Category Archives: Labor

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 “Linthead Stomp,” a lecture by Patrick Huber

We hope you enjoyed the video of the lecture from Nancy Carter Crump that we posted a couple of days ago. Today we are pleased to share with you this video of “Linthead Stomp,” a lecture given by Patrick Huber on March 30, 2009 at Wilson Library, as part of the Southern Historical Collection Book Series.

[Note: Due to YouTube's file size limitations, the lecture is divided into seven parts. The video embedded here is included as a "playlist." You can toggle through the seven parts individually, or simply hit play and let the seven parts run through as a whole.]

Creator of the Month… The North Carolina Fund

[Each month we feature a "creator" or one of the SHC's manuscript collections. In archival terms, a creator is defined as an individual, group, or organization that is responsible for a collection's production, accumulation, or formation.]

The North Carolina Fund, an independent, non-profit, charitable corporation, sought and dispensed funds to fight poverty in North Carolina, 1963-1968. Governor Terry Sanford and other North Carolinians convinced the Ford Foundation to grant $7 million initial funding for a statewide anti- poverty effort aimed at rural and urban communities. This money–plus additional funding from the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation; the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation; the U.S. Dept. of Labor; U.S. Dept. of Health, Education, and Welfare; U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development; and the Office of Economic Opportunity–enabled the Fund to support a broad program of education, community action, manpower development, research and planning, and other efforts to fight poverty.

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The Southern Historical Collection is proud to be the repository that preserves a giant collection (some 187,000 items) of the Funds records.  To read more about the North Carolina Fund and to learn about the collection of North Carolina Fund papers preserved in the Southern Historical Collection, please view the finding aid for the North Carolina Fund Records, 1962-1971.

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Finally, we thought we’d note that a great deal of attention has been paid lately to the work of the North Carolina Fund and its volunteers.  Rightfully so!  In 2008, filmmaker Rebecca Cerese created the documentary “Change Comes Knocking: The Story of the NC Fund” to tell the history and legacy of the Fund.  It’s a really great film.  In fact, we’ll be hosting an event featuring Rebecca Cerese in the fall – check back soon for full details.

We also understand that a book is soon to be published by UNC Press on the history of the Fund.  The publishing of this book has been an integral part of a new UNC Press digital publishing venture called “Publishing the Long Civil Rights Movement.”  You can read all about the new book and learn more about the project here.

Creator of the Month… Cone Mills Corporation

From Cone Mills Corporation Records (Collection #5247)

From Cone Mills Corporation Records (Collection #5247)

[Each month we feature a "creator" of one of the SHC's manuscript collections. In archival terms, a creator is defined as an individual, group, or organization that is responsible for a collection's production, accumulation, or formation.]

Cone Mills Corporation (and predecessor Proximity Manufacturing Company and its other subsidiary and affiliated companies) manufactured denim and other textiles chiefly in North Carolina and South Carolina. Moses Herman Cone (1857-1908), Ceasar Cone (1859-1917), and other Cone family members began investing in the textile industry in the late nineteenth century and for much of the twentieth century were world leaders in textile manufacturing. Continue reading