Phillip MacDonald’s Field Experience with the Highlander Research and Education Center Collection

Below is a guest post from Phillip MacDonald (pictured below), who is going into his second year at UNC’s School of Information Science’s Master of Science in Library Science (SILS) program. Before attending SILS, Phillip received a masters in Folklore at the UNC and started his interest in archives and special collection by working on the Frank Clyde Brown’s field recordings at Duke Libraries. After graduation, Phillip hopes to work in archives and special collections. Over this past summer, Phillip helped process over 1,000 videotapes found in SFC’s Highlander Research and Education Center Collection (#20361) for his program’s field experience. At SILS, students can gain professional practice in an information organization for class credit. Phillip hoped to specifically work with audiovisual in an archival setting for his field experience and found working at SFC over the summer as “an ideal place to do so.”

Phillip MacDonald standing in the woods holding a camera

Phillip MacDonald (courtesy of Phillip MacDonald; photo by Cara Smelter)

The Southern Folklife Collection has been housing analog audio discs from the Highlander Research and Education Center since the early 2000s. These materials include acetate discs and transcription discs of radio programs, recorded songs, and voices of leaders from the civil rights movement, including Esau Jenkins, Septima Clark, Rosa Parks, Miles Horton, and Zilphia Horton. Thanks to a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the research interests of past Wilson research fellow, Genevieve Hay, many of the acetate discs are accessible and streaming on the Highlander Research and Education Center Collection (#20361) finding aid.

In 1971 the Highlander Folk School was re-chartered as the Highlander Research and Education Center. Before the name change, Highlander was best known as an institution for working towards labor union mobilization and Citizenship Schools to help African Americans gain access to voting before the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The Highlander Folk School also contributed to music’s pivotal role in the civil rights movement. In the years after the renaming, the center continued to focus on labor organizing. In Appalachia, the center focused on the anti-strip mining and worker safety. On a global scale, Highlander worked on environmental and labor issues around the world. A vast amount of these efforts is documented in the new addition of Highlander Research and Education Center videos.

In March of this year, arsonists set the center’s main office building ablaze. The center later announced on their Facebook page that they found a symbol associated with the white power movement in the parking lot next to the rubble of the building. Soon after the fire, the center contacted Steve Weiss, SFC’s curator, to pick up more audiovisual materials as soon as possible. Weiss and former SFC Assistant, Aaron Smithers, arrived the next day.

three rows of videotapes from the Highlander Research and Education Center Collection

a sampling of videotapes found in the Highlander Research and Education Center Collection (#20361)

This new addition to the Highlander’s collection consists of over 1,000 items, including  16mm films and various analog audio and video formats, but the bulk of the incoming items were videos used at the center’s library. The video addition contains materials that speak to the center’s labor support efforts through workshops and conferences on the Bhopal disaster, North Carolina farmworkers, environmental health, furniture workers, women’s health and safety, community-based economic development, and many more.

an image of Paulo Freire on a televison screen

Brazilian educator and philosopher, Paulo Freire, appears on a handful of videotapes found in the Highlander Research and Education Center Collection (#20361)

In regards to the center’s efforts on labor and social justice organizing throughout Latin America, the addition contains numerous Spanish and bilingual materials dealing with Chiapas textiles, political unrest, higher wages, the Aguas Blancas massacre, and more. Additionally, this video collection documents the Highlander Research and Education Center’s history- containing raw and edited footage of the center’s numerous workshops, their 50th and 75th-anniversary celebrations, interviews with Myles Horton, and his memorial.

U-Matic (left) and 1/2″ open reel (right) videotapes found in the Highlander Research and Education Center Collection (# 20361)

This addition also represents numerous video formats. The most ubiquitous video format is probably VHS, which is here in abundance, but the addition also contains U-Matic, U-Matic SP, DVCAM, and 1/2 inch open reel video. This variety of video formats document how long the Highlander Center has been creating media. Overall this collection contains a plethora of information on social justice and labor organizing from the latter half of the twentieth century.

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THANK YOU Phillip for your many contributions in processing the videotapes found in the Highlander Research and Education Center Collection – your passion and hard work will undoubtedly aid researchers for years to come. And a special shout out to AV Assistant, Melanie Meents, who also assisted with the project. She’s currently hard at work processing additional audio and film elements found in the collection. Both Phillip and Melanie’s inventories of AV materials will soon be live on the Highlander Research and Education Center Collection (#20361) finding aid – stay tuned!

 

 

Documenting the origins of SNCC in the Guy and Candie Carawan Collection

The back of Guy Carawan singing to audience in auditorium at Shaw University, Durham, NC, 1960. Founding meetings of SNCC.

Our colleagues at Duke University are hosting a conference March 23-March 24 to honor the work of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the creation of the SNCC Digital Gateway, a “documentary website tells the story of how young activists in SNCC united with local people in the Deep South to build a grassroots movement for change that empowered the Black community and transformed the nation.” [“About,” SNCC Digital Gateway]

In solidarity with the conference and the SNCC Legacy Project, we present these two images from the Guy and Candie Carawan Collection (20008).  The top image shows the back of Guy Carawan singing to the audience in an auditorium at Shaw University in Durham, April 1960. Brought together by the encouragement of SCLC Executive Director Ella Baker and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the protest leaders founded SNCC at this meeting.

The image below shows the members of newly founded SNCC demonstrating the power of music and the movement at Fisk University. Guy Carawan is playing guitar, Candie Carawan is second from the left in the back row, and Congressman John Lewis is at the far right. These images serve as a powerful reminder that youth have been, and remain, at the forefront of activism advocating for social change.

Members of SNCC singing onstage at FIsk University, 1960, including Guy Carawan, Candie Carawan, and John Lewis, amongst others. PF20008_0058_0006_002. Guy and Candie Carawan Collection (20008).

Early Protest Songs from the Highlander Research and Education Center

We are glad to present a guest post from scholar Genevieve Hay, recipient of a research award to work with sound recordings in the Southern Folklife Collection made accessible as part of our ongoing project,  Extending the Reach of Southern Audiovisual Sources. Both the project and Ms. Hay’s visit are funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation 

Highlander Research and Education Center Collection (20361) Southern Folklife Collection, The Wilson Special Collections Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The collection includes acetate and transcription discs documenting the struggle for justice through political and social activism. Recordings of folk music, protest songs, labor songs, and African American religious songs were a large part of this movement and appear here. Acetate discs in the Highlander Collection consist of radio programs, recorded songs, and voices of leaders from the civil rights movement, including Esau Jenkins, Septima Clark, Rosa Parks, Myles Horton, and Zilphia Horton. Electrical transcription discs contain a variety of radio programs on issues related to the work at the Highlander Folk School. For more information about the Highlander Research and Education Center Collection #20361, see the finding aid, http://finding-aids.lib.unc.edu/20361/ Myles Horton founded the Highlander Folk School in 1932 as an adult education institution based on the principle of empowerment. Horton and other School members worked towards mobilizing labor unions in the 1930s and Citizenship Schools during the civil rights movement beginning in the late 1950s. They worked with Martin Luther King, Jr., the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), Guy and Candie Carawan, Septima Clark, and Rosa Parks, among others. In 1959, the School was investigated for Communist activities and confiscation by the state of Tennessee. Soon after, its buildings mysteriously burned to the ground. The Highlander Folk School was re-chartered in 1971 as the Highlander Research and Education Center near Knoxville, Tenn. Copyright Notice Copyright is retained by the authors of items in these papers, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law.

A few months ago, I had the pleasure of making a research trip to The Wilson Library and the Southern Folklife Collection’s audiovisual archives. As a literary scholar whose research focuses on the intersections of literature, music, and social change, I was especially eager to review the SFC’s Highlander Research and Education Center Collection. The Highlander Folk School has served as a major hub for civil rights and labor activism since the 1930s. Under the guidance of musical directors like Zilphia Horton and Guy Carawan, the school also contributed to music’s pivotal role in the civil rights movement.

The SFC’s archives feature a range of music, stories, and interviews recorded at the school. These recordings offer insight into the kinds of hymns and music that Highlander collected and shared in its early years. Thanks to a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the work of the SFC team, many of these items are now available to stream online.

In this week’s “Field Trip South,” I wanted to share a few of the hymns and spirituals from these early recordings. Embracing the long-standing tradition of using religious music to protest worldly injustices, participants at Highlander gathered songs from across the South and arranged new adaptations. Indeed, the civil rights anthem “We Shall Overcome” came into the national spotlight thanks to collaborations between local leaders and the Highlander staff: factory workers Anna Lee Bonneau and Evelyn Risher taught a version ofthe song they’d learned on the picket line in Charleston, SC to Zilphia Horton, who rearranged the song and shared it with others. You can listen to two variations of the song, then titled “We Will Overcome,” below. These recordings were digitized from Highlander acetate discs call numbers FD-20361/750 and FD-20361/754. Though these recordings focus on a single verse, the verses were often listed and performed together, as reflected in the songbooks Highlander produced. Some of these songbooks are included in the SFC’s Guy and Candie Carawan Collection (20008):

0:33   We will overcome, We will overcome,

0:39   We will overcome, some day.

0:47   Oh, down in my heart, I do believe

0:55   We’ll overcome, some day.

1:03   We’re off to victory We’re off to victory

1:11   We’re off to victory some day Oh, down in my heart,

1:23   I do believe We’ll overcome, some day.

 

0:31   We will overcome, We will overcome,

0:41   We will overcome, some day.

0:49   Oh, down in my heart, I do believe

0:58   We’ll overcome, some day.

1:07   The lord will see us through The lord will see us through

1:15   The lord will see us through some day

1:23   Oh, down in my heart,

1:28   I do believe

1:32   We’ll overcome, some day.

 

Like “We Will Overcome,” most songs in these early recordings trace their roots to African American spirituals and hymns. Though many of the lyrics are quite similar to earlier versions, Horton and her collaborators often adapted the songs to fit contemporary concerns. The school routinely emphasized this adaptive practice, as you can hear in the prefatory remarks to 1937 broadcast of the spiritual “No More Mourning”:


In another recording, Horton pairs “No More Mourning” with the hymn “Farewell to All Below”:

0:03  Farewell, farewell, to all below,

0:11  My savior calls and now I must go

0:20  I launch my boat upon the sea

0:28  This land is not the land for me

0:36  I launch my boat upon the sea

0:45  This land is not the land for me

1:00  No more mourning, No more mourning, No more mourning after a while

1:16  And before I’ll be a slave, I’ll be buried in my grave,

1:26  Take my place with those who loved and fought before

 

By abridging “Farewell to All Below” to the opening verse which stresses “this land is not the land for me,” Horton highlights the shared concern of the two hymns: that the world leaves little space for many people, particularly the formerly enslaved and their descendants, who taught the songs to Horton. Coupled together, “Farewell” and “No More Mourning” stress the isolation of the present and gaze towards a better future. With the affirmation “before I’ll be a slave / I’ll be buried in my grave,” the song also expresses a determination to act. Furthermore, the declaration “I’ll take my place with those who loved and fought before” calls up and celebrates the emancipatory power of joining together. It is precisely these concerns that echo throughout the recordings in this collection: a balance of rallying optimism and engaged critique.

These are, of course, only a few examples from the SFC’s extensive collection of materials from and about Highlander. For more history and music from the Highlander school, check out the numerous streaming links available through the Highlander Collection finding aid. You can also browse the Guy and Candie Carawan Collection for more insight into Highlander’s later years, or take a look at Aaron’s previous post about Guy Carawan’s work at Highlander and across the South.