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Orange County Historical Museum hosts second part of Chapel Hill 'History of Hope' exhibit

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The Chapel Hill Historical Society’s exhibit located in the Orange County Historical Museum in Hillsborough, NC, is pictured on Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2022.

The Orange County Historical Museum is hosting an exhibit on Chapel Hill's history from the 1930s to 1970s, curated by the Chapel Hill Historical Society.

A History of Hope part one was exhibited last year and covered the beginning of Chapel Hill until 1928. According to the Chapel Hill Historical Society website, the second installment is currently on display and expands on the original exhibit using words, photos, videos and music.

The exhibit seeks to address the collective history of Chapel Hill and UNC as well as acknowledge and address systemic racism and social justice.

Missy Julian-Fox, Chapel Hill Historical Society board member and former chairperson, said she believes people in Chapel Hill have always been connected through hope, despite the history associated with groups of the past.

“Each of those groups have their own perspectives, their own dreams, their own hope for their future, and so that is why we entitled it A History of Hope,” Julian-Fox said. 

Orange County Historical Museum Site Manager Catherine Atkinson said there isn’t much information on Chapel Hill in the museum's permanent exhibit. She added that the museum hopes to be more representative of the entire county by displaying the second part of A History of Hope.

“In the past, it’s been a lot of focus on Hillsborough, so we’re trying to really reach all the way north, all the way south of Orange County,” Atkinson said.

The exhibit includes photographs from events during the mid-1900s, such as the first Black undergraduate students' admittance to UNC in 1955, UNC’s 1957 national championship victory in basketball, the Chapel Hill Nine from 1960 and President John F. Kennedy's 1961 speech in Kenan Stadium. 

Photographs of celebrities connected with Chapel Hill such as James Taylor and Andy Griffith are also included in the exhibition.

History of Hope part two includes a radio donated by the family of J. Burton Linker, which is believed to be the first home radio in Chapel Hill. The radio was custom-made and belonged to Linker, who was a mathematics professor. It was previously owned in the early 1920s by Eric Abernethy, a University physician.

The exhibit displays a champagne bottle used by UNC student Betsy Bowman to christen the S.S. Chapel Hill Victory in 1944. It was one of many “Victory ships” mass-produced by the United States during World War II.

An original copy of "Southern Part of Heaven" by William Meade Prince is also featured in the exhibit. The novel details Prince’s childhood in Chapel Hill, and the title has been used to describe the town.

Julian-Fox said the novel is thought to celebrate the town's beauty, resources and intelligence. 

She said she uses the phrase “southern part of heaven” frequently, but that the town hasn’t felt this way for everyone.

“We haven’t shared it as equitably, as justly and as fairly as everyone deserves,” Julian-Fox said. “People have earned their right. They have been a part of the story, and it needs to be told.”

She said the Black community is excluded repeatedly but hopes if more people see the exhibit, it will create a common narrative in Chapel Hill. 

"No matter what color or background we have, it is our American history and it just hasn't been a part of what we have been taught for all this time," Julian-Fox said. 

She also said the Chapel Hill Historical Society is looking for volunteers to help with exhibits, collecting research and voicing matters of importance.

“Being a town with such a significant University, there’s a lot of history here,” UNC history first-year student Alyssa Olmedo said. “There’s a lot of long-standing things that matter and continue to impact the community and school.”

Julian-Fox said she is passionate about understanding Chapel Hill’s history because it helps to inform the present and future of the town.

“I long for the day when this history is known by every student, every person on campus, every school child, and every townsperson,” she said.

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