The Chapel Hill Public Library recently announced plans for a Community History Lab that will serve as an inclusive space dedicated to promoting the rich history of the town.
The lab will be located on the lower level of the library, and its facilities will accommodate individuals and organizations looking to collaborate on projects.
Library staff said the projects are designed to highlight historical events in Chapel Hill and to amplify marginalized communities in the town.
One collaborative project between community members and the library staff was I Was Still Singing: Stories of Women Who Changed Chapel Hill — a project that focuses on the ways Black women have contributed to the Chapel Hill community.
Community History Coordinator Molly Luby said that she is thrilled to connect people to history. Luby said the space will be welcoming for those who want to gain a better understanding of local history.
Another project Luby is excited to display is “Old Dishes, New Dreams: Immigrant Food Stories from Chapel Hill," which will be dedicated to exploring stories and recipes from seven different language communities in Chapel Hill.
Other projects include Opening Our Future: Chapel Hill Civil Rights Movement, which includes a visual timeline of the local Civil Rights Movement and a short documentary about the town’s first sit-in; the Chapel Hill Nine Marker to honor the Chapel Hill Nine; and the Re/Collecting Chapel Hill podcast, which includes audio stories focused on local history.
The Community History Lab plans to expand on these projects and create more, with a focus on civil rights and inclusion.
Library Director Susan Brown said the Community History Lab is a stepping stone in creating a history and culture center in Chapel Hill. She also said the lab will be a place where people of all backgrounds and skill levels can have the tools they need to preserve the history of Chapel Hill.
“As our community history project has developed and grown, we have found that there’s a lot of interest in sharing community history in a new and different way," Brown said.
Harry L. Watson is a distinguished professor of Southern culture at UNC. He said Chapel Hill has a history of segregation that "reverberates in our lives right now," and that it's crucial for the community to have an understanding of that history.
“It's enormously important if you are trying to grow out of that legacy to know how that problem manifested itself in the world immediately around you," Watson said.
William Sturkey, an associate professor in UNC's department of history, specializes in the history of race in the American South. He believes while there have been efforts made in the town and on campus, there is still plenty of progress needed for Chapel Hill to address its problematic history.
"It's about telling the truth, and so I think we have to talk about what happened here, the role of the Town and the institutions in those events," Sturkey said. "And I think it would be helpful to make some sort of a moral judgement saying that slavery, the Klan — everything that you want to uncover in the history here — saying it was inappropriate, it was wrong.”
Library staff members are hopeful that the Community History Lab will be a beneficial step for the community.
There is no definitive date for when the Community History Lab will become available to the public, but staff members plan to open the lab when COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.
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