Old Charlotte was simple — black, white and not much else.

The New Charlotte is busting with a racial, ethnic and international mix few could have foreseen.

For an entire year, the Levine Museum of the New South will explore Charlotte’s new and old faces with a special exhibit: “Changing Places — From Black and White To Technicolor.”

The exhibit kicks off with a community celebration on Saturday from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Admission is free. Activities will include Shout gospel music, Chinese folk dancers, Brazilian Caporeira dance, arts and crafts and multicultural storytellers.

This is the most ambitious exhibit the Museum has ever produced, said Ashley Thurmond, vice president of marketing & guest relations. It took three years to complete.

“Even if you lived in Charlotte for your entire life, it’s just a very different place,” said Thurmond. “It’s about sharing stories and getting to know each other. All this growth and change can contribute to a feeling of unease and excitement.”

At 33 percent, African Americans make up Charlotte’s largest minority group. Whites make up 55 percent. But the city’s demographics are changing fast as Charlotte lays claim to being one of the nation’s fastest-growing cities.

The Census Bureau predicts that more than half the U.S. population will be people of color by the year 2050, with most of that change coming from an Asian and Hispanic influx.

“Compared to the south that I grew up in, (Charlotte) is in the midst of a revolution,” said Levine historian Tom Hanchett. “In many ways, much of Charlotte looks like the world. It looks like the America of the future.”

Hanchett noted that the top four countries for international newcomers are Mexico, India, Vietnam and El Salvador, in that order.

But the history-book description of America as a “melting pot” doesn’t fit anymore, Hanchett said, because that describes assimilation and people losing most of their culture. The new order will be more like a salad, with each group maintaining its distinct flavor while making up the whole, he added.

Hanchett cautioned, however, “we will never lose the black perspective or the white perspective in this new salad bowl.”

In the coming days and months, the Changing Places exhibit will include:

  • An interactive “Video TalkBack” feature that will film visitors answering selected questions that will become part of the exhibit.
  • A WTVI documentary that will be shown six times during the coming year.
  • An online version of the exhibit set to debut in mid-March.
  • A Community Conversation Series the third Wednesday of each month, sponsored by UNC Charlotte.

The first series will be held Feb. 18, with UNCC Chancellor Phil DuBois, Mecklenburg County Manager Harry Jones and Levine Museum President Emily Zimmerman. It will be moderated by Michael Marsicano of the Foundation for the Carolinas.

The exhibition’s main curator is local historian and textbook author Pamela Grundy, with Hanchett serving as assistant curator. The duo conducted field interviews throughout Charlotte in preparation for the exhibit.

“What this exhibit is about,” noted Hanchett, “ is people making history right now.”

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