Home Artifacts North Carolina historians want pandemic and protest artifacts for the future

North Carolina historians want pandemic and protest artifacts for the future

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Quilter Jill Charville stands outside the Capitol in Raleigh with the liturgical banner she made in the summer of 2020 to show her belief that all people are created equal. She donated the banner to the NC Museum of History for future use in interpreting the manifestations of racial justice that followed the death of George Floyd.

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The long shadow of Confederate monuments

A century and a half after the end of the Civil War, the Confederate army is once again on the move and strategists continue to disagree on the location of the representations of the statues. At least 22 monuments have been demolished in North Carolina. Some have been resettled and others have been locked up. As the movement to remove the statues has intensified in recent years, North Carolina officials face legal and ethical questions about what to do with them. This is the N&O special report.


Future North Carolinians who did not experience the pandemic or the protests sparked by the murder of George Floyd will need to understand the experiences of those who did.

The State History Museum and Archives bring together the stories and pieces of everyday life that will help tell the state’s great stories of 2020 and 2021: social unrest and the COVID-19 pandemic. Telling residents that “Your story is North Carolina’s story,” both agencies are requesting personal accounts and oral histories, photos, audio-visual material and other documents, as well as everyday items. that future Conservatives could use to give an idea of ​​what it was. to live these times.

It’s called rapid response collecting, and it’s part of a relatively new conservation movement that recognizes the value of safeguarding objects at the time of their importance rather than hoping decades later that someone thought of saving them.

“We are looking for evidence of the change that has occurred in 2020 and 2021, so that those who come after us can interpret how life has changed,” said Raelana Poteat, chief curator of the NC Museum of History. which generally deals with types of 3D artifacts. “We’re just trying to be good stewards.”

Traditionally, museums and archival repositories collected artifacts and documents from the past – often the dusty and distant past – as gifts from people whose families passed them down, or from treasure hunters who found them in trunks. attic or flea markets.

Although objects can be rare, beautiful or precious, taken out of context, they do not necessarily have historical significance.

History in everyday objects

In recent years, Poteat said, North Carolina conservatives have focused more on collecting items made or used in the state that may be directly related to life here.

For example, said Poteat, Tories wished their ancestors had thought of hiding more artifacts and documents from the 1918 flu epidemic, which claimed the lives of nearly 14,000 North Carolina residents. . The first known case took place in Wilmington on September 19 of the same year, according to historians. In its collection, the History Museum has the Red Cross helmet of Wilmington nurse Pauline Williams, as well as a scarf and mask that she wore, and a bottle of Vick’s medicine made in the State.

“We don’t have as many things as we would like to tell this story in more depth,” Poteat said. “Looking back, we are very aware that we want to collect more and more varied items for the future telling of the story of this pandemic.”

These could be items that at first seemed foreign or unusual, but during the pandemic have become commonplace. Disposable or homemade masks. Vaccination cards. Virtual event t-shirts. Tickets for canceled events. Business signs telling customers that face coverings are mandatory – or prohibited – or that the business has been suspended or downsized due to illness. Images of the viral particle with its Frankenstein-style spikes. Photos of the “Reopen NC” rallies.

“Right now people see them as very important and an integral part of their lives,” she said. “But if we wait too long, these are things that will be thrown away or not kept.

“They are not beautiful family heirlooms. They are everyday objects. But it’s these everyday objects that sometimes help us tell the best stories.

Documenting the fight for social justice

Poteat said conservatives also collected items that help document protests that have spread across the country, including cities in North Carolina, after a Minneapolis police officer killed George Floyd during ‘an arrest in May 2020.

The protests sparked a surge for racial justice across society that lasted all summer, with groups pushing for police reform and equity in education, employment, housing and care. health.

Jill Charville of Four Oaks, who lived in Raleigh during the protests, felt called to use her quilting skills to produce a liturgical banner to express her Christian belief that all people are created equal. The banner features a cross surrounded by vines in the center flanked by dozens of faces in profile, identical except for their color. She calls it “Reflections of the Cross”.

After the banner was carried during a peaceful demonstration by the group of young clergy members of the NC Conference of the United Methodist Church, Charville offered it to the History Museum, which accepted it in the part of its membership process.

The banner will join Black Lives Matter protest posters, murals painted on plywood sheets covering the windows of downtown businesses that have closed after or out of fear of vandalism, and a funeral service program organized for George Floyd at Raeford, where his family lived.

Bringing the banner into the museum’s collection was powerful, Charville said.

“I wanted my children, and my children’s children, to be able to look back and see that their parents were standing on the right side of history,” she said.

Poteat said finding relevant items to collect as future artifacts has been made easier by the endless news cycle and the way social media amplifies events.

“It just makes people realize that something important is happening,” she said.

One of the risks inherent in rapid response collection, Poteat said, is that it can take years of hindsight to fully understand historical events and know which artifacts are relevant. Thus, today’s curators can store items that future curators recover until the essence of history.

At the state archives office, division director Sarah Koonts said curators were doing parallel work by collecting photos, recordings and other documentary material.

“We’re trying to be more up front,” she said, “not just waiting for you to deliver a box.”

As part of Your Story is North Carolina’s Story, Archives worked with two African-American writers to blog about Life Through the Pandemic and the Social Justice Movement: One by the Author and poet Gwen Starr and another by author and educator Lea Esther Williams.

Also new, Koonts said, the Archives have changed their rules to accept articles from people under the age of 18, so they have the perspective of students whose lives have been transformed in the past 20 months.

“It’s a challenge,” Koonts said. “You don’t really think about how to preserve that moment in time; you’re just trying to pass. But these stories matter. Your story counts for something. You might not think too much about it, but we want to have it.

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Martha Quillin is a general assignment reporter for The News & Observer who writes about the culture, religion and social issues of North Carolina. She has held jobs in the newsroom since 1987.


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