The Daily Tar Heel
Printing news. Raising hell. Since 1893.
Sunday, Oct. 1, 2023 Newsletters Latest print issue

We keep you informed.

Help us keep going. Donate Today.
The Daily Tar Heel

Marian Cheek Jackson Center preserves Chapel Hill's Black history, provides resources


A piano and photos on display at The Jackson Center on Monday, Feb. 20, 2023.

After seeing a lack of community connectivity and knowledge of Chapel Hill’s civil rights history, Mae McLendon said she finds hope in the Marian Cheek Jackson Center. 

McLendon, a community connector for MCJC and a former resident of both the Northside and Pine Knolls communities for a total of 40 years, said the center was getting started as she moved out of Northside.

“I think that welcoming feeling has increased with the work of the Jackson Center,” she said.

Rev. Troy Harrison of St. Joseph CME Church and UNC Professor Della Pollock founded the center in 2007 to preserve the oral history of the Northside neighborhood. Its goals have since evolved to include fostering housing justice for the Northside community, preserving civil rights and local history through education and cultivating a sense of community between neighbors.

McLendon attended Chapel Hill High School for two years and graduated in 1969. She said she experienced racism while attending the school, which had recently merged with Lincoln High School, an all-Black school.

“It took a protest," she said. "It took us walking out of class and sitting in, and saying ‘We ain’t taking it.’” 

Aisha Booze-hall, the center's education and elder care coordinator, said she mostly focuses on preserving the local history of three of the seven historically Black neighborhoods in Chapel Hill and Carrboro by elevating stories like McLendon’s in K-12 classrooms.

The center’s educational programs allow for students to understand their own experiences and to look to history to find power in youth-led civic engagement, Booze-hall said. 

“But if we don't share it or tell it, it can get forgotten, and there's no reason for that, especially when it's so, so beautiful and rich," Booze-hall said.

The Sankofa Freedom School is one of the center's education projects that preserves the history of the neighborhoods. The school meets over the summer for about three weeks, discusses topics about the community and provides engagement through field trips, Booze-hall said. 

The center also engages with college students and contributes to an education department course titled "Schools and Community Collaboration" at UNC, Booze-hall said. During the course, students receive field assignments, volunteer for organizations like the Hargraves Community Center, often referred to as the "heart of Northside," and create workshop materials.

In addition to its educational programs, the Jackson Center does a lot of its work around affordable housing and retention, especially for the Northside neighborhood.

According to the Town of Chapel Hill, Northside is the largest Black community in Chapel Hill. But, the Black population has lost homeownership since 1980 when there were 1,159 Black residents compared to 690 in 2010. 

The mistreatment of Black students during integration made some residents consider leaving Northside in the 1960s, as students would be zoned for Chapel Hill High School, she said.

Booze-hall said many forces, including aggressive investors, high prices and rising property taxes that support schools with achievement gaps for Black youth may contribute to the lack of retention of Black residents in Northside.

In 2015, the Town announced a land bank through the Northside Neighborhood Initiative, which is a partnership between the center, the University, Self-Help Credit Union and the Town. It allows them to purchase houses, repair them and sell them back to families with a deed restriction, Booze-hall said. The deed prevents houses from being used as investor property, she added.

The center also offers a workshop series titled "Keeping Your House a Home", which teaches residents to care for their home so they can live there as long as possible, and works to make property taxes more equitable through advocacy and relief programs.

Promoting community connection is also vital to retention, Christine Abernathy, director of housing justice at MCJC, said.

The center strives to create a sense of community through its Good Neighbor Initiative, which includes a door-to-door walk-around to provide welcome baskets and tips on how to be a “good neighbor” to new residents, followed by a cookout celebration at the Hargraves Community Center. 

“Something that any of us can do to support retention is just to get to know our neighbors,” Abernathy said. “Make sure that we're taking care of each other and checking in on each other and making sure that where we're staying is a place where multiple generations can coexist and are all respected.”


To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.

@DTHCityState | 

Special Print Edition
The Daily Tar Heel Women's Tennis Victory Paper

More in City & County

More in The OC Report

More in City & State

More in Chapel Hill

More in Northside

More in Carrboro