REMINDER: History Project Targets Mill This Saturday, Feb. 25 – Noon – 4:00 – Braswell Library

1620825_276177569210822_1039811236661551242_nTHIS ARTICLE FROM THE TELEGRAPH IS YOUR REMINDER

By Corey Davis
Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Local people are being encouraged to attend an event hosted by a group of University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill faculty members this weekend at Braswell Memorial Library to share recordings, memorabilia, and stories relating to the history of the Rocky Mount Mills. The UNC Community Histories Workshop, which brings together faculty, students and staff with local partners to preserve and share community histories will be hosting a “History Harvest” from noon to 4 p.m. Saturday at the library.

UNC American Studies Professor Robert Allen, who is one of the faculty leaders of the Community Histories Workshop, said the History Harvest is a collaborative, community-based digital project and learning initiative that aims to emulate history. He added the Rocky Mount Mills History Harvest is a collaboration between the UNC Community Histories Workshop, Braswell Library, the Department of American Studies at UNC and A/V Geeks, a Raleigh-based collector and digitization company.
Allen said people are urged to come to the History Harvest to help the UNC Community Histories Workshop identify places and people in historical photos of the Rocky Mount Mills, share memories in oral history booths and have experts digitize 10 to 15 photographs, 10 to 15 documents, and home movie films or videos from such things as VHS tapes or DVDs. 

img_4526Traci Thompson, local history librarian at Braswell Memorial Library, also will help collect materials reflecting the history of Rocky Mount and the surrounding areas. Documents, photos and moving images harvested from the event will be used in future digital exhibits created by UNC Community Histories Workshop. “What we want to do is use new technologies or digital technologies to help people select their favorite photographs that reflect the history of the Rocky Mount Mills and the Mill Village,” Allen said. “Each participant will go home with digital copies of their own photographs, film or documents.”
Elijah Gaddis, who also is a co-founder of the UNC Community Histories Workshop, is leading the history harvest. Allen said it’s important the UNC Community Histories Workshop reaches out to the black community because of the many ancestors who worked at the mill and the first use of slaves in a North Carolina cotton mill was at the Rocky Mount Mills. Allen said there hasn’t been much written in the past about the period of slavery at the Rocky Mount Mills, which is something the UNC Community Histories Workshop plans to dig further into. “People think historians are only interested in the lives of famous people, but public historians want to preserve and share stories and recollections of everyday life, whether it was hard times as well as good times.”

“The rehabilitation of Rocky Mount Mills by Capitol Broadcasting Co. is a perfect opportunity for us,” he said. “We have the archives of the mill and of the Battle family of Rocky Mount, who owned the mill for 200 years in our Southern Historical Collection. Through activities such as the history harvest, we can create a community archive of shared images, memories and stories.”

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The Great Music of the “Colored June German” – Part 3

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1945 advertisement for the African American June German-Image Rocky Mount Telegram

Shall we dance? For a small town, known for tobacco, cotton, and lumber mills, the dances began as a celebration of the tobacco crop that sustained the community and became the highlight of Eastern North Carolina’s social life. The popularity of the dances crossed over to Rocky Mount’s African-American population. In 1917, a second June German began, in those days sometimes referred to as “the colored June German.” It was held the Monday after the traditional dance on Friday night. The same warehouse and decorations were used. The black communities June German soon became an entity unto itself, growing larger than the original dances. This second event came to be a nationally renowned stage for many of the famous bands in the country. In the ad above you find Louis Armstrong as one of two bands that got the evening started, and then the big band would come on later and play all night.

At the peak of its draw, in 1949, the African American June German with Count Basie drew over 24,000 dancers and spectators. Click on Youtube Video for Count Basie & His Orchestra. Tickets were sold just to watch the festivities. Wouldn’t you love to have heard  Buddy Johnson and Roy Eldridge, popular in the big band era, and my favorite, Ella Fitzgerald or Billy Eckstein when they entertain at these famous affairs.

Elijah Gaddis, UNC, wrote an article in 2013 which I found while doing research. Gaddis states that in the beginning, the African American June German was probably not much more than an attempt by the community to replicate for themselves some of the fun the dances were providing. Soon the second dance developed its own traditions and moved away from the influence of the white community. Other African American communities in neighboring counties also had their own germans ever year. Little is known about them with scarce media coverage. It would be great if anyone could add to this historical info.

One day, as more pieces of the revitalization puzzle are in place, with time and energy, there will be a revival of June German dances. People will make room in their homes once again, to host our visitors. Good china and silver will adorn tables layered with ham and biscuit, other favorite Rocky Mount recipes provided by our great cooks. Ware houses will be decorated, music will fill the air. The one exception to the “no drinking” policy will allow and feature, our Rocky Mount micro beer world. Perhaps the black tux jackets can give way to white summer jackets, and the women’s dresses will still be beautiful.

We’ll all work together to make it a great come back. Can’t wait.

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