PROJECT SPOTLIGHT: PRINCEVILLE

On September 21st a group of CDA team members and students from the Public History graduate program led by Dr. Charles Johnson at North Carolina Central University drove to Princeville NC to conduct oral histories. We partnered with lifelong citizens, town officials, and longtime residents of the Princeville community to collect stories and workshop the oral history backpacks. This collaboration between the CDA, NCCU, and Dr. Glenda Knight, our contact in Princeville and mayor pro tem, came about from a charrette, a type of focus group, held in Durham over the summer. Dr. Glenda Knight helped organize the event and found space for us in the temporary Princeville town hall, located in nearby Tarboro. Though it was spared the brunt of Hurricane Florence, Princeville is still recovering from Hurricane Matthew 2016 and Hurricane Floyd from 1999, hence our Tarboro location.

Princeville is the oldest African American incorporated town and is one of our grant partners from the Historic Black Towns and Settlements Alliance (HBTSA). Princeville was founded by a group of formerly enslaved people and incorporated in 1885. Originally called Freedom Hill the name was changed to reflect the work of Turner Prince within the town. Princeville remains a predominantly African American town, containing significant historical narratives. However, like many other African American towns, it suffers from racial, economic, and governmental prejudice and neglect.

Adreonna Simmons, a student interviewer, reflects on her conversations with Dr. Porter a lifelong resident.

During our time in Princeville, I had the pleasure of interviewing a woman who had been a lifelong resident of the town. She shared stories about growing up in a close-knit community and how it shaped her into the woman she is today. She reminisced on her time in college and proudly told why she returned to her hometown when most college graduates would have moved on to bigger cities. Despite these pleasantries, it was how Hurricane Floyd and Hurricane Matthew impacted her and the community of Princeville that stuck out to me. Dr. Porter’s home was destroyed twice due to these hurricanes and Princeville’s proneness to flooding. At our roundtable discussion about the project, with tears in her eyes, she explained how having to build from the ground up once only to be in the same situation 15 years later was difficult and enough to make anyone lose hope. Some of the residents interviewed hoped that their stories would serve as a narrative for Princeville and the devastation that they have been dealing with for decades due to a lacking dam and drainage system would be addressed by the State legislature. These oral histories show the side of history that is often forgotten and gives voices to those that for too long have been silenced.

Interviewees were honest about the struggles in Princeville. But equally evident is the pride and love community members have for their town.  For Dr. Porter,

“Princeville has a lot of hidden things. And I guess one other thing. I often tell my husband, because he wasn’t born and raised here in Princeville and so he’s not too excited at going back after being flooded two times. But I tell him that’s because you weren’t born and raised here. It makes a lot of difference to me.  When you’re born and raised in a place it makes a lot of difference. To me it makes the whole world of a difference.”

Our work in Princeville was part oral history collection and part training. We left three backpacks in Princeville for the community to use and we will return in a few months to gather the histories saved on recorders. Those recordings will be sent to the town and eventually there will be a plan about what to do with the new and growing collection. We discussed having a history harvest and look forward to getting community feedback and returning to Princeville.

Here is just one clip of the many poignant moments from our time at Princeville. Dr. Porter discusses the importance of documents for safeguarding memories and the devastating grief that follows when you lose everything.

We post every week on different topics but if there is something you’d like to see, let us know either in the comments or email Claire our Community Outreach Coordinator: clairela@live.unc.edu. 

Follow us on Twitter    #AiaB #yourstory #ourhistory #communityarchives #EKAAMP #HBTSA #SHC #SAAACAM #memory #Princeville #CDAT #oralhistory

Posted in African American, Archival Work, Community Archives, Education, Events, Family, grants, Labor, Personal archives, Politics, SHC Programs, Subjects, Women | Leave a comment

PROJECT SPOTLIGHT: EKAAMP

Bernetiae Reed, CDAT Project Documentarian and Oral Historian, reflects on her participation in the Eastern Kentucky Social Club (EKSC) Reunion and exhibit by Dr. Karida Brown of EKAAMP in St. Louis, Missouri.

Time was a blur as I traveled to St. Louis and back! Plans had been made. I would be taking selected archival items from the Eastern Kentucky African American Migration Project (EKAAMP) deposit collections on a road trip! I ask you, how best to see and experience America? How best to envision a different time? Nothing like it! So, off I went . . . I will spare you the intricacies of my journey, but highly recommend travelling behind trucks at night to safeguard against hitting a deer!

My goals on this journey, as Project Documentarian and Oral Historian for the Community-Driven Archives grant at the SHC, were to record events and assist with the installation of the exhibit. Two related events were taking place stemming from African American mining communities in Eastern Kentucky. The 49th Annual Eastern Kentucky Social Club gathering and the release/book signing for Dr. Karida Brown’s book, Gone Home: Race and Roots through Appalachia which included the launch of a travelling exhibit.

Figure 1: (l-r) Dr. Karida Brown, Hilton Hotel Staff, Richard Brown holding posters (Karida’s father) and Dwayne Baskin pulling program items from hotel storage

As soon as we settled into the downtown St. Louis hotel, Friday (August 31st), morning and into the Saturday afternoon, we were fanatically installing the exhibit. Tracy Murrell, an Atlanta-based artist and curator, was shepherding her vision of this exhibit to life. Tracy had been hired by Karida for the project. Use of wonderful shear wall hangings printed with photographic images transported us to the coal mining town of Lynch, Kentucky. Additionally, a throw-back-in-time couch took you to a typical home from the era.

Figure 2: Tracy Murrell and others work to install the exhibit

Many moments stand out for me. Karida opening the doors to the exhibit, Jacqueline Ratchford reacting to seeing her prom dress on display, Derek Akal talking about his current plans to become a miner, people interacting with artifacts in the collection, and so much more. People reminisced, touched, told stories, laughed, cried, and so much more . . . this was their family and a part of them! Needless to say, I videotaped only a small portion of everything that was happening. From hotel lobby . . . to each event venue . . . to brief walks in downtown St. Louis . . . to church service in the hotel . . . time flew by! Karida beamed as she signed her book. Everywhere people were greeting and hugging old friends. And a beautiful welling of emotions came in watching the young praise dancers who performed during the church service. I was captivated by their pantomime . . . brought to laughter and tears. And had a special sense of wonder for the youngest mime, not understanding how one so young could draw on life’s joys and pains so well. Finally, satisfied that the power to be moved again by this performance and the journey to St. Louis was possible with what had been recorded.

Figure 3: A high school letterman’s sweater and a pink prom dress from the EKAAMP archive set in front of images from Lynch Kentucky.

We included a clip of the praise dancers so you too could experience a piece of performance!

We post every week on different topics but if there is something you’d like to see, let us know either in the comments or email Claire our Community Outreach Coordinator: clairela@live.unc.edu. 

Follow us on Twitter    #AiaB #yourstory #ourhistory #communityarchives #EKAAMP #HBTSA #SHC #SAAACAM #memory #StLouis #CDAT #EKSC #GoneHome

Posted in Activism, African American, Archival Work, Art/Artists, Collections, Community Archives, Events, Exhibitions, Family, grants, Labor, Living History, Music, Personal archives, Race Relations, SHC Programs, Southern Culture, Uncategorized, Women, Writers | Leave a comment

What is a Community Archive?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We post every week on different topics but if there is something you’d like to see, let us know either in the comments or email Claire our Community Outreach Coordinator: clairela@live.unc.edu. 

Follow us on Twitter    #AiaB #yourstory #ourhistory #communityarchives #EKAAMP #HBTSA #SHC #SAAACAM #memory

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Activism, African American, Archival Work, Civil Rights, Collections, Community Archives, Education, Exhibitions, Family, grants, Labor, Music, Politics, Race Relations, SHC In the News, SHC Programs, Southern Culture, University of North Carolina, Women | Leave a comment

Community-Driven Archives

Hello and welcome to the Community-Driven Archive blog located on the Southern Historical Collection’s Southern Sources! The Southern Historical Collection is part of the Wilson Special Collections Library of the University Libraries, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. On this blog, we, the Community-Driven Archives Team or CDAT for short, will talk about the work you see (like the “AiaB” Archivist in a Backpack) and some behind the scenes activities, such as discussions about funding, obstacles we’ve faced, the little victories, and aspects of community archives that don’t make it into the brochures. We hope that you find our posts engaging and thought-provoking, and this blog is for anyone and everyone. From archival and institutional practitioners to community members and everyone in between you are welcome here!

Community archives are complex and there are a lot of ways to talk about the different types of community history and memory practices. One common analogy is that of a garden. In a recent Letonica article, Director of the Southern Historical Collection Bryan Giemza notes,  

[there are] those who see the archive as analogous to a garden. Properly tended, it keeps growing, and the measure of its good is both in its sustainability and the measure of nourishment it provides. If food sustains the ability of a community to reinvent itself, which is necessary to the advancement of any civilization, an archive contains the cultural resources that provide the creative sustenance for the process.

Gardens offer a more accessible image of information and community materials; they are an epicenter of collaborative activity. Community champions break the ground and help prepare the foundation. Donors provide the seeds, while volunteers till the soil, water, and feed the new growth. Visitors, outsides and locals, consume the produce and have the seeds of inspiration planted in their own minds. The community can be nourished by the visibly of their work, and the tangible outcome it provides, be that an exhibit, a website, a history harvest, or series of oral history interviews. Community archives can be kept small and within the bounds of the planter or they can climb over the garden walls and expand outside anyone’s previous notions. These types of community archive-gardens are unique to each community and we at CDAT are excited to share our experiences and hear about the work of others! 

We post every week on different topics but if there is something you’d like to see, let us know either in the comments or email Claire our Community Outreach Coordinator: clairela@live.unc.edu. 

Follow us on Twitter    #AiaB #yourstory #ourhistory #communityarchives #EKAAMP #HBTSA #SHC #SAAACAM #gardenarchives

EKAAMP Garden

This image is from one of our pilot projects, the Eastern Kentucky African American Migration Project, or EKAAMP. Gardens feature heavily in our jargon and our work as you can see!

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Guest post: Sketching the Civil War

A guest post by Emma Rothberg, a PhD student in UNC’s History Department.

When people think of the American Civil War, they generally conjure up images of battles. The flags, the cannons, the puffs of smoke, troops steaming across the landscape in varying shades of blue, gray, and butternut—the heat of battle is very visual. However, Civil War soldiers spent most of their time off the battlefield in camp. Between the marching and military exercises, soldiers of both the Union and Confederate Armies had a lot of free time.

Thousands of men, generally between the ages of 18 and 45, found many ways to pass the time. Some men played cards or dice with their fellow soldiers. Others played music and wrote letters or in diaries. In some cases, they played baseball. Other men were more creative. Ken Burns’s documentary The Civil War includes a vivid description of men finding entertainment in the lice that littered their clothing and hair; by heating up a tin plate from their packs, soldiers could make a quick buck by racing and betting on the lice they pulled from their bodies.

Other men sketched. Some soldiers included small sketches in letters home while others had more ornate sketchbooks. They sketched what they saw—the landscape, the camps, the fortifications, their fellow soldiers, or the aftermath of battle. Some sketched in black and white with pencils while others create more vivid watercolors. Civil War sketchbooks are not only beautiful but give insight into the preoccupations of a soldier’s day-to-day experience.

Wilson Special Collections Library has two wonderful examples of the types of sketchbooks soldiers kept while serving in the Civil War. Both of them are from Union soldiers, which may be an unexpected holding for an archive located in North Carolina. The first sketchbook was by Herbert Eugene Valentine (1841-1917), a private in Company F of the 23rd Massachusetts Volunteers. He served in the Union Army from 1861-1864 in eastern Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina. (See the finding aid, with a link to the digitized sketchbook, here.)

Pasted in between newspaper articles, his own writings, and newspaper photos of famous Union Generals and President Abraham Lincoln are sketches Valentine made during his time in the Union Army. Many are of landscape: a drawing of the harbor in Newburne, NC shows the church steeples and ships tucked in among neatly drawn houses (pg. 92). Others look more like cartographic maps, such as the image below of the North Carolina coast around Wilmington (pg. 52):

Valentine sketchbook p 52

But Valentine also drew his fellow soldiers in extraordinary detail. Labeled “1st gun fired at New Berne,” Valentine carefully drew an artillery crew in action. While Valentine captures the explosion of cannon in pen and pencil, the men doing the work are depicted serenely: standing like sentinels overlooking a vista (pg. 94).

Valentine sketchbook p 94

Valentine was not always so serious in his drawings and some included in his scrapbook could be classified as doodles. A personal favorite shows an unnamed officer’s profile drawn “By our own Artist, on the spot A.W. [Woodhull?] [GG] A.J.C” in 1863 (pg. 49). The man drawn seems almost startled; his eyes are wide as he stares off the side of the page.

Valentine sketchbook p 49

Valentine pasted this drawing next to an article discussing the “Affair of Cold Harbor.” The Battle of Cold Harbor, which lasted from May 31 to June 12, 1864, included siege warfare, skirmishes and one of the bloodier assaults of the war (after a massive Union assault across an open field in the early morning of June 3, thousands of Union troops became causalities within an hour). The Herbert E. Valentine is fully digitized and viewable online through the collection’s finding aid.

Wilson Library also has the sketches of William Hedge, a lieutenant of the 44th Massachusetts Infantry that fought in North Carolina in 1862-1863. His collection includes six hand-drawn sketches made while in the vicinities of Washington and Williamston, N.C. (See the finding aid here.)

Like Valentine’s, Hedge’s sketches include a black-and-white map depicting the battlefield and troop placements of the “Skirmish at Little Creek near Williamston, N.C.” in November 1862.

Sketched map, skirmish on Little Creek

Another colored sketch is of the “Block House No 4” at Fort Hamilton in Washington, N.C in April 1863.

Sketch: Block House No 4 & Fort Hamilton, Washington NC

Perhaps the most interesting sketch included in sketch is also the one where the viewer is unsure as to what exactly Hedge meant to draw. A depiction of 1863 camp life at “Shellir Town” in North Carolina, a soldier sits off to the side minding a pot on a stove. Directly to his right on the other side of a small fire, Hedge draws the bodies of two men.

Sketchbook: camp scene

What is interesting is that they very well may be “bodies”—one of the men drawn, laying on his back, is almost corpse-like at first glance. While Hedge did not add any red to indicate blood, the viewer is left wondering if the two men on the right of the image are sleeping or slain. That Hedge could leave this vital bit of information up to debate might be interpreted in support of various arguments about Civil War soldiers. The drawn bodies laying next to a soldier cooking supports the argument soldiers became immune and/or unfazed by death as the war continued. The image also speaks to how “dealing with the bodies” became an issue and industry in and of itself. (For more on this latter point, see Drew Gilpin Faust’s This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War). On a more positive note, if the men on the right are merely sleeping, Hedge’s sketch speaks to the commradery between men. They were a “band of brothers” both on and off the battlefield.

Plenty of maps, lithographs, and engravings were produced during the Civil War. These sketchbooks are unique because they remind researchers, students, and the interested observer of the humanity and individualism of the individual soldiers. It is easy to lose sight of the individual when talking about the mass numbers of men of each army during the Civil War. Yet these sketches allow us to connect with these men in ways in which facts and statistics do not afford. Like letters, sketchbooks allow us to see and tease out the individual and their experience. In the end, we all doodle.


Emma Rothberg’s scholarship focuses on the constitution of identity through cultural practices, in particular parading, in the nineteenth-century United States. She was awarded a funded Clein Graduate Summer Internship from the History Department to work with Wilson Special Collections Library for summer 2018. The Clein Internship allows graduate students to undertake self-identified summer internships in a broad range of organizations outside of traditional academia. As a Clein recipient, she has primarily worked on creating library guides to assist researchers and students who are planning to use UNC’s special collections. Emma has written library guides about the Civil War and Reconstruction.

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Partnering with The San Antonio African American Community Archives and Museum (SAAACAM)

The San Antonio African American Community Archives and Museum (SAAACAM) is in the process of developing a vibrant and much-needed community memory 501(c)(3) devoted to African American history, culture, and experience in San Antonio. They say it best in their Mission Statement:

“The SAAACAM mission is to collect, maintain, disseminate and interpret a digital database of authentic community based African American history; encourage and promote interdisciplinary education of shared history at all levels; practice stewardship of the broadest range of resources; and produce creative and innovative programs to heighten public awareness and self esteem.”

SAAACAM volunteer and Dr. Karida Brown during an oral history training.

Just a month into our jobs in late 2017, the Southern Historical Collection’s Oral Historian and Documentarian Bernetiae Reed and I were on our way to San Antonio, along with our colleague and Mellon Community Liaison Dr. Karida Brown, to visit with SAAACAM.

So what is Chapel Hill doing in San Antonio? The SHC’s role at SAAACAM is to share and develop resources and tools that help SAAACAM succeed in its goal of becoming a self-sustaining, self-directed, empowered archive and museum. We want to share what we know and cheerlead as SAAACAM finds a path that makes sense for its own community. We do this through training and discussion modules, consultation and research assistance, a small technology budget that aims to get projects familiar with oral history and preservation work, and backup repository support when deemed useful by SAAACAM.

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Richardson Preyer and the Thanksgiving Sermon of 1979

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

Richard Preyer Papers, Sermon, Page 1 Continue reading

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So What’s a CDAT Anyway? Meet the Community-Driven Archives Team at the Southern Historical Collection

What are community-driven archives all about?

In October 2017, the Southern Historical Collection celebrated the complete staffing of our “Building A Model For All Users: Transforming Archive Collections Through Community-Driven Archives” Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grant team. In recent months, we have launched the initial steps of supporting community-driven archives initiatives and programs through our Community-Driven Archives Team (CDAT).  There are many models for community-driven archives; the upshot of ours is that we want to form meaningful, mutually supportive partnerships to build and preserve community archival collections. We provide communities with the tools and resources to safeguard and represent their own histories. And we want you to be able to CDAT, too!

This community-based approach extends to how we do our work as a team – working together proactively to tease out tricky issues and create accessible and approachable documentation. Our method for creating and publishing content such as presentations, handouts, media, peer-reviewed publications, social media content, and yes, even this blog, is all about collaborative peer-editing.

Our grant prioritizes collaboration, and owes much to the research of Michelle Caswell, Bergis Jules, and many others who have theorized and brought to life the idea of inclusive, representative, empowered archival practice. Community archives models and community-driven archival practice address the “symbolic annihilation” of historically marginalized groups in the historical record, and aim to create sustainable and accessible memory projects that address these archival absences.

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