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 ( 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The new website unveiled on March 31 is a unique community-driven archive of historical documents and other treasures.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

Student Health Coalition website:

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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

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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.

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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.

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“Before I’m 25” – Sharing Stories with Google Cultural Institute

In our ongoing quest to engage audiences in new and different ways, we are pleased to unveil a project that we have been working on for the past few months. In partnership with the Google Cultural Institute’s series on Black History and Culture, we have developed an online exhibit of original collection materials titled Before I’m 25… Stories of African American Youth.

beforeBefore I’m 25 is a multimedia exhibit that uses our diverse collections to highlight the ways African American youths have shaped Southern history. Spanning over 150 years, it examines the lives of young African Americans through the lenses of freedom, military service, the pursuit of education, entertainment, and activism.

The Google Cultural Institute allows museums and archives throughout the world to share their collections with the online using sleek, innovative technology. As part of the Google Cultural Institute’s series on Black History and Culture, The Southern Historical Collection is in good company with partners ranging from the National Museum of African American History and Culture to the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. Each of over forty exhibits covers one niche of Black history and culture, from Alvin Ailey to Frederick Douglass, and from Black comic books to African American inventors.

We are excited to share this digital exhibit with you and hope that it enhances discussions by and about African American youth, and how history shapes our present day.

Posted in Activism, African American, Civil Rights, Collections, Digital SHC, Education, Exhibitions, Labor, Links, Politics, Race Relations, Slavery, Southern Culture, War | 1 Comment

Men with Turkeys

Happy Thanksgiving from the SHC! Today we bring you a turkey themed post to celebrate the occasion.


Citation: Film Box 003, in the Otis Noel Pruitt and Calvin Shanks Photographic Collection #05463, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

To provide some context, this image was taken by Otis N. Pruitt in Columbus, Mississippi. Pruitt was a photographer who moved to Columbus to work with Henry Hoffmeister who owned a photography business there. After buying Hoffmeister’s business, Pruitt became the only photographer in Columbus. Most of the work included in this collection was done by him during 1920s through the 1950s. In the 1950s, he went into business with Calvin Shanks, who was once his photography assistant. He sold the business to Shanks in 1960.

Their photographs depict life in Mississippi: the town, its people, and local businesses.  The image in this post depicts men with turkeys, and was likely taken in the 1930s or 1940s.

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Staff Profile: Mary Williford, Business Services Coordinator

What do you do for tMary1he Southern Historical Collection?

As Business Services Coordinator, I do a little bit of everything to keep us a well-oiled machine. One workday can involve accessioning donations, ordering lunch for visitors, crunching a bit of data, and developing publicity materials for community archives projects.



What did you do before joining the Southern Historical Collection?

My passion is for anything where the public comes into contact with history. I have worked with some truly fabulous museums, historic sites, community groups, and archives in central and eastern North Carolina and no matter where I was, the SHC was an important resource.

But, to keep things interesting, I have tried to do just about everything once. I can operate an autoclave, tidy up HTML, and develop educational activities for children while you wait. If it needs doing, I will get to it or learn how!

How did you get into this line of work?

When I was an undergraduate American Studies student, I had wonderful opportunities to work in the Southern Folklife Collection and the Carolina Digital Library and Archives (now the North Carolina Digital Heritage Center). Even though my work involved less-than-glamorous spreadsheets or old cassette tapes, I learned how valuable and lively these materials really are, and how every little thing we do here in Wilson Library contributes to an understanding of Southern history and culture.

What do you like about your job?

I get to talk to so many different people, from folks following the first threads of their family history to world-renowned scholars. I am always surprised by what materials people donate and the different ways our visitors use these materials. One person may use a diary collection to research divorce in 1790s Louisiana, while another person uses that same collection to learn about regional slang. There really is no telling what lives our collections will take on.

What are some new and exciting projects on the horizon?

I am so pleased to be here at a time when we are really concentrating our efforts on community partnerships and public outreach. Right now, I am working on a lot of new materials to help the public better understand what we do and how they can get involved. When I tell people I work in an archive, I get a lot of “I’d love to see all the old stuff, but I don’t think I’m allowed to” responses. Totally untrue! We have millions upon millions of items and we want you to put them to good use and tell us what they mean to you!

What do you do when you are not in the SHC?Mary2

I am all about day trips: state parks, aquariums, zoos, gardens, museums, and festivals. (Fun fact: the world’s largest collection of waterfowl is a mere two hours from Chapel Hill, and it is open to the public. And yes, they let you feed the birds.) If I am stuck indoors, chances are I have the Twilight Zone on while I bake and cuddle with my beloved parrot, Benito.

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Connecting UNC Summer reading to Primary Sources

Wilson Library launched a Twitter campaign at the beginning of the semester to support campus programming surrounding the UNC summer reading initiative. This year’s book, Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson, argues that current problems with mass incarceration are built on the country’s history with systems of slavery, racial terrorism, and Jim Crow. The book is very powerful for those who read it because of Stevenson’s combination of historical documentation and first-hand accounts of systematic injustice. During his address in Memorial Hall back in August he described how working with people who have been denied equal treatment in the legal system changed his life. He hopes students at UNC feel empowered to change things that they see as unfair or unequal.

The SHC’s Chaitra Powell was impacted greatly by reading Just Mercy. She said that she saw that, “All of these themes are housed in the materials of the Southern Historical Collection in one context or another.”  With help from all staff representing all the collections in Wilson Library, Chaitra created the @WilsonReads Twitter account. They made an extra push at the beginning of the year to post four times a day from August 16th to September 17th highlighting images from material held at Wilson Library. Each post used #justmercysyllabus hashtag, which was selected to indicate that these primary sources can help scholars dig deeper into the issues mentioned in the book. During this time the Twitter made 126 collection posts, received 52 retweets, favorites, and mentions, and gained 20 followers.

Chaitra also co-facilitated a student discussion on Just Mercy. Student perspectives on the book illuminated how close to home many of these issue are to them. She said, “They shared their concerns about police brutality, horrendous prison conditions for women, children, and the mentally ill. Students spoke from direct experience about how the criminal justice system has or has not impacted their families and the way that their parents talked to them about the police.”  She left feeling hopeful that the students had really engaged with the message of the novel: “Overall, the reactions from the students indicated a willingness to look beyond the headlines, the politicians, and stereotypes to understand what is happening in society, as well as work to seek solutions to these very serious problems.”

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