection are included below. Click the link below to learn more about the collection: http://www.lib.unc.edu/mss/inv/k/Kennedy,William_Jesse.html.

The William Jesse Kennedy, Jr. papers are part of the African American Resources Collection that are held jointly with North Carolina Central University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Click here to learn about the six other collections that are part of this larger collection, which includes the White Rock Baptist Church records and the Floyd McKissick Papers.