Summer Fieldwork in Mound Bayou
This blog post was written by SOHP Intern Monique Laborde
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.
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.