A History Suppressed

A dark time in our nation’s history, the period between Reconstruction and 1950 saw thousands of African Americans murdered via lynching – predominantly in the South. Two UNC professors hope to honor these individuals by uncovering injustices that, for decades, have been systematically erased from public memory.

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Seth Kotch talks to high school teachers about his research project, A Red Record. Kotch and students created an interactive map of lynchings in the South, including North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Arkansas. In North Carolina alone, his class has found 181 lynchings, but Kotch suspects that is a conservative number – assuming many were either unreported or records have since been lost. “It was kind of shocking how widespread the phenomenon was,” he says. “If you look at the map itself and get rid of the cartesian lines it still looks like a map or North Carolina.”
High school teachers listen as Seth Kotch talks about disseminating information about lynchings to their students. He is also developing free teaching materials that align with state standards and can be used as tools in the classroom. “We know that students aren’t learning about what’s called ‘hard history’ often in their high school classrooms,” he says. “Hard history is history of things like enslavement, lynching – difficult stuff.
With the Descendants Project, Glenn Hinson and undergraduate students are tracing the family lineage of lynching victims and gathering oral histories of descendants. “Our goal is not to retell a gruesome history, but to speak to histories of resilience,” he says. He is also working with community members of Warrenton, NC, to erect an Equal Justice Initiative memorial in memory of local lynching victims .
Jereann King Johnson, a community activist working to preserve African American legacies in Warren County, says the area’s racial history affects residents to this day. Warren County was the site of an infamous 1921 double-lynching in which Matthew Bullock, the intended victim, fled to Canada and a failed extradition ensued. With Bullock gone, the mob instead lynched his brother and cousin. Another local story is that of Soul City – a town that emphasized providing opportunities for minorities and the poor. The project fell through, and part of the site became a federal prison. It was also the start of the environmental justice movement in 1973 with a lawsuit against Ward Transformers Company for dumping thousands of gallons of chemicals on the roadside of mostly low-income, black communities. The case brought national attention to the issue of institutionalized environmental racism.  “That has been sort of the veil that people see the community through,” she says, “Particularly black people who have lived here all their lives.”


Making Rounds in Rocky Mount

A group of high school students start their summer mornings walking up and down business and residential streets of Rocky Mount. Their routes are dotted with stops to talk to business owners and curious residents wondering what kids in bright green t-shirts are doing all over town. As the teens make their rounds, they update business information into a phone app.

Over 800 miles away, students in Chicago start their day the same way, and have been for almost 10 years.

Both parties work for MAPSCorps – a nonprofit that employs local teenagers to map businesses in their community. The information is updated every year, and the data are gathered on a free, online mapping program.

UNC researchers have teamed up with counterparts at the University of Chicago, community partners, and local teens to map businesses in Rocky Mount and help the public discover resources in Nash and Edgecombe counties.

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Decoding Dorothea Dix Hospital

Sarah Almond leans over a large, tattered hospital admissions ledger and squints. While she tries to decipher the 100-year-old-script, Robert Allen scribbles down the name of a patient from Austria. Almond points out a string of housewives all admitted to the hospital at the same time, and on the next page they read how a police officer was checked in for “cocaine use.”

For the past year, UNC Community Histories Workshop researchers have frequented the North Carolina State Archives to delve into records from Dorothea Dix Hospital – North Carolina’s first and largest mental hospital, which closed in 2012. In 2015, the City of Raleigh purchased the 308-acre property to transform it into an enormous public park. When completed, Dorothea Dix Park will be the largest in the city of Raleigh. With help from researchers like Allen and Almond, the city hopes to incorporate the site’s history into the park’s master plan.

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Allen and Almond discuss specific patient admission entries. Allen first saw the admission ledger in 2017, while identifying useful historical materials for their research. The ledgers date back to the admittance of the first patient in 1856, and includes over 5,000 individuals. Each entry states typical patient information – name, age, occupation, marital status, residential county, date of admittance, discharge, and in some cases, death.
Allen is especially interested in the supposed causes and diagnoses of patients, and how that relates to the understanding of mental health at that time. Love, epilepsy, war, religious fanaticism and exposure to sun: just a few reasons why patients were admitted in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. With the help of genealogy websites, patient case histories, and public records, Allen and his team have been investigating the lives of specific people. Their goal is to trace patients’ history to find out what life events led them to the hospital.
The main hospital building is one of 85 structures currently on the property. Others include a patient cemetery, in use from 1859 until 1970, and a house from when the site was a plantation.
The view of downtown Raleigh from “Dix Hill.” Kate Pearce, the project manager for the park, anticipates the park plan will be brought to the Raleigh City Council in the spring of 2019.

High School Rodeo aka Back at It

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A good while before being laid off at the paper (Whoop whoop, I guess I’m officially a journalist!) I was burned out. Those last few months, the majority of assignments I went in thinking, “Okay, lets just get this done,” rather than trying to do my best – something that only added to the cycle of completely being over it.

I was sick of hearing “Get as many photos as you can, we want a deep gallery,” so the number of clicks on our site would go up, or, “Try to photograph as many people as you can,” so more people would share our posts on social media. I was sick of the paper running photos by reporters that weren’t even in focus or  exposed correctly, let alone having any sort of composition, moment or intention. I was sick of us bypassing important issues in the community.

I finally reached a point this winter when I was done, and told my boss I was leaving in a few months. Turns out Warren Buffett beat me to the punch. I was part of a nation-wide round of layoffs to staff members in various papers owned by Buffett (yaaaay for killing local journalism).

Thankfully I had already been applying for jobs, and had a few interviews lined up with universities. One of those was being a photographer, videographer and writer for the Office of Research Communications at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and was offered the position about two weeks after leaving the paper.

This job has been a complete 180-flip from my last position. Where “The more, the better,” ruled at the paper, “Quality beats quantity,” is the motto here. We plan out stories months in advance, hold weekly meetings going over every aspect of that week’s content, we’re afforded the time to make pieces the best we can possibly make them and I work with a team of people that genuinely love their jobs.

Although there are definitely some things I will forever miss about working at a paper I think this was a good decision.

This weekend I photographed for fun for the first time in two and a half months. For a long while I thought the only path was being a newspaper photojournalist and anything else is subpar. I’m glad I allowed myself to be proven wrong.

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Tournament of Bands

October means it’s time for one of my favorite assignments of the year: the Dr. Ray Sowell Tournament of Bands in Hartsville. Sixteen high school marching bands competed this year, with six of those from our coverage area. This means me running around all day like a crazy person trying to get tons of features of bands arriving, unloading equipment, practicing, hanging out and goofing around and, oh yea, actually performing.