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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.

“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

Planting Seeds in Eli Whitney

By Evan Faulkenbury, SOHP Field Scholar

I had never been to Eli Whitney before. Named for the inventor of the cotton gin, Eli Whitney is a hamlet – a crossroads, really – in rural Alamance County, North Carolina. You get there from Chapel Hill by heading due west on Old Greensboro Road for about seventeen miles until it runs into Highway 87. But half a mile before you get there, on the right side of the road you’ll see Concord United Methodist Church. The church sits just before a bend in the road, right next to its cemetery. It’s a small, red brick building with a white steeple, finished in 1961. If you pull into the church’s gravel lot, you’ll see a garden. The garden was what brought me there on March 12, 2015.

I was there to interview Donna Poe. I arrived early, so I parked and walked through the cemetery, around the church, and up to the garden. There were two large sections filled with a variety of fruits and vegetables, and at the end was a cross. Donna pulled up in her pick-up truck after I had lingered only a minute. Poe was in charge of the community garden. She started it only a few years ago through the church, but its popularity had soared. She organizes three workdays per week, and anyone who joins takes home a share of the bounty. Earlier in the month, I had emailed dozens of pastors at churches across the region, asking if they had extraordinary women members who would like to be interviewed for my project on conservative grassroots activism. Donna Poe’s minister recommended her, not as a typical political or social activist, but someone whose faith makes a real difference in the community.

We went inside the church to have the interview. Donna was born on October 13, 1962 in Albany, New York, but home for her had been Spring Hill, Florida. She told me about her family, her work, and how she ended up in North Carolina, moving up here seven years ago with her husband to be closer to her sister.

But the heart of her story was her spiritual journey. She grew up in a Protestant home, but she did not have a personal relationship with God until recently. Once, she and her family visited a church for a special Christmas service:

“And so we went, and somewhere in the middle of the service…it was really weird…it was kind of like what we would equate [to] our time of passing the peace [a form of greeting in church services]. They said, ‘Do you know where you’re going? Do you know where you’re going?’ And they turned to the person to each side of them. And it seemed like people came to us and said, ‘Do you know where you’re going?’ I get chills when I think about it. It was really freaky. And my one son is like, ‘Mom, what’s going on? What are they saying?’ And they were really freaked out about it…I have to only hope and pray and know that God was there throughout all that and there was reason for that, maybe just for me to share the story.”

The implication was that Donna and her family was going to hell if they did not know Jesus. Angry and hurt, they did not return to church for a long time. Years later, a friend led Donna in a prayer to become born-again. Now, she and her husband are active members at Concord United Methodist Church.

Donna’s story was a personal testimony about how she came to know God, a different kind of oral history. She realized that all along, sometimes at odd moments, God was “planting seeds” in her life. The odd Christmas service was one time among many when, looking back, she could “see His presence” guiding her, planting seeds, leading her to where she is today.

Fall 2015 Internship Applications Now Open!

We’re now accepting applications for our Fall 2015 Undergraduate Internship! For more information, visit our page on the internship here.

Reflection on My First Interview

This blog post was written by SOHP Intern Holly Plouff.

HollyI recently conducted my first professional interview for the Southern Oral History Program, and unfortunately, I learned a lot about this daunting process the hard way. It’s okay though. We learn by trial and error and I have emerged from this process with some good tips that I would like to list for future interviewers:

  1. Don’t set your interview date around a time when there is ANY chance of snow- This was my main problem. Of course we can’t control the weather but it would have been super nice if the heavy snow that fell, just two days before my interview, actually melted. Instead, the snow decided to cling to the ground and because of this, I was not able to travel to my interviewee’s house in Raleigh. Luckily, we live in the 21st century so we resorted to conducting the interview via landline on speakerphone…which leads me to tip #2
  2. Don’t conduct your interview over the phone- Just like the weather, this often can’t be controlled. People live far away, you can’t always get to see them in person, but if you are able to meet in person, then do. The phone led to problems like lower sound quality, echoes from the speakerphone, and lack of visual cues. Is my interviewee thinking about a question or did we lose the connection? Does she have something else to say or is she waiting for me to ask my next question? Is she getting impatient and waiting for me to wrap this up? These were some of the many questions that I asked myself as I sat in an empty room on the phone. I felt awkward about not being able to speak face to face with someone who I had learned so much about, I wanted her to know that I was present and paying attention, which would have been easy to do if we were in the same room but we weren’t so I resorted to showing my presence by making noise…
  3. Talk/make noise as little as possible- The interview isn’t about you. It’s about this endlessly fascinating person and you’re just a lowly intern. I knew that I was supposed to be a quiet part of this process, only speaking when asking questions or prodding, but because I couldn’t see my interviewee, I did things like chuckle, say “mhmm,” and audibly agree with points. Hopefully this isn’t too noticeable to people in the future who may have to use my interview for research, but it meant that I got to hear my various noises and affirmations while editing and writing about the interview. There would be a nice anecdote, a good flow, and then my horrible chuckle. I don’t regret this sin as much because it actually did help to prove that I was present, it’s just not fun to hear yourself on a recording over and over again when you’re working on edits and writing the tape log.

Don’t let my negativity affect your outlook on the interview process. I had a great time and learned more than just what not to do. Unfortunately these circumstances couldn’t be controlled but I couldn’t have asked for a more understanding and eager interviewee. I look forward to my next interview because the chances of snow are now minuscule so I have hope for a more personal and pleasant experience.

Holly Plouff
SOHP Communications intern
Class of 2018