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'Black and Carolina Blue Tour' showcases Black history on UNC's campus


In the end of February, University Libraries promoted a website titled “The Black and Carolina Blue Tour” — a recently updated digital showcase of Black history at UNC.

Drawing from the University’s extended and detailed archives, the creators of the website built a robust virtual tour that they say will be a living document as history continues to unfold. 

“It’s an opportunity to look at the UNC campus through the lens of Black history at Carolina,” said Nicholas Graham, University archivist and co-creator of the website. “It’s an introduction and a resource guide and an opportunity to learn and explore.” 

The original tour was developed in 2001 by students of Tim McMillan, a former professor in the Department of African, African American and Diaspora Studies. McMillan worked with his students to create a walking tour of UNC’s campus, highlighting key sites related to Black history at the University. 

McMillan found that the tour resonated with students far beyond his classroom, said Sarah Carrier,  the University’s North Carolina research and instructional librarian and co-creator of the tour.

Multiple websites have been created through the years to accompany the tour. However, faculty saw the need to update the site to make it more reliable and approachable to all, Carrier said. 

“The goal is to make it as accessible as possible,” Graham said. “We’re not trying to rewrite a narrative, but we’re trying to tell an accurate one that has been underrepresented for a long time.” 

Carrier said the goal was to build off of what already existed within the walking tour.

As the tour has grown in real life and online, students, faculty and other community members have offered suggestions and questions of emphasis. 

One of the most impactful suggestions was to include the Pit in the tour, Graham said. Not only is the Pit a central location on campus for social activism, but it also highlights the life and story of James Cates. Cates was a Black resident of Chapel Hill who was murdered outside the Student Union by a white supremacist gang in 1970. 

Other stops include the site on McCorkle Place which previously held a confederate statue known as Silent Sam, as well as the Old Chapel Hill Cemetery, which was segregated through the Jim Crow era. 

Graham said he encourages users to start with the story or location they are most interested in. 

“So much of what we know about campus history is thanks to the primary source materials at Wilson Library and the work of the library and archives staff at Carolina,” vice provost for University Libraries and University librarian María Estorino said in a news release. “The new tour site is one way we can make this history more approachable and accessible for our entire community.”

For Carrier and Graham, the most important aspect of this project is that it includes high-quality research based on primary sources. 

“I think that a lot of the efforts that we see are really driven by the community pressing for answers, and students who want to learn the history,” Carrier said. “When they do learn it, there is a need and a demand for accountability.” 

Sophomore Megan O’Connor, who follows the University Archives on social media and saw the recent promotion of the tour, said, as the oldest public University, it's important to acknowledge all the history around campus. 

"I think that UNC has a lot of history in itself and has played a large role in the history of the state and even in the country in some cases so I think it’s really important for us to know our own history, and that way we can also see the impact that Carolina has made," she said. 

Two of the main sources included throughout the tour are The Daily Tar Heel and Black Ink Magazine.  Graham said newspapers are so valuable to history because they have accounts of individuals who were experiencing these events in real-time. 

Overall, the project is meant to be community-based and malleable, Carrier said. 

“We want this to be very clearly a democratic, participatory kind of an endeavor,” she said. “As we move forward, we’ll continue with that spirit essentially and make it something that’s fun and generative. Even though it’s about history up to the present, we want this to also be future-facing and future-oriented.”

Graham said they hope to continue to find meaningful ways to share this information. 

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The original walking tour is still offered occasionally by professors in the AAAD department. Graham hopes to eventually collaborate with student groups to continue and update in-person tours. 

In the meantime, Carrier and Graham hope people will use the website to learn and build community through the power of history. 

“Within the libraries, we can’t help but be a part of that movement toward transparency because the evidence is in our archives,” Carrier said. “So, we’re directly in response to and in collaboration with the needs of the community to talk about this history.”