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. 

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

 

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.

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

Soul City: Self-Determination and Utopian Views of Black Towns in the South

Contributed by Maurice Hines, Class of 2016, School of Library and Information Science at North Carolina Central University. 

Floyd McKissick
Floyd B. McKissick speaks.

P-4930/6 , in the Floyd B. McKissick Papers #4930, Southern Historical Collection of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the African American Resources Collection of North Carolina Central University.

 

 

 

All of the founding towns of the Historic Black Towns and Settlements Alliance (HBTSA) were founded in the mid-to-late 19th century and were profoundly influenced by the self-reliance philosophy of Booker T. Washington. Similarly, in North Carolina, there was a town founded by African Americans in the midst of the Civil Rights Era with its own utopian vision known as Soul City.

Soul City was founded in 1971 in Warren County off of Interstate 85 near the Virginia border. Its brainchild was famed Civil Rights leader, Floyd B. McKissick, a North Carolina native who witnessed the problem of Black out migration from rural areas to urban epicenters in North Carolina and other Southern states, as well as to northern cities. He believed that changes in farming practices and the attraction of better-paying jobs in the cities led to this migration. However, Blacks confronted different challenges in cities, where they competed with others for the same jobs in addition to racial and economic discrimination.

McKissick’s solution was to devise a city located at a distance from any major urban area that would be Black-owned and operated while also being open to all races. This was McKissick’s way of consolidating “Black power,” by combining Black economic and political power with the consciousness of self-determination and working for a greater good.

To this aim, he strategically made alliances while campaigning for the election and re-election of Republican President Richard Nixon in the 1970’s. Nixon would later pass the Urban Growth and Community Development Act that allowed the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to guarantee $14 million toward the establishment of Soul City. In addition, he sought to make alliances within the Black business community to invest in the project. He also consulted local universities and the federal and state governments on various municipal matters.

Water Plant
The Water Plant at Soul City.

P-4930/10 , in the Floyd B. McKissick Papers #4930, Southern Historical Collection of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the African American Resources Collection of North Carolina Central University.

 

 

 

McKissick’s vision mirrored that of Booker T. Washington and the towns associated with his legacy. Soul City was to be a catalyst for development in an economically depressed region. It was to be a “Free-standing” city that encouraged Black and other minority ownership. That is, a city in which residents had true freedom and opportunity for upward mobility; one that did not depend on others who have established themselves, rather one that was self-sustaining and an asset to others. In his words:

“The state of North Carolina will benefit economically by having a project like this. A project like this appeals to the self-interest of people. It opens thousands of opportunities, not just full employment, but upward mobility of employment to agree with the psychological man and his ego, to a great extent. Rather than throwing people together in a highly competitive society where there are only four or five leadership roles, Soul City opens up thousands of leadership roles…”

— Interview with Floyd B. McKissick, conducted by Jack Bass on December 6, 1973. Interview A-0134. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)

FullSizeRender
The Decline of Soul City, 1979.

Folder 1810-1811 , in the Floyd B. McKissick Papers #4930, Southern Historical Collection of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the African American Resources Collection of North Carolina Central University.

 

 

 


Though Soul City did not succeed at meeting its goals due to years of litigation and negative press, its legacy demonstrates how African Americans have interpreted and
reinterpreted principles of self-determination from one generation to the next.

For more information on Soul City, check out these articles (#1, and #2), book (#4), video (#5), and pamphlet (#3) published in the North Carolina Collection.

  1. Biles, Roger. “The Rise and Fall of Soul City: Planning, Politics, and Race in Recent America.” Journal of Planning History 4, no. 1 (February 1, 2005): 52–72. doi:10.1177/1538513204269993.
  1. Fergus, Devin. “Black Power, Soft Power: Floyd McKissick, Soul City, and the Death of Moderate Black Republicanism.” Journal of Policy History 22, no. 2 (2010): 148–92.
  1. McKissick, 1922-1991, Floyd Bixler, Soul City Company, and Floyd B. McKissick Enterprises. “Soul City North Carolina,” 1974.
  1. Minchin, Timothy J. “‘A Brand New Shining City’: Floyd B. McKissick Sr. and the Struggle to Build Soul City, North Carolina.” North Carolina Historical Review 82, no. 2 (April 2005): 125–55.
  1. “SouthernWayTV.com – Soul City, NC.” YouTube, 2010. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cSUDfEVofqA.

Eatonville, Florida: A Vital History

Contributed by Bryan Giemza, Director of the Southern Historical Collection

As part of the Collection’s ongoing work with the Historic Black Towns and Settlements Alliance, I visited the historic town of Eatonville, Florida in December.  In recent days the town commemorated the legacy of one of its notable residents, as the Zora! Festival celebrated the life and work of writer Zora Neale Hurston.  Professor William Ferris delivered a keynote address there, and attendees had the opportunity to soak up some of the atmosphere and remarkable local culture of a town that has retained its distinctiveness through the years.

A 2008 New York Times article gives a sense of the town and its atmosphere; I had a chance to visit some of the places and people it mentions.  Stepping into Eatonville is transporting.  Against all expectation, with the suburbs of Orlando at its doorstep and the interstate visible from the town center, Eatonville has survived the fragmentation common to many small southern towns. If Eatonville retains a small-town atmosphere, it is also mindful of deep history.  Town residents told me of the sacrifices entailed in protecting those legacies; where they have succeeded, one said, is because the townspeople “have a backbone.” Eatonville is permeated with a sense of the importance of history as well as its fragility.

Mrs. Maye  St. Julien
Mrs. Maye St. Julien explains the significance of historic documents in the Eatonville Town Hall (est. 1887).

From the first, Mayor Bruce Mount and his staff were gracious hosts. Mrs. Maye St. Julien shared insights into town history and her life story was fascinating in its own right. The City Hall houses many artefacts and keeps the minutes of its meetings, dating back to the mid-twentieth century (many earlier records were lost to a fire). We were warmly received by Ms. Hortense Jones of St. Lawrence A.M.E., who opened the chapel, its walls brightened by the J. Andre Smith murals that incorporate scenes from local life. The paintings offer a kind of primer to fire a child’s imagination, with inscriptions such as “And when I am thirsty He brings me a bowl/Of life-giving water to sweeten my soul.”

Mayor Mount walking
Mayor Mount walking from the Moseley House (not visible), with St. Lawrence A.M.E. at center.

From the standpoint of historic preservation, there is much to sweeten the soul in Eatonville.  I viewed the guest book of the Household of Ruth, and saw on its pages many names familiar from Zora Neale Hurston’s life and her writing.  We enjoyed lunch at the restaurant owned by former mayor Abraham Gordon, Jr., and toured the Moseley House, which brims with period artefacts that reflect the careful stewardship of Hurston’s own Zeta Phi Beta sorority.  Later we toured the school on the grounds of the Hungerford Institute, now closed, and gleaned a sense of its importance to the community.  At various times during the day I benefitted from the archival perspective and generosity of Mrs. N.Y. Nathiri, and was privileged to meet her mother, Ms. Ella Dinkins, who at ninety-seven years of age remembered town history with unfailing clarity.

Mrs. N. Y. Nathiri
Mrs. N.Y. Nathiri displays artefacts in the home of Mrs. Ella Dinkins.

The day came to a fitting and memorably powerful end with a chance to walk the grounds around Mrs. Louise Franklin’s home. With a catch in his voice, her son explained how the family had held that had been purchased against all odds. It had long served as an oasis for black life—social gatherings, picnics, campouts, baptisms, community fellowship—in spite of segregation’s long grind.  This history was made tangible, for example, in the lanyards that dangle where lanterns once glowed from tree branches, and in the planks that had served as simple benches, now overgrown by the trees. Seeing and touching that history made it real to him (and to me), and brought home the importance of conserving it.

Mrs. Franklin
Mrs. Franklin shows one of the benches on her historic and storied property.

The visit was also a reminder of how fortunate the Southern Historical Collection is to work in partnership with communities that are using their unique heritage to support campaigns of renovation and preservation, as the HBTSA charter states, “such that those who follow will have the ability to assume active stewardship to understand, interpret and appreciate these historic places through the lenses of their inhabitants.” These projects require the talents of community members, students, and future archivists, and so we were grateful to have a chance to tell others about the work of HBTSA at a breakout session during the recent TEDx UNC conference.  My good colleague Chaitra Powell and I shared information with attendees about the Historic Black Towns and Settlements Alliance (HBTSA), the summer fellowships in the towns sponsored by UNC’s Center for the Study of the American South, and the forthcoming ThatCamp Community Archives conference at UNC. We hope that the conference will contribute to the energy and creativity surrounding HBTSA and serve other communities as well.

Chaitra Powell
Chaitra Powell shares information about the Historic Black Towns and Settlements Alliance and ongoing SHC projects at TEDx UNC.

Next Stop: The Great State of Alabama

The documentation of African American “spaces and places” has been identified as a goal of the Southern Historical Collection, and to that end we have successfully partnered with the Historically Black Towns and Settlements Alliance (HBTSA). We are working with the leaders and community members of various towns to help them leverage their impressive histories to generate cultural tourism and a sense of pride among their citizens. The SHC curatorial team has made visits to these towns to examine archival materials for research and historic value, as well as making recommendations about preservation and potential community documentation initiatives.

Façade of New Hope Baptist Church, Hobson City, Alabama
Façade of New Hope Baptist Church, Hobson City, Alabama

In the second week of December 2014, I had the pleasure of visiting both Hobson City and Tuskegee, Alabama.

Hobson City, Alabama was founded in August 1899 by a group of African Americans when they were politically excluded from the neighboring town of Oxford, Alabama. This made Hobson City the first all Black municipality in Alabama. Through changes in society, industry, and the economy; the town has maintained itself for 115 years. My hosts shared with me the incredible significance of the Calhoun County Training School, the five local churches, and Holloways (a club that was a stop on the illustrious chitlin circuit). One of the highlights of the trip was the delicious barbeque ribs and coleslaw from Brad’s BBQ!

(l-r) Carthell Green, Mayor Alberta McCrory, and Barnard Snow, looking at artifacts in Hobson City
(l-r) Carthell Green, Mayor Alberta McCrory, and Barnard Snow, looking at artifacts in Hobson City
Artwork near the mayor's office in the municipal complex, Tuskegee, Alabama
Artwork near the mayor’s office in the Municipal Complex, Tuskegee, Alabama

I thought that I knew a lot about Tuskegee; starting with the University, Booker T. Washington, George Washington Carver, the Tuskegee Airmen, and the Syphilis Experiment. While all of these elements are commemorated in museums and archives, there is a history of a community in Tuskegee that is not very well known. In the 1923, a Veteran’s hospital, staffed by Black doctors and nurses, was established to care for Black soldiers who fought in World War 1. Dyann Robinson, formerly of the Dance Theater of Harlem is the artistic director of the Tuskegee Repertory Theater. Deborah Grey is the director of the Tuskegee Civil and Human Rights and Multicultural Center which tells the story of Tuskegee from the original indigenous inhabitants to the election of its first Black mayor, Mr. Johnny Ford, in 1972.

Chaitra and Mayor Johnny Ford stand in the middle of the Tuskegee History Committee and various city officials, Tuskegee, Alabama
Chaitra and Mayor Johnny Ford stand in the middle of the Tuskegee History Committee and various city officials, Tuskegee, Alabama

Both visits were incredibly informative and signal the beginning of a long series of partnerships between the Southern Historical Collection and diverse communities throughout the American South.

 

Staff Profile: Bryan Giemza, Director of the Southern Historical Collection

Contributed by Bryan Giemza, Director of the Southern Historical Collection

What do you do for the Southern Historical Collection? 

My chief responsibility is to build and develop a high-research-value Collection, and to preserve the items in our care.  An important part of that process is connecting talented people who are passionate about the Collection with the resources to achieve its vision.  I’m enjoying playing a part in shaping that vision, too.

IMG_8973
At work in a storage unit in Oxford, Mississippi

My work as director is tremendously varied, which is one of the fun things about the position.  On any given day I might be traveling a backroad or rummaging in an attic to appraise a collection, meeting with donors and colleagues to solicit input, or making a presentation on some aspect of the work we do.  It’s my astonishing good fortune to meet with cultural creators and innovators of every description, and to take part in the larger exchange of ideas about the history and culture of a fascinating region.

What did you do before joining the Southern Historical Collection?

My journey to the SHC unfolded as part of an academic path.  You can learn more about my background by having a look at my curriculum vitae. I’m a graduate of Notre Dame and UNC (tarheel born and bred), and I count myself a “graduate” of the Appalachian Trail, too.  As a graduate of UNC Law, I’ve taught courses in law, the environment, and the humanities, too.

Prior to arriving at the SHC, I was a tenured associate professor of American Literature at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Virginia. So, what I did was what professors do: I wrote and edited five books, I taught lots of courses in history and literature, and, most rewarding, I tried to make a difference in my students’ lives in my capacity as a teacher, mentor, fellow sojourner. I’m continuing on the academic journey, with several books in the pipeline, and teaching opportunities—but with the SHC, I have a wonderful new canvas and new ways of directing my energies.

How did you get into this line of work?

As a literary scholar with a historical turn of mind, it might be said that the SHC has always been a central part of my work, always been a companion. I’ve benefited immensely from its resources as a researcher, and my career has been shaped by its centrality in the academic understanding of American and regional culture.  I’ve been inspired by, and benefited from, the organizations, publications, and partners that have grown out of the Collection: The Center for the Study of the American South, the Southern Oral History Project, the Southern Folklife Collection, and the journal Southern Cultures. Not to mention the great programs in American studies, folklore, history, and literature.  For someone with my intense curiosity, it’s a delight to be at the hub where all these things come together.

I have some other important jobs, too: I’m a father and husband and occasional swamper. I love to write, and I’m currently at work on a novel. It’s a kind of morally purposeful thriller, set in the coastal Carolinas and Central Americas of the 1970s, about a Vietnam veteran turned smuggler.

IMG_8994
With Mayor Darryl Johnson of Mound Bayou, MS

What do you like about your job?

E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G.  And I’m not exaggerating.  There isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t marvel at how fortunate I am to be a part of the Southern Historical Collection and the University.  We have a young, energetic, and inspired team here at the SHC, and I learn from my colleagues every day.  I get to see how circles of generosity ripple outward. As I like to say, we’re in the business of outrageous generosity, which is the very best business, after all.  Most of all, I like the way the job allows me to pursue service to others, which, as Bill Friday often suggested, is key to a meaningful life.

I recently heard an anecdote from friends in the North Carolina Collection about Charles Kuralt’s father.  It was said that he planted trees and worked on landscaping at every place the family lived, even when they were renters.  This didn’t quite compute for young Charles, since they would be moving on, but his father pointed out that you should always leave a place better than you found it.  When I was moonlighting in wetland restoration during graduate school, I saw the truth of that as we planted trees to establish forests that we would not see during our lifetime.  The best jobs, I think, are never finished, and you may not get to see the ends.  Similarly, the best stories don’t end, and the SHC is a continuously written chapter in the larger volume of history.  We might be the longest-standing collection of our type, and we are only beginning….

IMG_9000
A Mississippi delta sunrise on the horizon

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

Right now I’m focused on leading the strategic planning process for the Southern Historical Collection, and aligning our work with the vision of Wilson Library, the University Library, and the many academic communities and constituencies we serve.  We have a clear sense of where we want to be in five years, and we are setting out with a unified plan and sense of purpose. I’m excited about gathering the resources to realize our vision, and to grow the collection in new areas and with new initiatives. For example, I’m developing plans to reach out to the Latino communities that are an important part of our state and region, and that will make crucial contributors to our collections.

I’m just coming back from an energizing trip in which Biff Hollingsworth and I crisscrossed the state of Mississippi: four days, five collections, six or more donor meetings, and over 700 miles. And at least two catfish suppers.  One promising element from the trip that is on the horizon: a chance to support the Historic Black Towns and Settlements Alliance.  We are privileged to have a chance to participate in building sustainable communities through historic preservation!

P.S. I’m going to follow Chaitra and offer a little help in pronouncing my (Polish) surname: it’s pronounced GEM-za, with a hard G, to rhyme with stem-za…!