Category Archives: Biography

Looking Back for Black History Month

by Sarah Guy, Research Assistant

The Sonja Haynes Stone Center Library for Black Culture and History first opened its doors on September 7, 2004, but its history can be traced back many years prior. The library’s namesake, Sonja Haynes Stone, served as the director of UNC’s Curriculum for Afro-American Studies from 1974 until 1979; she then continued as a professor until her unexpected passing on August 10, 1991. Stone won multiple awards during her time as a professor, including the Black Student Movement Faculty Award from one of the organizations that she advised, and she also served on numerous committees as a faculty member.  

One committee that Stone served on was the Black Cultural Center planning committee, which advocated for a center for black culture on campus.  In 1988, the committee’s planning came to fruition when the Black Cultural Center was established at UNC, housed in the Franklin Porter Graham Student Union. After Stone’s death in 1991, the BCC was renamed the Sonja Haynes Stone Black Cultural Center. Soon after, students began a campaign to provide the growing center with a stand-alone building to accommodate its work and programming.  

In the summer of 1992, four African American football players founded the Black Awareness Council (BAC),  aimed at improving the treatment of African Americans on campus by several means, including the construction of a free-standing Black Cultural Center. The creation of the BAC  helped spark one of the largest student movements in the university’s history, which was chronicled by many newspapers, including the student-run Daily Tar Heel  and Black Ink. Student organizations were actively protesting Chancellor Paul Hardin’s lack of support for the Black Cultural Center outside of South Building as early as March 1992.  

A digitized Daily Tar Heel front page from September 9, 1992, with headline "BCC supporters give Hardin ultimatum"

The front page of the Daily Tar Heel on September 11, 1992 detailed the march to the Chancellor’s office in South Building. Articles and documents related to the Black Awareness Council can be found in the Wilson Library Special Collections.

The protests and rallies became more frequent, however, during the 1992-1993 school year, particularly with the activity of the BAC. On the night of September 3, 1992, 300 students marched from campus to the residence of Chancellor Paul Hardin to give him a list of demands, but he wasn’t at home. A week later, students marched from the Student Stores to the chancellor’s on-campus office and delivered their letter with their demands, which included an ultimatum demanding that he take action by November 13.  

On September 17, 1992, filmmaker and activist Spike Lee visited the Dean Smith Center and spoke at a rally of 5,000 people. In response to these events and the students’ ultimatum, Chancellor Hardin endorsed a free-standing center in a press conference on October 15, 1992.  

A digitized September 1992 article from the Daily Tar Heel with the headline "About 5,000 rally in support of free standing BCC"

Another Daily Tar Heel article covered the rally at the Dean Smith Center.

The UNC Board of Trustees approved the building of a free-standing center almost eight months after the Chancellor’s endorsement on July 23, 1993. Although the proposal for the center listed an open tract of land near Wilson Library and Dey Hall as their preferred location, the Board of Trustees said that it would be better placed at one of the alternate locations across from Coker Hall.  

Among the original plans for facilities to be housed in the Stone Center were a dance studio, an auditorium, and a library. The library was originally conceived as a non-circulating, browsing collection, which would be open for anyone to read its materials but not to check them out. However, by the time the building opened its doors in 2004, librarians in Davis had been developing the Stone Center Library’s collections for months, and it opened as the newest branch of UNC Libraries. The collection has grown from around 6,000 books to nearly 12,000 volumes over the course of almost 15 years.    

A page from the plan for the Stone Center

This page from the architecture firm’s proposal lists the plan for the library to go in the Stone Center.

Currently, the Stone Center Library’s shelves are near capacity, filled with books covering a wide range of topics, from encyclopedias of black culture to the works of African American historians and great works of African American literature. As part of the Stone Center, the library seeks to further its mission to serve the population of UNC-Chapel Hill with information about African, African American, and African Diaspora Studies. The Stone Center Library would be unable to accomplish that goal without the untiring efforts of people like Sonja Haynes Stone and the students who many years ago fought for the existence of a center for black culture.  

 

 

N.K. Jemisin Scores a Win for Representation

by Kai Heslop, Student Assistant
The Hugo Award logo is a trophy shaped like a spaceship and the title, Hugo AwardAndrea Hairston, Nnedi Okorafor and Tananarive Due are all writers who have greatly contributed to the world of black science fiction and fantasy (SFF). However, the first author ever to win the prestigious Hugo Award for Best Novel three years in a row has proven to be a champion for representation within the genre. N.K. Jemisin’s groundbreaking works in the Broken Earth series have attracted attention and acclaim among writers and editors alike in the genre.  

Many view SFF as a forward thinking and progressive genre by default due to the futuristic topics and themes of challenging norms often included. This, however, does not make it exempt from the widespread phenomenon in the world of literature and entertainment of preferring characters of certain races over others. This same standard extends to the writers who create these characters and bring them to life. Being that SFF as a genre has historically been dominated by white creatives, recent efforts to diversify the genre have been met with varying levels of acceptance.  

In 2009, a yearlong discussion series called Racefail was launched to facilitate conversation around the dominant role that white colonialism played and continues to play in SFF narratives. The conclusion of this series led to a broader understanding of why marginalized voices, especially those of women and people of color, need to be given a platform. Jemisin even directly credited Racefail for the role it played in making the SFF community a safer space for minority writers like herself.  

Despite this, when Jemisin first won the Hugo Award back in 2016, making her the first African American author to receive this prestigious award for a novel, right-wing voters were in a state of disbelief. They attributed her win to identity politics, saying that Jemisin won solely because she was a black woman. The use of this rhetoric was essentially an attempt to prevent Jemisin from recognition as the deserving, talented writer that she is. In 2013, Theodore Beale, another SFF author, referred to Jemisin as a “half-savage” in posts online.   

Jemisin hasn’t allow the words of naysayers to prevent her from following her dreams and, most importantly, from doing what she loves: writing. As she said in her acceptance speech at the 2018 Hugo Awards, Jemisin’s first book, The Killing Moon, was rejected based on the presumption that only black people would want to read a book by a black author. Comparing the reception of her first book to the reception of her Broken Earth series is a testament to just how resilient Jemisin has been in her fight for representation in spaces where black voices have been challenged and silenced for years.  

You can find Jemisin’s award-winning novels, along with many of her earlier works, at the Undergraduate Library:  

And check out some of the other African American SFF books available in the Stone Center Library: 

Women’s History Month Display Highlights

Have you been by the Stone Center Library lately? If so, you may have noticed our latest display, which features selections in honor of women’s history month, hand-picked by Stone Center Librarian Shauna Collier.

Here are some of the highlights:

Azaransky, Sarah. The Dream Is Freedom : Pauli Murray and American Democratic Faith. Oxford ;: Oxford UP, c2011.

Blair, Cynthia M. I’ve Got to Make My Livin’ : Black Women’s Sex Work in Turn-of-the-century Chicago. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2010.

Haynes, Rosetta Renae. Radical Spiritual Motherhood : Autobiography and Empowerment in Nineteenth-century African American Women. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, c2011.

Johnson, M. Mikell. Heroines of African American Golf : The Past, the Present and the Future. [Bloomington, Ind.]: Trafford Pub., c2010.

Lau, Kimberly J. Body Language : Sisters in Shape, Black Women’s Fitness, and Feminist Identity Politics. Philadelphia, Pa.: Temple UP, 2011.

Musser, Judith. “Girl, Colored” and Other Stories : A Complete Short Fiction Anthology of African American Women Writers in the Crisis Magazine, 1910-2010. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co., c2011.

Nevergold, Barbara Seals., and Peggy Brooks-Bertram. Go, Tell Michelle : African American Women Write to the New First Lady. Albany, N.Y.: Excelsior Editions/State U of New York P, c2009.

Perkins-Valdez, Dolen. Wench : A Novel. New York: Amistad, c2010.

Shields, John C., and Eric D. Lamore. New Essays on Phillis Wheatley. Knoxville: U of Tennessee P, c2011.

Winn, Maisha T. Girl Time : Literacy, Justice, and the School-to-prison Pipeline. New York: Teachers College P, c2011.

Like what you see? Come on by for these titles and more! The Stone Center Library is open 8am-8pm Monday-Thursday and Fridays 8am-5pm. The Library is on the third floor of the Stone Center on South Rd., near the Belltower.

Women’s History Month Round-Up

March marks the start of Women’s History Month and this year’s theme is “Women’s Education – Women’s Empowerment.” Before going on  a brief blogging hiatus for Spring Break next week, we thought we’d jump-start the month with a round-up of online resources and pertinent posts from the SCL blog archives. 

For example… did you know our Stone Center Library Guide to the Web contains a wealth of sites related to women’s history, achievements, and issues  across a variety of disciplines? Check out some simple searches here, here, and here.  From science and technology to literature and the arts, we’ve got you covered! 

In addition to these general resources, we’ve periodically featured profiles of compelling women of historical and cultural significance. See, for example, our previous posts highlighting the following female figures: 

Looking for a broader perspective? More of a book person? You’re in luck! Over the last couple of years we’ve taken the time to put together lists of recommendations for Women’s History Month which you may consult at your leisure: here, here, here, and here

We hope these links provide some inspiration for whatever your research or reading needs may be, and hope that you will check in after the break for more from us as we continue to celebrate women’s history here at the Stone Center Library. Finally, best of luck to those of you winding your way through midterm exams and assignments – Spring Break is almost here! 

New @the SCL, Part 1: Literature & Literary Studies!

If you’ve been by the Stone Center Library lately, you may have noticed some great new books on display. If not, here’s the first of three posts highlighting some recent acquisitions in literature and literary studies available here at the SCL:

Juice: a Novel (Ishmael Reed)

Cross-Cultural Visions in African American Literature: West meets East (Edited by Yoshinobu Hakutani)

Salvage the Bones: A Novel (Jesmyn Ward) — 2011 National Book Award winner!

Authentic Blackness / Real Blackness: Essays on the Meaning of Blackness in Literature and Culture (edited by Martin Japtok and Jerry Rafiki Jenkins)

Conversations with Walter Mosley (Edited by Owen E. Brady)

Wench: a Novel (Dolen Perkins-Valdez)

The Indignant Generation: A Narrative History of African American Writers and Critics, 1934-1960

The Routledge Companion to Anglophone Caribbean Literature (Edited by Michael A. Bucknor and Alison Donnell)

“Girl, Colored” and Other Stories: A Complete Short Fiction Anthology of African American Women Writers in The Crisis Magazine, 1910-2010 (Edited by Judith Musser)

Stay tuned for more new titles in dance, religion, politics, and more!

Black History Month Profile: James Weldon Johnson (1831-1938)

First performed publicly in February of 1900, “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing,” was composed by brothers James Weldon (text) and J. Rosamand Johnson (music). Originally conceived as a poem to commemorate Lincoln’s birthday, “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” as a musical work has become a powerful symbol of the U.S. Civil Rights movement. Termed “the Black National Anthem” by some, this song also inspired a short-lived sculpture (“The Harp”) commissioned for the 1939 New York World’s Fair and created by Augusta Savage Jefferson. Given its cultural significance, and in honor of Black History Month, here at the Library we thought we would briefly spotlight the poet, educator, and activist behind the poem: James Weldon Johnson.

James Weldon Johnson (1831-1938) was born in Jacksonville, FL and went on to attend Atlanta University. The son of a schoolteacher, he returned to his alma mater Stanton Elementary School as principal. Concurrently, he purused legal studies and became the first African-American to pass the bar exam in the state of Florida. In addition to his significant contribution to the fields of education and law, Johnson was a prolific writer of poems, song texts, and fiction such as The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man. Active in the political arena as well, in 1920 he was appointed executive secretary of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), which ultimately adopted “Lift Every Voice and Sing” as its official song.

For a sampling James Weldon Johnson’s poetry available here at the Library, we recommend checking out:

For more on the artwork inspired by “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” consider this book, also available here at the Library:

And for a full list of books authored by James Weldon Johnson and available here at the SCL, check out the following list in the online catalog. Happy reading!

Sources consulted:

Cesária Évora: 08/27/1941-12/17/2011

Renown Cape Verdean singer Cesária Évora died this past weekend at age 70. Earning monikers such as “The Barefoot Diva”  and “The Queen of Morna,” Évora began performing at age 16. Releasing her first album in 1988, by 2003 she had earned a Grammy for her album Voz D’Amor.

An international star, Évora became famous for her distinctive contralto and soulful performances of songs of lament and longing. Indeed, “Évora was considered one of the world’s greatest exponents of Morna, a form of blues considered the national music of the Cape Verde islands, a former Portuguese colony which gained independence in 1975.” (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-16232543). For more on her life and legacy, see the following links for obituaries published in the New York Times, the BBC, and the Washington Post, among others. You may also hear a brief clip of Évora in performance here.

For those of you who are UNC affiliates, if you’re interested in a more extensive discussion of her career from a sociological perspective we encourage you to make use of the new Articles+ search tool to locate the following article: “Cesária Évora: ‘The Barefoot Diva’ and Other Stories.” (by Carla Martin, in Transition, No. 103, Cabo Verde (2010), pp. 82-97). Here at the SCL we also have Music is the weapon of the future : fifty years of African popular music (2002), which includes the chapter “From Kode di Dona to Cesaria Evora: Sodade in A Major: The Music of Cape Verde”  (p. 191).

NEW SCL DISPLAY!

Have you been by the Stone Center Library lately? If so, you’ve hopefully noticed our new display:

Our latest selection of recently acquired books features titles related to African Americans in American culture, in keeping with our recent event with UNC history professor “Fitz” Brundage:

All titles are available here at the library and we encourage you to come by and check them out. Happy reading, and have a great weekend!

TODAY at 5:00pm in Wilson: Beyond Blackface booktalk… plus related UNC resources

We hope you’re all excited for TODAY’S book talk with UNC history professor “Fitz” Brundage, as he discusses his latest book, Beyond Blackface: African Americans and the Creation of American Popular Culture, 1890-1930 (UNC Press 2011).

Event details (also available on Facebook):

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5:00pm Reception | Main Lobby, Wilson Library

5:30pm Program | Pleasants Family Assembly Room

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Free and open to the public

In anticipation of this event, Stone Center Librarian Shauna Collier has put together a list of related books available at UNC libraries. Check it out!

Happy reading, and we hope to see you TODAY at 5pm in Wilson Library!

Wangari Maathai: 1940-2011

This past Sunday marked the sad occasion of the passing of Nobel prize-winning activist Wangari Maathai of Kenya. An environmentalist and an educator, she is perhaps best known for establishing the Green Belt Movement, “a broad-based grassroots organization whose main focus is poverty reduction and environmental conservation through tree planting.” For her efforts, she was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 2004. You can read more about her remarkable life and achievements here and here.

Dr. Maathai also authored a series of publications, several of which are available here at the Library:

You can also read about the Green Belt Movement (GBM) in more detail here. You may also view and share condolences here.