The Jackson Center: Saving history in Northside

By Morgan Johnson
Carrboro Commons Staff Writer

 

The Marian Cheek Jackson Center for Saving and Making History, 510 W. Rosemary St., is a public history and community development center located in the Northside neighborhood of Chapel Hill-Carrboro. The predominately black Northside and Pine Knolls neighborhoods have rich histories post-Reconstruction, under Jim Crow, during the Civil Rights Era, and in the wake of desegregation.

Staff members Monica Polmeira, left, and Elizabeth McCain, right, read over the latest edition of the Northside News, a community newspaper produced by the Jackson Center for the historically black neighborhood that straddles Chapel Hill and Carrboro. (Staff photo by Morgan Johnson)

Founded in 2005, the Jackson Center is dedicated to preserving the life stories of residents in Chapel Hill and Carrboro based on the understanding that the histories heard, and the values and visions on which they are built, make a difference in communities now and for generations to come, according to their website.

Mrs. Marian Cheek Jackson has served as the historian at St. Joseph C.M.E.  since the early 1950s and has been recording the legacies of everyday history-makers and sharing them widely, which is how the Jackson Center fulfills its mission of storytelling.

Mrs. Jackson still lives in her family home of over 100 years which housed one of the first African-American schools in the area, built by her grandfather. Jackson’s grandfather was a former slave from Warren County who came to Chapel Hill at the turn of the century to work for UNC-Chapel Hill.

Monica Palmeira, the managing director of the Jackson Center, has been involved with the center since her sophomore year at UNC-Chapel Hill. After pursuing a degree in global studies, Palmeira decided to become a part of an initiative that is hyper-local.

“At the Jackson Center, I’m just enjoying doing advocacy in many different ways, involving youth, residents, the university,” Palmeira said. “All the different ways you can use oral history to watch the center grow. It’s very humbling.”

The Jackson Center has grown quickly from its humble beginnings.

Palmeira says: “[Since] its inception as a working group of people to where it is now, pursuing a non-profit status and having a lot of different partnerships with town, university and other private institutions, the Jackson Center has grown in a relatively short period of time. So it’s tremendous how often we are called upon to do things.”

The different components of the Center’s outreach efforts include public history, community action and civic media. Some of the largest initiatives through these sectors of advocacy include St. Joseph’s Ministry and Fusion Youth Radio. The youth radio show is run entirely by high school students from several schools in the community. The Jackson Center’s role in this partnership is to help guide and advise the students.

Palmeira says this partnership important because “often high school students aren’t looked to for their opinions or they’re told what to do, (as opposed to) being able to express their opinions and thoughts on what’s going on in the world. But their voices are very important because they are our future leaders.”

Fusion Youth Radio has gained a lot of attention in since its founding. Most recently, the program partnered with National Public Radio affiliate WUNC-FM to host a youth radio institute over the summer. The radio show can be found on WXYC radio every third Sunday of the month from 5 -6 p.m., says Jasmine Farmer, civic media coordinator for the Jackson Center.

Farmer says, “Seeing the kids in action, interacting with each other, talking, and laughing is the best part of the program. Most of the kids who are together would never interact with each other. To bring them together regardless of their differences is amazing. It is great to see them transition from strangers to friends. The growth these students show over [a few] months is awesome.”

UNC professor in the Department of Communication Studies and Jackson Center executive director Della Pollock was recently featured on the UNC-Chapel Hill homepage discussing her involvement with the Jackson Center. Pollock, who has been honored as a Faculty-Engaged Scholar by the UNC Center for Public Service, says she believes in a classroom without walls.

Pollock says that The Jackson Center has historical roots that date back to 2001 and has enjoyed the many people in the community who talk about the impact the center has on them through public events that are unique to the history of Chapel Hill. Many of the community members, for the first time, feel hope, she says.

When asked about the relationship between students and the Northside community, Pollock says, “The most important thing that anyone can do is to knock on their neighbor’s door or if their family or friends are walking through and you see someone on the street, stop and say hello. Be a member of the community, get to know the people who live there; I guarantee that will change your life. There are different ways to interact with, learn from, and contribute to the ethic of service that is already a part of the neighborhood.”

Pollock explains, “The opportunity to engage with people and learn from them goes far beyond taking care of your trash. Many of the long term residents who live in Northside are the sons and daughters and grandchildren of people who built our university and they continue to work in the [university] and the town. It’s not just ‘another’ community. The Northside is the absolutely a part of the university community and there are historical roots to that.”

Farmer, the civic media coordinator, also believes that the impact of The Northside News on the community speaks volumes to the work done at the center. She says, “[The Northside News] really gives the residents something they can bond about and look through. The students who live in the community can use it to be a part of the community and see the youth in the community.”

“A lot of us are former UNC students,” said Palmeira. “The idea of understanding the community that the university calls home and the folks that have built the university over generations and making sure that perspective is in the dialogue of the town and the university’s growth is very important.”

The community dialogue that is influenced by the center has led to the development of an archives program in an effort to make the history more accessible to people in the community. Elizabeth McCain, the center’s public history and communications coordinator will spearhead the effort.

“We hope that the archive will be online not only for the families here, but for the people who are interested and the community [because] one of the cool things that comes out of our oral histories is what a lot of old Carrboro used to be,” McCain said.

She added that the archive will consist of “a digital archive on the website and a physical archive in the community office so people can come and directly interact with the histories of their friends and themselves.”

Improving communication is a priority of the program, and there are many people who are helping to make the center a major force in the community. The Bonner Leaders Program, which is part of a nationwide network that provides service-based scholarships for undergraduate students, currently has seven interns who are actively helping to make these stories more accessible to the public.

For more information about how to get involved, visit http://www.jacksoncenter.info/get-involved/.

 

Saving history is making history…”

 

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Author of the article

Morgan is a Carrboro Commons staff writer.