History Students Raise Awareness of Durham’s African American History

Posted November 02, 2020, 4:27PM

Service-learning has become a significant aspect of many courses at NCCU, including the coursework of two history graduate students.

Each year the Office of Community Engagement and Service provides students in NCCU’s Public History Program an opportunity to educate new Duke University faculty members about NCCU and Durham’s African American history. Recently, first-year graduate students Kyrie Mason and Geoffrey Gadsden presented their research to approximately 40 new faculty members.

Their presentation, “A Tour Through Historic Black Durham," was part of the virtual event “Getting to Know Your New Hometown: Durham Then and Now” hosted by Duke Service-Learning.

With the assistance of the Public History Program Director and Assistant Professor Charles Johnson, Ph.D., the group was able to bring the history of Durham to life using Google Earth software which provided a dynamic aspect to viewers. The presentation included select significant individuals and a brief tour of sites in Durham, including the Hayti community, Black Wall Street and the Snowhill and Stagville plantations.

“African American communities in Durham have sought our assistance in preserving their history and our students are playing a critical role in that process as researchers and producers of historical knowledge,” said Dr. Charles D. Johnson, Public History Program director and assistant professor. “Students are also developing marketable skills that upon completion of their degrees will make them highly competitive for doctoral programs or the increasingly competitive global job market.”

Gadsden, an aspiring lawyer credits this experience with exposing him to notable African Americans in Durham’s legal community.

“This experience has not only enhanced my presentation skills but also uncovered influential African Americans in Durham and their contributions to the community,” said Gadsden.

Since 2016, NCCU has participated in Duke Service-Learning’s Context and Connections Tour with university Archivist Andre Vann serving as a speaker on a few occasions. In recent years, Department of History graduate students have addressed the group, providing a unique flair to the presentation.

“Allowing students to present helps them to cultivate their public history voice,” said Calleen Herbert, director of NCCU’s Office of Community Engagement and Service. “This is a great opportunity for students to not only gain experience presenting their research, but to also educate our neighbors about NCCU and Durham’s African American history.” 

Duke Service-Learning connects academic curriculum to communities to foster enriched learning and engagement in ethical collaborations. It provides consultation, training, research, and advocacy for the work of faculty, staff, students and communities to support academic programming that joins communities in promoting social equity and social change.

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