UNC Hosted a Dynamic Workshop For the Mayors and Municipal Staffs of Eight Historic Black Towns

Back in the spring of 2015, UNC hosted a dynamic workshop for the mayors and municipal staffs of eight Historic Black Towns: Tuskegee, AL; Hobson City, AL; Eatonville, FL; Grambling, LA; and Mound Bayou, Miss; East Spencer, NC; Navassa, NC; and Princeville, NC. Most of these towns were formed in the decades following Reconstruction and are characterized by independence, shelter from discrimination, and emancipation. Today, these and other historic Black towns, survive as a testament to the enduring spirit of their founders. I had the great fortune to co-moderate the conference workshops with Kenneth Janken, Professor of African, African American, and Diaspora Studies.

The idea for the workshop was sparked by the longtime friendship between UNC’s Joel R. Williamson Eminent Professor of History, Bill Ferris and award-winning landscape architect, Everett Fly who had already been working with the first five towns listed above. After opening remarks from the conference organizers and Michelle Lanier, Director of the NC African American Heritage Commission, the first workshop session focused on entrepreneurship and cultural tourism. As director of NCGrowth, an EDA University Center focused on economic development, we shared some preliminary research into the keys to successful cultural tourism of historic Black towns. The panel also discussed the importance of collaborative tourism development. The second workshop focused on nutrition, health, and the cultural power of food. Being rural communities, many of the towns were interested in improving access to healthy foods while supporting local farmers. Brian Giemza, Director of the Southern Historical Collection, and Rachel Seidman, Director of the Southern Oral History Program, hosted a session on historic preservation resources and toured Wilson Library. The first day closed with a performance by the North Carolina Central University Jazz Vocal Ensemble and dinner honoring former Chapel Hill Mayor, Howard Lee, the first black mayor elected in a predominantly white Southern town since Reconstruction.

Day two sessions included more discussion of economic development in addition to important legal and governance issues. Leaders of the Zora Neale Hurston Festival and the Franklinton Center at Bricks discussed how they connect community development with tourism. Everett led the closing session by engaging the leadership of all towns in attendance in a conversation about tourism strategies and collaboration.

Since the workshop, the Southern Historical Collection has been deeply engaged in many of the communities. “In the past, the researcher has been at the top of the pyramid, and the curator gets the materials. But the problem is that’s an extractive, top-down model,” Giemza said. “We’ve talked about what happens if you involve communities in the curation of their own history. They are the ones who are in the driver’s seat. … We’ve tried to be very attentive and to start by listening very carefully about what they are trying to accomplish.”

The program was funded in part by a grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation and co-sponsored by the UNC Office of the Provost, the Frank Hawkins Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise, the Sonja Haynes Stone Center for Black Culture and History and the Center for the Study of the American South. Other key organizers included, Patrick Horne, Associate Director of the Center for the Study of the American South, and Chaitra Powell, African American Collections and Outreach Archivist at the Southern Historical Collection.








Black Communities: A Conference for Collaboration is Hosted By