Category Archives: Civil Rights

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.

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)

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.

Thirty Years Later: Remembering the Greensboro Massacre

Thirty years ago today, on November 3, 1979, the Workers Viewpoint Organization (later renamed the Communist Workers Party) sponsored an anti-Klan march and conference in Greensboro, North Carolina.  Members of the Ku Klux Klan and Nazi Party attacked the demonstrators, killing five and injuring eleven Communist Workers Party members.

Greensboro_Civil_Rights_Fund_4630-002.jpg

Flyer from the Records of the Greensboro Civil Rights Fund, SHC #4630.

Family and friends of the deceased organized the Greensboro Civil Rights Fund, raising some $700,000 to prosecute the Ku Klux Klan and the Nazi Party, as well as local and federal law enforcement agencies–whose undercover agents and paid informants in the Klan and Nazi Party allegedly participated in planning the attacks.

In 2004, around the time of the 25th anniversary of the Massacre, a Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission was impaneled by the Greensboro community in order to “examine ‘the context, causes, sequence and consequence of the events of November 3, 1979′ for the purpose of healing transformation for the community” (from the Commission’s mandate).  Over the course of nearly two years the commission sponsored public hearings, meetings, scholarly panels, interfaith religious services, and other community gatherings.  Their activities culminated in a lengthy report giving a set of conclusions and recommendations which they hoped would continue the process of reconciliation and map the way forward.  To quote their report,

We believe the truth and reconciliation process in Greensboro opened up the debate around Nov. 3, 1979, in a positive way and has successfully engaged a broad spectrum of the community in an effort that offers hope for reconciliation. As a Commission that looks a bit like Greensboro in microcosm, we found that this process –and our own struggle to hear and understand each other- had a profound impact on our perceptions of the issues we explored. Our individual and collective commitment to the truth helped us persevere. And the human stories and emotions we encountered along the way moved us to do our best to leave behind a legacy we hope will serve Greensboro for years to come. We cannot say what the future will hold for this community or what the long-term impact of this process will look like, but we hope that this process also serves as a learning tool for others in this country who, like Greensboro, are burdened by a legacy of hurt and inspired by the possibility of honestly coming to terms with their own history.

So today we honor the memories of those lost to the violence of the Greensboro Massacre, thirty years ago today.  We also honor the courage of the Greensboro community which sought to heal itself through the truth and reconciliation process.

And finally, we especially want to honor the life and work of Dr. John K. “Yonni” Chapman, a long-time and loyal supporter of the Southern Historical Collection.  On October 22, 2009, following a lengthy battle with a rare blood cancer, Yonni Chapman passed away at his home in Chapel Hill. Yonni Chapman was one of the anti-Klan demonstrators who survived the attack of November 3, 1979.  Later, he was involved in the truth and reconciliation process (his statement before the Commission is available here) and continued racial justice organizing in North Carolina for nearly three decades.

The Delta Ministry, an ambitious self-help initiative for Mississippi

“Through the long, hot summer and the long cold winter, Delta Ministry looks ahead: to a total ministry, to growing self-respect and self-determination among delta Negroes, to a bold new start for some.”  So begins the text of a wonderful brochure (found in the SHC’s Delta Health Center Records) that tells the story of the Delta Ministry.

The Delta Ministry was a project begun in 1964 by the New York-based National Council of Churches to provide support to African Americans in the Mississippi Delta region. The project not only sought to bring economic aid to black Mississippians but also encouraged voter registration and greater political involvement.  According to Mark Newman’s 2004 book, Divine Agitators: The Delta Ministry and Civil Rights in Mississippi, the Delta Ministry began with a 10-year mandate but ended up stretching its support for the citizens of the Delta into the 1980s.  This, according to Newman, filled the vacuum created as other civil rights organizations, such as SNCC and CORE, discontinued similar programs of support for poor blacks in the Mississippi Delta.

The group has a fascinating story, much more deftly told by Newman’s extensively-researched book than I could do in this space.  The organization’s history deserves greater attention, it deserves even more ink from historians writing on the legacy of the American Civil Rights Movement.  As an intro, we hope you’ll read and enjoy this Delta Ministry brochure.   Click on each thumbnail to see a larger version of the image.  Finally, if you’re interested in digging deeper, there are other great materials in Box 59 of the SHC’s Delta Health Center Records.

Andrew Young oral history interview

Image of Andrew Young from Library of Congress (this public domain photograph is not part of the SHC's collections)

UNC’s Southern Oral History Program (SOHP) collects interviews with Southerners who have made significant contributions to a variety of fields and interviews that will render historically visible those whose experience is not reflected in traditional written sources. The Southern Historical Collection is the repository for oral histories collected by the SOHP.

The SOHP has digitized 500 interviews from the collection, through a project called Oral Histories of the American South. Periodically, “Southern Sources” will share links to audio of selected SOHP interviews.

Today, we are pleased to feature an SOHP interview with Andrew Young.  Andrew Young was the first African American congressman from Georgia since Reconstruction. First elected in 1972, Young was later appointed as ambassador to the United Nations by Jimmy Carter.

In this SOHP interview, Young discusses the nature of racial discrimination in the South and describes his involvement in voter registration drives. Throughout the interview, he draws comparisons between race relations within southern states and those between the North and South. According to Young, it was access to political power that ultimately altered the tides of racial prejudice in the South. He cites the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 as a decisive turning point in race relations. For Young, it was the election of African Americans to positions of power that allowed African Americans to bring to fruition other advances they had made in education, business, and social standing.

Interview Menu (Description, Transcript, and Audio): Andrew Young interview menu (from the SOHP)

Link Directly to Audio File: audio of Andrew Young interview (from the SOHP)

This Day in History: Voting Rights Act signed into law

On this date, forty four years ago, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the “National Voting Rights Act of 1965.”  The Act was intended to enforce the fifteenth amendment to the U.S. Constitution.  It did so by outlawing disfranchisement practices adopted in many southern states after the Civil War, including literacy tests. Amazingly, the 1965 Act was ratified some 95 years after the fifteenth amendment was signed into law.

[For those keeping score, here's the legislative history of the Voting Rights Act of 1965: The Act was sent to Congress by President Johnson on March 17, 1965. The Senate passed the bill on May 11 (after a successful cloture vote on March 23); the House passed it on July 10. After differences between the two bills were resolved in conference, the House passed the Conference Report on August 3, the Senate on August 4. President Johnson signed the Act on August 6, 1965.]