Authored by anon in “In the Shadow of the Church: Black Study in the Town of Davidson“
last updated 02.09.2021
In Ms. Smith’s scrapbook, as well as in the Shared Stories Collection, it is clear what a critical role Black women have played in memory studies, in the archiving and memorialization of community documents, images, and stories. A Mecklenburg Gazette clipping from 1991 profiles the ongoing campaign to preserve a local cemetery where enslaved people were buried. The accompanying image shows an older Black woman named Hazelee Houston Graham, in conversation with an older white man, identified as Ken Brotherton (Whitacre, 1991). They are sitting on Graham’s porch, and the photo is taken from a lower angle, almost in the bushes, looking up at the two older town residents. Brotherton is smiling slightly and leaning into the conversation, holding a rolled up piece of paper in one hand, while Graham sits back in her chair looking back at him. Outside of the context of the newspaper clipping, this scene looks like a neighborly chat.
In the print clipping, the article title “Woods creep over slave graveyard” is directly above the image (Whitacre, 1991; in Smith, pg. 80). Plants encroach on Brotherton and Graham’s conversation as well: flowers in the bottom left and a hanging planter in the upper right (Franklin, 1991). This framing blurs the reader’s associations from preserving history to preserving people. Even within the boundaries of the photo, the divide between student and object of study is blurry, overgrown. Graham looks Brotherton straight on, with a note of curiosity in her face. By taking the time and energy to participate in this project, to speak to Brotherton about her life, her family, and her experiences of this place, Graham is participating in a crucial type of Black study. And as he is asking her questions, she is studying him and his interest in Black history as a white man. Even though Brotherton has come to Graham for information, his presence in the history he is studying holds weight. How does the critical work that Graham is doing shape our understandings of where knowledge production and preservation happen in Davidson? Though this intellectual lineage isn’t enclosed within an institution or department, Hazelee Houston Graham is in community with other Black people attending to the histories of the land and the people who live there.