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

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 

Getting to know Navassa, a historically Black community in Brunswick County, North Carolina

Navassa, NC is one of the towns in our Historic Black Towns and Settlements Alliance (HBTSA) grant partnership. Located near the Brunswick River and Cape Fear River, Navassa is part of the Myrtle Beach metropolitan area and is less than 20 miles from the coast.   

Photograph of the Navassa town sign. Three flags, the North Carolina flag, American flag, and a third flag, stand behind the town sign.
https://portcitydaily.com/local-news/2018/07/27/minutes-from-wilmington-via-i-140-navassa-is-now-poised-for-a-development-boom/

UNC Libraries has several interesting collections that encompass the history of this small town. Importantly, these collections provide important documents that speak to the current environmental, ecological, and public health conversations that are occurring in Navassa after the EPA findings of neglect and dangerous practices of the Kerr-McGee Chemical Corp Superfund.  

EPA officer stands on plastic sheeting with more than a dozen soil and rock samples to check for contamination.
https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3267787/North-Carolina-s-contaminated-town-Former-rice-farmers-struggle-survive-poisoned-land-decades-abuse-corporations.html.

Two important pieces of Navassa’s history are highlighted here. The first was the construction of a railroad in 1867 that connected isolated areas near the North Carolina coastline to urban regions like Charlotte, NC. Photographs and other documents about the two railroad companies, Atlantic Coastline and Seaboard Airlines, can be found in the Wilson Special Collections Library at UNC.  

black and white photograph of a railroad station. Pictured are the railroad tracks, the station and station platform, and a few buildings of the town in the background
“Halifax County: Weldon (Seaboard Air Line/Atlantic Coastal Railway), circa December 1971
Black-and-White Print,” North Carolina Railroad Station Photograph Collection, circa 1896-1977 (bulk 1953-1976). Collection Number P0073. Wilson Special Collection Library, UNC

The second piece of history is the creation of a guano fertilizer factory, which links this small North Carolina town to a small, uninhabited island in the West Indies. According to the Navassa, NC town website,  

Some prudent businessmen led by Donald McRae realized the distinct advantages of locating a fertilizer factory at this location.  For years the turpentine industry had been shipping their products to the West Indies without having a product to bring home upon their return.  In 1856 large guano deposits were discovered on Navassa Island a small barren island about 15 miles off the coast of Jamaica.  McRae and his business partners made arrangements to have the returning ships loaded with the guano and consequently built the Navassa Guano Factory in 1869, which is named after the island…A small village sprung up around this fertilizer factory and in 1885 the U.S. Postal Service name this village Navassa because of the huge fertilizer plants at that location.  

Wilson Library has in its collection some of this documentation about the fertilizer and guano industries, available in the “Iron Station (N.C.) Papers, 1852-1878” and the “Marion Butler Papers, 1862-1938. The North Carolina Digital Collection at the State Library of North Carolina also has some documents that add texture to Navassa’s historic record. Documents, like the 1882 “Annual report of the North Carolina Agricultural Experiment Station” provides evidence of the long term chemical and ecological abuse of the area.    

The town of Navassa is much more complex than the legacy of Brownfields and ecological harm cause by chemical companies. Did you know that there is a strong Gullah-Geechee connection to this county?   

Image of a dilapidated church. The white paint is peeling off of the exterior walls and the door is barred, but the stained-glass windows are still intact, and the reds, yellows, and blue panes are vibrant.
https://www.starnewsonline.com/news/20170624/navassa-church-has-rich-history

This 140-year-old chapel in Navassa, in Brunswick County, was the worship center of many former slaves after the Civil War. Today a group of locals hopes to preserve it along with their Gullah-Geechee heritage.  

Even though there isn’t a collection at UNC devoted to Navassa, NC you can piece portions of its history together from diverse sources. The town is growing and as infrastructure improves, parks, new business ventures, and a community center are rising.    

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

  

     

Dyann Robinson and the Tuskegee Repertory Theater, 1991

Dyann Robinson is the heart and soul of the Tuskegee theater scene. She founded the Tuskegee Repertory Theater in 1991 and established a permanent home for the theater company in the former post office in downtown Tuskegee. Robinson’s impressive career as a dancer and choreographer started with her casting in the original Broadway production of Bubbling Brown Sugar in 1976.   

 

She also worked as a member of Maurice Bejart’s Ballet of the Twentieth Century, in Brussels Belgium. Check out this Huffington Post article on visual history of 20th century ballet to see Robinson’s national and international peers of elite ballerinas looked in the 1970’s and 1980’s. For a special treat, you can go to the New York Public Library and track down photographs and a videotape of a young Dyann Robinson dancing in New York City. Robinson brings her world class training and discipline to all her community theater work (writing, producing, directing, and acting) in Tuskegee, Alabama. She also sees the immense power of theater to transmit the cultural legacy of African Americans.  We are proud to house filmed versions of several of Tuskegee Repertory Theater’s productions:

I can personally attest to the toe tapping nature of Dyann Robinson’s lyrics and Bill Perry’s musical arrangements when I saw a live performance of “Booker T’s Towns” in Orlando, during the Zora Festival earlier this month. The story is told from the perspective of husband/wife pairs of each town’s leaders during their attendance at the National Business League Conference in 1913. Isaiah T. Montgomery’s wife sings about “clearing the land” when explaining how town founders transformed a swamp into a bustling black town in 1898. The Booker T. Washington sings about “getting new life” when he is spending time with these community leaders and learning about their accomplishments. the whole play builds a world where real people existed and made important contributions. It wasn’t lost on me that Hamilton was playing in same theater on the same night as Booker T.’s Towns, people that can turn history into musical theater are remarkable, and this post is a tribute to people doing it on every scale.

“Booker T.’s Towns” tells the story about HBTSA’s (Historically Black Towns and Settlements Alliance) founding towns, Eatonville, FL, Tuskegee, AL, Mound Bayou, MS, Grambling, LA, and Hobson City, AL

 

“Here is your Heart”: Reflections on Travel to Eatonville, Florida

Members of the grant team, Chaitra and Bernetiae, made their way to Orlando last weekend for the 30th annual Zora! Festival.  

Chaitra and Bernetiae in front of the Eatonville town crest, after our archivist in a backpack workshop

We started off in Macedonia Baptist Church on Friday morning listening to longtime Eatonville supporter, landscape architect and our community champion from the San Antonio African American Community Archive and Museum, Everett Fly, give a talk on historic preservation in San Antonio. We never get tired of him recounting how an oral history interview led to the discovery of a slave burial ground near the campus of Texas A&M in San Antonio.  

Zora Neale Hurston grew up in Eatonville and featured its residents in several of her stories. For the past 30 years community members have hosted an arts and literary festival to honor the writer and her legacy.

Afterwards, we made our way to Eatonville Town Hall to prepare for our archivists in a backpack workshop. Our community champion from Historic Black Towns and Settlements Alliance, Dr. Michelle Robinson, arranged for us to work with historically black college and university (HBCU) students and professors from Spelman College, Prairie View A&M University, Tuskegee University, Grambling State University, Texas Southern University, Mississippi Valley State University. They will be using the backpacks to surface stories in our selected black towns. Our learning outcomes for the session included showing them the power of inter-generational and community driven gathering of cultural assets to surface stories and bring about change as well as oral history techniques, tools in the backpacks, and digital preservation best practices. The students were amazing and we can’t wait to see what kinds of projects their explorations yield.      

The rest of our time in Eatonville/Orlando was full of good food, positive people, fun activities, and reveling in all things Zora!

Highlights include a rare performance of Dyann Robinson’s stage musical, Booker T.’s Towns at the Dr. Philips Center for the Performing Arts, Dr. Deborah Plant’s reflections on the release of Hurston’s New York Times best selling manuscript, Barracoon, and a banquet capped off with conversation between Alice Walker and a Zora biographer, Valerie Boyd. The title for this blog post comes from Ms. Walker’s comment on the impact of Zora’s work. She said [Zora’s writing] gives you your heart, in a world where people eat hearts, she gives us our own to hold and we should always cherish that gift.