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Preserving black history: free workshops for the archivist in you

Johnson C. Smith University, in partnership with Culture Blocks, will host a series of free workshops designed to help families and individuals preserve heirloom photos and documents.

Monika Rhue, director of library services at the James B. Duke Memorial Library at JCSU, is leading an effort to document black history along the Beatties Ford Road corridor in northwest Charlotte. (Photo: Glenn H. Burkins for Qcitymetro.com)

Do you have any treasured family photographs or documents lying around the house? In your attic, in your closet, or perhaps in a shoebox?

Later this month, Culture Blocks and Johnson C. Smith University will host a series of workshops designed to teach novice archivists how to preserve their precious heirlooms. (Culture Blocks is a collaboration between the Arts & Science Council, Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation and the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library.)

“Preserving Us: A Photographic Preservation Workshop” will be a three-date series with a duel purpose.

In addition to teaching families how to preserve their photos and documents, organizers also will use the events to collect some of the visual and oral history of Charlotte’s Historic West End, which includes JCSU and the Beatties Ford Road corridor.

Residents who grew up in the area will be asked to share their photographs and oral recollections of the historically black community. Items and stories collected may become part of a traveling exhibition.

Preserving black history

The project comes as some of Charlotte’s historically black neighborhoods, including Historic West End, are being changed by an influx of new residents. The project will seek to preserve neighborhood history before it is lost, said Monika Rhue, director of library services at the James B. Duke Memorial Library at JCSU.

Rhue, who will head the Beatties Ford Road Corridor Preservation and History Project, said the effort can be traced to a gift by the family of the late James Peeler (1929-2004), who operated a photography studio on Beattie Ford Road. When Peeler died, his family donated more than 200,000 images to the JCSU library – images that that document African American weddings, social events and everyday life. The library is currently in the process of digitizing those photos.

And then there is the oral history, some of which the project has already collected.

“We have people we have spoken to who are in their 70s or 80s. We have people we have spoken to who are in their 50s or 60s. And so really, it’s a broad range, and it’s really about their affiliation with this community and what this community means to them,” Rhue said.

The project also will seek to document much of the 150-year history of JCSU.

“We have some of our own faculty who’ve been here 30-plus years,” Rhue said. “So, we have interviews with faculty members who have done projects along the corridor as well but also have seen the changes around Johnson C. Smith University.”

WANNA GO?

The Photographic Preservation Workshops are scheduled for:

Sunday, November 12: 2 p.m.-3:30 p.m. @ Beatties Ford Road Regional Library (2412 Beatties Ford Rd). Entertainment by A Sign of the Times. Guest Speaker: Dr. Pamela Grundy, author of Color & Character: West Charlotte High and the American Struggle over Educational Equality.

Thursday, November 16: 6 p.m. -7:30 p.m. @ West Charlotte Recreation Center (2401 Kendall Dr.). Entertainment by QC Family Tree.

Saturday, November 18: 10 a.m.-12:30 p.m. @ Levine Museum of the New South (200 E. 7th St.). Entertainment by QC Family Tree.

All three workshops will cover similar material. Registration is requested.

EXPERT ADVICE

Rhue offers these tips for those looking to preserve historic documents and photos:

— Identify what you have, whether it’s a family collection, church documents or community/neighborhood association records.

— Place them in a cool, dry place away from sunlight.

— Label your photographs. “We take a lot of photographs, but we don’t necessarily label our photographs,” Rhue said. “It’s good to just date them and tell a little information about the photograph.”

— Store your documents and photos in acid-free sleeves and folders.

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