North Carolina Central University (NCCU) Department of History Assistant Professor Charles Denton Johnson, Ph.D., will be the principal investigator on a $148,817 grant from the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) to document the history of the Bragtown community in Durham.
Johnson’s partners for the Digital Extension project are East Carolina University Professor Jarvis Hargrove, Ph.D., and University of North Carolina Pembroke Professor Jaime Martinez, Ph.D. With the grant funding, the three will conduct collaborative research at their respective university on digital storytelling and community engagement that will be housed in the Digital Library on American Slavery.
A request from Vannessa Mason Evans, president of the Bragtown Community Association, prompted efforts to help preserve the community’s history.
For the past three years, as director of NCCU’s Public History program, Johnson led groups of public history students from the university in the examination of deed records, local newspapers and archives connected with Bragtown. As part of their preservation work, the groups have also collected oral histories from family members and descendants of residents of African American communities throughout Durham, with a special emphasis on the Bragtown community.
“Developing digital research collections is important to preserve and tell the history of the community,” Johnson said. “This project utilizes community-based participatory research, public art and history to enhance relationships between old and new residents of the Bragtown community.”
The funding will be used to complete the identification and transcription of deeds in Durham, Wake and Orange Counties and to produce a digital exhibit and mural located in the heart of Bragtown, which was established in the late 1800s north of downtown Durham.
With the rapid redevelopment of Bragtown, the mural will provide residents and visitors a better understanding of the community’s history. More details about the community’s history available through an allied website accessible via scannable QR codes on the mural. Noted Durham muralist Brenda Miller Holmes will lead student muralists in creating the mural. The group will work with a web designer to create the website.
The efforts of student researchers are critical to the project, Johnson adds.
First-year public history graduate student Kyrie Mason said working with Johnson has been an exceptionally eye-opening experience.
“The work of uncovering the realities of our ancestors is important to our continued growth and healing as a community,” Mason said. “Knowing what happened before gives you a forecast for the future.”
The Digital Library on American Slavery is an online collection composed of digital archival resources related to the history of slavery in the South, including detailed information about the lives of the enslaved, enslavers and free people of color. It is located on the University of North Carolina at Greensboro campus.
“Collaborations of this sort help to prepare students for an overveiling society,” Johnson said. “This grant will allow us to further explore creating synergies in research for future research opportunities.”
Throughout the project, participants will continue collaboration with research partners at ECU and UNCP who are completing related projects in their local communities.
“The ACLS Digital Extension Grant Program encourages collaborative, team-based humanities and interpretive social sciences projects that advance inclusive scholarly practices and promote greater understanding of diverse human experiences through digital research,” according to the program’s website.