In the spring of 2009, a student at UNC, Charlie McGeehan, worked day and night to set up our first oral history digital system in the office of the newly established Marian Cheek Jackson Center for Saving and Making History—a long name for a small enterprise tucked into the upstairs back room of St. Joseph C.M.E. on West Rosemary in Chapel Hill. The following fall, I found myself standing in the hallway outside with Reverend Troy F. Harrison, Brother Robert Revels, Hudson Vaughan, and Rob Stephens dumbstruck and aggrieved by the theft of a hard drive holding all of our interviews to date (these were ultimately recovered). Thanks always to Troy for creating and holding that space, to Robert for ennobling it, and to Hudson and Rob for bridging it with faithful determination. This site—and the promise it holds for generations to come—would not have been possible without their friendship and example.
Standing there, we felt more than ever the privilege and power of listening to oral histories. By 2010, relationships forged in the listening process had spun out into alliances that preceded and exceeded the Jackson Center. In 2008, students brought down the house with a new community collaborative, United with the Northside Community Now or UNC NOW, and hundreds of neighbors joined together to form the Sustaining OurSelves (S.O.S.) Coalition that, in 2011, managed to push through a temporary moratorium on development in Northside only hours before such moratoria were banned across North Carolina. Thank you to all of the community, municipal, and university leaders who came together to show how powerful it can be to organize from the heart of oral history—from the binding relationship between a dedicated teller and a responsive listener.
Many more friends and colleagues have witnessed to the substance of histories told “from the rock wall” in creative interventions ranging from audio-documentary to spoken word performances and interactive, multi-modal exhibits. Their vision has nourished and sustained our own. Thank you to Leslie Gordon, Monica Palmeira, Meredith Robbins, Lauren Shor, Kane Smego, Alexander Stephens, C.J. Suitt, among so many others who lifted up our imaginations about how the world might look, sound, and taste.
Thank you to Elizabeth McCain for listening to a Morris Grove teacher bemoan the lack of Black history in her social studies textbook and launching the MCJC education initiative in close collaboration with Chapel Hill/Carrboro school partners. Thanks to Jasmine Farmer, Rachel Glasser, Brentton Harrison, Megan Stanley, Andrea Wuerth, Yvonne Cleveland, and Aisha Booze-Hall for carrying that baton into what is now the vibrant Learning Across Generations k-12 curriculum of oral and local history workshops, freedom tours, digital course plans, and all-school assemblies.
From the Rock Wall is the work of an amazing public history team. Many thanks especially to Kathryn Wall, project manager, Anna Spencer, research fellow, and our design and development partners with Research Action Design (RAD), Tim Stallmann and Anne Tomasevich, for untold patience and ingenuity. Thanks to team members over the years—Kaley Deal, Heidi Dodson, Danielle Dulken, and Wyatt Woodson—for critical initiative and support. The team has been truly blessed by leadership from the members of our Community Review Board: Kathy Atwater, Colleene Rogers, David Caldwell Jr., Nate Davis, Jane Garrett, Jacqueline Battle Pratt, Chaitra Powell, and Mae McLendon.
Many thanks to all of the community members and friends of the Jackson Center who provided critical feedback on the site. Rest assured: it’s still growing.
Many thanks to our great friends at the Southern Oral History Program—Seth Kotch, Malinda Maynor-Lowery, Rachel Seidman, Sara Wood, and all of the field scholars and interns along the way—for setting and realizing such high standards for genuinely democratic history and for essential partnership. Thanks too to Lisa Gregory and DigitalNC: The North Carolina Digital Heritage Center for providing a secure home for our growing site.
From the Rock Wall is indebted to staff members of the Marian Cheek Jackson Center for contributing to its content and integrity over many years. The MCJC staff embodies listening leadership. They have worked assiduously with the widest possible range of community members and extraordinary Board of Directors to realize the legacy vision of freedom in housing, food, education, faith, and fellowship that echoes throughout this site. Warmest thanks to Kathy Atwater, George Barrett, Yvonne Cleveland, Brentton Harrison, Phyllis Joyner, Mae McClendon, Hudson Vaughan, Andrea Wuerth, and Janet Xiao.
Thanks too to the many service partners, interns, and fellows who have spent hundreds of hours conducting, logging, and transcribing the interviews on this site. Your careful ears and open hearts have made a world of difference.
For encouragement and inspiration beyond measure, special thanks to Stephanie Barnes-Simms, Gladys Pendergraph Brandon, Keith Edwards, Dennis and Roxyette Farrington, Rev. Willis Fearrington, Esphur Foster, Natalie Fousekis, Valerie Foushee, Jacquelyn Hall, Bernice Harrison, Pat Jackson, Regina Merritt, Seth Murray, Michael Palmer, and Timothy Tyson.
To all of the community members who have entrusted us with your histories--and to those who taught us about why they declined to do so: our thanks will never be enough. You have opened many hearts and changed many lives. May your contributions here be the start of yet more to come.
Finally, to Mrs. Marian Cheek Jackson, for schooling Hudson and Rob early on, for exemplifying the beautiful and hard work of history, and for offering so much grace: abounding love.
This site has been made possible by generous grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Mellon Foundation.