If you’ve visited the Atkins Library recently you may have walked past the display cases in the atrium without realizing their contents. Inside are letters, books, photos and other items which illustrate the progress of African Americans since the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863.
“Chains & Champions” was created to celebrate both Black History month and the 150th anniversary of the Proclamation on January 1st, and it will remain up through March. Items on display are from the library’s Special Collections, and help tell the story of the sacrifices, struggles and strength of African Americans before freedom was granted, and significant accomplishments since that time.
|Figure 1. Child-size shackles from Sumter, SC||Figure 2. Examples of books and writings|
|Figure 3. Items from the Civil Rights era||Figure 4. African American “Firsts” from NC|
“The Atkins library is proud to share a glimpse into the history of African Americans through a display of original documents and items from the library’s Special Collections” said Denelle Eads, Special Collections Research & Outreach Librarian. “It is part of our state’s history and Atkins Library is very fortunate to have items like this which tell the story of our past.”
“Chains & Champions” includes original documents such as bills of sale and receipts of slave purchases, information about the slave trade, and documents describing how slaves were informed of their freedom. On loan from the South Carolina State Museum are child slave shackles excavated from Sumter Country. The displays also include written work by African American authors such as Phillis Wheatley, Frederick Douglass and Lunsford Lane, which represent how some slaves were taught to read and write by their owners.
The progression of African Americans is next represented through the Civil Rights era, with a focus on people and events in Charlotte and the state. Here, items show the struggles for equality during the Jim Crow era, with examples of letters for and against the integration of public facilities, organizations, and a segregated cemetery. Original handwritten notes from the landmark school desegregation case Swann v. Charlotte Mecklenburg Board of Education are included in this display case.
Finally, “Chains to Champions” looks at African Americans who have made significant contributions to American society by becoming “firsts.” Featured in this section are Frederick Douglas Alexander (first African American to become a member of the Charlotte City Council), Reginald Hawkins (first African American to run for governor of North Carolina), Harvey Gantt (first African American mayor of Charlotte), and Barack Obama (first African American president).
“When patrons view this exhibit, we hope they’ll want to learn more about the rare and unique items that have been preserved for the public to see and use,” said Eads. “We have a treasure chest of history just waiting to be opened, and we invite everyone to visit Special Collections to discover our wealth of historical items.”
The Atkins Library Special Collections is located on the tenth floor and include many original historical documents of Charlotte and the Carolinas region. For more information, please call 704.687.1170.