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Filene receives funding for Terra Cotta Community History Project – research news

Posted on Monday, August 27th, 2012 by Research under Spotlights
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Benjamin Filene, Associate Professor, History

UNCG Research congratulates Dr. Benjamin Filene and his graduate students in UNCG’s Public History program on receiving funding from the North Carolina Humanities Council for their project “Past the Pipes: Stories of the Terra Cotta Community.”

In 1886, the Pomona Terra Cotta Company began operations in Guilford County to provide pipe and other clay products to the growing South.  As was common practice, “the owners laid out a community and constructed homes for the workers who labored at the plant” (Terra Cotta Heritage Foundation). The African-American factory workers who lived in these homes became the Terra Cotta community – a community that endures over 100 years later, just five miles west of downtown Greensboro.

In the face of significant social and economic constraints, the Terra Cotta workers and their families formed a tightly knit, self-reliant group. Despite the death of the Pomona Terra Cotta Company itself, the bonds remained strong. Aging residents in the area remember life there fondly. Current and former residents along with family and friends have even gathered yearly since 2003 to “rekindle the memory and camaraderie of their heritage” during a Terra Cotta Day Festival. However, the rich cultural history behind these voices have received little formal attention.

Dr. Filene’s Terra Cotta Community History Project seeks to document, share, celebrate, and reflect upon this vibrant community before it is too late. Drawing on oral history interviews and images shared by residents, the project will research, design, and install a permanent exhibition at the community Terra Cotta Museum entitled, “Past the Pipes: Stories of the Terra Cotta Community.”

Developing the exhibition will involve both community programs and traditional research. At the neighborhood’s annual Terra Cotta Day festival, Filene and his associates will gather stories through a photo-identification wall, a “memory map,” and oral interviews. Further interviews and public records research will broaden their understanding. Throughout, they will collaborate with a professional exhibit designer, the museum’s director, community members, and scholars. The resulting exhibition—featuring graphic panels, audio excerpts, artifacts, and hands-on stations—will share Terra Cotta’s story and serve as an anchor for this fascinating community museum.

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