Harvesting History in Rocky Mount — An Experiment in Crowdsourcing Documents

On February 25, 2017, twenty students from Professor Robert Allen’s AMST 275H (“Documenting Communities”) and AMST 840 (“Digital Humanities/Digital American Studies”) courses conducted a history harvest in the Warner Room of the Braswell Memorial Library in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. Led by Melissa Dollman and Elijah Gaddis, and sponsored by the Community Histories Workshop, the event was designed to encourage people to share their memories, stories, photographs, and other items to help us tell a well-rounded history of Rocky Mount Mills. [What is a History Harvest?]

(Photos from the day, and a selection we digitized.)

Following a tour of the Rocky Mount Mills site led by Capitol Broadcasting’s Scott Roberts and Julie Baggett, the students spent the afternoon welcoming the collective wisdom of more than thirty Rocky Mount residents in our efforts to identify people, places, and events in digitized and printed historic photographs and films–in a way that only locals can do. We also provided equipment to digitize visitors’ films, photographs, and documents related to personal histories of the mill and village. We also added six new interviews to our growing oral history collection, in addition to dozens of amazing digitized photographs, newspaper clippings, letters, and official mill documents. Some highlights included an employee handbook from the early 1940s, report cards from the mill school, family photographs from the 1930s and ’40s, and images of an employee holiday party inside the mill in the 1990s.

(Enjoy the 360-degree view! Use your cursor to navigate around the image.)

A collaboration with Braswell Library’s local history archivist Traci Thompson, the event was further enriched by special guests. Skip Elsheimer of A/V Geeks in Raleigh digitized home movies of Rocky Mount and showed historic footage of the town from his collection. In addition to screening a 1930s home movie of the mill village area, Elsheimer digitized at least one commercially-made film of Rocky Mount from the same era which promises new insights into the people and places during Depression-era and mid-century years in Rocky Mount.

But perhaps the most exciting part of the day was a visit from Princeville, NC’s Milton Bullock, a former member of The Platters from 1967-1970. Mr. Bullock talked about his history and the history of Princeville, one of North Carolina’s most important historic towns and a center of African American life for well over century and a half. To cap his visit, and our day, he graced the whole crowd with a performance of two songs, “To Each His Own” (below) made famous by The Ink Spots, and “Only You,” a hit for The Platters.

The history harvest is part of the Community Histories Workshop’s ongoing collaboration with Braswell Memorial Library, Rocky Mount Mills, and Capitol Broadcasting. Please spread the word!

-Melissa Dollman and Elijah Gaddis

2 Comments

  • Rochelle Waters Bass

    Melissa: I had to be out of town the day of this historic event and could not attend. I have several pictures of my Mother, Edna Coley Waters, who worked at Rocky Mount Mill for over 40 years, that I would be happy to send you via e-mail, to be included in the memorabilia you have already accumulated. Please advise if I can do this. Thank you.
    Rochelle Waters Bass, Daughter of Edna Coley Waters.

    • Melissa Dollman

      Dear Rochelle,

      We would very much love that! The Coleys came up a few times last Saturday! Please email, if you would, your pictures to msdollman [at] unc.edu.

      Thank you for being in touch!
      Melissa

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *