Working from behind the Scenes: The Appalachian Student Health Coalition Archive Project

The Appalachian Student Health Coalition Archive Project reflects in its process the very philosophies which guided the Coalition in its practice of community organizing 50 years ago, and serves as an emblematic response to a core question of community-driven archives: how ought the relationship dynamic between collecting institutions and local communities operate? What is most crucial to the effective kindling of community power and independence? What is our responsibility as archivists?

Our CommunityDriven Archives project supports historically underrepresented history keepers in telling, sharing, and preserving their storiesSince 2017staff and graduate research assistants from UNC’s Wilson Special Collections Library have worked closely in partnership with four organizations connected to historically marginalized communities in the American South: The Appalachian Student Health Coalition (ASHC), the Historic Black Towns and Settlements Alliance (HBTSA), the Eastern Kentucky African American Migration Project (EKAAMP), and the San Antonio African American Community Archive and Museum (SAAACAM). Each partnership has its own specific set of desired outcomes, but the goal is to address existing silences within the historical record. We believe that the fabric of what gets remembered (and why) is best woven by a diverse and engaged set of community storytellersit should not be the exclusive domain of those in power. The work of the Community-Driven Archives Team (CDAT) is built upon this understanding and guided by the principles of community leadership, ownership, and stewardship 

Our Partnership with the ASHC

With this framework in mind, I’ll speak more specifically to my experience as a graduate research assistant with the Appalachian Student Health Coalition—a student organization founded at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee in the 1960s. Participating students provided healthcare to rural Appalachian communities across Tennessee and on the southern edges of Virginia and Kentucky. Their work was often at the intersection of healthcare and environmental and racial justice, and the ASHC pioneered a new approach to community organizing and student activism.

A page from ASHC participant Deborah Cogswell's 1971 scrapbook documents her experience in several Appalachian communities. Pictured here are snapshots from the Briceville, TN health fair, Cogswell's host family (Willie and May Spears), and other outings with friends and local community members. The page features nine square polaroids, each with handwritten descriptive text underneath.
A page from ASHC participant Deborah Cogswell’s 1971 scrapbook documenting her experience in several Appalachian communities. Pictured here are snapshots from the Briceville, TN health fair, Cogswell’s host family (Willie and May Spears), and other outings with friends and local community members.

Our partnership with the ASHC began in 2013, predating the 2017 Community-Driven Archives Mellon grant. At that time, the focus of the work was primarily centered around conducting oral histories with ASHC partners and alumni, as well as developing a more active ASHC alumni network and project advisory group. Together, the ASHC and Community-Driven Archives staff decided to build a website as the means by which to share the ASHC story (through maps, timelines, and archival material documenting its philosophy and work) 

The Appalachian Student Health Coalition’s new website homepage features the project’s three most prominent themes: Reinventing Primary Healthcare in Appalachia and the Rural South, Organizing for Community Power and Environmental Justice, and Expanding the Boundaries of Higher Education and Professional Practice. Each of the themes is displayed as a box with corresponding photographs on the top half and white text amidst a deep orange backdrop on the bottom. They are centered side-by-side across the screen.
A screenshot of the ASHC’s website homepage highlighting three of its most prominent themes.
An article from the local newspaper details what to expect from the approaching ‘Health Fair’ in Grundy County. Local residents are asked to host ASHC staff in return for free diagnostic medical services, set to begin at James K. Shook School in Tracy City from June 24th-30th. It’s also explained that these examinations will be performed by Vanderbilt medical and nursing students under physician supervision. The article headline “Summer ‘Health Fair’ in Grundy” is positioned at the top of the digital scan, followed by text (no pictures). An unrelated second article entitled “Tyson Said Reopening Here” is in view at the bottom.
A periodical announcement of the ASHC health fair to be held in Tracy City, TN.

I joined the initiative just last year in the late Spring of 2020. Since then, I’ve been most involved in management of the ASHC’s oral history index. Together, CDAT staff and former Coalition participants developed a system to collaboratively review these stories so that together we could decide upon their most relevant tags, categories, and themes—pulling out important names, places, and other related information. Some examples include stories which cover particular events in the Coalition’s history, such as the logistics of their health fairs and development of community health councils. Others discuss the intersection of healthcare and race or the politics of healthcare. This review process also involves collectively choosing vignettes from longer clips to feature on the website. These are shortened stories from within a larger narrative that highlight something special about the ASHC or its participants–for example, the Coalition’s foundational philosophies or the cultural encounters experienced by many students while living in Appalachia. It’s our shared goal that these audiovisual interviews and the rich content found within will be discoverable and of service to researchers 

Four recently captured vignettes are featured on the ASHC website’s homepage under “Recently Added Stories”. Each blurb is vertically oriented and features an image, the story title, and a 30-50 word preview of the story’s descriptive content. Included in this screenshot are Dal Macon’s commentary on “The focal role of listening in community organizing”, “Dal Macon’s introduction to Bill Dow and the Student Health Coalition”, “Margaret Ecker on her inspiration to pursue nursing”, and Barbara Clinton’s commentary on “‘Freedom from drain’ and the Maternal-Infant Health Outreach Worker Project (MIHOW)”.
A screenshot of the most recently captured vignettes posted to the ASHC website.

Reflections on Partnership

As the grant comes to a close, project priorities have somewhat shifted. Priorities are now largely concerned with game-planning for the future of the project—raising funds in support of the project’s long-term goals, roadmapping important next steps toward independence from a UNC Libraries staff leadership role, and training select ASHC alumni (known as Websters) in website and content management via WordPress. Essentially, our focus at this stage is on the movement from dependency to independence and supporting ASHC leadership and skills development in the interest of project sustainability.   

Over the course of my involvement, I’ve thought much about the relationship between UNC Libraries project staff/archivists and the ASHC. What is our institutional role so that community storytellers and their needs are centered? How do we effectively support them without commandeering the products and process? Is there even an appropriate space for said relationship with and support from institutions in community-driven work? 

On that last point, I say yes, most definitely. But navigating it well takes patience, humility, adaptability, a learner’s and listener’s mindset, and perseverance through its challenges. Most importantly, it takes trust. And trust takes time.  

As I’ve been reflecting on this more in the last few weeks, I’ve found inspiration in the fact that what we’re doing as partners with the ASHC, the ASHC similarly undertook as activists in rural Appalachian communities. They leveled themselves. They listened first. They were eager to learn from and respond to community needs. The ASHC embodied a philosophy of service rather than radical self-righteousness. As their project partner 50 years later, we can learn from their example of what it means to take a step back. To work from behind the scenes, elevate others, and help facilitate a community’s storytelling.  

Dr. Pete Moss, chief resident in Pediatrics at Vanderbilt University, consults with a nursing student and nun at the Clairfield Health Fair.
Dr. Pete Moss consulting with a nursing student and a nun at the Clairfield Health Fair. At the time he was chief resident in Pediatrics at Vanderbilt University.

If you’re interested in learning more about the Community-Driven Archives grant and its other collaborations, please visit the Southern Historical Collection’s webpage here. We also encourage you to check out the ASHC’s recently updated website at studenthealthcoalition.org. Take a step back into the 1960s and 70s as you indulge in the spirit of student activism and learn through personal accounts what it means to effectively and sustainably be part of community organizing.  

Using Records about Slavery in the Southern Historical Collection: A Tutorial

This post follows up on the status of the project, Untangling the Roots: Surfacing the Lived Experience of Enslaved People in the Archives. Lydia Neuroth is a graduate student in the School of Information and Library Science and a 2018-2020 Carolina Academic Library Associate (CALA) for the Southern Historical Collection and Archival Technical Services.  

In the last year of my position in the Southern Historical Collection, we built an online tutorial with three major components: the Southern Historical Collection’s origin story, links to some of the more popular items and collections about slavery, and a step by step research methodology for beginners.   

In January 2019wrote about a new project in the SHC designed to investigate barriers to accessing our records about slavery. Back in early 2019, we had just begun to define our audiencenovice researchers, principally undergraduate students, but also community members seeking documents to research their family history. We spent our first year conducting an environmental scan to better understand how other institutions provided access through digital databases and research portals. This exercise was useful, but ultimately, it was our meetings with research librarians and archivists here at Wilson Library that helped us to see that we needed a different type of tool, one that built confidence in users to effectively utilize these collections for their research 

screenshot of shc intro page of tutorial
The second page of our tutorial explains how the SHC was created to preserve the legacy of white elite families of the American South. This legacy continues to impact researching people of color.
graphic representing research process
Our five-step research process follows an intuitive “high to low” formula demonstrating how the nature of research becomes more granular as one moves through the archival process.

 When we completed the tutorial in the Summer of 2019, we made plans to solicit feedback from one of the tutorial’s target audiences, undergraduate students. We built a 12-question survey using Qualtrics and during the last two weeks of October, we visited five different undergraduate classes that were listed as a part of UNC’s new learning initiative Reckoning: Race, Memory and Reimagining the Public University We thought these students would have a particular interest in our tutorial because learning about legacies of racism were embedded in their curriculum. In total, we probably spoke in front of about 175 students. As incentive, we offered $40 Amazon gift cards to a random selection of students who completed our survey and agreed to a follow up in person interview.   

Survey results in the form of colored bar graph
Our survey results revealed that students found many of the tutorial pages useful, in particular, the info page about the history of the SHC, and the pages that listed suggested collections for research.

Results from both the survey and the interview indicated a consistent level of confusion about the nature of primary sources and how UNC Libraries, Wilson Special Collections Library, and the Southern Historical Collection come together to make them accessible.  This was not surprising to us – several members of the R&IS team have shared that students struggle to make sense of primary sources. This speaks to larger issues about how our databases, collection guides, buildings, and general messaging can inhibit access in our Libraries. I hope we will continue to innovate in this area. 

From Spring 2019 to Spring 2020, we shared this project at several conferencesWe also developed a series of in-person supplementary workshops designed to introduce audiences to the tutorial and use the research proofs (research journeys utilizing sample research questions and SHC materials) to work through primary source materials as a group.  

I submitted this poster proposal for the National Council for Public History Annual Meeting held in Atlanta, Georgia in March 2020. It was accepted, however due to the global health pandemic was cancelled and many sessions were moved online.

As this project evolved from a focus on our materials to a focus on our audiences, we had to grapple with how the structures that define our profession can function as walls that keep people out. Examples include the components of a finding aid (abstract, series, etc.), and the workflows (processing, appraisal, etc.) that archivists utilize every day. The nature of records about slavery add another layer of historical erasure that is replicated in the archive, and we (along with others across the Libraries) felt the need to address this in the discussion of the Southern Historical Collection’s founding. I am proud of the way we engaged our Wilson Library peers, local genealogists, and UNC students in these critical conversations. The archives possess even more power when they are opened to broader audiences. That, for me, is the beauty of the archives: old records are interpreted with fresh eyes resulting in untold stories. I’m grateful that this project has allowed us to contribute to that tapestry. 

Last Chance to Explore On the Move: Stories of African American Migration and Mobility

On display at Wilson Special Collections Library since September, one powerful exhibit is nearing the end of its inspired look at the 400+ year history of the African American narrative and accompanying insight into ongoing implications for racial reconciliation today. On the Move: Stories of African American Migration and Mobility showcases personal accounts of several people across time in connection to various modes of transportation and, through this lens, invites patrons to examine the African American experience with physical and social mobility in the United States. Stories include those of enslaved Africans transported to the Americas by ship and escaping plantations on foot, African Americans migrating by train to new lives after the Civil War, traveling by car during the Jim Crow Era, and fighting for equality at Flight Schools and through Freedom Rides on the bus in the 1960s.

A segregated bus station in Durham, North Carolina, 1940

One of the exhibit’s highlighted narratives from the time of the Transatlantic Slave Trade is of special interest because his materials, like the exhibit itself, will soon be out of public circulation for a while. Omar Ibn Sa’id was an educated Muslim captured in 1807 from what today is Senegal. He was brought first to Charleston, South Carolina, but after an escape and later recapture in Fayetteville, North Carolina, was sold to plantation owner General James Owen in Wilmington. It was there he spent the rest of his life.

Portrait of Omar Ibn Sa’id with biographical annotations

Ibn Sa’id’s legacy is perpetuated today among scholars fascinated by his story. He’s merited the role as an impactful topic of discourse for thinkers belonging to a wide range of disciplines. Exhibit curator Chaitra Powell, African American Collections and Outreach Archivist at Wilson Special Collections Library, attributes the reason for Ibn Sa’id’s popularity to his influence in challenging “perceptions of the intellectual history of Black people, educational and language traditions in Africa, the role of religion, and the lived experience of an enslaved person in the United States” (Display Case 2). Ibn Sa’id’s influence is recorded predominantly by way of his writings, including his autobiography published in 1831. As many were scribed in the Arabic language, they further lend support to the debunking of commonly held misconceptions about African people.

Of particular interest to me about his story in relation to the exhibit’s theme, which looks at the (sometimes forcible) transfer and movement of ideas, culture, and people, is Omar Ibn Sa’id’s supposed conversion to Christianity. Records place him as a regular attendee of a Presbyterian Church in Wilmington and confirm that he’d professed having converted. There exist, however, many different interpretations of the motivations behind this decision. Some suggest it was a matter of survival, while others propose he assigned little weight to religious affiliation—perhaps because he interacted with Islam and Christianity on the basis of their vast similarities (rather than focusing on their differences) or because the label itself was inconsequential to his faith in God.

Surat al-Nasr, a verse from the Quran Ibn Sa’id scribed in Arabic, 1857. At the time of this writing, he was attending a Presbyterian Church and professing a conversion to Christianity.

The historical ambiguity of Omar Ibn Sa’id’s conversion creates space to address these uncertainties and ask questions. My own interpretation is that he approached this shift in religious affiliation as something independent of his worldview, a philosophy which strikes me as a powerful model relevant to our current climate of us-vs-them dispositions. It lends value to recognizing our shared humanity amidst a culture hyper-focused on differentiation. While the specificity of identity certainly matters, and labels can serve to communicate important truths about a person, they risk operating as tools for segregation when prioritized above commonalities between us. I believe Ibn Sa’id embraced this understanding in his forced encounter with a new culture, exhibiting strength of mind and character, goodness of heart, and self-autonomy while in bondage. In doing so, he rose above his captors.

This inspired story is but one of many featured throughout the exhibit, so we encourage you to visit On the Move: Stories of African American Migration and Mobility to explore, interpret, and learn even more! Its last day on display at Wilson Special Collections Library is Sunday, February 9th. Follow this link for more information: https://library.unc.edu/2019/09/on-the-move/.

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.

2019 BlackCom Challenge: Community Driven Archives Team edition 

I don’t know how many of you have been a part of a grant funded project but we here on the Community Driven Archives Team can attest to how stressful it can be. We’ve got relationships, timelines, and deliverables to manage and sometimes it can be hard to find time to talk about the value of this work and how it is impacting us as individuals. We were grateful for the friendly challenge from the Black Communities social media team in the lead up to the conference this fall. 

Graphic for Promote Black Communities Challenge

    

All four of our pilot communities have ties to African American communities so this challenge was right in our wheelhouse. What follows is some information about who we are and why we chose to represent Black Communities in this way. 

Who: Chaitra Powell, Project Director 

Why: I chose to make my piece about Lil Nas X for a few reasons. I love the way that the music video for his single, Old Town Road, visually references Black cowboys. These cowboys are the Buffalo Soldiers and homesteaders that founded Black towns in the Western States which are related to our work in Historic Black Towns and Settlements. Lil Nas X’s identity is the perfect example of how Black communities are not monolithic and even if we must talk about ourselves in aggregates to fight systemic inequalities, we can’t erase the experiences of the individual, especially young people. Lastly, the controversy around his genre-defying hit single is a reminder to deny the myth of a post-race society and see how race is still being used to exclude people from membership and resources. 

Link to Chaitra’s video

Who: Sonoe Nakasone, Community Archivist 

Why: I wanted to highlight the role archives can play in sharing the rich history and stories of Black communities that have often been excluded from textbooks and prominent institutions.  Archives can also empower those communities to share their history in their own voice. 

Link to Sonoe’s video

A large black dove shape with three poems written on its body, on a blue background
Three Haiku poems inspired by work in Black Communities, written by Sonoe Nakasone
3 "word poems" written over 9 bright colored hands
Three “word poems” inspired by work in Black Communities written by Sonoe Nakasone

Who: Bernetiae ReedProject Documentarian and Oral Historian 

Why: Here was an opportunity to tell about the Community-Driven Archives grant by showcasing the four focal groups of the grant: HBTSA (Historic Black Towns and Settlement Alliances), ASHC (Appalachian Student Health Coalition), EKAAMP (Eastern Kentucky African American Migration Project), and SAAACAM (San Antonio African American Community Archives and Museum). Video clips from events and places were used to provide content and serve as reminders of the importance of our work. 

Link to Bernetiae’s video

Who: Lindsey TerrellGraduate Student  

Why: One of the first things I was able to do on this grant is to travel and meet with the residents of Princeville, North Carolina for an Archivist in a Backpack training. Flood-prone Princeville was impacted heavily by Hurricanes Floyd & Matthew and although the residents have suffered immense loss, they have remained resilient and eager to tell their stories in hopes that it will effect positive change. One of the residents we had the pleasure of engaging with that day was Milton “The Golden Platter” Bullock, former member of The Platters. In highlighting this lovely performance by Mr. Bullock, I wanted to show how these communities have been finding and sharing joy even throughout ongoing trials. 

Link to Lindsey’s video

Who: Leah Epting, Graduate Student 

Why: It’s always been said that that to “put it on the map” is to make something known, to say that it’s important. I get a little misty every time I work on this project for SAAACAM and see all the names and places important to Black History appearing on the map of San Antonio. So I wanted to try and communicate that feeling.  

Link to Leah’s video

I am extremely grateful to all my team members who took this assignment seriously and stretched their comfort levels to share an authentic part of their interpretations of this work. In the best-case community driven archive scenario, institutions will change communities for the better and communities will change institutions for the better – this exercise demonstrates that we are well on our way. 

Fighting for clean land, energy, and industry since 1974, a story of the East Tennessee Research Corporation

Around 1973, the Appalachian Student Health Coalition (ASHC) recognized that groups working in the east Tennessee area needed additional legal services not initally provided by ASHC. Thus, in the ASHC’s spirit of “comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comforted” the East Tennessee Research Corporation (ETRC) was born in 1974. 

Founded by Vanderbilt law grads and former members of the ASHC, John Williams and John Kennedy, and funded primarily by The Ford Foundation, this organization was a public interest law firm which provided legal and technical assistance to rural community groups in east Tennessee. With the hiring of attorney Neil G. McBride, the group set about collaborating with organizations such as Save Our Cumberland Mountains (SOCM)–now “Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment”) to build a strong alliance that centered the environmental and social but also intersectional interests of the Tennessee Valley in its work. 

ETRC proved to be a powerful instrument for this cause, going on to resist forces which would negatively impact the region. One of their earlier battles was for enforced regulation of weight limits on trucks being used to transport coal throughout the area. This group also put pressure on coal companies who were mixing different coal qualities together—a practice that, at the time, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) said was “standard.” Another meaningful success was waging a vigorous campaign to prevent James F. Hooper III’s placement on the TVA Board of Directors—something for which Hooper later filed a libel lawsuit against them. Later, they received some well-deserved satisfaction in closing this loop when President Jimmy Carter nominated the infamous “green cowboy,” David Freeman, to be Chairman of the TVA. 

Watch two clips of Neil McBride (left) and John Williams (right) discuss ETRC resistance to James Hooper III and the subsequent libel lawsuit he filed against them

One of the foremost issues they dealt with was that of strip mining. The complicated relationship of mining to the region became especially apparent during the debates surrounding the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977 (MSHA). Because coal fields in the region were major employers, many people were wary of measures intended to crack down on the industry. However, some citizens were extremely concerned about the effect strip mining was having on the region’s landscape and water supply. Despite resistance, the MSHA was enacted into law by President Carter in November of 1977. 

Although the ETRC was no longer in existence as of 1978, their successes laid the groundwork for future progress in the South. In fighting these battles both in and outside of the courtroom, they planted themselves squarely in the longstanding but often overlooked tradition of activism in Appalachia. 

newspaper article from the Saturday, June 4, 1977 edition of The Washington Star entitled “Getting Things Done Quietly In Appalachia
“Ralph Nader, longtime politician and Neil McBride’s former employer, wrote about this work in the Saturday, June 4, 1977 edition of The Washington Star.”

You can find out more about the East Tennessee Research Corporation in the Neil G. McBride Papers, 1977-1989 in The Southern Historical Collection. You can also listen to the Southern Oral History Program’s 2010 interview with McBride here as well as read his and John Williams’ description of their worhere on the Appalachian Student Health Coalition Archive Project website. 

Contributed by Community Driven Archives Grant Research Assistant, Lindsey Terrell

John McFerren of Fayette County, Tennessee — in his own words

Contributed by Community Driven Archives Grant Project Documentarian and Oral Historian, Bernetiae Reed

One of our pilot communities for the community driven archives grant is the Appalachian Student Health Coalition. Members of the coalition are historically and currently dispersed across the country and have lived extraordinary lives, often intersecting with some of the most courageous, hard working, and brilliant people that the world has never heard of. Dana Ellis, a coalition member in 1973-1975, worked with local community activists in West Tennessee (Fayette County) and introduced us to John McFerren’s story.

John McFerren is a World War II veteran and local legend. Both he and his deceased wife, Viola, played strong roles in civil rights actions surrounding Fayette County, Tennessee. In Robert Hamburger’s book “Our portion of hell: Fayette County, Tennessee; an oral history of the struggle for civil rights,” John McFerren’s words are revealing. 

“In 1959 we got a charter called the Fayette County Civic and Welfare League. Fourteen of us started out in that charter. We tried to support a white liberal candidate that was named L. T. Redfearn in the sheriff election and the local Democrat party refused to let Negroes vote.”

Five African American men in suits
Four Freedom Fighters counsel with Attorney J. P. Estes, Source: Special Collections, University of Memphis Libraries, Memphis, TN https://www.memphis.edu/tentcity/movement/fayette-timeline-1958.php

 ”We brought a suit against the Democrat party and I went to Washington for a civil-rights hearing. Myself and [James F.] Estes and Harpman Jameson made the trip. It took us twenty-two hours steady drivin. We met John Doar  . . . they told us they wasgonna indict the landowners who kept us from voting . . .”

John Doar was  assigned to create civil litigation, Fayette County is included. Source: Taylor Branch Papers #05047, Southern Historical Collection, UNC-CH, Series 4, Folder 598, https://finding-aids.lib.unc.edu/05047/

Just after that, in 1960, in January, we organized [timeline] a thousand Negroes to line up at the courthouse to register to vote . . . this county it was 72 percent Negroes . . . So in October and November they started putting people offa the land . . . they took your job . . . in November, we had three hundred people forced to live in tents on Shepard Towles’s land . . . White Citizen’s Counciland Ku Klux Klan started shooting in the tents . . . ”  

An African American family loading household items into a flatbed truck
Photo courtesy of Ernest Withers – In September 1960, after the crops were gathered, white landowners in Fayette and Haywood counties forced black sharecroppers off their land because they were trying to vote. Source:  http://orig.jacksonsun.com/civilrights/sec4_tent_city.shtml

“Tent City was parta an economic squeeze . . . Once you registered you couldn’t buy for credit or cash.”

“. . . I went into business the first of 1960, to supply the Negroes . . . had to haul everything I bought from other towns . . . the White Citizen Council in our district chased me just about every time. I had a ’55 Ford with a Thunderbird motor in it and two four-barreled carburetors on it. And it would run about 135. The sheriff told me one day, he says “Every time we get after you, I just sees two balls of fire goin over the hill. . . “ 

a black car parked on the grass
1955 Ford Thunderbird BYT568.jpg. (2015, June 21). Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository. Retrieved 14:50, February 13, 2019 from https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:1955_Ford_Thunderbird_BYT568.jpg&oldid=163946028.

During and after the late 1950s, John Doar, in his role within the Justice Department, was very involved with civil rights struggles across the South. Additionally, Black veterans were often in the forefront. Re-entry into their marginalized communities after service created a will to act. John McFerren fits this mold. But of note here, the meeting with Doar in DC probably acted as a significant catalyst for the massive voter registration events afterwards; which in turn, lead to the development of Tent City and garnered national attention, including support from Martin Luther King Jr 

A white man walks toward the camera with a crowd of policemen behind him
John Doar walks toward protesters during unrest that followed the 1963 funeral of slain black leader Medgar Evers in Jackson, Miss., Newspaper, Taylor Branch Papers #05047, Southern Historical Collection, UNC-CH, Series 4, Folder 599, https://finding-aids.lib.unc.edu/05047/

You can learn more about Tent City, Fayette County, and John McFerren on the University of Memphis website, Tent City: Stories of Civil Rights in Fayette County, TN. We also have some mentions in the Taylor Branch Papers here in the Southern Historical Collection.  John Doar Papers in Princeton’s Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library will open to researchers in June 2019 and the University of Maryland’s Thurgood Marshall Law Library has historical publications of the United State Commission on Civil Rights, which could also shed light.

An African American man standing in front of a crowd of African American men
Early photo of John McFerren smiling as he stands outside his grocery store” , Hamburger, Robert.1973. Our Portion of Hell: Fayette County, Tennessee: An Oral History of the Struggle for Civil Rights. (Photo by Michael Abrams)

 “McFerren stated the Justice Department “brought suit against the big landowners, but yet and still they did not break the boycott against me. They did something and then left and did nothin’ more.”  

 

On the Road: The Community Driven Archives Team travels to Shaw, Mississippi, February 2019 

Chaitra Powell and I spent the last weekend of February traveling to Shaw, MS to conduct an Archivist in a Backpack Training and archival techniques workshop. We collaborated with a group working to preserve and share the history of the town of Shaw, specifically the civil rights case Hawkins vs. Town of Shaw. We met the group at the Delta Hands for Hope, pictured below, which runs programs for students and community members, but is also the base of operations for the Hawkins Project.  

 The power behind this community work is the team of Dr. Timla Washington and Jenna WelchTimla, pictured below second from the right, is currently the Community Development Coordinator in the office of Congressman Bennie G. Thompson.  

Jenna, pictured below, is the artistic director and co-creator of the company StoryWorks, which combines investigative journalism with documentary theatre.  

These dynamic women have spearheaded an enormous project that combines archival materials, art and theatre, public health policy, and a myriad of other areas to tell the story of Shaw. Their work highlights the legacy of institutional racism incorporated into town infrastructure, and the failure of equitable legislature, despite a court victory for the African American population in Shaw.   

Before this trip, I had little knowledge of Hawkins v. Town of Shaw, and I certainly didn’t know that it was the first court case that used statistics to prove discrimination. Yet I quickly realized that Shaw, MS was in an area with numerous Civil Rights activities, for example, the site (pictured below) of a Freedom School, run by local farm workers and SNCC activists in 1965. 

We flew into Jackson which is about a 2 hour drive to Shaw, so we spent a little bit of time exploring the city with Timla, Jenna, and Gloria Hawkins. While we didn’t make it to the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, we did see the Medgar Evers home and observe an oral history interview with one of the lawyers on the Hawkins v. Town of Shaw case in 1967. Gloria Hawkins is one of the daughters of Andrew and Mary Lou Hawkins, even though she was a teenager during the case, she has a file with the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission Database.    

What I didn’t realize until that tour was that Mrs. Mary Lou Hawkins was shot and killed in 1972 by a police officer, or that the Hawkins’ home was firebombed twice after the case. In the 1979 fire, Andrew Hawkins Jr., 28, and two of Gloria’s daughters, ages 8 and 11, were murdered.  

Newspaper clipping from the McComb, MS “Enterprise-Journal” March 18, 1979 reporting the house fire and deaths. 

On Saturday we were a little concerned that the weather would affect attendance to the workshop as it had been heavily raining Friday night. It was surreal to stand in the streets of Shaw and see that all the work that the Hawkins case had accomplished could not combat the legacy and strength of discrimination. The Hawkins case had mandated more robust sewer, water, and street light infrastructure as well as paved roads for the African American part of town. That was in the 1960s and early 70s.  

Infrastructure quality remains so poor in 2019 that entire sections of the town are unable to get out of their houses because of the flooding. That body of water on the edge of the neighborhood, pictured above, is a frequent occurrence, as is the flooding of homes and streets  

However, those who came to the workshops were some of the most dedicated people I have ever met. One woman, Enda Earl Moore, is the last surviving member of the court-mandated bi-racial planning commission. Mrs. Moorepictured below sitting right, took part in an oral history training session that Chaitra facilitated as part of the larger Backpack training. In this activity, pairs of participants practiced interview questions and then the group gathered to talk about what went well, and what to improve. 

Chaitra also led an imaginative description activity where one person described their childhood room and their partner drew it. This opened conversations about the language and detail used in archival descriptive work, perspective, and how this leads to access of information.  

I led one section about born digital material and another on reading archival documents. We talked about consistent file names and using conventions to ensure that files are understandable by multiple parties, as well as raising awareness of LOCKSS, file migration, and format.  The second section I led was reading archival documents, which Timla had asked for specifically. I worked with colleagues in Wilson Library to create an easy to follow set of guidelines that presented questions to “ask the documents.” Participants looked at photos and the minute books and read the document, answering questions about format, audience, and purpose. All the activities provoked important conversations about access, preservation, and ownership of narrative and voice. 

 It was an exhausting schedule, but I wouldn’t change it for anything. I was moved by the warm welcome, and by the first day I almost forgot that I had to fly back to NC. We were invited back immediately, and I was sad to leave this place. Shaw has a history full of turmoil, closed businesses and dilapidated homes dot the streets. But it’s impossible to walk away from this place and these people without feeling their infectious determination and wanting to stay and be a part of their work. The power of place is startling in this townThe materials and resources from the Community-Driven Archives are only a small portion of this overall project, but I’m so glad we get to be a part of this work.  

Contributed by Community Driven Archives Grant Research Assistant, Claire Du Laney 

A New Project in Wilson: Untangling the Roots: Surfacing the Lived Experience of Enslaved People in the Archives

These posts are written by Lydia Neuroth, a first year graduate student in the School of Information and Library Science and a 2018-2020 Carolina Academic Library Associate (CALA) for the Southern Historical Collection and Archival Technical Services.  

This semester we launched a new project in Wilson Special Collections Library. Situated within Archival Technical Services and the Southern Historical Collection, my CALA project explores the ways people access (or don’t access) collections about slavery.  

We recognize that we are one of many institutions who are thinking about barriers to access, particularly when it comes to records of the enslaved. For us, our biggest hurdle is how these materials are described in our finding aids. In many cases, we are dealing with collections that have been described years ago and suffer from a lack of identified slave related content, or description that is just downright discriminatory. University of Minnesota Libraries and Princeton University Archives (just to name two) have acknowledged these legacy issues of description and begun implementing strategies and solutions that surface materials previously difficult to discover through traditional keyword searches in their collections. We benefit from their efforts and transparency about their process. I spent a great deal of my first few weeks on this project scanning the field and culling scholarship on this topic. I have read more articles about finding aids than I care to admit. The literature is helpful for grounding us in the context of the archival field. It also helps us to compare and contrast our particular issues to those of other institutions.  

Many institutions have partnered with teams in the digital humanities field to create digital databases or other web platforms that circumvent (for the most part) issues that are inherent to finding aids.I consider projects like UNC-Greensboro Libraries’ Digital Library on American Slavery and Maryland State Archives’ Legacy of Slavery in Maryland some of the more robust examples offering multiple portals and access to thousands of documents about slavery in their collections. The Virginia Historical Society’s Unknown No Longer Project has existed in some capacity since the 90s, and their online database was created in 2011. These projects are impressive and interesting. Many researchers have praised their capabilities of aggregating similiar information into a single access point. Unfortunately, they don’t offer the solutions we need for some of our more specific problems. Our manuscript collections are varied in content and format type. Letters, diaries, and wills don’t lend themselves to easy data collection in the ways that court records or runaway slaves ads do. It is challenging to boil down our material into data points that can be searched within a database. It is forcing us to think outside the box, literally and figuratively! 

VHS’s database allows you to search records by location. These were the results from a search I conducted for Morven Plantation in Albemarle County, Virginia.

In order to be successful, our project must be rooted in understanding our users and their various needs. Many people use our collections including undergraduates, graduates, faculty, scholars, genealogists, community members, and library staff. Some of them have been using archival finding aids for years, others have never stepped foot in a special collections library. We are asking ourselves: how do we build a system that is useful to each of these constituencies and their differing needs? Do we focus on one group? Or do we try to accommodate them all? 

Most of our work is conducted behind the scenes therefore we rely heavily on the expertise of our research and instructional team who staffs our reading room. Our conversations with them have illuminated one group on which to focus: undergraduates. We’re thinking through ways to include them in our understanding of barriers to access. Survey-style questionnaires, focus groups, one-one-one interviews, and usability studies are just some of the research methods we’ve discussed. We’re interested in gaining feedback on specific challenges they’ve encountered in the reading room or online. User feedback is an important component to this project we want to be intentional about how we listen.

To be honest, we have not yet defined an outcome of this project. The last semester was so very exploratory: understanding our collection, understanding our users, and understanding what has already been done in the field. In many ways, we are still struggling to wrap our own minds around the problems and how we can address them through practical, sustainable methods. Ultimately, we hope that our investigation will inform a comprehensive solution that will address multiple barriers to accessing these materials whether they be description, primary source literacy, physical access, or anything else that limits a user’s ability. 

That’s a lot to cover, and it’s only the highlights. Perhaps I’ll wrap up by reflecting on our experience choosing a title for this project. We gathered several images and asked a few Wilson colleagues to describe words or phrases that came to mind. As project leaders, we remained in the background and listened while our peers meditated on the heaviness that is the reality of American slavery. It was a powerful exercise. We compiled a list of these phrases and extracted four potential titles. To gather further input, we circulated our top four choices among the entire Wilson Library staff and asked them to choose their favorite. The result? Untangling the Roots 

Colleagues in Wilson Library help us pick a project title from a collection of images.

Alexander Hamilton in Wilson Library

Signature from Alexander Hamilton letter, 15 October 1792.

Everyone around here is excited about Hamilton, now playing at the Durham Performing Arts Center. Did you know that you could also find Hamilton in Wilson Library? 

The Wilson Library special collections include a handful of original materials from Alexander Hamilton. These include correspondence in the William Graham Papers, a financial document in the Stephen Lee Papers, and a first edition of the Federalist Papers. 

But by far the most interesting item we have come across is a letter from Hamilton to John Steele, dated 15 October 1792. In the letter, Hamilton speculates on the upcoming federal elections, offering his opinions on possible Vice-Presidential candidates, including John Adams, George Clinton, Aaron Burr, and Thomas Jefferson. 

One line in particular stood out: “My opinion of Mr. Burr is yet to form.” 

Detail from Alexander Hamilton letter, 15 October 1792,

The letter is part of the William Gaston Papers in the Southern Historical Collection. Gaston acquired the letter as part of his effort to assist Hamilton’s son, John C. Hamilton, who was writing a biography of his father.

To learn more, read the full letter or a transcript.