Ms. Powell goes to the State of Black Research Collections Conference (New York, NY)

As you can tell the staff of the Southern Historical Collection is working hard to bring fresh content to our new and improved blog platform. For my part, I will be sharing the most recent highlights of my experience in the stacks, on campus, and around the town, state, country, or the world (wishful thinking). I imagine that this will be helpful for aspiring archivists and anyone who enjoys the process of discovery.

The facade of the Bryant Park branch of the New York Public Library, October 31, 2014.
The facade of the Bryant Park branch of the New York Public Library, October 31, 2014.

During Halloween weekend, I had the pleasure of attending the State of Black Research Collections conference at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York City. The conference was intended for anyone who had an interest in African American archives which included museum directors, teachers, archivists, artists, and scholars. The sessions were highly interactive and all of the participants were encouraged to speak up in order to have our comments and observations featured in an upcoming white paper. The organizers were able to host the conference with funds from a Mellon grant, apparently a gathering like this had not happened in the last 20 years! Do you know how much could happen in 20 years? Not the least of which is the evolution of an entire segment of the archives. To give you the proverbial gut check, Kurt Cobain and TuPac Shakur both died 20 years ago, it feels like we have been living without them for a lifetime.

Some of the issues discussed in the conference included funding, supporting young professionals, aggregating collections, collecting current events, working with audio visual materials, and outreach to communities other than traditional scholars. Representatives from the Amistad Research Center (New Orleans, LA), Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (Washington, D.C.), and the California African American Museum (Los Angeles, CA) and many places in between gave presentations. The director of the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center at Howard University, Howard Dodson, gave the key note address, focusing on the growth of Black collections from the rare books of Mr. Schomburg himself to the highly disparate collections that we steward today. I appreciated the way that museums, libraries, and archives of all sizes were asked to participate and we were able to see how many of our challenges and goals are essentially the same. After the first day of traditional sessions and plenaries, the second day was all about “moving the needle forward”, where we worked as a group to share ideas about what the next steps might be. I’ll save this content for the white paper, but one popular idea was the establishment of a professional organization that serves black research collections, wouldn’t that be a sight to see!

I would be remiss if I did not share with you sense of wonder just outside the walls of the Schomburg, located on 135th Street and Malcom X Blvd, also known as Lenox Ave. Directly across the street is the Harlem Hospital Center, which has murals, paintings, and sculptures, from Work Progress Administration artists like Charles Alston (papers at the SHC), Alfred Crimi, and Georgette Seabrooke. The sculpture adorning the entrance, Untitled (Family) is by John Rhoden.

Facade of the Harlem Hospital Center, October 31, 2014
Facade of the Harlem Hospital Center, October 31, 2014

Ten blocks south is the incomparable Apollo Theater, Studio Museum of Harlem, and the Adam Clayton Powell Jr. State Office Building. 125th Street is considered Harlem’s main street as it is serviced by buses and trains and has been the site of so many commercial and entertainment options for African Americans for close to 100 years. This was the home of the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920’s, where poets like Langston Hughes, and musicians like Duke Ellington, and writers like Zora Neale Hurston. The Cotton Club where a young Lena Horne got her start was on 142nd and Lenox Ave. Ella Fitzgerald was the first winner of amateur night at the Apollo Theater and went on to perform with the band at the Savoy Ballroom (140th and Lenox Ave.) in 1934.

Chaitra rubbing the famed, "tree of hope" on statge at the iconic Apollo Theater, November 1, 2014.
Chaitra rubbing the famed, “tree of hope” on statge at the iconic Apollo Theater, November 1, 2014.

As a sophomore in high school, I was completely enchanted by these figures and to be fortunate enough to occupy the spaces of my idols was a real treat indeed. Perhaps Billy Strayhorn and I have something in common as we have lived in Orange County, NC but our hearts stay on an “A train” uptown.



Staff Profile: Chaitra Powell, African American Collections and Outreach Archivist

What do you do for the Southern Historical Collection?

Since joining the Southern Historical Collection in August of 2014, I have really embraced what it means to be on the curatorial side of an archive.

Chaitra Powell, African American Collections and Outreach Archivist in the Southern Historical Collection
Chaitra Powell, African American Collections and Outreach Archivist in the Southern Historical Collection

As the African American Collections and Outreach Archivist, the primary goal of my position is to cultivate donor relationships and facilitate the acquisition of African American materials into the collection. In the course of pursuing this objective, I collaborate with UNC library and university staff members, as well as diverse community stakeholders around the region. In addition to relationship building, my job gives me the opportunity to participate in all aspects of archival work, including appraisal, description, processing, digitization, preservation, reference and outreach.

What did you do before joining the Southern Historical Collection?

Prior to my position at SHC, I participated in an archival fellowship and worked as an archival consultant in Los Angeles, CA. The host site for the fellowship was the Mayme A. Clayton Library and Museum, an African American history and culture museum, in Culver City, CA. While there I trained volunteers to help me process 140 linear feet of manuscript material from the museum’s founder, Dr. Mayme A. Clayton, co-curated a hallway exhibit, Audio Assault: Sights and Sounds of the Black Power Movement in Los Angeles, 1965-1975, and coordinated a public program, Roses and Revolutions Listening Party. As a consultant, my clients ranged from art gallery owners to churches. One of my greatest achievements was establishing the Marilyn E.P. White Legacy Project to honor the 1964 Olympic medalist and Los Angeles native.

1964 Olympic medalist Marilyn White and Chaitra looking over the video files of her oral history in her home in Inglewood, CA.
1964 Olympic medalist Marilyn White and Chaitra looking over the video files of her oral history in her home in Inglewood, CA.

How did you get into this line of work?

In January of 2010, my last semester of library school at The University of Arizona, I took an internship at a local hospital. The hospital was getting ready for its 100th year anniversary and all of the historic documents and photos were haphazardly placed in file cabinets in the medical library. With minimal supervision and an SAA workbook on arrangement and description, I put together a finding aid for that collection, and I knew that this was what I wanted to do, albeit for something more personally fulfilling than the evolution of dialysis machines and other medical instrumentation. I took my enthusiasm to a wide assortment of volunteer, project based, grant funded, and consulting gigs before landing this wonderful position at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

What do you like about your job?

I love that my position has a focus on African American history and culture. One of my first mentors in the archives told me that the best archivists are passionate about the subjects of their collections. The position of African Americans in the American South has been complex since inception and continues to be discussed today in so many contexts; I am thrilled to identify and secure the types of collections that will provide the evidence to enhance this dialogue for future generations.

What are you working on right now?  What are some new and exciting projects on the horizon?

Right now I am focused on learning what it takes to be a successful team player at Wilson Library and within the Southern Historical Collection. While I have discussed projects based on my interest in social/political activism, African American art and culture, multi-ethnic representation in the archives and technologically advanced ways to share/interpret history, I have much more planning to do in order to make those ideas a reality. One legacy collecting mission that I am happy to take the lead on is the African American Family Documentation Initiative.

Display table of materials featuring reproductions of African American family materials that we have accessioned so far.
Display table of materials featuring reproductions of African American family materials that we have accessioned so far.

This program represents SHC’s commitment to collect the homegrown records of the everyday lives of African Americans in the South. We are off to a great start with families in the Raleigh area but we are always searching for more reco throughout the state. As the SHC is fully staffed and clarifying our goals, I’m looking forward to answering this question with many more details in the weeks and months ahead.

This is definitely an exciting time to be a part of the Southern Historical Collection, and I have no doubt that this team will shaking things up all around campus. I would encourage you to check out this blog often as we will be posting about the happenings in the collection and the topics that are of interest to us individually and as a unit. If I can answer any other questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me at

P.S. In case you were curious, my name is pronounced, SHAY-tra…might save some awkwardness in our first conversation!

“…an unconfirmed report had come in from Dallas that Pres. Kennedy might have been shot…”

Fifty years ago today, on November 22, 1963, the nation reeled from the news of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination. Around 12:30 p.m. Central Standard Time, television and radio stations interrupted their normal broadcasts to break the story that shots had been fired on Kennedy’s motorcade in Dallas. Soon after, the news came that Kennedy had died at Parkland Hospital.

As the tragic news set in, many people began capturing their thoughts and feelings about the tragedy in their personal letters and diaries. Fifty years later, these documents provide an important window into the experiences of that fateful day.

The Southern Historical Collection is proud to preserve a number of personal accounts of this turning point in American history. For example, John Ehle, novelist and special assistant to North Carolina Governor Terry Sanford (1963-1964), wrote the following in his diary on November 23, 1963:

Entry, dated November 23, 1963, from the diary of John Ehle. John Ehle Papers (#4555), Southern Historical Collection, UNC Chapel Hill Library.

 Sat., Nov. 23, 1963.

Yesterday President Kennedy was shot down in Dallas. Ralph McCallister, Howard Miller and I were at the Skyline Inn in Washington (S. Capitol and ‘Eye’ Streets, S.W.) when the word came in. We had just finished lunch, and I went by the desk to see if there were any messages. The desk clerk said an unconfirmed report had come in from Dallas that Pres. Kennedy might have been shot.

There were many o[t]her uncofirmed reports before the confirmed death notice came through. So he is gone and his day in the White House, and now we have Mr. Lyndon Johnson.

We had planned to fly out of Washington on the 2:40 United Flight yesterday, and we went on out to the airport and listened to other reports. By then the final, depressing news had not been announced; we still had hopes that the President would survive what by then we knew had been a serious wound in the head. The announcement of his death came, I believe, about 2:20. We were in the television room of the airport, which also is the bar. There were about 20 or 30 people there. Maybe even then it was an uncofirmed report, but they said the preists had left the room. A waitree turned away, ready to weep. Somebody brought me a glass of ginger ale and I drank it, and we went on down to the plane, which was late in departure, so we didn’t leave until about 3:30 and we landed about 4:45. I went at once to the Capitol, where everybody was, my secretary said, in a state of gloom. I sorted through my mail hurriedly, then mailed some stuff to HEW. I went to the mansion, where Joel, Tom Lambeth, and one of last year’s internes and his girl were waiting in the library. We talked for a few minutes. They told me that a pro-Communist had done the shooting. We had surmised that it had been done by one of the ultra-rightist elements of Texas. I left them quite soon and went on home. The Governor had flown back from Winston-Salem and he was evidently upstairs. I passed Hugh Cannon as I came in; Hugh shook hands and left through the side door.

Gail says this afternoon on TV Gov and Mrs. Sanford, and Bert Bennet of W-S entered the White House in Wash. to pay tribute to the dead president.

This morning Jonathan Daniels had a piece on page one, which he signed. It wasn’t much of a statement. It was deeply felt, but it flailed about too much. The paper was devoted to the story of the crime, of the swearing in of the new president, of the wound inflicted on the Texas Governor, of the criminal-suspect. TV was on with that story only, and it stayed on allnight. Now a requiem is on TV, Ormandy directing the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Rutkers choir — a requiem by Brahms.

Ralph McCallister phoned to invite Gail and me to go to Wash. with him and his wife tomorrow, but I think not. Gail says she has to work on Mon. anyway, but this isn’t the real reason. TV brings the thing in closer, and Gail has a great dislike of funerals. I told Ralph that he and I should have stayed up there yesterday, and he wonders if this isn’t so. We were well fixed in a hotel and have handled the matter poorly. […]

The Taylor Family in Chapel Hill

Taylor kids in Chapel Hill, December 1957: (l to r): Alex, James, Kate, Liv, Hugh
Taylor kids in Chapel Hill, December 1957: (l to r): Alex, James, Kate, Liv, Hugh

“The Taylor Family in Chapel Hill,” featuring a screening of the new documentary film “Kate Taylor: Tunes from the Tipi and other Songs from Home,” q&a with the filmmakers Liz Witham (daughter of Kate) and Ken Wentworth, and a musical performance by Kate. Tuesday, February 9, reception at 5:00, event at 5:30, Frank Porter Graham Student Union Auditorium on the UNC campus. Sponsored by the SHC and the Southern Folklife Collection.

New SHC Collection: George C. Stoney Papers

George C. Stoney (1916- ), a documentary filmmaker who specialized in socially relevant films, was a mentor and teacher to generations of filmmakers and media activists worldwide and a pioneer in the movement for the creation and use of public access television to enact social change. The collection consists of papers chiefly relating to George C. Stoney’s professional work as a documentary filmmaker, teacher, and early advocate of public access television.

Correspondence, 1944-1993 (bulk 1960-1990), is chiefly work-related in content, though many of Stoney’s correspondents were long-time friends and colleagues and wrote personally as well. Letters, 1944-1945, from Stoney to his future wife, Mary Bruce (1926-2004), are chiefly personal in nature and include love letters, but also, to a lesser extent, describe Stoney’s experiences as a photo intelligence officer with the 8th United States Army Air Forces in England, France, Belgium, and Germany. Correspondence between Stoney and his long-time companion Betty Puleston (d. 2009), 1967-1968, also blend description of personal and working life. Subject files comprise the bulk of the collection and include materials relating to films Stoney wrote, directed, and/or produced for the Southern Educational Film Production Service and George C. Stoney Associates. Topics include sexually transmitted disease; outreach programs of the Methodist Church; cardiovascular healthcare; education; community mental health; race relations in the South; police training; old age and retirement; midwifery; urban redevelopment in New York, N.Y., Philadelphia, Pa., Pittsburgh, Pa., and Washington, D.C.; and other social issues.

Some of Stoney’s early work as a journalist and social researcher is also documented in essays, a report on race relations in Mississippi, and materials relating to his work for the Farm Security Administration. Subject files also document classes and workshops Stoney taught, especially at New York University Tisch School of the Arts, and his involvement with the growth of public access and local cable television, the Challenge for Change project of the National Film Board of Canada, the Alternate Media Center, and the National Federation of Local Cable Programmers. Additionally, there are film treatments and research materials for prospective projects and printed and other material relating to the documentary film and cable television industries. Loose papers, 1980-1990s, consist of memobooks that likely relate to Stoney’s filmmaking, and clippings, reports, readings, conference advertisements, miscellaneous printed materials, handwritten notes, and writings by others that are not clearly connected to his film projects or cable and public access advocacy work. Photographs depict the documentary filmmaking process for several of Stoney’s films, public access projects and the Alternate Media Center, the work of Farm Security Administration photographers in the South in the early 1940s, and Stoney’s family life.

Click here to view the finding aid for this collection.

Recipe for Apple Jelly

Recipe for Apple Jelly
Recipe for Apple Jelly

I came across a great little handwritten book of recipes today.  It comes from the SHC’s Stephen D. Heard Papers.  The volume (dated 1828-1867), which belonged to Mrs. Anna Edgar of Augusta, Georgia, includes recipes for such dishes as orange pudding and roast, as well as remedies for dysentery, a formula for whitewash, and a “recipe for knitted lace.” (What a combination!)  I thought I would share one especially enticing recipe here.  If anyone out there gives it a shot, we’d love to hear about your experience.

Apple Jelly

Fill your skillet half full of apples without paring or cutting them, then fill it up with clean water. Let them boil untill perfectly soft.  Take off the liquid as clean as possible.  If any pieces of apple should be in it strain through a piece of muslin, then add one tb. of Sugar to a quart of water. Let it boil very fast untill it is a thick syrup.  Pour it into moulds or Jars.  Be careful that it does not boil high as that will make it cloudy.

Announcing the new Folklife blog

Flatt and Scruggs on tour
Flatt and Scruggs on tour

One of our partner collections here on the fourth floor of the Wilson Library, the Southern Folklife Collection (SFC), is proud to announce the arrival of their new blog, “Field Trip South.” The blog will be a great resource for readers to learn more about the holdings of the SFC, to follow SFC events and happenings, and to enjoy some of the sights and sounds of the collection.

Et voilà…

Sharing a “Juneteenth” post from UNC Press Blog

Friday marked the commemoration of “Juneteenth” — the day that commemorates June 19, 1865, when slaves in the Galveston, Texas, area heard a proclamation of freedom read by Union General Gordon Granger.

This morning we read a great blog post from our friends at UNC Press that gives a great explanation of the history of Juneteenth and the tradition of “Emancipation Day.” This (re)post was written by William A. Blair, professor of U.S. history and director of the George and Ann Richards Civil War Era Center at the Pennsylvania State University. We thought we’d pass it along.

Link to post: “Juneteenth, Emancipation, and the Proclamation” (links out to the UNC Press Blog)

National Park Service opens Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site

This past Friday, October 10, 2008, the National Park Service held a dedication and a grand opening ceremony to officially open the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site at Moton Field in Tuskegee, Alabama.

“The Tuskegee Airmen” was the popular name of a group of black pilots who flew with distinction during World War II as the 332nd Fighter Group of the US Army Air Corps. The Tuskegee Airmen were the first African-American military aviators in the United States.

The museum, housed within a converted airplane hangar at Moton Field where the Airmen once trained, is a long overdo permanent tribute to the heroic group of airmen who flew more than 15,000 combat trips throughout Europe, the Mediterranean and North Africa during World War II – all while fighting discrimination on the homefront in the Jim Crow South.

A full news release from the National Parks Service is available here: