Friday, June 16, 2017

How It All Began

In January 2010, as one of a series of interviews with retired faculty, former chancellor Sam Schuman, talked with Emeritus Professor Bruce Greenawalt. During the course of the interview, Dr. Greenawalt recalled the early days of the Southern Highlands Research Center at UNC Asheville.

Greenawalt served as the first director of the SHRC for three "very pleasant" years, although the job did not pay "as well as one would expect"! He told Schuman how the Center was created to collect primary materials on Appalachia, but that he wanted to go in a new direction from other Appalachian centers, by focusing on urban Appalachia.

Seeing how Appalachia was typically seen as populated by rural banjo pickers, Greenawalt sought to dispel this stereotype by collecting materials from corporate groups, such as Rueben Robertson of Champion Paper in Canton, as well as Jewish groups.

Bruce Greenawalt, 1976 [UA12.3, FS5744]

Greenawalt was also aware that African American involvement in Appalachian history had been overlooked and, as part of 'trying to get away from the single vision of the Anglo Saxon pioneer", he was "on the prowl" for materials covering black history. The SHRC had inherited a large number of oral histories collected by Dr. Louis Silveri and, from following up with a number of Silveri's interviewees, Greenawalt connected with Lucy Herring. Greenawalt's promise to find a place  at the SHRC for any materials Lucy Herring collected and organized, led to the Heritage of Black Highlanders Collection, one of the first created by the SHRC after it was formed in 1977.

All of this was done with "no real money" to support the SHRC, and minimal staffing. In addition to himself, Greenawalt recalled that the staff comprised, student help, a half-time senior supported by government funding, a young photographer from CETA, and a typist.

Forty years on, Special Collections is still building on the foundations that they laid down.