This story is dedicated to all the elders that told me I was the force of history; To all the marble slabs at Memorial Hall Founders of the University Battle, Norwood, Swain, Caldwell Same names as my community Hogan, McCauley, Farrington, Barbee You hear what I’m saying?” –Because We’re Still Here (and Moving)
Black History happened here and it wasn’t just a month. From Tin Top to Windy Hill to Pottersfield; from the Lincoln High Band to the Starlite Motel to the Orange County Training School; from slavery to sit-ins to urban renewal; Because We’re Still Here (and Moving) explores the dynamic relationship between local African-American neighborhoods, the oldest state University in the country, and the ongoing development that is altering it all.
Throughout slavery, Reconstruction, and Jim Crow, the University played a central role in shaping the lives of African-Americans in Chapel Hill and Carrboro, as well as much of the state. Although the University never owned slaves, the professors and students did, and the University profited from renting and selling slaves who belonged to escheated estates. Equally important, as the flagship institution for the state of North Carolina, university men and women were the great influencers of policy and legislative decisions made in Raleigh. After freedom, former slaves took their place in Chapel Hill as leaders in a developing community, but the promise of Reconstruction led quickly to the ravages of Jim Crow and segregation. People of color in Chapel Hill continued to provide the skills and effort required to run the university, even as they were banned from using any of the facilities. Despite constant obstacles, those residents created their own institutions and their own community “out of what was possible and free.”
In Because We’re Still Here (and Moving), Granny Flack insists that history is the people’s memory. Too often that memory is lost beyond telling when the landscape of recorded history and monument ceases to express those stories. University and town policies over the century and a half have often contributed to the loss of the land and structures that marked this community and gave institutional life to its memories. We are grateful to the community elders who shared their scrapbooks and photos, reflections and concerns, in the hope that “people would know we existed” and that “the children would know their story.” We continue to search for pathways to expand the audience for these histories and hope that Because We’re Still Here (and Moving) provides a residence for new ones. You can tear down the buildings, but when you bury the stories, you rob the people of their power.
For three years, Hidden Voices collaborated with local residents, photographers, students, and artists in a focused effort to gather and highlight local Black History. Initially inspired by EmPOWERment and the Fenwick Foundation’s request to assist local teens in gathering elders’ stories, Because We’re Still Here (and Moving) blossomed into a multi-year exploration of a community whose 150-year existence has been profoundly impacted by local development and ongoing University policies. Although the external structures of these historic neighborhoods are largely destroyed, the people and their stories remain.