John Kenyon Chapman Papers, 1969-2009

Creator: Chapman, John Kenyon.
Collection number: 3419
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Abstract: John Kenyon Chapman (1947-2009), known as Yonni, was a life-long social justice activist, organizer, and historian who focused his academic and social efforts on workers rights and African American empowerment in central North Carolina. Chapman was born in Shaker Heights, Ohio, in 1947; graduated from Harvard University in 1969; and then moved to Atlanta, Ga., to join the fight for African American equality. He relocated to North Carolina in 1975 and worked as a laboratory technician at the North Carolina Memorial Hospital for about ten years. During this time, Chapman became active in local social justice struggles and community organizations. He helped organize his coworkers against unfair working conditions, became involved with the Communist Workers Party, and participated in African liberation and anti-apartheid struggles. Chapman was a survivor of the Greensboro Massacre of 1979. Throughout the 1980s, he was active in progressive social justice campaigns. In the 1990s and 2000s, Chapman was a graduate student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he focused his activism and academic work on historical accuracy, African American empowerment, and civil rights education in and around Chapel Hill. During this time, Chapman founded and directed two racial and social justice organizations: the Freedom Legacy Project in 1995 and the Campaign for Historical Accuracy and Truth in 2005. From 2002 to 2005, Chapman ran a successful campaign to abolish the Cornelia Phillips Spencer Bell Award on campus, an action that opened a dialogue about the history of slavery and racism on campus. After a 30-year battle with cancer, Chapman died on 22 October 2009 in Chapel Hill. The collection documents Yonni Chapman’s social activism and academic activities, covering nearly four decades of progressive racial, social, and economic justice struggles in central North Carolina. Organizational 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 University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus and in Chapel Hill, Durham, Raleigh, and Greensboro. Workers rights and racial justice campaigns and commemorations, including the Greensboro Massacre and the campaign to end the Cornelia Phillips Spencer Bell Award on campus, are documented in paper, audio, visual, and photographic formats. Photographs, slides, contact prints, photographic negatives, posters, banners, signs, and screen-printed t-shirts, chiefly created by Chapman, document a variety of demonstrations, meetings, and social justice events. Audio and video materials, largely created by Chapman include documentaries, meetings, speeches, and demonstrations captured on audio cassettes, VHS tapes, 8mm video cassettes, and DVDs. Research materials for Chapman’s graduate doctoral work include audio and paper files of interviews with participants in the Chapel Hill civil rights movement. There are also audio files recorded by Chapman on a digital voice recorder in the year leading up to his death that contain lengthy discussions with local activists about continuing his social justice work after his death; audio recordings and a video photograph montage from Chapman’s 2009 memorial service; photographs of Chapman with friends and family; and other items.

Repository: Southern Historical Collection

Collection Highlights: Of particular note are the materials related to the Communist Party in Series 1, as well as materials documenting the Greensboro Massacre that took place at an anti-Klan Rally in 1970. Series 6 also contains materials related to numerous social justice and civil rights organizations that Yonni Chapman was involved in, including the Chapel Hill- Carrboro chapter of the NAACP. Subseries 7.1 contains audio recordings of oral histories interviews Yonni conducted with participants in the black freedom struggle and civil rights movement in Chapel Hill. There are also photographs and audio of numerous civil rights demonstrations, events, and programs.