The Negro Motorist Green Book and Community Memory Keepers

Cover of the "Negro Motorist Green Book: An International Travel Guide, 1950 Edition," featuring a person standing in front of a map background holding maps and pamphlets
Cover of The Negro Motorist Green Book in 1950, the first edition to list the DeLuxe Barber Shop in Durham, North Carolina. The Green Book included listings located in 43 towns/cities across 34 counties in North Carolina from 1936-1966. Image from The Green Book Collection, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library Digital Collections

I grew up in North Carolina. While I recall eighth grade social studies classes focused on North Carolina history, I do not have many memories of learning about the numerous African American communities across the state until graduate school. Currently, I am writing a dissertation on North Carolina listings in The Negro Motorist Green Book (Green Book), a booklet published from 1936-1966 to assist African American travelers in avoiding encounters of racial discrimination. My research is not about the experience of African American travel. Rather, my work focuses on the people who assisted travelers seeking goods, services, and information. Who were the people who guided Green Book travelers through North Carolina?

A page from the Green Book listing the names of places and businesses, with a red box highlighting the listing for DeLuxe Barbershop
Listing for DeLux [sic] Barbershop in the 1950 edition of The Negro Motorist Green Book. Image from The Green Book Collection, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library Digital Collections
The Green Book listed the DeLuxe Barbershop in Durham, NC, from 1950-1952. The barbershop was established in 1946 and first appeared in Durham city directories in 1947, located at 617 Fayetteville Street in Durham’s historic African American Hayti community. Sterlin M. Holt, Sr. and Lewis H. Wade were listed in the city directories as co-owners until 1952. Afterwards, Holt was listed as the sole proprietor. (1) The shop’s address also changed in 1952 from 617 Fayetteville to 511 Fayetteville Street and remained at this address until 1970, when the shop moved to its current location at 1220 Fayetteville Street. (2)

Black and white photograph of a small white building resembling a house along a tree-lined street with a sidewalk and cars parked along the side. A handwritten note, "Before Relocation" is in the lower right hand corner
Building located at 511 Fayetteville Street. The DeLuxe Barbershop was listed at this address from 1952-1970 in Durham city directories along with Orchid Beauty Shop. The name “DeLuxe Barber Shop” is on the right window. Image from the Durham Urban Renewal Records, Durham County Library, accessed from Digital NC

Fayetteville Street was home to the main commercial and cultural strip in Hayti. DeLuxe Barbershop, along with many of Hayti’s important places, relocated due to the City of Durham’s Urban Renewal program. Many others were lost completely. In Hayti, urban renewal destroyed more than one hundred Black businesses.

While general information about the DeLuxe Barbershop and other Green Book locations is available within libraries and archival collections, these records do not always reveal a business’s or the owner’s role within the larger community. Working directly with local residents and family descendants connected to Green Book proprietors helps to fill the gap. I had the opportunity to conduct an interview with Derrick Green, the current owner of the DeLuxe Barbershop and a close connection to Sterlin Holt, for my Archival Seedlings project. The recorded conversation not only puts into context the DeLuxe Barbershop’s role within the Hayti community, but it also illustrates the importance of community memory keepers passing down the stories of earlier generations and keeping local history in the forefront of public awareness.

Black masculine-presenting person wearing sunglasses in front of a building with a sign reading, "1220 Fayetteville St. Student, Senior Specials, DeLuxe Barbershop." White bars cover the window and door.
Current DeLuxe Barbershop Owner, Derrick Green, in front of the building at 1220 Fayetteville Street in Durham, North Carolina. Image taken by Lisa R. Withers

Derrick Green met Sterlin Holt through Holt’s son in Mebane, North Carolina. After realizing a close family connection, Holt invited Green to work at the barber shop in Durham. In the interview, Green describes the relationship he had with Holt, who became his mentor. Green fondly recalls Holt as someone who was willing to help out a young person, sharing lessons as a barber on what it meant to be a public servant, and who would talk to you like a peer. Holt reminisced with Green, sharing memories of the Great Depression and the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt. According to Green, the way Holt talked about the past felt as if history came in through the front door.

Cover of Sterlin M. Holt, Sr.'s "Homegoing Celebration" program, featuring a photo of him. It notes his "Sunrise" in 1919 and his "Sunset" in 2016. The data of the memorial service is noted as October 24, 2016.
Sterlin M. Holt, Sr.’s obituary. Holt was the original owner of DeLuxe Barbershop. Derrick Green keeps Holt’s image on the shop’s Wall of History. Image taken by Derrick Green

In addition to Holt’s lessons on being a barber, Green keeps the stories about Mr. Holt and the DeLuxe Barbershop’s history alive. Green shared how the barber shop received its name during the interview. The African American community in Durham had a national reputation, and many well-known individuals came through the area on their travels. According to Green, Sterlin Holt provided haircuts to famous individuals, from singer James Brown and civil rights activist Martin Luther King, Jr. to John Hope Franklin, a prominent African American historian. Early on, Holt determined that if he was going to provide a deluxe service to his customers, then the shop should be named DeLuxe Barbershop. Green emphasized that Holt also dressed the part of someone providing a deluxe service by coming to work every day in a suit and tie.

Derrick Green described the DeLuxe Barber Shop’s role within the community as “a Black man’s country club.” (3) As Green shared, one could find almost anything one needed at the barber shop simply due to the fact that everyone, from the lawyer to the police officer to the local store clerk, came through the shop. Additionally, Green, sharing community memories of Mr. Holt’s interactions with Durham’s youth, referred to the DeLuxe Barbershop as a place for children as well as adults. World Nursery School, located in the barbershop’s basement, was operated by Mr. Holt’s wife, Josie Holt, along with Mrs. Virginia Alston, Green’s grandmother. In this way, the DeLuxe Barber Shop was a community space for everyone, adult or child, resident or visitor.

Much of the current narrative about the Green Book revolves around the publication and first-hand accounts of African American travel during the Jim Crow era. My project with the Archival Seedlings program and my dissertation research examine the publication’s North Carolina listings to reframe the Green Book and Black travel within the social dynamics of local communities, an approach that would not be possible without working with family descendants of Green Book proprietors and community memory keepers. Derrick Green’s interview is one of several from my research that shifts the narrative about the Green Book from a travel guide to a publication highlighting social networks, community hubs, and prominent changemakers in African American communities across North Carolina.

Visit Community Knowledge in North Carolina: The Negro Motorist Green Book in the Old North State to hear the full interview with Derrick Green and to view images associated with the DeLuxe Barbershop.

(1) The 1951 Durham City Directory is the last edition to list both Holt and Lewis as co-owners of the barbershop. Holt is first listed as the sole owner in 1950 then again in 1952 and in subsequent years; DeLuxe Barbershop Founding Plaque (image), Community Knowledge in North Carolina: The Negro Motorist Green Book in the Old North State, communityknowledgenc.org, accessed December 1, 2020; 1947 Durham City Directory, p. 130 (alphabetical listing); 1948 Durham City Directory, p. 146 (alphabetical listing); 1949 Durham City Directory, p. 137 (alphabetical listing); 950 Durham City Directory, p. 121 (alphabetical listing); 1951 Durham City Directory, p. 124 (alphabetical listing); 1952 Durham City Directory, p. 124 (alphabetical listing). 

(2) 1952 Durham City Directory, p. 124 (alphabetical listing); “Advertisement/Notice,” The Carolina Times, January 31, 1953, p. 8, North Carolina Newspapers/DigitalNC, digitalnc.org, accessed September 25, 2019; 1955 Durham City Directory, p. 159 (alphabetical listing); 1956 Durham City Directory, p. 154 (alphabetical listing); 1958 Durham City Directory, p. 165 (alphabetical listing); 1959 Durham City Directory, p. 161 (alphabetical listing); 1960 Durham City  Directory, p. 170 (alphabetical listing); 1961 Durham City Directory, p. 177 (alphabetical listing); 1962 Durham City Directory, p. 180 (alphabetical listing); 1963 Durham City Directory, p. 177 (alphabetical listing);  “Christmas  Advertisement,” The Carolina Times, December 25, 1965, P. 5B (Image 15), North Carolina Newspapers/DigitalNC, digitalnc.org, accessed September 25, 2019; “Announcement: Herbin & Miss Long,” The Carolina Times, September 19, 1970, P. 10A (Image 10), North Carolina Newspapers/DigitalNC, digitalnc.org, accessed September 25, 2019.

(3) Derrick Green, interview with Lisa R. Withers, November 18, 2020, communityknowledgenc.org, accessed December 1, 2020.

Lisa R. Withers was a participant in UNC Libraries’ 2020-21 Archival Seedlings program. For more about Archival Seedlings on the Southern Sources blog:

Archival Seedlings: Resourcing Local Collaborators Across the American South

Archival Seedlings: Putting Our Values into Practice, the 2020 Edition

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

Follow us on Twitter: @SoHistColl_1930 #CommunityDrivenArchives #CDAT #SHC

All Hands on Deck at Hobson City’s Museum: Interview with Pauline Cunningham

In August 1899, the determined leaders of Mooree Quarters, the Black neighborhood of Oxford, Alabama, formed a separate town: Hobson City. It would be the first incorporated Black municipality in Alabama and the second in the nation.

Black and white images of road signs, with one priminent sign reading: Welcome to the Historic Hobson City
Still image from Hobson City: From Peril to Promise by Hiztorical Vision Productions, www.hiztoricalvp.org, Courtesy Theo Moore

Over the next several decades, Hobson City developed into a magnet for Black excellence and entertainment in the South. Today, Mayor Alberta McCrory wants to share the remarkable history of Hobson City and other historic Black towns in Alabama at the Hobson City Museum.

Group of femme-presenting Black people wearing white gloves around a table covered with historical objects, which they are wrapping in white paper
Left, front to back: Pauline Cunningham; Michelle Robinson (Spelman College). Right, front to back: Bobbie Jean Wright; Dories Jennings; Mayor Alberta McCrory. Packing museum collections at Hobson City Museum at Town Hall. Courtesy UNC CDAT

Through a partnership with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Libraries’ Community Driven Archives (CDA) project, Hobson City Museum hosted a workshop in March 2020 that focused on caring for museum collections. Three UNC Libraries staff members provided training to residents of Hobson City and nearby Anniston on how to clean, handle, store, and inventory plaques, textiles, trophies, and photographs that document the contributions of local leaders such as James “Pappy” Dunn. Town Hall Clerk Pauline Cunningham was the Hobson City coordinator for the workshop and also participates in another CDA archival training program called Archival Seedlings.  I met with Pauline over Zoom to reflect on our collaboration in March and the future of the Hobson City Museum.

Room filled with museum cases and an array of plaques, trophies and other historical items
Trophies, plaques, and other museum items at the Hobson City Museum at Town Hall. Courtesy UNC CDAT

Conversation with Hobson City, Alabama Collaborator Pauline Cunningham

Q: What is the purpose of Hobson City Museum?

Pauline Cunningham: To be educational and show the history of Hobson City and who was all involved in making a change in Hobson City.  We started with [James] “Pappy” Dunn because he invested so much time, money, and energy in making a change for Hobson City.

Q: Who do you see as the visitors, and what kind of information do you hope they get out of it?

PC: We want people from all over—all over the United states, all over the world—to be able to come, see, learn, and understand the struggle that Hobson City has had in the past; and maybe in due time we’ll also show the struggle that’s happening right now.  Not because of COVID-19, just because of the economy.

Q: What was the museum’s goal for the workshop in March, and was it met?

Group of femme-presenting Black people around a table with computers and putting photographs and papers into folders.
Left: Dories Jennings. Right, front to back: Gina Young; Pauline Cunningham. Describing museum collections. Hobson City Museum at Town Hall. Courtesy UNC CDAT

PC: Not knowing anything, I feel like we learned so much. We learned how to archive, how to clean with the right agents.  We learned how to do so many things. How to preserve. It was so educational. I think my downfall is going to be, the people [who] were there this year to learn, [they] might not be there when [COVID-19] is over. I plan to try to write everything down and to make what we call a SOP [Standard Operating Procedures] for the military—how to do each step. I would love to add a DVD to it with all the videos that we had when learning from the different presenters [our series of how-to webinars through the Archival Seedlings program].

Q: The workshop happened as COVID-19 cases started to spread nationally. How did COVID-19 affect the museum in March?  How has it continued to affect the museum?

PC: It really went to a standstill. I’m older. I’m in that population that you don’t need to be out there unless you have to be, so it really went to a standstill; that’s the bad thing. The good news, I guess, will be once I start doing the SOP [manual], maybe somebody else can pick it up and keep doing some things; but right now, we’re at a standstill because of COVID-19.

Q: What do you think is the number one challenge going forward with skills gained through the workshop?

Two femme-presenting Black people, one seated cleaning a trophy, the other person, standing, looking on.
Sitting: Pauline Cunningham. Standing: Bobbie Jean Wright. Cleaning museum collections. Hobson City Museum at Town Hall. Courtesy UNC CDAT

PC: The memory that I won’t have if I don’t write it down. And the challenge is going to be getting the right people to continue to help with the museum, even though it doesn’t seem like a large project to some people. But it’s getting that volunteerism to come out and help—to work for the City, to get the City up and running—and I believe those that decide to do it, they’ll do it from the heart. So that’s going to be my challenge: to find the right people to make it continue to go.

Q: Should those people be in the community or people outside?

PC: Both really. Reality: when you guys were down in March, everybody there except for two people were from outside [Hobson City]…including myself [Pauline is a resident of nearby Anniston, AL.].

Q: What is the number one challenge of the museum?

PC: Space…availability for the museum. The challenge is going to be to utilize the space the best way to display or to show what we want to. Part of it [is] going to be the videos of people talking about the history, and some of the pictures, and some of the stuff we’ll just scan to make the rotating [slideshow] and voice behind it—where it came from, who donated it, and why it’s important—that sort of thing. That’s the challenge—putting [in] the right mix for such a small space.

Q: What was your favorite part of the workshop?

A peek inside a box filled with items wrapped in paper
Plaques in the museum collection labeled and stored. Hobson City Museum in Town Hall. Courtesy UNC CDAT

PC: I have two: One was archiving and learning how to do it right, so you can go back and find it on your archive list and where you stored it. And two was the cleaning of the artifacts. That to me was very critical because I would have messed it up! Because I would have used some regular cleaning detergent type stuff. So that—those two—how to store and clean and archive, that was tremendous. I loved it. I loved it.

Q: What question do you wish I asked you? Is there more you’d like to say?

PC: Just that I want to make sure I’m able to put the SOP [manual] together on how to do each thing. If I die tomorrow, somebody else can pick up the ball and run with it and know how to do it right. If I can pull all that together, I would love it. It’s a win-win for the City and for the education provided to us.

Want to learn more about Hobson City?  Visit the town website and watch the documentary Hobson City: From Peril to Progress, 27 min, by Hiztorical Vision Productions.

Read more about our work in collaboration with Hobson City, AL and other members of the Historically Black Towns and Settlements Allliance (HBTSA) on the Southern Sources blog:

Next Stop: The Great State of Alabama

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

Follow us on Twitter @SoHistColl_1930 #CommunityDrivenArchives #CDAT #SHC

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.

Dyann Robinson and the Tuskegee Repertory Theater, 1991

Dyann Robinson is the heart and soul of the Tuskegee theater scene. She founded the Tuskegee Repertory Theater in 1991 and established a permanent home for the theater company in the former post office in downtown Tuskegee. Robinson’s impressive career as a dancer and choreographer started with her casting in the original Broadway production of Bubbling Brown Sugar in 1976.   

 

She also worked as a member of Maurice Bejart’s Ballet of the Twentieth Century, in Brussels Belgium. Check out this Huffington Post article on visual history of 20th century ballet to see Robinson’s national and international peers of elite ballerinas looked in the 1970’s and 1980’s. For a special treat, you can go to the New York Public Library and track down photographs and a videotape of a young Dyann Robinson dancing in New York City. Robinson brings her world class training and discipline to all her community theater work (writing, producing, directing, and acting) in Tuskegee, Alabama. She also sees the immense power of theater to transmit the cultural legacy of African Americans.  We are proud to house filmed versions of several of Tuskegee Repertory Theater’s productions:

I can personally attest to the toe tapping nature of Dyann Robinson’s lyrics and Bill Perry’s musical arrangements when I saw a live performance of “Booker T’s Towns” in Orlando, during the Zora Festival earlier this month. The story is told from the perspective of husband/wife pairs of each town’s leaders during their attendance at the National Business League Conference in 1913. Isaiah T. Montgomery’s wife sings about “clearing the land” when explaining how town founders transformed a swamp into a bustling black town in 1898. The Booker T. Washington sings about “getting new life” when he is spending time with these community leaders and learning about their accomplishments. the whole play builds a world where real people existed and made important contributions. It wasn’t lost on me that Hamilton was playing in same theater on the same night as Booker T.’s Towns, people that can turn history into musical theater are remarkable, and this post is a tribute to people doing it on every scale.

“Booker T.’s Towns” tells the story about HBTSA’s (Historically Black Towns and Settlements Alliance) founding towns, Eatonville, FL, Tuskegee, AL, Mound Bayou, MS, Grambling, LA, and Hobson City, AL

 

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/

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.

Follow us on Twitter @SoHistColl_1930
#CommunityDrivenArchives #CDAT #SHC
#WilsonLibrary #UNCLibraries
#EKAAMP #HBTSA #ASHC #SAAACAM
#yourstory #ourhistory #oralhistory #AiaB

What’s with all the Backpacks?

If you’ve seen any publicity about the Community-Driven Archives grant, you’ve probably seen references to “the Backpacks.” One of the central initiatives for the CDA Team is transportable archiving kit that demystifies the technical jargon and supplies resources for communities. This has manifest as the “Archivist in a Backpack” and the slightly less catchy but equally important “Archivist in a Roller bag.” These are a simplified archive in an easily portable kit that we bring and mail to communities doing archival and cultural heritage projects. In April of this year, the online forum HyperAllergic published an article about our “Archivist in a Backpack” project. Since then, we have had an enormously positive response from people all over the world and I think the speed and reach of the backpacks has surprised us all. We’ve received numerous inquiries about the backpacks and our grant project in general. This might seem like a basic administrative detail, but when you consider that each inquiry has the potential to become a new resource and an introduction to dozens of new colleagues, it is no small feat in networking. While most of my conversations have been with people in the US, we’ve had interest all over the globe. From a member of a Canadian first Nation, to a library in New South Wales, an Archivist in the UK doing her own community work with immigrant Somalian communities and a theatre professional in Germany, something about the Backpack project has struck a chord. A version of the backpack has been used in Mexico with Yucatán Mayan students with materials being translated into Spanish and Yucatec Mayan. For more information about this project check out this National Geographic article!

 Sounds great, but why all the hoopla? Backpacks aren’t exactly cutting edge. I think it is the mix of the un-apologetically bright colors of the kits (though we do offer some more muted tones) and the awe that digging into a family or community’s past almost always elicits. But there are other components to the backpacks, not always mentioned in the emails. Social justice, commemoration, and community healing often feel like implicit threads of the conversations and the projects new colleagues talk about.

The backpacks look unimposing, but I think they represent something quite profound. The backpacks invite people to tell their histories so that the information can be put towards a larger purpose. The backpacks aren’t just about a walk down memory lane (as important as that is) but many of the people with whom I’m in contact have a mission that the archival resources are to be used in forwarding. Whether it’s about connecting generations in learning about the many iterations of civil rights, housing and preventing gentrification and displacement, or combating rampant minority stereotyping and erasure practices, the backpacks are an accessible way for communities to take control.  The initial emails show that many projects are just getting off the ground or are still in the early planning stages. It will be interesting to see what the results are for everyone, especially since we at CDA are right there with them. It’s a “figure-out-as-you-go”, one foot in front of the other kind of process, collaborating between institutions, communities, and newly-found colleagues. At least we can all have coordinating backpacks.

We post every week on different topics but if there is something you’d like to see, let us know either in the comments or email Claire our Community Outreach Coordinator: clairela@live.unc.edu.

Follow us on Twitter @SoHistColl_1930
#CommunityDrivenArchives #CDAT #SHC
#EKAAMP #HBTSA #ASHC #SAAACAM
#yourstory #ourhistory #community #AiaB

Charrette and Street Team Stories

In the last post, we talked about the format of the charrette and some examples of how questions were answered. This post dives more deeply into the personal and community stories that were gathered at the charrette and the “Street Team” table we had earlier that morning. The Street Team mapped stories that visitors wrote down and many of them were continued in the charrette.

Our Street Team table at BlackCom2018 at the Carolina Theatre, Durham NC.

The questions were broad but flexible in that people could answer in generalizations or with very specific examples. Some people took the prompts literally and named places like Eastside Oklahoma City, Rentiesville, Portland, and Detroit as their examples of communities. Others understood the concept of community in a more abstract way, citing “Hip Hop” and “Black artists.” Both interpretations speak to the CDAT’s use of community, both tangible and non concrete.

Some of the stories were just snippets, like the one from St. Helena’s Island. The participant wrote that they were invested in the history of “grandmother midwives, healing traditions of the Sea Island for post-natal care.” This participant added in the “What does this Community need to better tell its story?” section that space was needed for preservation but also components like opportunities for researchers as well as public health advocacy and its history were needed.

One participant focused on how the historic practices of systematic racism continue to harm residents of Battery Drive (now Heights) Raleigh, NC. This participant wrote that the community needs “sustainable and accessible resources to keep long-time residents (older), and generational homes in the family and protect against predatory practices to sell (tax relief and assistance for elderly, assistance for home improvement and maintenance) – you can’t have an oral history if the people are kicked out.” They also remarked on the need for equitable landmark preservation designations. This first point, about the housing practices and maintaining generational homes related to a BlackCom panel “Financial Resources for the Underserved & Underbanked.” Panelists spoke about the problems that arise from communities lacking financial and property legacies, answering questions like “Q: what other barriers exist in the black community for the transfer of wealth? A: redlining, lack of financial legacy, institutional barriers to homeownership, equitable protection for families.”

One of my personal favorites from the Street Team table was a response about the Greentown community in Georgetown, South Carolina. When asked what this community needs, the response was:

My mother, Dorothy Alston was the first African American Nurse in my hometown. She worked at Georgetown Memorial Hospital in Georgetown, South Carolina. Oftentimes, in our community, people would come knock on our door in the middle of the night for medical care. The reason being that my mother would serve as the medical provider/ nurse/ doctor. Back then many people didn’t go to the doctor because they just couldn’t afford it.

The Street Team and charrette data made it very clear that there are no quick fixes for communities. There are concrete needs: space, funding, outreach. But there are intangibles also: visibility, trust building, reconciliation, and acknowledging the legacies of oppression and a history of being taken advantage of by those in positions of power. There are needs beyond historic preservation and the interwoven nature of policy, public health, and financial education need to be better studied. Positionality matters and the historic record has not accurately represented those in marginalized spaces. One or two charrettes or community mapping projects can’t fix that. But informed action can shift the paradigm.

We post every week on different topics but if there is something you’d like to see, let us know either in the comments or email Claire our Community Outreach Coordinator: clairela@live.unc.edu.

Follow us on Twitter @SoHistColl_1930
#CommunityDrivenArchives #CDAT #SHC
#EKAAMP #HBTSA #ASHC #SAAACAM
#yourstory #ourhistory #community #AiaB
#Charrette #StreetTeam #activism #BlackCom2018

What is a Charrette?

A charrette is a focus group that brings together a wide variety of stakeholders in order to map solutions. Originally used in the Public Health field, our CDA Team and others have borrowed the term for community and cultural heritage work. Our charrettes bring individuals together to collaborate and workshop ideas for a common community vision. We focus on topics such as promoting and protecting cultural heritage, telling underrepresented histories, and discovering archival assets in communities. For our CDA team, we collaborate with a diverse group of stakeholders and individuals such as funders, librarians, community members, professors and academics, town officials, activists, artists, and archivists. These diverse participants ensure that the charrette isn’t an echo-chamber. Rather, members share a desire to invest in and protect a community but from different angles and perspectives.

A good charrette invites community expertise and specific knowledge of the historical and cultural dynamic; members within the community know the needs far better than we ever could. A common and often deadly shortcoming of any institutional project is to assume the institution knows what’s best for the community. Equally devastating is when an institution has a real desire to participate but struggles to have meaningful, sustained engagement. Both examples lead to institutions flailing in a sea of uncertainty and ineffectiveness. Charrettes are one way to counter these outcomes. It can be eye opening and humbling to have community members speak to historic problems and instances of broken trust face to face. For the charrette hosted by CDA in April at Black Communities: A Conference for Collaboration we asked individuals to share their knowledge of an African American community, its needs, and some hidden history highlights.

Our charrette was an informal lunchtime meeting. We provided a worksheet (with consent form to use the data collected included!) with a few questions, each probing a little more deeply into the needs and histories of communities. These questions asked participants to identify a place and describe how history is either being preserved or ignored. Our focus was (and remains) geared towards archival and cultural heritage so our questions related to storytelling and preservation of histories and materials. Our first question asked participants to identify a place and a little-known history from that area. Some of the towns and communities identified were Starkville, MS, Riceville, TX, Shreveport, LA, Halifax County, NC, Chicago, IL, and Winston-Salem, NC. Some participants told their family’s history while others focused on broader groups such as the Indigenous peoples and industries.

The second question was “What does this community need to better tell its story?” One participant from Halifax County, NC wrote: “support with National Park Service applications, (land owner contacts and research) oral history interview compilation and other related supports.” Another participant interested in Riceville, TX noted that their community need “oral history work” and a project to address that was underway.

The third question asked specifically “How is African American history preserved and shared in this community?” A participant from Shreveport, LA wrote “Southern U archives, (opening soon) North Louisiana Civil Rights Museum and NORLA Preservation Project (restoring shotgun houses).” Another participant from Chicago IL stated “History is preserved through oral conversations, research and personal narratives. We celebrate the lives of our ancestors through continual community building and grass roots organizing.” The emphasis on in-person communication is something that a charrette works hard to emulate and build upon.

Our final question asked to identify next steps. Preservation is important, but it must lead to something. We wanted to know how the ideas from this charrette could inform not only our work but work within the community. Charrettes can be all day affairs or an hour, like ours at Black Communities. Charrettes are connective, collaborative, exploratory and possibly explosive. All these attributes indicate that these types of in-person focus groups are necessary to identify need and ultimately movement.  As one participant perfectly summed up, “information has to drive advocacy.”   

 We post every week on different topics but if there is something you’d like to see, let us know either in the comments or email Claire our Community Outreach Coordinator: clairela@live.unc.edu. 

Follow us on Twitter    #AiaB #yourstory #ourhistory #communityarchives #EKAAMP #HBTSA #SHC #SAAACAM #memory #community #CDAT #Charrette #activism

What is a Community?

Here at CDA, our team speaks about communities a lot, working to imagine and redefine what that word implies. But what exactly do we mean when we say a Community? That question seems straightforward but there is a great deal of ambiguity in this term. When we at CDA talk about communities, we aren’t just talking about towns that exist right here, right now with a neatly registered zip code. Communities can be towns, cities, parishes, neighborhoods or enclaves, rural and urban, but they can also be identities, small groups, diasporas, and informally established. Some are “post-place” but still united by a common identity. In other words, there was a historic place, but now it’s a group of dispersed people.

This complex relationship between physical space and abstract meaning produces important discussions about identity, motivating community partners and community champions to combat what scholars like Michelle Caswell have called “symbolic annihilation.”[1] Communities that had been historically, and continually, marginalized, erased, and ignored are finding ways to increase their visibility through community-archival and cultural heritage work. This increased visibility showcases the three parts of what Caswell et al calls “representational belonging.” These three parts, we were here, I am here, we belong here, affirms the importance of a community’s existence.[2] Gaps in the narrative of underrepresented communities affect histories and have consequences for contemporary identities. By refocusing the narrative, communities control their own modes of representation as opposed to tokenism by traditional power structures.

Here are a few examples of why representational belonging is so important.  Shankleville is an un-incorporated community in Newton County, Texas. This was a “freedom colony” founded by Jim and Winnie Shankle in the postbellum period. What does it mean for the contemporary community that lives in and studies Shankleville that there are so many gaps in the narrative about the lives of Jim and Winnie? Another community example is found in Portland, Oregon. One community member talked about the invisibility of the Black community there, especially when paired with notions of gentrification and infrastructure expansions, like a light-rail that displaced large swaths of the African American community. Local organizations, like the Vanport Mosaic, use art and other media to amplify forgotten histories, but what do the historic erasure practices mean for those living in the Pacific Northwest? A final example is the Eastern Kentucky African American Migration Project which examines the now diasporic community previously located in Lynch, KY. As jobs in the coal mining industry dried up in the mid-20th century, families relocated physically, but they remain deeply connected to Harlan County and each other. What does it mean for miners, children and grandchildren of miners to be so far apart across the country, but to return yearly for reunions? All these communities are striving for representational belonging, internal and external confirmation that their stories matter.

This is one of our grant project data visualization maps, showing the locations of just some historic black towns and communities. There are plenty of places and communities that remain hidden and part of our work is to present as full and as rich a representation as we can based on the materials presented by communities.

We post every week on different topics but if there is something you’d like to see, let us know either in the comments or email Claire our Community Outreach Coordinator: clairela@live.unc.edu. 

Follow us on Twitter    #AiaB #yourstory #ourhistory #communityarchives #EKAAMP #HBTSA #SHC #SAAACAM #memory #community #CDAT @vanportmosaic @shankleville

[1] Michelle Caswell, Alda Allina Migoni, Noah Ceraci, and Marika Cifor, “‘To Be Able to Imagine Otherwise’: community archives and the importance of representation,” Archives and Records, 38., no. 1, (2017), 5-26.

[2] Caswell, et., al.