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:

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/

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.

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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
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#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.

What is a Community Archive?

Community archives and other community-centric history, heritage, and memory projects work to empower communities to tell, protect, and share their history on their terms. In 2017, the Southern Historical Collection at the Wilson Special Collections Library of the University Libraries was generously funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for a grant to “form meaningful, mutually supportive partnerships that provide communities with the tools and resources to safeguard and represent their own histories.”  We argue that “Community archive models and community-driven archival practice address the ‘symbolic annihilation’[to quote Michelle Caswell] of historically marginalized groups in the historical record, and aim to create sustainable and accessible memory projects that address these archival absences.”[1]

So what does it mean? A whole host of complex, complicated moving parts that if done right could transform the historical record! And it wouldn’t just be the grant funded community driven archives team (CDAT) doing it, but rather a true collaboration between the CDAT and communities to keep communities in control of their narratives.

Communities can preserve their history in a myriad of ways. They can keep records in  brick and mortar buildings like the Mayme A. Clayton Library and Museum, or they can curate a digital archive like the South Asian American Digital Archive.[2]  Communal heritage or memory can be expressed through historic markers or murals, like the Portland Street Art Alliance’s “Keep on the Sunnyside Mural Project”[3] and through guided walking tours, such as those created by the Marian Cheek Jackson Center.[4] History and heritage can even be expressed through parades, commemorations, and community celebrations. In her article, “The records of memory, the archives of identity: Celebrations, texts and archival sensibilities” Jeannette A. Bastian notes,

the relationships between collective memory, records, community and identity as expressed through a particular celebration—a carnival— [is] located within the paradigm of a cultural archive. That paradigm theorizes that if an annual celebration can be considered as a longitudinal and complex cultural community expression, then it also can be seen dynamically as a living archive where the many events within the celebration constitute the numerous records comprising this expression.[5]

Community archival work can also be done in public libraries like the Queens Memory Project or with the support of universities like the SHC’s Community-Driven Archives project. We call our work community driven archiving because we take cues from community members on the best ways to support their memory work, we would not trample the long standing tradition of community owned and operated archives by co-opting their name.

We understand that working with communities to create archival, historical and heritage-based projects means grappling with complex issues of identity, ownership, and legacies of marginalization.  Community history has always been present; the community archives movement didn’t suddenly discover these histories.[6] We have a lot more to share about our perspective and experiences with community driven archival work, including its benefits and challenges for a large organization with a complex history like the University Libraries. With this post we are signaling that boosting community voices in all their intersectional, diverse, complicated and creative outputs is a top priority in the Southern Historical Collection these days.

This is a model we created to help us visualize the relationship between traditional archival users and community-history creators. By changing the emphasis on who is being considered essential to the archives story, you can completely change the priorities.

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

[1] “About: Community-Driven Archives Overview,” https://library.unc.edu/wilson/shc/community-driven-archives/about/

[2] South Asian American Digital Archive, “SAADA”, https://www.saada.org/

[3] Portland Street Art Alliance, “Keep on the Sunnyside Mural Project”, http://www.pdxstreetart.org/articles-all/sunnyside-mural-project

[4] Marian Cheeks Jackson Center “Soundwalk of Northside,” https://jacksoncenter.info/northside-stories/soundwalk-of-northside/

[5] Jeannette A. Bastian, “The records of memory, the archives of identity: Celebrations, texts and archival sensibilities,” Archival Science, (2012), 122.

[6] Yusef Omowale, “We Already Here,” Medium: Sustainable Future, September 3, 2018, https://medium.com/community-archives/we-already-are-52438b863e31.

Richardson Preyer and the Thanksgiving Sermon of 1979

In “preparing” for our Thanksgiving posts, I came across a sermon from the Richardson Preyer Papers given at First Presbyterian Church in Greensboro, North Carolina on Thanksgiving weekend in 1979, where Preyer appears to have been a member. Closely related materials in the collection suggest Preyer is the author of the sermon, though it is not explicitly stated. The speaker used Thanksgiving as an occasion to reflect on several notable events from the past year, and I felt they each deserved some individual attention to reflect upon. I decided to do a deeper dive into the events, and see what other materials we might have relating to them in our collections!

Richard Preyer Papers, Sermon, Page 1 Continue reading “Richardson Preyer and the Thanksgiving Sermon of 1979”

LGBTQ Political Pioneer Joe Herzenberg

 “What was hope yesterday morning is now life for me”

Thanks to “The State of Things” on WUNC (North Carolina Public Radio) for inspiring today’s post with their conversation (also on Twitter) about the experiences of LGBTQ elected officials in North Carolina.

Joe Herzenberg was the first openly gay elected official in North Carolina in 1987. He served on the Chapel Hill Town Council until 1993, when it was revealed that he had not paid state income tax for the previous 14 years. His personal and political papers are held at the Southern Historical Collection (#5367); in addition to correspondence and photographs, the collection includes around 80 diaries written between 1954 to 2006.

His diary from when he was elected in the fall of 1987 (excerpts and images of which are included below) shows the excitement, emotional strain, and tedium of campaigning. Most entries include routine logs about his meals, reading list, and people he saw. Notes about significant personal and political events are written as casually as the mundane, making them both easy to overlook and all the more wonderful when found.

Continue reading “LGBTQ Political Pioneer Joe Herzenberg”