Newly-Discovered Archival Materials Recall the Textile Union Organizing Work of Leaders Killed at the Greensboro Massacre (November 3, 1979)

Forty-four years ago today, five leaders of the Communist Workers Party (CWP) were shot and killed at a demonstration in Greensboro, N.C., by members of the Ku Klux Klan and the American Nazi Party. The violence of the “Greensboro Massacre” lasted only eighty-eight seconds, but ended with the murders of CWP organizers Sandra Smith, James Waller, William Sampson, César Cauce, and Michael Nathan.

Since the massacre, families and friends of the people murdered have tried to keep the memories of their loved ones alive through commemorations, such as the 2015 placement of a North Carolina Highway Historical Marker at the site of the shootings. In 1980, families and survivors established the Greensboro Justice Fund (later the Greensboro Civil Rights Fund, or GCRF) to fundraise and organize for a civil suit on behalf of the victims. That lawsuit, Waller v. Butkovich, resulted in a jury finding two Greensboro police officers and six Klansmen and Nazis liable for the wrongful death of the deceased and a judgment of close to $400,000 in damages to the plaintiffs.

In 1992, the Southern Historical Collection acquired the Greensboro Civil Rights Fund’s immense archive of records relating to the massacre and subsequent legal cases. The library also preserves the papers of massacre survivors John Kenyon “Yonni” Chapman and Jim Wrenn and other related collections and published materials.

Recently, as part of a new project called “Print Culture of the Southern Freedom Movement,” SHC staff reviewed the contents of the GCRF records and this search surfaced a group of rare and unique bibliographic sources that offer important evidence of the labor organizing work that several of the Greensboro Massacre victims were doing in the years and months leading up to November 3, 1979. We’ll share some samples of the reports, union newsletters, flyers, and other sources and what they reveal about CWP’s involvement in organizing textile workers in North Carolina in the 1970s.

Dr. James Waller and the Granite Finishing Plant

Born in 1942, Jim Waller grew up in a Jewish household in Chicago. He later received his medical degree from the University of Chicago, trained as part of the Lincoln Hospital Collective in New York, and organized medical aid to American Indian Movement activists under siege at Wounded Knee, South Dakota, in 1973. He relocated to North Carolina in the mid-1970s when he received a medical fellowship at Duke University.

His activism continued in the South. Waller organized with the Carolina Brown Lung Association, where he provided textile mill workers with health screenings for byssinosis (or brown lung) and helped develop health clinics.  But in 1976, Waller decided to abandon the medical profession to become a textile mill worker at the Granite Finishing Plant in Haw River, N.C.

Photograph of Dr. Jim Waller speaking at an African liberation event in 1978.
Photograph of Dr. Jim Waller speaking at an African liberation event in 1978.

Waller was a member of the Workers Viewpoint Organization (WVO, later the Communist Workers Party) which believed in fomenting revolution through organizing rank-and-file workers. He began selling copies of the WVO’s newspaper outside of the gates of the Cone Mills-owned Granite Plant. He held training sessions for workers and shared educational literature to build up membership in Local 1113T of the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union (ACTWU).

Then, in the summer of 1978, Waller was fired by Cone for failing to list his medical training on his employment application. Waller claimed it was in retaliation for his union organizing work in the plant. In response, workers organized a twelve-day wildcat strike and held an election to establish new union leadership, since they felt that ACTWU was not doing enough to support the workers. Waller was elected president of Local 1113T. The strike brought renewed energy to the union and its member rolls grew from 15 to 200 members under Waller’s tenure.

Image of copies of the Granite Workers Update newsletter from the Greensboro Civil Rights Fund Records, Southern Historical Collection.
Image of copies of the Granite Workers Update newsletter from the Greensboro Civil Rights Fund Records, Southern Historical Collection.

Jim and his wife Signe Waller produced and printed a newsletter, called Granite Workers Update, with a mimeograph machine they had at their home in Greensboro. Seven issues of the newsletter were printed during the strike. We uncovered copies of these issues of Granite Workers Update during our search of the Greensboro Civil Rights Fund Records and we are working on getting them cataloged as a separate serials title, to make them more accessible. According to the WorldCat library database, it appears that UNC Library holds the only extant copies of this newsletter.

Sandra Smith and the Revolution Mills

Photograph of Sandi Smith at a demonstration, circa 1979.
Photograph of Sandi Smith at a demonstration, circa 1979.

Like Jim Waller, Sandi Smith had medical training (as a nurse), a long history of activism, and an interest in organizing rank-and-file textile mill workers. Smith was a graduate of Bennett College in Greensboro, where she had served as president of the student body and a founding member of the Student Organization for Black Unity (SOBU). She was also a community organizer with the Greensboro Association of Poor People (GAPP). In the mid-1970s, Smith decided to become a worker at the Revolution Plant in Greensboro (also owned by Cone Mills Corporation) so that she could organize a union in the plant. She co-founded and was later elected chairperson of the Revolution Organizing Committee (ROC).

Under her leadership, ROC filed and won grievances with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) against unfair firings and arranged to have the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) inspect safety conditions at the mill for the first time in its history.

Image of copies of the Revolution Organizing Committee's newsletter, from the Greensboro Civil Rights Fund Records, Southern Historical Collection.
Image of Revolution Organizing Committee’s newsletter, from the Greensboro Civil Rights Fund Records, Southern Historical Collection.

Those efforts are documented in a newsletter that ROC published throughout this period. We surfaced copies of the newsletter from our search of the GCRF collection and we will be cataloging and digitizing these to make them more widely available. They are believed to be the only extant copies of this union newsletter preserved by a library.

William Sampson and the White Oak Plant

Bill Sampson was born in Delaware in 1948. Active in the anti-war movement as an undergraduate student (and student body president) at Augustana College, Sampson spent his junior year studying at the Sorbonne in Paris, received a Masters in Divinity degree from Harvard in 1971, then studied medicine at the University of Virginia, where he organized health care workers to support liberation struggles in southern Africa.

Image of a campaign flyer for officer elections for ACTWU Local 1391 at White Oak Plant in Greensboro. Bill Sampson is shown at top left.
Image of a campaign flyer for officer elections for ACTWU Local 1391 at White Oak Plant in Greensboro. Bill Sampson is shown at top left.

Sampson left medical school to work and organize at the White Oak Denim Manufacturing Plant in Greensboro. Initially assigned to the dye house, which was a dirty and dangerous part of the denim manufacturing process, Sampson’s co-workers did not think he would last long in this role. But he stayed, working at White Oak for the last two and a half years of his life.

During that time, Sampson filed grievances on behalf of his fellow workers, he built up union membership, and fought unfair firings of fellow union leaders. He then ran for and was elected president of the union (ACTWU Local 1391). He was serving as president-elect at the time of his death.

Sampson and the White Oak Organizing Committee (WOOC) published a union newsletter during this period. We discovered a near full-run of the publication during our search of the GCRF collection. Again, it is thought to be the only extant copy of the newsletter that is held by an academic library. We are working on cataloging and digitizing this newsletter to make it more broadly accessible to researchers.

Image of copies of the White Oak Organizing Committee Newsletter, 1977-1979, from the Greensboro Civil Rights Fund Records, Southern Historical Collection.
Image of copies of the White Oak Organizing Committee Newsletter, 1977-1979, from the Greensboro Civil Rights Fund Records, Southern Historical Collection.

Conclusion

These newly-discovered archival materials reveal important details about the lives and work of several of the activists killed on November 3, 1979, shedding new light on the intersections between racist violence, anti-Communism, and the labor movement in the South. We hope their re-discovery will inspire researchers to explore this and other lesser-known aspects of the legacy of the Greensboro Massacre.

Works Consulted:

Bermanzohn, Sally Avery. Through Survivors’ Eyes: From the Sixties to the Greensboro Massacre. Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 2003.

Chapman, John Kenyon Papers. Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Special Collections Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC. https://finding-aids.lib.unc.edu/05441/

Gateway, University of North Carolina at Greensboro Libraries. “The Greensboro Massacre.” Accessed November 2, 2023. https://gateway.uncg.edu/crg/essay1979.

Greensboro Civil Rights Fund Records. Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Special Collections Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC. https://finding-aids.lib.unc.edu/04630/

Greensboro Truth & Reconciliation Commission. “Final Report.” Accessed November 2, 2023. https://greensborotrc.org/index.php.

Magarrell, Lisa and Joya Wesley. Learning from Greensboro: Truth and Reconciliation in the United States. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008.

Waller, Signe. Love and Revolution: A Political Memoir: People’s History of the Greensboro Massacre, Its Setting and Aftermath.” New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2002.

Workers World. “40th Anniversary of Greensboro Massacre provides lessons for today’s movement.” Accessed November 2, 2023. https://www.workers.org/2019/11/44354/.

Wrenn, Jim Papers. Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Special Collections Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC.  https://finding-aids.lib.unc.edu/05625/

Building on Sixty Years of Partnership to Preserve the History of Penn Center

The first school established in the U.S. South to educate formerly enslaved people. The beating heart of Gullah cultural traditions. A sacred gathering place for those seeking justice, civil rights, and Black uplift. Since 1862, Penn Center has been the convergence point for these and many other central threads of the American experience. And since 1962, the Southern Historical Collection has been honored to collaborate with Penn Center in preserving a rich archive of materials that document Penn’s storied past.

This year we are reflecting on this legacy of preservation, sixty years in the making, and preparing the way for decades of partnership to come!  Here is an interactive timeline of the Penn Center-UNC Library partnership and some highlights of our most recent community-engaged activities:

Timeline:

 

Digitization and Access:

  • Since 2005, we have digitized around 10,000 documents, including: all early Penn correspondence, administrative records, dozens of manuscript volumes, and other papers.
  • Digitized twenty five fragile 18th- and early 19th-century photograph albums (with more than 1600 pages containing thousands of individual photographs) and hundreds of individual unmounted photographs.
  • Digitized more than 300 audiocassettes and 10 transcription discs, containing recordings of Gullah and African American musical traditions, oral history interviews, and recordings of meetings and events.
  • This year we received an National Film Preservation Foundation (NFPF) grant to digitize a set of at-risk films from the Penn collections.

Recent Community Outreach and Education:

  • SHC staff have visited Penn Center several times in recent years to meet with the center’s staff about ways to make the collection more readily accessible to the research public and the local communities around Penn.
  • This spring, SHC curators Chaitra Powell and Brianna McGruder developed and taught a UNC Maymester class on the history of Penn Center (AAAD 290 – “Memory Work at Penn Center“). The  class included hands on research and engagement activities during a visit to Penn Center by enrolled UNC students.
  • SHC archivist Brianna McGruder curated a digital exhibition, “Erasure and Resilience at Penn,” focused on surfacing the marginalized thoughts, narratives, and voices of local Black people who are documented within Penn’s archival collections.
  • UNC Library staff developed a LibGuide to aid researchers in navigating the two main Penn archival collections and many related primary and secondary sources.

More Information and Links:

Working with the Oral Histories Present in the Eastern Kentucky African American Migration Project Collection: “Always Be My Home” StoryMap

Oral histories provide us with a direct window to the past – interviews with people that provide not only historical context and information, but also personal details and stories. They show how history is not just a series of events, but the real lived experience of everyday people. Oral histories can be revelatory, sad, empowering, and even just plain funny. Giving people free reign to talk about their lives gives us the chance to examine the details – the facts that often get left behind. What I wanted to do was provide  a method for visualizing a few of the stories that were told in the oral histories that the Community-Driven Archives team of the University Libraries at UNC-Chapel Hill had the privilege of archiving throughout our time working with the Eastern Kentucky African American Migration Project (EKAAMP).

Throughout my time working with the EKAAMP oral history collection, I reviewed transcripts and read through the words of Black former coal mining communities from eastern Kentucky that Dr. Karida Brown collected in collaboration with EKAAMP members. I was consistently drawn to the stories of the women. Their experiences – their drive throughout the Second Great Migration and beyond; their stories of working, having fun, falling in love – reading about the lives of these women really was breathtaking. Their lives, even down to the most mundane moments, were so rich and full of warmth. I wanted to find a way to show their experiences in historical context, to show just how far so many of these women went in their lives during a time where so many things were stacked against them. That’s how I decided to start the “Always Will Be My Home” StoryMap project.

Selecting Stories

To start this project, I selected several stories from the oral history collection. I started by narrowing down the stories just to the women in the collection. Then, after a primary review of these interview transcripts, I pulled out the transcripts of the women who had moved away from the Kentucky area at some point in their lives, whether on their own or with their families.

Since I had chosen the Second Great Migration period as the timeframe for my project – a time period following the second World War in which many African American families moved from the American South to the Northeast, Midwest, and West – I was able to further narrow down the list of women to those who had made that journey. I had a pretty short list by this time, and I selected four amazing women whose stories ranged across many experiences – moving with their family for work, moving on their own but returning to Kentucky frequently throughout their lives, reuniting with community and family who had already moved, and more.

However, after selecting these stories, I felt I had limited the field. I wanted to show that Black women during these times led rich lives, but not all rich lives had to be contextualized by a move away from the South or by Southern culture and Black Southern experiences. Ultimately, I chose to add the story of a woman who moved to St. Louis, Missouri with her husband during the industrialization period.

Of course, I still feel sad that I couldn’t include the experiences of so many other women in the collection. But the purpose of this project was to highlight a few women’s stories and show the visual storytelling possibilities that oral history collections can provide.

Using StoryMaps

I had heard of and learned how to use ArcGIS’s mapping software before, but it didn’t provide me with a way to portray the stories and visuals that I wanted to add to the oral histories I had selected. Thankfully, Kimber Thomas, Postdoctoral Fellow at the University Libraries, showed me how a tool created by ArcGIS, StoryMaps, could be used to create a flowing story post using maps that could be created quickly and easily to illustrate the journeys of the selected oral history narrators.

A map of the U.S. Northeast and part of the South reading, "Viola Brown's Journey," featuring map points in southern Virginia, eastern Kentucky, New York City, New York, and Cleveland, Ohio, with lines drawn between them to indicate movement. The point over Cleveland features a small, blurred graphic
StoryMap featuring EKAAMP oral history narrator Viola Brown’s life journey during the Second Great Migration era. Courtesy Lidia Morris

Entries can be created like the one featured above, to allow for a map to be seen alongside selected text. When a reader clicks into the map, each point in the map can have images, text, and links added in to give geographical, historical, and personal information based on each location.

Creating these maps is fairly intuitive – the tool gives you a short tutorial, and everything can be customized – from the color of the lines and pins, to the type of map itself. And StoryMaps even provides examples of other stories that have been created using the tool to give you ideas. Videos, text posts, slideshows, and images or other visualizations can also be embedded throughout the story. Of course, more detailed or complicated map visualizations created in ArcGIS can also be embedded and are even more interactive or illustrative. But the ease of using the simpler maps for this project suited me and my needs well!

Research

Part of the experience of working on this project was research – I wanted to add historical context to many of the stories I was gathering. My sources ranged from other historical collections in libraries and universities, as well as books written about the Second Great Migration and Black communities in the United States. So many of the oral history subjects had their lives coincide with major social movements and events. Hearing about how people lived their lives during these huge events, lived them like it was just any other day, helps to contextualize life today. It’s hard to recognize in the moment, when you’re a young person going through daily life, that what you’re living through is going to change the course of history.

For example, one of the subjects, Yvonne McCaskill, marched with civil rights activist Father James Groppi, who worked to desegregate schools in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. For her, this was just an action she took as a young girl. She understood the importance of the event at the time because it was important to her and to her community – this was an event she had to join for her rights, not one she believed would become historically important. The urgency of this event in the moment was extremely personal. Seeing the personal side of history is just one of the things that working with oral history can really show people.

Reflection

Though my project changed many times and went through many iterations throughout the past year, I was ultimately able to do what I set out to do – to help people see and learn about the larger context of a few of the amazing stories available in the EKAAMP oral history collection. These story maps, together, create a narrative that underscores the connection of history and humanity. They are just one way to explore how oral histories can be used to guide people through the lives of others. Oral histories don’t just share context, but also perspective, joy, and depth.

Announcing the Availability of Newly Digitized Audio from the Howard N. Lee Papers

May of 2019 marked the 50th anniversary of Howard Lee’s election as the first African American mayor of Chapel Hill. In commemoration of this historic event and in recognition of Lee‘s political legacy, we have digitized and made accessible a selection of audio content from the Howard N. Lee Papers in the Southern Historical Collection. These include recordings of speeches from Lee’s political campaigns for mayor of Chapel Hill and lieutenant governor of North Carolina; several political and community organizing events throughout the 1970s; campaign radio advertisements; family interviews; and even songs Lee performed with the Len Mack Trio while stationed with the United States Army in South Korea from 1959-1961.

Howard Lee is sworn into office as mayor of Chapel Hill, 1969
A mayoral portrait of Howard Lee from the 1970s

This week, as we commemorate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, we invite you to listen to Howard Lee’s 1980 speech which celebrates King’s monumental contributions to the Civil Rights movement. Lee’s message remains relevant today. Positioned at the start of a new decade, Lee frames the 1980s as a period during which “conservatism will sweep across the land like we have not experienced for many years […] a conservatism which will say ‘Let’s maintain the status quo. Let’s not rock the boat’” (Audiocassette 46, side 1). These words hold significant weight amidst our own current sociopolitical climate, especially as we, too, enter a new decade forty years later.

Lee adds, “There seems to be an attitude of hopelessness, a willingness to throw up hands in despair, a willingness to become slaves to pessimism and doubt. [But] this system can be saved […] It can be built, not so much on the melting pot form of like a soup, but more in the form of a stew, where people can come together and maintain their identities” (Audiocassette 46, side 1).

Howard Lee delivers a speech, circa 1970s

Related to these poignant considerations are observations made in his analysis of “The Black Experience in Politics” just a few months later. Lee suggests the two broad groups — majority white and minority black — generally share different political priorities and attitudes. The responsibility of the black politician thereby becomes a “dual leadership” in the “constant struggle of trying to communicate with the black community without alienating both the black community and the white community” (Audiocassette 48, side 1). “Politics,” Lee says, “is a game of exchange” (Audiocassette 48, side 1). He laments, however, that regarding the vote, “if somebody has to be sacrificed, […] you sacrifice the minority” (Audiocassette 48, side 1).

But Lee’s words call us to action, to a movement steeped in King’s legacy of racial reconciliation. And he reminds us that Martin Luther King, Jr. Day “must be more than just a celebration. It must be a commitment […] a renewed commitment to justice, to freedom, to equality, and above all, to human rights for all people” (Audiocassette 46, side 1).

This vast collection of now accessible digital materials from Howard Lee’s collection is an excellent resource available to you via the online finding aid at https://finding-aids.lib.unc.edu/05609/. The materials that are not accessible online are available for use in the Wilson Library reading room. We are grateful for the generous support from our audiovisual preservation team for digitizing these materials. This work is a part of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation funded grant initiative, Extending the Reach of Southern Audiovisual Sources.

Vacationing Amidst the Weight of the Great Depression: The 1933 Chicago World’s Fair

We are pleased to announce the availability of a new collection: the Smith and Andrew Family Papers (#05800), a new collection documenting two white families from Rowland, N.C., Salem, Va., and other locations across the South between the late 1800s and the 1930s. Correspondence and other materials cover subjects such as the American Methodist Episcopal church, medical practices, and courtship during the early twentieth century.

Also of interest is the collection’s documentation of family travel—most notably a trip taken in the backdrop of the Depression’s darkest years. J. McNeill Smith Jr. (1918-2011) traveled with his mother, Roberta Olivia Andrew Smith (1894-1995), to the Chicago World’s Fair in 1933. The Fair’s motto of “Science Finds, Industry Applies, Man Conforms” was purposefully optimistic in light of the ongoing economic challenges across the country.

J. McNeill Smith Jr.’s guidebook to the fair
A notecard describing the inspired purpose of the institution as it relates to the Technical Ascent of Man and its host of exhibits for the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair.

Other trips documented in the collection include Minnie Smith’s (sister of J. McNeill Smith Sr.) trip to Europe in 1913, J. McNeill Smith Sr.’s and Roberta’s 1916 honeymoon in New York, and a 1921 trip to Cuba.

The collection finding aid is available online at https://finding-aids.lib.unc.edu/05800/# and the materials are open for research in Wilson Library.

Items related to the Chicago World’s Fair can be found in boxes 11 (postcards), 13 (letters), 23 (guidebook), and 25 (travel and exhibit ephemera).

Vacationing Amidst the Weight of the Great Depression: The 1933 Chicago World’s Fair

We are pleased to announce the availability of a new collection: the Smith and Andrew Family Papers (#05800), a new collection documenting two white families from Rowland, N.C., Salem, Va., and other locations across the South between the late 1800s and the 1930s. Correspondence and other materials cover subjects such as the American Methodist Episcopal church, medical practices, and courtship during the early twentieth century.

Also of interest is the collection’s documentation of family travel—most notably a trip taken in the backdrop of the Depression’s darkest years. J. McNeill Smith Jr. (1918-2011) traveled with his mother, Roberta Olivia Andrew Smith (1894-1995), to the Chicago World’s Fair in 1933. The Fair’s motto of “Science Finds, Industry Applies, Man Conforms” was purposefully optimistic in light of the ongoing economic challenges across the country.

J. McNeill Smith Jr.’s guidebook to the fair
A notecard describing the inspired purpose of the institution as it relates to the Technical Ascent of Man and its host of exhibits for the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair.

Other trips documented in the collection include Minnie Smith’s (sister of J. McNeill Smith Sr.) trip to Europe in 1913, J. McNeill Smith Sr.’s and Roberta’s 1916 honeymoon in New York, and a 1921 trip to Cuba.

The collection finding aid is available online at https://finding-aids.lib.unc.edu/05800/# and the materials are open for research in Wilson Library.

Items related to the Chicago World’s Fair can be found in boxes 11 (postcards), 13 (letters), 23 (guidebook), and 25 (travel and exhibit ephemera).

Working on the Railroad: A New Collection Offers a Glimpse into the Lives of Those Who Rode the Rails

The Southern Historical Collection preserves large holdings of manuscript materials related to labor and workers, trade unions, industrial relations, labor activism, and more. Known primarily for our collections documenting the piedmont textile industry in the 20th century, we have acquired several new collections that shed light on the lives of those who have labored in other industries – including black coalminers in eastern Kentucky, North Carolina hog farmers, and rural health practitioners in Tennessee.

A new collection, the Laurinburg & Southern Railroad Company Records (#5768), documents the long history of a unique short-line railroad that runs from Raeford to Laurinburg, N.C. The “L&S” collection is primarily an archive of the company’s business records (such as company correspondence, board minutes, financial and legal files, or records of track repair and maintenance) but it also reflects on the lives of those who worked for the company over the years.

The Laurinburg & Southern Railroad Company was incorporated in March 1909 by N.G. Wade, D.M. Flynn, J.F. McNair, J. Blue, A.L. James, and J.A. Jones. J.F. McNair served as its first president until his death in 1927. Over its history, the railroad was primarily used for hauling freight, but it has also offered passenger and mail service. L&S has included several subsidiaries, including the Red Springs & Northern Railroad, Robeson County Railroad, Fairmont & Western Railroad, Franklin County Railroad, Nash County Railroad, Yadkin Valley Railroad, and Saltville Railroad (in Virginia). The company operates a railroad car shop, a track maintenance crew for hire, and a large fleet of rail cars for leasing to other railroads. In 1994, L&S was sold to Gulf & Ohio Railways. Now in limited operation, these days L&S moves about 7,500 cars annually with three locomotives, focusing on shipments of feed, fertilizer, chemicals, and glass.

The L&S collection contains some wonderful images from its 100+ year history. We’d like to share a few, centering the lives of workers, with the hope that it will inspire you to check out the collection and learn more about life on the rails.

L&S railroad shop employees, circa 1891.
L&S employees and executives on a locomotive, circa 1940.
Track construction crew, April 1959.
Track maintenance crew, undated.
Railroad crew (on locomotive) and shop crew, 1980. Pictured: Johnnie Watts, Gene McLeod, Les Ingram, Jimmy Gibson, James Gautier, A.B. Chavis, Ronald Brigman, Simon Peay, John Campbell, Roosevelt McCoy, Alfred McCoy. Photo by Mac Connery.
L&S locomotive in the garage in Laurinburg, 1975.
L&S “hostesses,” 1966. Pictured are Scottie Warren of Macon, GA, and Kathy Cody of York, SC., both juniors at St. Andrews Presbyterian College.
Railroad crew led by engineer Juddie McNeil, 1980. Based on other documents in the collection we believe conductor John Rogers and brakeman Leon Butler round out this crew.
Accident report, 1976. A tractor trailer truck did not slow down at a railroad crossing and was struck by an L&S freight train, despite the crew putting the train “into emergency.”
Photographs from the accident report, 1976. The truck’s trailer was split in half by the oncoming train, scattering its load of mattresses and linens over a 200 square yard area. The driver was not injured.
Retirement ceremony for long-time shop mechanic John Campbell, January 28, 1981.
Retirement of shop mechanic John Campbell, 1981. In honor of his service to the company, L&S christened railroad car LRS-7225 “The John Campbell” and painted his name on the side of the car.
Employee manuals and timetables.
L&S delivery truck drivers, circa 1990.

[Post-script: We would like to recognize the work of our former colleague, Borden Thomas, in making the L&S collection a reality here in the Southern Historical Collection (SHC). Borden worked in our department from 2015-2017 as an undergraduate assistant. One day Borden mentioned that she was the descendant of founding L&S president J.F. McNair, and that her family still had a large archive of the company’s records. Borden took on the Herculean task of organizing and culling the records and then donated the collection to the SHC.]

Factory Workers in Rocky Mount Fight for “A Day On, Not a Day Off”

Today, as the world celebrates Martin Luther King Jr. Day, let us remember King’s full legacy – not just his legacy in the struggle to end racial segregation, but also his commitment to economic justice, his staunch opposition to the Vietnam War, and his advocacy for the American worker and deep involvement in the labor rights movement. Let us remember that in the days preceding his assassination in Memphis, Tennessee, King was working with union leaders and black workers during a citywide sanitation strike. In his famous “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech, delivered before a meeting of the AFSCME union in Memphis, the night before he was killed, King said,

Mann’s Chapel AME Church choir performing during the 2009 MLK Day celebration at Bloomer Hill Community Center, Whitakers, NC

“You are demanding that this city will respect the dignity of labor. So often we overlook the work and the significance of those who are not in professional jobs, of those who are not in the so-called big jobs. But let me say to you tonight that whenever you are engaged in work that serves humanity and is for the building of humanity, it has dignity and it has worth.”

There is also a story about labor embedded in the history of the observation of the annual Martin Luther King holiday. When MLK Day was first observed in 1986, it was not a paid holiday for the great majority of American workers. But this has changed slowly over the last three decades. A 2018 Bloomberg poll reported that 43% of workers in the United States marked the day as a paid holiday – an all time high. A new resource in the Southern Historical Collection (SHC) sheds light on how one group of workers in Rocky Mount, N.C., fought to secure a paid holiday from their employer, so that they could celebrate MLK Day with their community.

Saladin Muhammad of Black Workers for Justice speaking at the 2005 MLK Day celebration at Bloomer Hill Community Center, Whitakers, NC

In January 1990, a group of 210 workers at the Consolidated Diesel Company plant in Rocky Mount signed a petition calling for the company to grant a paid holiday for Martin Luther King Day. Three workers went to deliver the petition to the plant’s human resources manager, but he was not in his office because he was out attending a MLK Day breakfast (an event the employees could not attend because they were working). At first, management told workers that they would never agree to grant a paid holiday because it would cost the company too much money. So the workers organized the CDC Workers Unity Committee and carried on an advocacy campaign, handing out flyers and buttons to their co-workers, and working with the Rocky Mount Ministerial Association to organize a Juneteenth rally in support of their cause. After eight months of negotiations, the company agreed to establish a paid holiday for MLK Day. In 1991, labor organizers joined with leaders of the local African American community to host the first MLK Day celebration at the nearby Bloomer Hill Community Center in Whitakers, N.C. Every year since, the workers have come together for “A Day On, Not a Day Off,” to sustain Martin Luther King Jr.’s original vision of service and action.

The SHC’s newly processed James Wrenn Papers documents the workers’ efforts to establish a paid holiday, it includes programs and leaflets from many of the MLK Day celebrations from 1991 to the 2010s, and contains VHS and digital recordings of several of these MLK Day events. The collection also documents Wrenn’s work with the People’s Coalition for Justice, the Carolina Auto, Aerospace & Machine Workers Union-UE 150, and the Bloomer Hill Community Center in Whitakers, N.C.

For more information on the James Wrenn Papers, collection #5625, please check out the online finding aid: https://finding-aids.lib.unc.edu/05625/

Urgent Preservation: Extending the Work of Cherokee Linguists Robert H. Bushyhead and Jean Bushyhead Blanton

Linguists believe that there are only a few hundred native speakers of the Cherokee language left. In 2005, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) estimated that only 980 spoke Cherokee and “the average age of the speakers [was] over 50.” More recent estimates suggest that the number of fluent speakers may be as low as 200. The United Nations Organization for Education, Science and Culture, an organization which tracks threatened languages, lists Cherokee in North Carolina as “severely endangered.” In 2004, in response to the loss of native speakers, the EBCI opened the New Kituwah Academy, a Cherokee immersion school aimed at revitalizing the language for current and future generations.

Today we are proud to announce the opening of an important new collection of Cherokee resources which will allow us to contribute to the preservation of this beautiful but endangered language. Over the last few months the staff of the Southern Historical Collection has been collaborating with the family of Cherokee linguists Jean Bushyhead Blanton and Robert H. Bushyhead (a daughter-father team) to collect, process, and make available their extensive archive of papers, audio, and video recordings from their Cherokee language project. The Bushyhead Family Papers is now available to researchers. In fact, some of the audio in the collection has already been digitized and you can stream it through our website.

The digitized audio recordings include instruction on how to say various words and phrases in Cherokee (such as the days of the week or names of colors), the Pledge of Allegiance translated from English to Cherokee, and a performance of the Cherokee legend “Yonder Mountain.”

Robert H. Bushyhead
Robert H. Bushyhead

Robert H. Bushyhead was born in 1914 and raised in the Birdtown community of the Qualla Boundary. As a young child, his entire family spoke the Kituwah dialect of Cherokee. When he was seven years old his father enrolled him in a government boarding school in Cherokee, North Carolina, where his teachers forced him to abandon his native tongue for English. Bushyhead and his friends were punished if found speaking Kituwah, “as violently for speaking the Cherokee language as they would have if they caught us smoking or chewing,” he recalled. This forced assimilation was an experience shared by many Cherokee children, and is a major factor for the threatened existence of the language.

In the 1960s, Robert Bushyhead began documenting the vocabulary and grammar of his native Kituwah. In 1991 he started working with his daughter, Jean Bushyhead Blanton, to create a Cherokee language curriculum for classroom instruction. Recognizing the importance of seeing as well as hearing language instruction for K-12 students, they decided to develop a series of videotaped lessons. The Bushyhead Family Collection in the Southern Historical Collection consists largely of those recorded lessons, on more than 100 videotapes and 300 audiocassettes.

Robert H. Bushyhead once said, “Cherokee has a flow, it has a rhythm that is beautiful. And once you lose that rhythm, then, of course, you’re lost.” Bushyhead died on July 28, 2001, but his voice is not lost – it will be preserved as a living teaching and research tool at UNC Libraries.

Oral History Resources

Oral History Resources ­­

Oral histories are an essential part of most Community-Drive Archives work. Through oral histories, we are able to hear directly from people who have important stories or memories to share. Oral histories enable different ways of thinking about and learning from the past, and often present perspectives that are not well represented in traditional museums and archives.

One of our key partners at UNC-Chapel Hill is the Southern Oral History Program (SOHP). Since its founding in 1973, the SOHP has done groundbreaking work, creating a vital record of Southern history. The SOHP is often recognized as one of the leading oral history programs in the country. They are also a terrific resource for learning more about doing oral history, whether you are a seasoned professional or if you’re getting ready for your very first interview.

Here are several resources that we have found helpful when planning or preparing for oral histories:

  1. Bernetiae Reed, one of the Community-Driven Archives project staff members, is an experienced oral historian and offers an essential bit of advice for anyone considering oral histories: just get started.

“Don’t wait! Ask your questions now. If you procrastinate that opportunity can pass by and that story, that connection, or that moment could be gone forever! Pull out your recorder during special moments. Seek that person with things you want to know or that person with memories you want to capture. Your actions allow these words to be heard by future audiences! Start with those family stories that you have grown up hearing, connect with community members who have recollections that need to be preserved, and then go on from there. The most important factor in successful oral history capture are a communicative interviewee and an engaged interviewer.”

Ronney Stevens from SAAACAM in San Antonio TX shares a memory of going to the Carver Library as a child.

As you continue on your work with oral histories, no matter where you are in the process, get in touch with us if you have any questions or just have stories to share.

The Community-Drive Archives Project at UNC-Chapel Hill is supported by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

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