We have a number of new collections that are preserved, processed, and now available for research. Love and war were in the air, as the bulk of the materials include courtship correspondence and letters written by people while they were serving in the Armed Forces. Some highlights:
New materials span from the 1830s-2007
Subjects geographically range from the Kwajalein Atoll to Martha Washington College to the New Orleans levees.
Lots of love! Many of these collections feature letters between loved ones.
Some interesting mentions include a pair of waraji rice straw sandals, some 375 reported yellow fever deaths, and former UNC System President Frank Porter Graham participating in anti-war efforts of the 1930s.
Click on any of the collection titles to learn more about the materials, view any digital items, and request them for use in our reading room.
The South has witnessed unspeakable historical violence, hardship, and unrest. Whether it is a system developed over hundreds of years or the single act of one person, Southerners have used these circumstances as fuel to protest for a better reality and a better future.
At first blush, an archive might seem like an unusual place to learn about current events. We can’t provide the latest headline, updated numbers, or 24-hour news coverage. What an archive can do, though, is help explain how we got here in the first place. It can provide context, it can set the scene, and it can fill out a timeline. It can help draw comparisons, and it can bear witness to cycles, to repetition, and to causes and their effects. It can show what has worked in the past, and what has not.
We continue, as we always have, to collect the stories of those who stand up against violence and hardship. Below are just a few of our many collections that highlight how people have confronted difficulties in the past and fought for a South they could believe in.
On June 19th, 1865, Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger issued General Order #3 in Galveston, Texas. It read, in part:
THE SLAVES ALL FREE.
GENERAL ORDERS, No. 3. — The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, “all slaves are tree.” This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor.¹
Though Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered his army in April of 1865, it took some months for hostilities to cease and for word to travel to the western arm of the Confederacy. The Emancipation Proclamation, which went into law on January 1st, 1863, was supposedly difficult to enforce in Texas due to the weak Union presence in that state at the time.
June 19th, 1865 saw more confusion than celebration, but the following year marked the first-ever celebration of the Juneteenth holiday – a combination of “June” and “nineteenth” – commemorating emancipation. The Southern Historical Collection has few holdings related to Juneteenth celebrations in particular, but we have many items that recorded how Freedpeople recognized and built new lives after emancipation.
The image gallery below features two sharecropping contracts (1866 and 1868) signed by a number of Freedpeople from Green, Hale, and Marengo counties in Alabama. Click on a thumbnail to expand and learn more about the contracts.
Library lore says that Carolyn Wallace, Director of the Southern Historical Collection from 1975-1987, once declared that the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence was the single most valuable item in our entire collection.
A quick “Meck Dec” crash course, for those unfamiliar with this corner of Southern history: On April 30th, 1819, the Raleigh Register published an article by Dr. Joseph McKnitt Alexander. In it, Alexander said that his own father was present for the signing of the very first Declaration of Independence ever written in the Colonies – dated May 20th, 1775, more than a year before the other Declaration of Independence. He went on to explain that, though the original version of the document was lost in a fire, he owned an exact copy of it. Thomas Jefferson scoffed, but Mecklenburg locals claimed they had witnessed the original declaration with their own eyes.
While scholars still disagree over the document today, each May 20th is celebrated with much enthusiasm in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina. This past “Meck Dec Day” was particularly exciting, as the document was able to make the 140-mile journey from our secure storage in Chapel Hill to a public exhibit in Charlotte. Present for the one-day event was McKnitt’s own great-great-great-great-great granddaughter, along with descendants of many other Meck Dec signers.
Nearly all of our collections are available to access within the library, but we are particularly pleased when we have a chance to let the items come out to the public. If you were in the Charlotte area, we hope you were able to swing by and see this treasure from the collection.
In our ongoing quest to engage audiences in new and different ways, we are pleased to unveil a project that we have been working on for the past few months. In partnership with the Google Cultural Institute’s series on Black History and Culture, we have developed an online exhibit of original collection materials titled Before I’m 25… Stories of African American Youth.
Before I’m 25 is a multimedia exhibit that uses our diverse collections to highlight the ways African American youths have shaped Southern history. Spanning over 150 years, it examines the lives of young African Americans through the lenses of freedom, military service, the pursuit of education, entertainment, and activism.
The Google Cultural Institute allows museums and archives throughout the world to share their collections with the online using sleek, innovative technology. As part of the Google Cultural Institute’s series on Black History and Culture, The Southern Historical Collection is in good company with partners ranging from the National Museum of African American History and Culture to the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. Each of over forty exhibits covers one niche of Black history and culture, from Alvin Ailey to Frederick Douglass, and from Black comic books to African American inventors.
We are excited to share this digital exhibit with you and hope that it enhances discussions by and about African American youth, and how history shapes our present day.
We are pleased to share this video of Governor Terry Sanford’s remarkable January 18, 1963 speech, given before the North Carolina Press Association at the Carolina Inn in Chapel Hill, N.C. In this speech, delivered on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, Governor Sanford called on citizens, “to quit unfair discrimination and to give the Negro a full chance to earn a decent living for his family and to contribute to the higher standards for himself and all men.” Sanford’s address is preserved in the SHC’s Terry Sanford Papers (Collection #3531, Videotape VT-3531/1a; view finding aid).
Special thanks to Wilson Library’s Moving Image Archivist Stephanie Stewart for transferring the film to a digital file, and to James Leloudis, UNC Chapel Hill history professor, for uploading the video to YouTube so that all could view this moment in Southern history. Prof. Leloudis is co-author of a new book on the anti-poverty work of the North Carolina Fund, To Right These Wrongs (out this month from UNC Press). Prof. Leloudis and his co-author, Robert Korstad, professor of public policy and history at Duke University, will present a lecture at Wilson Library later this fall on their new book. Check back soon for more details about this program.
“The establishment has discounted the poor, the black, the low-income and liberal whites. It had been divide and conquer. This is the dream I have for North Carolina: to bring us together, black and white…Too long have black people sought a place at the bargaining table, only to receive the crumbs after dinner is over.”
These were the words of Dr. Reginald Armistice Hawkins, given in a speech in 1968 as part of his campaign to become North Carolina’s governor. Dr. Hawkins, a dentist and ordained Presbyterian minister from Charlotte, made history with his 1968 gubernatorial bid as he was the first African American in the history of the state to make a run for the office.
Today we feature this photograph, from the SHC’s Allard Lowenstein Papers (#4340), of Dr. Reginald Hawkins (at right) with Dr. Ralph David Abernethy, head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. This photograph is included in our current exhibit, “We Shall Not Be Moved: African Americans in the South, 18th Century to the Present,” on view until February 5, 2010.
Thirty years ago today, on November 3, 1979, the Workers Viewpoint Organization (later renamed the Communist Workers Party) sponsored an anti-Klan march and conference in Greensboro, North Carolina. Members of the Ku Klux Klan and Nazi Party attacked the demonstrators, killing five and injuring eleven Communist Workers Party members.
Family and friends of the deceased organized the Greensboro Civil Rights Fund, raising some $700,000 to prosecute the Ku Klux Klan and the Nazi Party, as well as local and federal law enforcement agencies–whose undercover agents and paid informants in the Klan and Nazi Party allegedly participated in planning the attacks.
In 2004, around the time of the 25th anniversary of the Massacre, a Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission was impaneled by the Greensboro community in order to “examine ‘the context, causes, sequence and consequence of the events of November 3, 1979’ for the purpose of healing transformation for the community” (from the Commission’s mandate). Over the course of nearly two years the commission sponsored public hearings, meetings, scholarly panels, interfaith religious services, and other community gatherings. Their activities culminated in a lengthy report giving a set of conclusions and recommendations which they hoped would continue the process of reconciliation and map the way forward. To quote their report,
We believe the truth and reconciliation process in Greensboro opened up the debate around Nov. 3, 1979, in a positive way and has successfully engaged a broad spectrum of the community in an effort that offers hope for reconciliation. As a Commission that looks a bit like Greensboro in microcosm, we found that this process –and our own struggle to hear and understand each other- had a profound impact on our perceptions of the issues we explored. Our individual and collective commitment to the truth helped us persevere. And the human stories and emotions we encountered along the way moved us to do our best to leave behind a legacy we hope will serve Greensboro for years to come. We cannot say what the future will hold for this community or what the long-term impact of this process will look like, but we hope that this process also serves as a learning tool for others in this country who, like Greensboro, are burdened by a legacy of hurt and inspired by the possibility of honestly coming to terms with their own history.
So today we honor the memories of those lost to the violence of the Greensboro Massacre, thirty years ago today. We also honor the courage of the Greensboro community which sought to heal itself through the truth and reconciliation process.
And finally, we especially want to honor the life and work of Dr. John K. “Yonni” Chapman, a long-time and loyal supporter of the Southern Historical Collection. On October 22, 2009, following a lengthy battle with a rare blood cancer, Yonni Chapman passed away at his home in Chapel Hill. Yonni Chapman was one of the anti-Klan demonstrators who survived the attack of November 3, 1979. Later, he was involved in the truth and reconciliation process (his statement before the Commission is available here) and continued racial justice organizing in North Carolina for nearly three decades.
UNC’s Southern Oral History Program (SOHP) collects interviews with Southerners who have made significant contributions to a variety of fields and interviews that will render historically visible those whose experience is not reflected in traditional written sources. The Southern Historical Collection is the repository for oral histories collected by the SOHP.
The SOHP has digitized 500 interviews from the collection, through a project called Oral Histories of the American South. Periodically, “Southern Sources” will share links to audio of selected SOHP interviews.
Today, we are pleased to feature an SOHP interview with Andrew Young. Andrew Young was the first African American congressman from Georgia since Reconstruction. First elected in 1972, Young was later appointed as ambassador to the United Nations by Jimmy Carter.
In this SOHP interview, Young discusses the nature of racial discrimination in the South and describes his involvement in voter registration drives. Throughout the interview, he draws comparisons between race relations within southern states and those between the North and South. According to Young, it was access to political power that ultimately altered the tides of racial prejudice in the South. He cites the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 as a decisive turning point in race relations. For Young, it was the election of African Americans to positions of power that allowed African Americans to bring to fruition other advances they had made in education, business, and social standing.