Tag Archives: Chapel Hill

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)

“Author to Author” Exhibit Features SHC Literary Correspondence

Examples of correspondence among some of the South’s best-known authors will be on display in the Southern Historical Collection on the fourth floor of UNC’s Wilson Library from Aug. 18 through Sept. 30.

The free, public exhibit, Author to Author: Literary Letters from the Southern Historical Collection, illuminates ties within the community of Southern writers during much of the twentieth century.

William Faulkner with arm around Milton Ab Abernethy, publisher of Contempo, in Chapel Hill, 1931. North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives.

William Faulkner with arm around Milton "Ab" Abernethy, publisher of Contempo, in Chapel Hill, 1931. North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives.

On view will be original letters by authors including Clyde Edgerton, Gail Godwin, Langston Hughes and Erskine Caldwell. Photographs from the Southern Historical Collection (SHC) will also be included.

The letters show how the authors built and maintained community by writing to one another, even as many of them moved far from the South.  The correspondence also reveals the support and motivation—and sometimes friendly competition—that the writers provided to one another.

The exhibit also highlights the complex relationships and strong personalities of the figures involved. A 1932 “cease and desist” letter from William Faulkner instructs the Chapel Hill literary magazine Contempo not to list Faulkner as an associate publisher; a photograph from the same period shows Faulkner hugging Contempo‘s publisher, Milton “Ab” Abernethy.

Author to Author adds depth to the larger Wilson Library exhibit Four from between the Wars: Paul Green, Thomas Wolfe, Robert Ruark, and Walker Percy, on view in the Melba Remig Saltarelli Exhibit Room on the third floor of Wilson Library through Sept. 30.

Both exhibits complement the North Carolina Literary Festival, hosted by the Library on the UNC campus Sept. 10-13.

Details:

Author to Author:
Literary Letters from the Southern Historical Collection

Fourth floor of Wilson Library
Aug. 18-Sept. 30, 2009
Free and open to the public
Exhibit information: Biff Hollingsworth, (919) 962-1345
In conjunction with the North Carolina Literary Festival, Sept. 10-13, 2009

An illusionist comes to town, gunplay ensues (1845)

(Part 3 of our “welcome back students” series…)  It seems that Chapel Hill has seen quite a parade of entertainers and other characters come through town over the years.  One such visit from an intriguing 19th-century illusionist named the “Fakir of Ava” is described in the letter below.

[detail] William Bagley to Mose G. Pierce (from William Bagley Letter Books, SHC #863-z)

(detail) William Bagley to Mose G. Pierce, from William Bagley Letter Books, SHC #863-z.

William Bagley to Mose G. Pierce, 13 February 1845 (from William Bagley Letter Books, SHC #863-z)

A fellow, calling himself the “Fakir of Ava” came through here the other day with a boy & girl proposing to give a grand scientific entertainment to the inhabitants of Chapel Hill; after procuring a house & getting in readiness about a hundred of the students went down & the house I understood was crowded to such an extent that the “Fakir” had very little opportunity for “showing off” & the students being rather noisy he dismissed the assembly, gave them tickets & told them that on the next night he would have a better place & consiquently a better chance for exhibition, but the next morning he left having made some forty or fifty dollars at the expense of the students, several of them followed him to Hillsboro [sic] & I expected that an engagement would have taken place there but as he was exhibiting he let the students go in which I supposed pacified them one of them however, while there became intoxicated & with some other fellows went to one of the taverns & began to be rather noisy & the landlord came out & ordered them off & to enfore his command raised a chair at one of them & this fellow immediately shot him, the ball went into his arm near the shoulder but they say his life is not endangered; the name of the fellow that shot him is Ruffin, he was a member of the sophomore class & lives in Alabama, I believe he has not been heard of since the occurrence.

Beware of fiddlin’ roommates

As our way of welcoming Carolina students back to campus, this week we’ll share a few reflections and experiences of bygone Tar Heels.  These letters and diary entries are rich, funny, often surprising accounts of student life in Chapel Hill.

Take, for example, this 21 January 1834 letter from Charles L. Pettigrew to his father in which junior writes of the challenges in finding (and keeping) a good roommate.

Letter from Charles L. Pettigrew to his father, 21 January 1834 (from Pettigrew Family Papers, #592)

Letter from Charles L. Pettigrew to his father, 21 January 1834 (from Pettigrew Family Papers, #592)

The business of the session has again commenced and I am in a very neat and warm room with out a room-mate, nor do I intend to take a room-mate because good ones are so hard to find; I had one last session, I was compelled to take him his brother wrote to me to take him in my room and there by he would be under some restraint, his brother had just graduated, and had left me his room one of the best rooms and some say the best in college and therefore I felt myself under some sort of obliation [sic] to him, for the first two months he made no noise studied hard and behaved himself well and properly and I liked him very much, the affection was reciprocated, but after a while he got a fiddle and of course got among the fiddlers in college idle and worthless fellows, then he began somewhat to absent himself from his room and finally he went and staid [sic] with one altogether although his trunk was in my room, so we parted and and [sic] very seldom see each other, after he left me he began to drink considerably and to have wines and brandy continually, and boy of about 15, I am afraid he will not do much good in this world…

Revised Finding Aids

These collections are ones that have had their finding aids recently revised.

REVISED:

Coker, William (#3220)
William Chambers Coker was a botanist, teacher, writer, who taught at the University of North Carolina, 1902-1945, serving as chair of the Department of Botany and editor of the journal of the Elisha Mitchell Scientific Society.

The collection includes correspondence and other personal and professional records of William Chambers Coker, chiefly 1914-1950. Coker’s papers concern family and personal business matters; his research, writing, and international correspondence as a botanist; his activities at the University of North Carolina as a professor and as chair of the Botany Department for 36 years; the journal of the Elisha Mitchell Scientific Society, of which he was editor, 1904-1945; and numerous civic interests. Also included are Coker’s notebooks titled “Plants of Chapel Hill”; files of Alma Holland of the Botany Department as editor of the yearbook of the Garden Club of North Carolina, 1940-1941; files of the Highlands Museum and Biological Laboratory, 1930-1950; and files of the Division of Design and Improvement of School Grounds, University of North Carolina Extension Bureau. Also included are Coker’s research notes on his studies of mycology; notes and drawings on various fungi; photographs, field notes, and drawings of plants; blueprints related to what became the Coker Arboretum at the University of North Carolina; and correspondence with Coker’s family and friends.

Dabbs, James McBride (#3816)
James McBride Dabbs (1896-1970) was a professor of English at the University of South Carolina and Coker College, Presbyterian churchman, writer, civil rights leader, Penn School Community Services trustee, Southern Regional Council president, and farmer of Mayesville, S.C. He also worked with the South Carolina Council on Human Relations, the Fellowship of Southern Churchmen, the Committee of Southern Churchmen, the Council on Church and Society, and the Delta Ministry.

The collection consists of correspondence, writings, subject files, administrative records, and other materials that document Dabbs’s professional involvements and interests, including his leadership roles in civil rights councils, religious organizations, and other groups. Almost all of the papers date from 1923 to shortly before Dabbs’s death in 1970. Topics include observations on social and political issues of the day (especially in the American South), concerns about racial inequalities and segregation, Dabbs’s opposition to the House Committee on Un-American Activities, and Dabbs’s own life and religious beliefs. Most writings are drafts are of books, articles, addresses, short stories, poems, and other writings by Dabbs, and most correspondence is between Dabbs and fellow political and religious group members, publishers, and readers of his articles and books. There is light and scattered correspondence with prominent authors, activists, and historians, including Anne Braden, Sarah Patton Boyle, Hodding Carter, Isabel Fiske Conant, Paul Green, Myles Horton, George Mitchell, Eudora Welty, and C. Vann Woodward, among others; some writings by others; and a few photographs of Dabbs’s university and church colleagues.

Delta Health Center (#4613)
The Delta Health Center was established in the mid-1960s, in the rural, all-African American town of Mound Bayou, Bolivar County, Miss., and served Bolivar, Coahoma, Sunflower, and Washington counties, where poverty was widespread. The Center, which was federally funded through Tufts University and later through the State University of New York at Stony Brook, was one of the first community health centers in the United States. The comprehensive community health center model aimed at building upon traditional health services by addressing the underlying causes of illness, including economic, environmental, and social factors. Originally, Jack Geiger served as project director and John Hatch as director of community health action.

The collection contains business files documenting the establishment and operations of the Delta Health Center, including the efforts of John Hatch, Jack Geiger, and others to obtain and maintain federal funding for the Center from the Office of Economic Opportunity; the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare; and the Department of Health and Human Services. Major topics include health care for minorities and impoverished communities, social medicine, nutrition, environmental health, and medical education and training. Materials document the economic, social, and health conditions of the residents of the Mississippi Delta, especially the African American community in northern Bolivar County; John Hatch and L. C. Dorsey’s efforts with the North Bolivar County Cooperative Farm and Cannery; the role of the North Bolivar County Health and Civic Improvement Council; and the Delta Health Center’s relationship with other health facilities, medical schools, and outreach programs, including the Mound Bayou Community Hospital (with which it merged in 1972), Meharry Medical College, the Delta Ministry, and the Columbia Point Health Center (now the Geiger-Gibson Community Health Center), and others. Included are administrative records, correspondence, financial materials, grant proposals, legal materials, personnel files, reports, studies, education and training materials, publicity materials, photographs, printed matter, and other items. Of note are newspaper articles, protest photographs, and other items related to Mississippi Governor Bill Waller’s vetos of the Delta Community Health Center and Hospital’s federal funding, and photographs of the Selma-to-Montgomery voting rights marches in March 1965. Audio recordings include speeches of and interviews with persons connected with the Delta Health Center, among them director Andrew James. Also included is a recording of Stokeley Carmichael speaking at North Carolina Central University in March 1970 and a recording of a 1968 speech by Martin Luther King Jr. at the Delta Ministry’s Mount Beulah Conference Center in Edwards, Miss.

Jones, Charles Miles (#5168)
Charles Miles Jones, Christian minister and social justice activist, spent the majority of his ecclesiastical career in Chapel Hill, N.C., at the head of the Chapel Hill Presbyterian Church and then as the first minister of the Community Church.

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. Also included is official correspondence of the investigation and formal documentation of the proceedings, as well as scattered church newsletters, copies of a 1945 petition to remove Jones and the elders’ rejection of it, and other items. The Community Church period is chiefly represented by financial and administrative materials, while Jones’s activist role is reflected in pamphlets, official correspondence, and Fellowship of Southern Churchmen documents. Among the materials on Jones’s activism are several items relating to his involvement in the 1947 “Journey of Reconciliation” (or “Freedom Ride”), including “We Challenged JIM CROW!” a pamphlet by George House and Bayard Rustin; a handwritten account of Jones’s involvement; photocopies of court transcripts; and notes. Other papers consist mainly of clippings, honors accorded Jones, memorials upon his death, and materials relating to the published biography of him written by grandson Mark Pryor.

Ehle, John (#4555)
John Marsden Ehle Jr., author of novels and works of non-fiction, was born in Asheville, N.C., and has lived most of his adult life in Winston-Salem. He served as special assistant to North Carolina Governor Terry Sanford, 1963-1964, and has been instrumental in establishing and furthering many significant educational, desegregation, and anti-poverty projects. He is married to British actress Rosemary Harris.

The collection documents both the literary career and public service activities of John Ehle. Literary materials include correspondence, clippings, and financial items relating to Ehle’s novels and other works, as well as notes, drafts, and galleys. Family items include correspondence of Ehle’s parents and a few items relating to Rosemary Harris. Other materials relate to Ehle’s work with various public and private institutions. These include files generated in the course of Ehle’s work in the Governor’s Office, especially his efforts on behalf of the North Carolina School of the Arts and the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics. There are also files relating to the Ford Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Federation for the Arts and Humanities, Duke University, and the Penland School of Crafts. Photographs and audiovisual materials include family photographs and photographs used as book illustrations, including some of activists protesting segregation in Chapel Hill, N.C., that were taken for use in The Free Men (1965); audiodiscs of radio shows that Ehle wrote or acted in; tapes of interviews done for various books; and filmstrips, chiefly on North Carolina history, which Ehle produced, sometimes in collaboration with others. A few items relate to Rosemary Harris.

The First Freedom Rides (2 of 2)

[A continuation from part 1 of a post about the 1947 Journey of Reconciliation]…

We include here a video that contains excerpts of audio from a 1974 oral history interview with Igal Roodenko, participant in the 1947 Journey of Reconciliation, from the collection of the Southern Oral History Program (SOHP) at UNC Chapel Hill. The SOHP’s oral histories are archived and preserved at the Southern Historical Collection. Several hundred of these oral histories have been digitized and are available online. To listen to the full interview with Igal Roodenko, please visit:

http://docsouth.unc.edu/sohp/B-0010/menu.html

This video also contains a montage of images, primarily taken from the holdings of the Southern Historical Collection. The SHC contains scattered documentation about the 1947 Journey of Reconciliation and about the life and work of Reverend Charles M. Jones, including (but not limited to):

  • Southern Oral History Program (finding aid for collection #4007): Including these digitized interviews B-0010; A-0035; B-0041; and others not yet digitized.

We are very proud to be the repository for these important primary source materials documenting this often-forgotten episode of Southern history.  However, we can’t help but notice that there are many missing pieces in the archival record that might tell the rest of the story.  Could it be that there really is only one photograph of the 1947 freedom riders?  What about documentation of the cab drivers and others who opposed the riders?  We still have our work cut out for us.

The First Freedom Rides (part 1 of 2)

Before Rosa Parks, there was Irene Morgan

On Saturday, February 28, 2009, the Chapel Hill/Carrboro NAACP, the Town of Chapel Hill, and the people of the Chapel Hill community gathered for a dedication of a highway historical marker to commemorate the 1947 Journey of Reconciliation (also known as the first “Freedom Rides”). The dedication included a march from Hargraves Community Center, down Franklin Street to the site of the marker at the southeast corner of Rosemary and Columbia Streets.

Attending the ceremony was George M. Houser, organizer of and key participant in the 1947 freedom rides. Houser, a spry 92-year-old World War II era pacifist, spoke eloquently about his experiences and even broke out a lyric sheet to give a nice rendition of the song “You Don’t Have to Ride Jim Crow.”

This new historic marker in Chapel Hill commemorates a pivotal moment in the late-1940s struggle to desegregate interstate bus, air, and train travel across the United States. The Journey of Reconciliation sought to test the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Morgan v. Commonwealth of Virginia case – a ruling which outlawed the enforcement of state Jim Crow laws over interstate travel.  An interracial group of 16 activists, including George Houser and civil rights leader Bayard Rustin, embarked from Washington, D.C., traveling through the upper South.  They met with strong resistance throughout, with resistance turning to violence during their stopover in Chapel Hill.

Rather than just recount the whole story myself, I’ll let Houser and Rustin tell it in their own words. To document the experience of the Freedom Rides the two co-wrote the pamphlet, “We Challenged Jim Crow” (published by the Fellowship of Reconciliation and the Congress of Racial Equality).  The Southern Historical Collection happens to have a copy of it, as a part of the Charles M. Jones Papers.  We gladly reproduce it below.  The Chapel Hill portion of the story occurs on pages 5 and 6.

[Stay tuned for tomorrow's Part 2 post.  You'll hear more about Rev. Charles Jones's involvement in this moment in history and you'll get to hear some of the audio from an oral history with one of the freedom riders...]

“What is it that binds us to this place as to no other?”

Mrs. Charles W. Bain Letter, 1917 (Collection #1327-z)

Mrs. Charles W. Bain Letter, 1917 (Collection #1327-z)

Individual collections of manuscript material preserved in the Southern Historical Collection range in size from giant collections of more than half a million items all the way down to single-item collections. Our smaller collections, due to the way that they have been cataloged over the years, are referred to as “z-collections” (or simply “z’s”). Often, these z-collections contain items with extremely rich content – lots of bang for the buck. Some researchers enjoy these collections because they are so digestible, especially if your time in the SHC is limited. In fact, they’re great for student projects too! However, because of their small size, our lil’ z’s often get the short shrift. So, through this blog, we intend to highlight some of these great z’s from time to time so that others may enjoy them as much as we do.

It may not be the most representative of the z’s, but here’s one that jumped out at me today – as z’s are wont to do sometimes (“Pick me, pick me!”). It’s cataloged as “The Mrs. Charles W. Bain Letter, 1917″ (Collection #1327-z). A note dated July 1947 written by SHC staff gives this endearing description of the letter:

“September 17, 1917, A letter to Mrs. Bain from Mrs. Elizabeth W. Blackwell, whom she met in 1917 at Atlantic City. Mrs. Blackwell was a young Northern woman living in Chapel Hill during the War between the states. She left in 1862, through the kindness of Southern friends, to join her relatives in the North. In the intervening years she had longed to meet someone from Chapel Hill, which she had always loved and hoped to see once more. Mrs. Bain was the first person she had ever met from Chapel Hill since. This letter gives a brief account of her sojourn and departure. At that time she was Mrs. Fry.”

Transcript of the letter:

September 17, 1917.

My dear Mrs. Bain

Your picture postals of the University Buildings, gave me a great deal of pleasure; and I thank you sincerely for remembering me so kindly.

I received also a synopsis of ‘Battle’s History of the University,’ which I have read repeatedly; and each time with interest; seeing always some reminiscence of that long ago; I think I told you, that I left here in July 1862.

My son, Mr. James Woods Fry, was born in December 1862. I was then, just twenty-three years old; so, you can imagine how deplorable my situation would have been, to have been down there among strangers; in, at that time, a hostile country.

I owe my restoration to my home and family, to Mr. John Pool who lived on the Chowan River, Mrs. Joseph Pool, whose home was in Elizabeth City, was a refugee resident of Chapel Hill. Mrs. Pool had a daughter in the North, from whom she could not hear; this fact, made her sympathize with me, separated from my home.

She loaned me her horse and buggy, with which we drove through the state; leaving the team at Mr. John Pool’s handsome home.

In all these years, I have met with very few connecting links with Chapel Hill, although in my travels I have always scanned the registers in the hotels thinking I might see some familiar name. This time, at Atlantic City, I neglected to do so; but, my niece, knowing my interest, told me of your name, for which I was very glad.

Some years ago, I spent six weeks at Palm Beach. I thought then, I might possibly meet some one from North Carolina, or, see the name of some student on the Register: I have the Catalogue of the period I tell you of; but as usual, I was disappointed.

My niece sends her regards to you; and I wish to present mine to your sister. Thanking you again for your kindness, I am, yours most cordially,

Elizabeth W. Blackwell

…[additional sheet inserted]…

I inferred from some remark you made, that Mr. Samuel Phillips’s mother was still living; if that be the case, she must be a very old lady. I, myself am in my seventy-ninth year.

When I was seventy-six, I was as active as a much younger woman; but unfortunately a paralytic stroke made me, as you saw me; is affected my speech, and also my left foot; but I am thankful that I still have the use of my hands; otherwise I would not be writing this.

If I was sure, Mrs. Phillips was living, I would certainly write to her.

Gratefully yours,

Elizabeth W. Blackwell.

In July 1888, I was married to Mr. John G. Blackwell, after being a widow for many years.