Article by Lanita Withers Goins.
Graduate students from UNCG’s Public History program are helping to ensure the history of Terra Cotta, a community in western Greensboro, isn’t overlooked.
For close to a century — from the 1880s through the 1960s– Terra Cotta was an African American company town where workers made the clay pipes that supported sewer systems across the South. Located near Spring Garden Street, just five miles from downtown, Terra Cotta residents formed a tightly knit, self-reliant community where everyone was family, whether related by blood or not.
Eight UNCG graduate students have partnered with the Terra Cotta Heritage Foundation to create an exhibition in the neighborhood’s museum about the rich life of the community. The opening of the exhibit, titled Past the Pipes: Stories of the Terra Cotta Community, will be 2-5 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 8 at the Terra Cotta Heritage Museum, 504 Norwalk St. in Greensboro. The exhibit is free and open to the public.
Benjamin Filene, director of UNCG’s Public History program and an associate professor at the university, introduced the students to the area in 2011. Since then students have conducted oral histories with residents, collected images, and gathered information from historical censuses and city directories. “Talking with residents has given us the opportunity to help keep Terra Cotta alive in the hearts and minds of the local community,” said UNCG student Sarah Cloutier. “This was a truly memorable experience.”
In early September, the students took an 8-foot-long map of the neighborhood — a “Memory Map”— to Terra Cotta Day, the community’s annual reunion. Individuals were invited to reconstruct the vanished neighborhood by drawing on top of the current roads and buildings. Residents filled the map with their memories and gave a rich picture of what life was like in the community during the first half of the 20th century.
Students are now preparing to open the exhibition at the Terra Cotta Heritage Museum, located in a former company home within the community. “We are all thinking this is going to be a great draw for the community,” said Dennis Waddell, founder and CEO of the Terra Cotta Heritage Foundation. “The museum is the center of our efforts to attract attention to this neighborhood.”
The exhibition focuses on how family, church, recreation, education and work shaped daily life in the community and how residents remember their heritage today. Visitors will learn how the plant impacted daily life, try their hands at some children’s games, and see images of the community across the decades.
In addition to touring the exhibition during the opening, visitors can speak with members of the community and the students, view rare home movies of the neighborhood and enjoy children’s activities and refreshments. The event will also feature a special performance by storyteller and musician Logie Meachum.
For more information about the exhibition, please contact Benjamin Filene at (336) 334-5645 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. For information on the Terra Cotta Heritage Foundation, please visit http://www.terracottaheritagefoundation.org.
Past the Pipes: Stories of the Terra Cotta Community is made possible in part by a grant from the North Carolina Humanities Council, a state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the UNCG Department of History.