Reporting Live (Yesterday): Historic Black Towns and Settlements Alliance Workshop at UNC-Chapel Hill

l to r. – Mayor Johnny Ford (Tuskegee, AL), Mayor Alberta McCrory (Hobson City, AL), Mayor Barbara Mallett (East Spencer, NC), Mayor Bobbie D. Jones (Princeville, NC), Mayor Daryl Johnson (Mound Bayou, MS), Mayor Ed Jones (Grambling, LA), and Mayor Anthony Grant (Eatonville, FL) outside of Wilson Library, April 6, 2015

The curatorial team (Biff, Bryan, and Chaitra) of the Southern Historical Collection showed up in full support of the HBTSA workshop in Chapel Hill. We were disappointed in February when the inclement weather forced the workshop to be postponed, but we were elated to see our old friends from Hobson City, Eatonville, Mound Bayou, Grambling, and Tuskegee this week. The mayors were joined by their community champions, politicians, scholars, UNC administrators/staff, as well as mayors from three North Carolina, historically Black towns, Princeville, Navassa, and East Spencer.

The first day at UNC’s Friday Center included sessions on Entrepreneurship/Cultural Tourism, Nutrition/Health/Food Culture, followed by a presentation from the North Carolina black towns and a trip to Wilson Library. For the Wilson Library portion, Bryan and Chaitra shared remarks about the SHC’s more nuanced and participatory approach to collection development, while Wilson’s head conservator, Jan Paris, gave the group a brief overview of her work and shared some tips about properly caring for their own paper based materials. Jaycie and Rachel from The Southern Oral History Program surprised the audience during their presentation when they played a snippet of an interview from Tuskegee Mayor, Johnny Ford, from 1974.

In the state-of-the-art instructional space, Southern Historical Collection director, Dr. Bryan Giemza, introduces the group to the resources available in Wilson Library

As if the day was not packed enough, within 30 minutes of getting shuttled back to the Friday Center, the group was treated to a wonderful meal and presentation in recognition of former Chapel Hill mayor, Howard Lee, and his wife Lillian. The dinner included a performance from North Carolina Central University’s Vocal Jazz Ensemble, and an invocation from Dr. Derek S. Hicks. Special guests included Floyd McKissick, Jr., the mayor of Carrboro, Lydia Lavelle, and various others in public office who have been inspired by Howard Lee, Chapel Hill’s first African American mayor, elected in 1969.

On Tuesday, the group returned to the Friday Center to hear more about Entrepreneurship/Cultural Tourism, Legal/Governmental Issues, followed by a synthesis and a heartfelt farewell.

The entire conference had a relaxed, family reunion feeling, the rooms were overflowing with good intentions and warmth, even when folks expressed concerns about the sustainability and longevity of various partnerships with UNC. More than once, participants shared the importance of bringing young people into the process and the principle that this is more than a project; we don’t want to relegate these towns to the halls of history, but help them to activate their histories in order to maintain a vibrancy for the next 100 years or more! While we can’t give away the details to every proposal discussed during the meeting, we can definitely say there may be some excitement on two wheels headed to an HBTSA partner near you!

A 1983 photo of an African American man and two young boys working on a bicycle; from journalist, Charles Kuralt's Collection (#04882) in the Southern Historical Collection
A 1983 photo of an African American man and two young boys working on a bicycle; from journalist, Charles Kuralt’s Collection (#04882) in the Southern Historical Collection

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