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.
This year marks the close of the Sesquicentennial (150th) commemoration of the American Civil War, but it also marks the anniversary of the founding of many important institutions in the African American community, as many black churches trace their origins to this time around the end of the Civil War.
Prior to Emancipation, white southerners exerted control over African Americans in nearly every sphere of society, including religious worship. Slaves and free people of color were treated as second-class members of most churches, relegated to sitting in balconies or galleries of many churches, without much say in church affairs. Also, during slavery, many sermons were layered with messages emphasizing the obedience of slaves to their masters. But as freedom took hold for African Americans through Emancipation after the Civil War, many congregations began to split along racial lines and the institution of separate black churches emerged.
As a result of the Civil War, more than 300,000 formerly enslaved people in North Carolina —roughly a third of the state’s population—gained their freedom. Over 5,000 of these freedmen were in Orange County, with over 400 of these individuals in the town of Chapel Hill. There was great upheaval and movement as many of the newly free left their former masters and mistresses. Several first hand accounts of the war’s end describe an exodus of African Americans from the town. The same accounts indicate that some of those who left later returned.
The Southern Historical Collection preserves an important piece of the story of the founding of First Baptist Church, within the minute books of the University Baptist Church. The congregation of the University Baptist Church (which was simply called the Baptist Church back then) included white members, enslaved men and women, and free people of color.
An entry in these minute books, dated September 3, 1865, states, “On motion it was unanimously voted that the colored patrons of this church be allowed to withdraw from the church and organize a church to themselves.” Several pages later in the minutes, it was also noted, “Four members have been dismissed by letter besides sixty-one colored members dismissed in September for the purpose of forming a separate church. This separate church, known as the Colored Baptist Church of Chapel Hill, is now in an acceptable operation and hopes are entertained of its doing well.”
The congregation of the new Colored Baptist Church initially met in an old schoolhouse on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill, known as the “Quaker Building,” until a church building could be built. Rev. Eddie H. Cole served as the church’s first pastor. The church changed names several times over the years, from Colored Baptist Church to First Baptist Church, then to Rock Hill Baptist Church and then back to First Baptist Church. This September will mark the 150th anniversary of the founding of First Baptist Church in Chapel Hill.
Lizzie Chambers Hall was the wife of W. T. Hall, who was the pastor of Baptist churches in Danville, Virginia from 1897-1907, and in Roxborough, Pennsylvania from 1913- 1928.
The Lizze Chambers Hall Papers contain photographs, scattered family correspondence, and a scrapook which Lizzie compiled.
The scrapbook contains news papers clippings, pictures, religious tracts and broadsides, printed and manuscript poems (some of which were written by Lizzie herself ) and other memorabilia. It is a fascinating record of certain elements of African American family life and religious practices in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Click here to link to the finding aid for the Lizzie Chambers Hall papers.
William Jesse Kennedy, Jr. (1889 – 1958) was a prolific businessman and community leader in Durham, N.C., who also served as the fifth president of the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company. During his lifetime, Kennedy participated in numerous professional and civic activities in addition to his duties at NC Mutual. He served as chair of the board of directors at Mechanics and Farmers Bank, and as a member of the Howard University Board of Trustees. He was a life-long proponent of education and a member of the James E. Shepard Foundation, an organization that awarded scholarships to students attending North Carolina Central University. In addition, Kennedy was very active with the Boy Scouts of American, the NAACP, and Durham’s Lincoln Hospital, among many others.
The collection is rich with correspondence, photographs, and organizational records that document Kennedy’s myriad business and civic activities. A few examples of photos from the collection are included below. Click the link below to learn more about the collection: http://www.lib.unc.edu/mss/inv/k/Kennedy,William_Jesse.html.
The William Jesse Kennedy, Jr. papers are part of the African American Resources Collection that are held jointly with North Carolina Central University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Click here to learn about the six other collections that are part of this larger collection, which includes the White Rock Baptist Church records and the Floyd McKissick Papers.
Recently Holly, my colleague here at the Southern Historical Collection, and I got the chance to tag along on a bus tour of Durham, N.C., with the Department of City and Regional Planning here at UNC-Chapel Hill. The tour focused on planning and development activities in several areas of downtown Durham, and how history and community influences, informs, and becomes an integral part of those activities. Holly and I were amazed at how visible history was at some of the places we visited, and were surprised at how connected our work and our collections at the SHC are to the work of these community organizers and city planners. We’d like to share a little bit about our trip, and connect some of the things we saw to materials we have here in the collection
Our first stop was at the Hayti Heritage Center, an African American cultural and educational center located in what was formerly the African American community of Hayti. The center, established in 1975, is based in the structure that was St. Joseph’s A.M.E. Church, a National Historic Landmark built in 1891. The space is now used to preserve the heritage of the neighborhood and the church, and holds programs aimed at “advancing cultural understanding and examining the experiences of Americans of African descent — locally, nationally and globally.”
At the center, we heard from J. C. “Skeepie” Scarborough, a funeral services director whose family and business have been a part of Hayti for generations. He described how unique Durham was for its thriving African American community in the early to mid-20th century, which boasted African American-owned businesses, a hosptial, a college, and an active music and cultural scene. He also discussed growing up in Hayti, what it was like during the Civil Rights movement, the role of the church in community organizing, and how the neighborhood was lost during “urban renewal” efforts in the 1960s, especially due to the construction of the Durham Freeway.
We are fortunate to have a number of collections related to Hayti here in the Southern, including:
You can also listen to digitized oral histories about Hayti. For instance, Margaret Kennedy Goodwin talks about the close-knit African American community in Durham during the 1930s and 1940s, and the role of religion her her family’s life (listen to Margaret Kennedy Goodwin’s Oral History interview). Be sure to look for Holly’s upcoming post about our tour of Durham’s Parrish Street, also known as Black Wall Street.
[Today we feature the life and work of Reverend James A. Felton of Hertford County, North Carolina. The Southern Historical Collection is proud to be the repository that preserves a small collection of papers from the Felton family (the James A. and Annie V. Felton Papers, Collection #5161, finding aid). The following biographical note comes from the finding aid for the Felton Papers.]
James Andrew Felton was born on 6 July 1919 in Hertford, Perquimans County, N.C. After spending almost three years in the United States Marine Corps, he earned his B.S. from Elizabeth City State Teachers College (now Elizabeth City State University) and his M.A. from North Carolina College at Durham (now North Carolina Central University). He taught in the Greene and Hertford County school systems for 20 years, and, in 1965 he published “Fruits of Enduring Faith,” a story that dramatizes the human issues behind the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
In the mid-1960s, Felton and Reverend John L. Scott of New Ahoskie Baptist Church formed the People’s Program on Poverty, an African American organization created to study and fight poverty on the grass-roots level. Through his work in this program, Felton founded the first Family Training Center in the United States. During this time, he was also actively involved in organizations such as the President’s Commission on Rural Poverty, the North Carolina Family Life Council, and a local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
In 1980, Felton established the C. S. Brown School Auditorium Restoration Association to restore Brown Hall, a building that had been part of the campus of Chowan Academy, an African American school founded in 1886 by Calvin Scott Brown. The C. S. Brown Regional Cultural Arts Center and Museum in Winton, N.C., opened in 1986.
James A. Felton married Annie Vaughan on 3 August 1947. They had six children: James Andrew, Jr., Keith, Maria, Sharon, Michele, and Camilla. James A. Felton died in Winton, N.C., on 6 October 1994.
[To learn more about the contents of the SHC’s Felton Papers collection, please see the finding aid].