CH@T: Remembering Chatham’s Black history

CN+R STAFF REPORTS
Posted 5/19/21

Chatham County’s observance of its 250th anniversary is well under way, but the recently-formed Community Remembrance Coalition of Chatham is also at work — finding ways to remember and …

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CH@T: Remembering Chatham’s Black history

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Posted

Chatham County’s observance of its 250th anniversary is well under way, but the recently-formed Community Remembrance Coalition of Chatham is also at work — finding ways to remember and acknowledge the achievements and experiences of Black, Indigenous and people of color from that same time period.

This week, we speak with CRC-C President Mary Nettles — who also serves as president of the Chatham Community branch of the NAACP — and other leaders about those plans. The team includes Mary Harris from the Siler City NAACP branch and Bob Pearson, who are co-coordinators for the CRC-C’s work. Find more at www.CRC-C.org.

“Overall,” Pearson says, “we continue to focus on the longer term goals: truth, acknowledgment, and reconciliation for a rapidly growing county that could be an example to others.”

The CRC-C has earmarked Sept. 18 as the prime date for Black History Celebration as part of the county’s 250th anniversary. Why that date?

We asked for a date in the fall so we could have a public event if possible. Having the community together in one place to listen to and support the telling of Black History of Chatham County is important to all of us. Sept. 18 is also the 100th anniversary of Eugene Daniel’s lynching; he was 16 years old at the time of his death; he’s buried in the New Hope Baptist Cemetery.

A number of events have been planned for before that date. The first is a virtual discussion of the book “Caste,” which examines how America has been shaped by a hidden caste system described as “a rigid hierarchy of human rankings” involving race, class and other factors. Why has that book resonated so much in the U.S. in the last few months?

The author, Isabel Wilkerson, says most white Americans insist they are not racist, but the divisions in our society and the injustices in our criminal, educational and economic systems still persist even though laws have changed. She’s giving us a wake-up call to look deeper at habits and practices that have to change for all of us, regardless of color, to be treated equally in our nation.

The Black History Celebration will also include music, storytellers and drama presentations. What’s your hope for what those events will convey about Chatham’s Black history?

Black History in Chatham County has largely been hidden. Black families and churches have preserved that history but the broader community largely has never heard it. Yet, that history has existed from the moment that African-Americans came into the county as slaves over 250 years ago. They built this county as much as anyone else, yet their contributions remain unappreciated. The events we plan are open to the whole community to learn more about the richness of this cultural history and to learn the realities faced by Black citizens of Chatham in that history.

You also have a mural project in process. What can you share about that?

We have selected a Chatham County muralist, Stayce Leanza, to lead our mural effort. We are looking for a location in Pittsboro to place a mural celebrating the Black History of the county. Other local artists, including young people, will participate. It will be a place to recall and celebrate the county’s Black History. Readers may have recommendations about the location of the mural, and we welcome suggestions.

Your group is looking for sponsors for these and other elements of the celebration. How can people find out more?

Our schedule of events is posted on our website: CRC-C.org. We need support that we will use for publicity for the events, for the choir presentations, for more storytelling events (designed for children), for preparing a walking tour of Pittsboro’s Black history, for our mural project, and for further drama presentations. We will provide publicity for all sponsors, individuals, charities and companies, and want to show the wide-ranging support of the community for what we are doing.

What else can you share about your plans?

Our events will be posted on our website. We are also looking into the possibility of doing a videography of the history of the Black community in Chatham County. If we decide to go ahead with this project, we would aim to produce a film documentary that could be used in schools in the county to teach local Black history. Its purpose would be to objectively reflect the contributions of the Black citizens of the county to its development as well as the hard history endured during the long period of Jim Crow rule. The basic theme of the videography will show our broad goal for the Equal Justice Initiative — to tell the whole truth, accept the history, and achieve reconciliation and move forward to build a better county and better race relations.

We will have a commemoration ceremony for the last lynching victim, Eugene Daniel, on the morning of Sept. 18. Looking toward the spring of 2022, we plan to have commemoration ceremonies for the other five victims of lynching in the county.

Your group helped organize a trip for Chatham residents to Montgomery, Alabama, to visit important Civil Rights sites and the Equal Justice Initiative’s memorial and museum. COVID-19 prevented that trip — has it been rescheduled?

The trip is scheduled for October 19-21. We are filling a charter bus to keep costs down and will have a group rate for the hotel rooms. We have a number of people who are signed up and a waiting list. Anyone interested in joining our trip should click on the “participate” section of our website and complete the contact form there. If we get about 50 new people to sign up and reserve a place, we will add a second bus.

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