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UNC faculty study mill history

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By Corey Davis
Staff Writer

Saturday, December 3, 2016

A group of University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill faculty members are working with Capitol Broadcasting Co. to preserve and showcase the history of Rocky Mount Mills.

Launched in July, the Community Histories Workshop is designed to develop community projects in North Carolina and use the resources and connections at UNC-Chapel Hill to help facilitate those community histories initiatives, said Bobby Allen, founding member and co-faculty lead of Community Histories Workshop. 

Allen, a professor in the American Studies Department at UNC-Chapel Hill, said with Mills officials having a desire to incorporate more history as part of the Mills experience, the company gave a $30,000 grant to the Community Histories Workshop in August to support the organization’s exploration of the ways community-based memories and stories, multi-media archival materials, architectural space and the internet can be connected in new and meaningful ways to showcase the history of the Mills.

“We’re working with Capitol Broadcasting, and we’re conducting oral history interviews with former workers at the Rocky Mount Mills and building an online interface so that they can be preserved and shared,” Allen said. “We’re also going through the voluminous archival collections reflecting the history of the mill and of the Battle family, which formerly owned the mill. We very much hope that this is the first phase of a long-term project that will expand into other ways that history can become a part of the experience for a new generation of people working, living and playing in the mill community.”

Along with Capitol Broadcasting, Allen said, other core partners helping with the Community Histories Workshop include the Southern Historical Collection and North Carolina Collection.

The Southern Historical Collection, which is part of Wilson Library at UNC-Chapel HIll, holds the papers of the Rocky Mount Mills and more than 35,000 items reflecting the history of the mill, the mill village and physical site dating back to 1816 and continuing through the mill’s closure in 1996, Allen said.

MIlls added the North Carolina Collection holds 470,000 photographic archives from former longtime Rocky Mount Telegram photographer Charles Killebrew. 

“The history of Rocky Mount and the Rocky Mount Mills are also reflected in other North Carolina Collection holdings, including digitized newspapers, city directories, postcards, maps, high school yearbooks and church histories,” Allen said. “North Carolina Collection staff helped to facilitate the first conversations between the Community Histories Workshop and Capitol Broadcasting.”

The Braswell Memorial Libary also holds a variety of significant local history collections, Allen added.

“We’re eager to work with Traci Thompson, who is the local history librarian at Braswell and already began meeting and working with her to help train her volunteers to do oral history interviews as a way to extend our work in the community,” Allen said.

Allen said there have been preliminary talks with Capitol Broadcasting about a possible summer school field experience course for UNC-Chapel Hill students at the Rocky Mount Mills.

“The students could use the site as a laboratory to see what kind of historical work they’re able to do,” he said.

Allen and a group of his colleagues from UNC-Chapel Hill on Friday  toured the interior of the mill plant. Allen said it was one of the last tours before the mill plant becomes a construction site. Faculty members from UNC-Chapel Hill also toured the mill village and got an opportunity to examine both unrenovated and renovated properties before having a discussion at the Battle House.

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