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Remembering Cliff Kuhn

This piece was written by SOHP Founding Director Jacquelyn Dowd Hall.

cliff kuhnOn November 8th, an SOHP stalwart and dear friend Cliff Kuhn died of a heart attack in Atlanta, GA. Cliff was an associate professor of history at Georgia State University, where for more than two decades he has inspired a love of history in students. He was 63 years old.

I’ve known him since shortly after he graduated from Yale in 1974. He was one of a number of young people fascinated by the South who came through town and slept on our couch in the early 1970s. In a sense he never left—well, he left our couch, but not the South. He got a Ph.D. in history at UNC Chapel Hill and was part of the team that conducted the interviews and wrote the initial working papers that led to the publication of Like a Family: the Making of a Cotton Mill World in 1987.

He was a font of boundless energy, enthusiasm, and generosity. He loved to talk. At the same time, the tributes pouring out of Atlanta rightly say that the city “has lost it greatest listener.

Passionate about local history, Cliff recorded hundreds of interviews with the people of Atlanta and frequently appeared on independent radio and the local NPR affiliate, WABE. He worked tirelessly to preserve the memory of Atlanta’s 1906 race riot and led walking tours of Atlanta that educated perhaps thousands of people about that event as well as about the city’s labor history. In 1990 he published Living Atlanta: An Oral History of the City, 1914-1948 (UGA), co-authored with Harlon E. Joye and E. Bernard West. He was a recipient of the Georgia Governor’s Award in the Humanities, the Turner Downtown Community Leadership Award, and the Martin Luther King Torch of Peach Award, among many other honors.

In 2001, he published Contesting the New South Order: The 1914-1915 Strike at Atlanta’s Fulton Mills (UNC), which David Carlton (Vanderbilt) described as an exploration of “not only the history of southern industrial labor, but also the tangled interplay of race, class, and ethnicity, in the Progressive-era urban South.” At the time of his death, Cliff was working on a book about the sociologist Arthur Raper and had published an eloquent article based on that work in Southern Cultures.

In 2013, Cliff helped to bring the Oral History Association (OHA) to Georgia State University and became its first executive director. Cliff was an irreplaceable advocate for oral history and public history in the classroom, the academy, and the community. The OHA is struggling with how to go on without him.

His wife, Kathie Klein, and their sons Gabe and Josh will be in our hearts. A memorial service will be held next month in Atlanta.


Summer Fieldwork in Mound Bayou

This blog post was written by SOHP Intern Monique Laborde

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Field Scholar Kimber Thomas

SOHP’s newest field scholar, Kimber Thomas, has been busy researching historic African American communities and cultures. As an American Studies graduate student and field scholar at SOHP, Kimber spent the summer researching with the Historic Black Towns and Settlements Alliance (HBTSA). This organization currently focuses on preserving the history of and connecting communities in five historic towns: Hobson City, Ala.; Eatonville, Fla.; Grambling, La., Tuskeegee, Ala and Mound Bayou, Miss.

HBTSA partnered with UNC last year, making way for graduate and undergraduate students at UNC to be directly involved with the research and preservation efforts. Kimber spent her summer in her home state, researching Mound Bayou, Mississippi. Mound Bayou’s history as an independent black town remains largely unspecified.

Kimber’s research focused on the lives of Mound Bayou’s founders and pioneering settlers. She mined informal and formal archives such as town hall documents, cemetery records, and obituaries to begin piecing together comprehensive social history of Mound Bayou. “It was tough work, because it isn’t all in one place”, she said about beginning research in Mound Bayou.

Campers at St. Gabriels Mercy Center dressed up as founders & early settlers of Mound Bayou

Campers at St. Gabriels Mercy Center dressed up as founders & early settlers of Mound Bayou

Kimber generated an online forum for entering information on Mound Bayou pioneering residents when information is found. With the help of three undergraduate Robertson scholars, who processed archival information and worked part-time in the Mound Bayou community center, Kimber was able to assess existing archival information as well as engage with the community. At the community center, the undergraduate assistants brought the story of the founding of Mound Bayou to life by writing and directing a play for the St. Gabriel community center youth summer program.

HBTSA and UNC are committed to a long-term involvement with the historic towns. Thus, Kimber’s summer research is the beginning of long-term plan to build a digital humanities online database accessible to both university students and the community. Kimber speaks about her research with passion, reminding us that “these towns are here, so we need to start preserving and appreciating the history.

Join us at the 2015 NC Women’s Summit

SOHP is excited once more to co-host the annual North Carolina Women’s Summit, alongside Women AdvaNCe, Scholars for North Carolina’s Future, and the Women’s Center at Wake Forest University.

The summit, held on Thursday, September 24th from 9:00AM – 4:30PM, will feature two special guest speakers Neera Tanden and Melissa Harris-Perry.  Tanden is President of the Center for American Progress in Washington, DC; and Harris-Perry is an MSNBC news show host, professor, and Director of the Pro Humanitate Institute.

To purchase your ticket and learn more about the event, visit the website here. We hope to see you there!

On Making History

This guest blog post was written by Karida Brown, Founder and Principle Investigator of The Eastern Kentucky African American Migration Project

History is made.

Being party to, or even sharing, the story of “what happened” is not enough. History requires access to the venues and institutions through which stories can enter the public sphere. What I am suggesting is that there is a certain legitimacy that comes along with being “out there”, on the record. Think about that one sensational story that circulates in your own family about a relative who did something grand back in the day—a grandfather who was an alleged spy for the CIA, an uncle who was secretly Martin Luther King’s best friend and confidant, a great-grandmother who passed for black or white but was actually full-blood Cherokee. Although they are often quite captivating, these stories only have currency in the private sphere, for they belong to the families, friends and communities that share a connection with them. And the traces of “what happened” are often embodied in repertoire: casual storytelling, song, dance, gestures, jokes, silences, and repetition. But they do not necessarily become a part of history.

In my own work I have come to think a lot about how some people’s experiences comes to earn the status of history—a public artifact—while other folk’s lives and memories remain private goods—invisible, tenuously believable, and slippery in hands of history.

Here’s an example. My research is based on the African American experience in and through Appalachia. When I turned to the archive, the media, and to the historical record to get started on my scholarly journey, I was disappointed to find a bounty of imbalanced representations of the white, toothless, backwards mountaineer, a trope that has continued to titillate the American imagination when it comes to the people of Appalachia. But where were the black folks? In fact, I personally knew Appalachia to be a diverse place that embodied a long history of Native American, European, Jewish, and recently Asian, Latino and Indian migrations. I knew about this diversity because my own mother and father were born in “bloody Harlan County,” an infamous coal mining community in the Appalachian region of southeastern Kentucky. And, like the thousands of other families in their community at the time, they were the children of black coal miners. Yet the disparaging image of the hillbilly persists. It was through these early encounters with the archive that I learned that history is largely a matter of who has the pen: Who gets to make history? Who gets to write about whom? And on what terms?

This is why I became an oral historian.

I took up the challenge of reconstructing the rich history of the African Americans who lived and worked in the company-owned coal towns of eastern Kentucky during the first half of the 20th century. As a descendant of coalminers’ sons and daughters, I was already familiar with many of the African American families, stories, and traditions that were associated with the region. But if there was to be a history of this experience, we had to make it.


EKAAMP interview #88 with Richard “Bo” Chapman in Lynch, KY | June 24th, 2014

Oral history was the only way to go about accomplishing this goal. I got an old-school Marantz plug-in audio recorder and hit the road. I of course went back to Harlan County to interview the few folks who still lived there, but due to the precipitous decline of the coal mining industry in the mid 20th century, few black families remain in the region. So I spent the last two years traveling across the country, from Newington, CT to San Jose, CA and everywhere in-between, conducting oral history interviews with the descendants of black coal miners from eastern Kentucky. I found that my participants were living archives.

Now in their 60s, 70s, and 80s, they not only lived through the experience of growing up as black children in Appalachia, they also witnessed, lived, and were party to some of the greatest transformations of the 20th century—events such as the African American Great Migration, school desegregation, the urbanization of the American city, the pre- and post-Civil Rights era, and the election of the first black President. I learned early on that if I really wanted to get their story right, I had to learn to listen.

Listening is not a passive act. It requires sincerity, energy, care and humility (a practice that is easier said than done for us academics who are in the business of being know-it-alls). Listening is an act of giving. This was a game-changing epiphany for me, because it made me question my role as a researcher. Who was really in charge here? Oral history opened up the space for my participants and I to co-create historical records through relationship. As opposed to sharing a document to convey “what happened,” the participant becomes the author of his or her own history through storytelling—sharing moments of success and triumph, disappointment and shame, turning points, drama, and regrets. In my opinion, oral history is the most capacious instrument for capturing the complexity, and the sheer messiness, of life.

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EKAAMP Dinner at Love House, April 2015

Over 200 interviews later, I finished my cross-country oral history spree, and have since turned my attention to working on my first book manuscript about Kentucky’s coal camp blacks. But the oral histories I collected are way too good to keep to myself. History is a public artifact, right? So in 2013, I founded the Eastern Kentucky African American Migration Project (EKAAMP) in partnership with the Southern Historical Collection here at UNC Chapel Hill. Through this partnership we embarked on the journey of forming one of the institution’s first participatory archives—a practice through which communities take an active role in transmitting their history through archival preservation. In two short years, EKAAMP has blossomed in into a thing of its own. In addition to the collection of oral history interviews that I recorded for the project, individual participants have donated thousands of documents, photographs, and objects to the collection to ensure that their contributions to Appalachian and American history would not die with them. To that end, the EKAAMP collection will be made available to the public through the Southern Historical Collection at Wilson Library here in Chapel Hill.

Together, we made history.

“Let’s put on a show!” – Oral History Performance & Journalism

This guest blog post was written by SOHP’s faculty affiliate Dr. Barbara Friedman, Associate Professor in the UNC School of Media and Journalism

“Let’s put on a show!” No kidding—that was the response of my students when I (timidly) proposed adding a performance component to NewStories, an oral history course I teach in the School of Media and Journalism.

I knew students who had participated in oral history performances and the benefits were clear. Students were connecting with history in a deeply personal way, noticing thematic overlaps in their narrators’ experiences, and bringing their stories to life for an audience outside the archives.

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Students in the Spring 2015 “NewStories” class

We turned our attention to performance only after the students immersed themselves in the principles and practices of oral history and its uses by journalists and media historians. I relied heavily on Della Pollock’s account of performing “Like a Family,” and her edited collection, Remembering: Oral History Performance. It certainly helped that one of my nine students was a reporter for Carolina Week, a student-produced news broadcast, and a dramatic arts minor with acting experience, and that two others were broadcast communication majors with training in scriptwriting and public speaking.

Evan Faulkenbury, a doctoral candidate in history and SOHP field scholar, helped the students tease out the themes of their interviews, complicated by the fact that their narrators ranged widely in age (43 to 87) and hailed from all facets of the media industry (think CNN and a country weekly). They settled on two themes and divided into groups to begin writing a script, using excerpts from their interviews to convey the ways that their narrators had met personal and professional challenges.

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“NewStories” Event Program

Each student was expected to contribute equally to the conceptualization of the performance, its content and organization. They worked in and out of class in their groups, then collaborated on a Google document to compose a script. I had access to the Google doc as well, so that I could provide feedback along the way and gauge individual contributions. The final version included gems like this, from an octogenarian community newspaper reporter (still working): “Plain old folks. Normal people. If they do something interesting, I try to find out and I write about it in simple language. … Folksy, not fancy.” And this bit of advice from a former copy editor: “Develop a life list–like bird watchers do of all the birds they have seen—of all the words you have trouble with.”

After many rehearsals and reserving space for the performance (fittingly, the Halls of Fame room in Carroll Hall), the students sent personalized invitations to their narrators. In addition, they invited faculty, staff, parents and friends to attend. They designed a program with a brief description of the course and the names of the performers and interviewees. We dedicated 90 minutes to the entire event, allowing 30 minutes for the performance and time before and after for informal conversation. We had a few glitches, but nothing major.

Victoria Karagiorgis, UNC junior, and interviewee Valarie Lauder, first “copygirl" at the Chicago Daily News

Victoria Karagiorgis, UNC junior, and interviewee Valarie Lauder, first “copygirl” at the Chicago Daily News

One of the narrators in attendance, a former editor of the Greensboro News & Record who presided over mass layoffs there, said that the interview encouraged him to revisit that difficult period and consider its long-term impact on himself and others. Another narrator remarked that regardless of the period in which they worked, all of the interviewees had described challenges posed by the introduction of new technology.

The students had reached a similar conclusion in the process of preparing their performance: that the kinds of challenges faced by modern-day practitioners–labor issues, social changes, competition, automation–are not so different from what earlier generations confronted. They articulated that connection to the audience: “Our stories now join with yours. Your experiences inform our work and the kind of legacy we want to create.”  

Next spring, I’ll be the first to say, “Let’s put on a show!”

Lumbee History Service-Learning Research Projects

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During the Spring 2015 semester, students in SOHP director Malinda Maynor Lowery’s HIST234: Lumbee History course completed four service-learning research projects in collaboration with partners and mentors on- and off-campus, including SOHP staff. We’re excited to share their finished products here:

Other collaborative partners include the Southeast American Indian Studies Program at UNC Pembroke and the North Carolina Collection at Wilson Library.

All for One, and One for All: The Role of Athletics in School Desegregation

This blog post was written by SOHP Mining the Archives intern Liz Kennedy.

This semester, my fellow intern Samantha and I mined the SOHP archive for clips on school desegregation in the South, looking specifically in North Carolina. We listened to the different perspectives from all sides of the school integration debate: teachers, students, staff, parents, and administrators. We also heard from different sides down the racial line: a Black student and a White principal probably had two very different perspectives on school desegregation, and we wanted to explore both sides of that story. That’s one of the cool things about oral history— it really allows us to explore the side of history not talked about in our textbooks. It’s the most primary of all historical sources, because it allows us to hear people’s stories from their own perspective. It gives a voice to the voiceless, and a platform to the preferably unheard.

Luckily for us, hundreds of oral histories have been captured from the time of school desegregation. The desegregation of American public schools started in 1954, after the Supreme Court Case Brown v. Board of Education ruled separate-but-equal schools unconstitutional. Despite this, it would take over a decade for most Southern schools to finally integrate; Durham public schools weren’t fully integrated until 1963, with Chapel Hill following suit in 1969.

When we talk about schools integrating, we tend to view our not-so-distant past through a more positive light. We think of things like the backlash surrounding Little Rock 9 as exceptions to an otherwise smooth transition.  But the truth is, school desegregation was a long, difficult process that lasted over a decade, with lots of opposition from segregationists, some of which became violent. As we continued listening to interviews, a pattern eventually emerged from the stories of the interviewees: schools may have desegregated, but very few actually integrated.

Even though there was a lot of hostility during school desegregation, what we found was that there was a lot more commonality than we thought.  The one thing that seemed to unite Black and White, if only for a couple of hours, was athletics. We kept hearing, over and over again, that school athletics broke color barriers on the field. Those students had to cooperate as teammates. A lack of team unity meant certain defeat, and no athlete likes to lose. They had to choose the team over their own biases, and the best part was, it showed off the field too.

In a 2000 interview with Charles Adams, one of the several coaches that led student athletes in Cary, North Carolina during this tumultuous time, “the schools could not have integrated without athletics.” The camaraderie that students built up on the field found itself translating to the classrooms and halls of their schools. Players became teammates, and teammates became friends. It started to influence their fans, too, some of which had protested the very unity that now existed on the field.

In the words of Adams, “I think you can look back and really credit athletics as being the single most success story in integration, not just in North Carolina but in the South, in the country.” As we celebrate over 50 years of school integration, it is important to acknowledge the importance of school athletics in breaking color barriers, and the connecting force athletics provide for students, even today. 

Liz Kennedy
SOHP Mining the Archives Intern
Class of 2015

#UNCCalls4HurstonHall: UNC and White Supremacy

This blog was written by SOHP undergraduate communications intern Bryan Smith.

In this article, I reference several individuals whose oral histories can be found in the SOHP’s archives. By clicking the hyperlinks in this post, a new SoundCloud window will open up, where you can play a portion of those interviews.


When I began writing this post, it had been almost 2 weeks since anyone had used the #UNCCalls4HurstonHall tag on Twitter. At the time I feared this represented a conclusion to the issue: the Department of Geography would remain housed in “Saunders” Hall, and the call for Hurston Hall would go unanswered. For the opponents of renaming the building, and for those who chose to ignore the issue, this would have been a victory. The argument that Saunders, chief organizer in the Ku Klux Klan or not (he certainly was), died in the late 19th century and was simply “a man of his time,” thus safely buffering UNC’s present and recent past from the taint of white supremacy, would have won out. In the subsequent weeks and months however, the rallies by the Unsung Founders Memorial and Silent Sam and the protests outside the building itself proved not to be solitary, transient blips on the radar indicative of life on UNC’s campus. Despite the controversy and unpopularity of revealing and labeling racism in the acts, people, and settings in which it persists, the movement has continued. This semester’s entire push is, in fact, already the product of decades of activism that is part of the ongoing fight to change UNC’s landscape to match the needs and spirit of its community. As an intern with the SOHP, I’ve had the opportunity to do my own part by researching some of the white supremacist events tied to UNC’s own history. In doing so, I’ve attempted to explore the patterns of white supremacy and response by the Black community.


Primarily, I’ve searched our archives to research two events in this web of white supremacy. The first of these was the invitation given to David Duke to speak at UNC in 1975. Duke, a Grand Dragon in the KKK at the time, was to give a speech in Memorial Hall, and was paid through student fees to do so. Insulted by this use of student fees, UNC’s Black Student Movement protested, as former member Paula Newsome recalls, through heckling until he was eventually shouted down from the stage. Cathy Stuart, a former co-president of the Campus Y, also remembers the event, but felt conflicted about the BSM’s response. In the context of the First Amendment and the overturning of the Speaker Ban Law less than a decade before, she says: “[…] don’t we defend the right for someone to speak–whatever it is–even if we don’t like it.”


Compare this to a second event that took place on UNC’s campus five years earlier in 1970. On November 21st of that year, a white supremacist motorcycle gang called the Stormtroopers killed a local Black student (though not a UNC student) named James Cates. On the night of the murder, UNC was hosting an all-night, integrated dance in the Student Union. Clashes between Black youths and the Stormtroopers had been occurring all night, but culminated fatally when Stormtroopers stabbed Cates after he pulled a straight razor during one of the fistfights. Initially, police prevented anyone from moving Cates to the hospital, resulting in his death in the back of a police cruiser at 3:30 that morning. Black youths in the Chapel Hill area retaliated by firebombing parts of the Northside community (the Institute of Pharmacy and the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Schools Administration building). The Stormtroopers were brought to court, but the charges were ultimately dropped. Raney Norwood, a friend of Cates, recalls both the events leading up to Cates death and the subsequent firebombing of Northside and trial. Norwood is critical of the firebombing, while also acknowledging that peaceful protest was “not enough” in the face of injustice. Norwood also remembers James Cates death as the first time the Black community came together in Chapel Hill. The University’s response to James Cates’ murder is characterized by inaction. This is a fact remembered by Ashley Davis, a participant in the 1969 Food Worker Strike, as an example of the University’s leniency on violence committed or planned by white community members, especially students.


In researching these two events over the past semester, I’ve come to a couple of realizations. First, that the reactions to white supremacist actions associated with the University are almost always criticized or qualified in some capacity. That is, the legitimacy of Black community response always seems to be questioned. I’ve also discovered that white supremacist actions are poorly documented. They are talked about relatively infrequently, for example, in the life histories recorded in the SOHP’s archives. Outside of the archives, sources of information are limited to Daily Tar Heel articles, blog posts by authors that are impossible to contact, and fliers for memorializing events that are otherwise unrecorded. Together, I think that the struggles for legitimacy and memory form not only a stumbling block for scholarly research, but also for continued activism.


Now, as I reflect on Hurston Hall, this stumbling block is at the forefront of my thoughts. Since I’ve began working at the SOHP, I’ve listened to the oral histories numerous rebels, protestors, academics, and everyday people who have challenged my notions of what it means to be an activist and of my own activism. As I learned more and more, I would become frustrated; my internship (in addition to my classes and work) often felt like a time commitment that hindered my ability to be active myself. I’ve certainly gained a greater appreciation and respect for the activists who do manage to balance their personal, academic, and political lives, but I’m also now aware of the opportunities that the SOHP really afforded me. Encountering the past through the voices of those who lived it raised in me many of the questions I received when I’d report my findings to friends and family: “Was there really so much violence at UNC? How could that have happened? Why didn’t I know?” On a personal level, the SOHP showed me how remembering not only made me want to be a better activist, but be active, period. The SOHP has also shown me that the more people forget the less legitimate events feel. These are lessons I wish I’d learned earlier, and ones I hope to pass on. UNC continues to call for Hurston Hall; if we call for memory too, the number of active, passionate, and diverse students will swell until the University must heed it.

Bryan Smith

SOHP Communications Intern

Class of 2015

Spring 2015 Intern Performance

Don’t miss our Spring 2015 undergraduate interns‘ oral history performance this Wednesday, April 29th at 1:00PM. Samantha, Liz, Holly, and Bryan will present the culmination of their semester’s work on the history of feminist activism at UNC. All are welcome to join us! For more information, visit the event page here.

Work on Desegregation

Work on Desegregation

Author: Holly Plouff

This blog post was written by intern Samantha Gregg

“I didn’t care about wanting it for the mix, but I wanted it for equal rights. I wanted my children to have equal rights. If they would give me equal rights over here, I wouldn’t think about going over there.” – Vennie Moore on the integration of schools in Davidson, North Carolina.

As a “mining the archives” intern for the SOHP, I’ve spent hours this semester listening to first-hand accounts of the desegregation of North Carolina schools. I have heard the voices of students, teachers, athletic coaches, administrators, parents, community members, and church leaders as they relive their past, describing their views, involvement, and experiences with integration. I’ve come to especially appreciate the quote above by Vennie Moore because I feel it has captured much of what I have learned through these interviews: though the previous policy had been separate but equal, African American educational opportunities and facilities were nothing close to equal; not everyone was in support of integration for the same reasons, if they were in support at all; there was hesitation and fear by all involved; there was a fear by African Americans that their heritage and traditions would be covered, not combined, by the history of previously white schools.

Why? The reasons for integration were many: Brown v. Board of Education’s overturning of the separate but equal policy, a desire to correct the unfair institution that had defined the North Carolina school systems, like the rest of the United States, for far too long, or, like Vennie Moore, the knowledge that this was the only way African Americans would be able to truly have an equal opportunity for education.

How? Turbulence; outstanding individuals; understanding; danger; compromise; a driving sense of morality: these are just a few words that describe the integration of North Carolina schools. Though morally correct, the process of integration was difficult to navigate for everyone involved, having little precedent to follow. It was only through the excellence of understanding students, teachers, administration, and community members, the unifying power of athletics, and inspiring people’s refusal to settle for anything other than equal conditions any longer that made integration possible.

These are the reasons that I have come to love oral history as an intern with SOHP. The larger historical story of desegregation brushes over the different reasons integration was desired, the different ways in which it was achieved, and all the problems that continued to arise during and after integration, continuing today. As the SOHP’s mantra states, “you don’t have to be famous for your life to be history.” Though the interviews I’ve spent this semester listening to are not with celebrities, I have learned more about different viewpoints, experiences, reasoning, a

nd minority experiences than any textbook or major publication could present me with. This is what I have come to understand the value of oral history as in my time here: a way to preserve the differing experiences of all types of people in order to gain a full understanding of historical event.


Samantha Gregg

SOHP Mining the Archives Intern

Class of 2015