Team Leader Reflection:
Pictured here is Rev. Albert Williams, the first African-American firefighter in Chapel Hill and one of the activists in the local civil rights movement, telling his story to 8th graders from Smith Middle School in St. Joseph CME Church. St. Joseph’s was the place we were doing the presentation and the gathering spot for much of the local movement. Reverend Williams shared his memories about “Big John” the owner of Colonial Drug store, the site of the first sit-ins in Chapel Hill. With an eloquence that comes from struggle and wisdom, Rev. Williams shared “Big John was not a bad man. In fact, Big John was a really good man who took care of people, but he was caught by the lines of race that had drawn for ourselves. He was not prepared for us to step over them. But we had to; it was time to.”
The students were rapt with his narrative and the intertwined nature of race, class, and division in the South. They asked: Did he realize that what he was doing was wrong later? Why didn’t you just give up after all that trouble? How did you decide what to do? How did you keep going on?
This was a situation only possible with neighborhood leaders teaching their own stories, and is an example of why we do what we do.
We have really taken off with our Northside Elementary school partnership. In their first year since, reopening we have led workshops or given tours to over 350 students between grades one and five. This has been especially exciting because of our group of community tour guides that have helped share their amazing histories with the young students. We also had community led tours of the 8th grade of Smith Middle School as well as different University classes.
In conjunction with these historical tours and workshops, we are getting closer to developing our Oral History Trust. This would be an accessible way for anyone to listen to our oral history collection. We are close to finalizing approximately 20 interviews to make available through an online exhibition and in our own Yonni Chapman Peace and Justice Library for visitors. Please visit to hear these incredible histories. We are excited to continue to expand our collection of Oral Histories and make sure they are available so that everyone can recognize the wonders that have happened in this place we call home.