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Personal Oral Histories Provide Little-Heard Perspectives

Teen babysitting club
Former Davidson College Assistant Chaplain and Love of Learning Director Brenda Tapia sits second from the right in the first row with members of the teen babysitting club.

"Shared Stories, Shared History: Black Lives in Northern Mecklenburg," an oral history project of Davidson College funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), will celebrate its work to date from 2-4 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 14, in the college's Spencer-Weinstein Center for Community and Justice. 

The project's goal is to raise the level of awareness of the contributions of African-Americans in the Town of Davidson and in North Mecklenburg County. Through an NEH Common Heritage grant, Shared Stories brings together college archives materials with records gathered from the community.

"We are working with the theme ‘Remembering our ancestors, remembering our family stories,'" said College Archivist Jan Blodgett. "This grant has allowed us to create collaborations between neighbors, the college and town, and local civic groups to capture the vibrant history and contributions of African-Americans in Davidson and surrounding communities."

Masonic Lodge
James Howard (far left), who is Brenda Tapia’s father and longtime assistant in chemistry at Davidson, and Barber Ken Norton (back row, center), who cut hair in Davidson from World War II to 2015, pose with other members of the Masonic Lodge.

To date, 11 oral histories, almost eight hours of audio recording and 1,764 pages of documents have been collected through the project. Oral history students of Associate Professor of Education Hilton Kelly helped collect the information.

At Saturday's event, special guests will share their own stories. They include longtime local broadcast journalist Bea Thompson and the Rev. Chris Springs, who grew up in northern Mecklenburg County. The Reeves Temple AME Zion Church Gospel Choir also will perform.

Oral histories are valued primary sources of information for researchers and others interested in understanding daily life in a particular place at a particular time. Unlike traditional documents and media accounts, they allow individuals who might not otherwise appear in the historical record to share their perspectives. They also fill gaps that have arisen in the personal history record in the late-20th and 21st centuries, as written correspondence and diary entries were replaced by telephone and digital communication.
The event will feature recording and scanning stations for community members to bring their own stories and material to contribute, said Blodgett, who co-authored One Town, Many Voices: A History of Davidson, North Carolina. The current project initially focused on Davidson, but quickly grew to include input from Cornelius and Huntersville.

Exhibits from the project will be included in a Black History Month Event held in the Cornelius Town Hall from 1-4 p.m., Feb. 18.

John Syme
josyme@davidson.edu
704-894-2523