Library Grant to Help Preserve African-American History

The Southern Historical Collection in Wilson Library will use a $500,000 challenge grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to help establish a permanent African-American Collections and Outreach archivist.

The new position will lead an effort to collect untold stories of African-American communities, something the Southern Historical Collection views as critical to improving historical research and understanding. The library has begun working to raise $1.5 million required to meet the grant challenge.

“To have a conversation about race, you must first have an honest dialogue about history,” said Bryan Giemza ’99 (JD), director of the Southern Historical Collection. “That requires access to a complete documentary record, reflecting a full range of perspectives and experiences.” (After receiving his law degree from UNC, Giemza also earned a master’s degree from Carolina in 2001 and his doctorate in 2004.)

In addition to acquiring significant materials for the Southern Historical Collection, the archivist will partner with African-American communities in the South to help them tell their stories by identifying and preserving documents, recordings, photographs and memorabilia.

Carolina archivist Chaitra Powell believes this emerging model of “community-driven archives” already has proven fruitful.

“My work with communities is about helping them curate their own history in a way that is responsive and respectful,” she said.

Powell and the Southern Historical Collection already have realized successes through a partnership with the Historic Black Towns and Settlements Alliance; relationships with the African-American communities of the Triangle; and a collaboration with sociologist Karida Brown and the historically black coal mining town of Lynch, Ky., which is building a community archive.

“Thanks to the NEH and private supporters, we will be able to sustain this work far into the future,” Giemza said.


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