Community Project to Preserve Sewanee’s Black History


This summer the Sewanee Black History Initiative is inviting all persons with roots in Sewanee’s black neighborhoods to participate in our community’s first-ever digitization fairs, which will be devoted to recovering, recording, and preserving the history of African-Americans on the Mountain. The fairs will be held on Memorial Day (Monday, May 27) and Friday, July 5, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. both days, at the St. Mark’s Community Center on Alabama Avenue in Sewanee.

Digitization fairs offer several ways to preserve the historical record in digital form. We invite all persons with roots in Sewanee’s black community to bring with them their memories, stories, and personal keepsakes—photographs, scrapbooks, postcards and letters, family Bibles, school records and yearbooks, trophies and diplomas—anything that reflects life in Sewanee in years past.

A team of present and former residents, university students, and staff will use scanners and cameras to make digital copies of their collections. Participants will not lose possession of their personal keepsakes. In fact, they get to keep their original materials and receive a free digital copy of them on a USB drive, which will be theirs to share with anyone they wish.

There will also be an oral history booth where participants can share their Sewanee stories about their grandparents, parents, siblings, and others and preserve those stories for generations to come. The Initiative team members will lead walks through the St. Mark’s neighborhood and lunch will be served to all participants.

Finally, participants also can ensure that future generations will remember Sewanee’s African-American history by donating a digital copy of their historic memorabilia to a new community digital archive dedicated to collecting, preserving, and honoring the history of the African-Americans who helped to make Sewanee a thriving and prosperous community.

For many generations the black residents of the Mountain were centrally important members of this community. They worked in the buildings of the University of the South and its academy, cooked meals for its students, and kept the homes and children of the town’s white residents. African-Americans built strong, family-centered neighborhoods and supported their own church and school. The African-American population in Sewanee once numbered in the hundreds. Sewanee—the university and the town—thrived because of their contributions. But today, as older residents have passed and younger generations have left for opportunities elsewhere, many fewer African-Americans live on the Mountain. The school, church, and many of their homes have been bulldozed. As a result, the record and memory of their lives and experiences and of how they helped shape the University and the community surrounding it are in danger of disappearing.

The members of the group organizing the events are: Shirley Taylor (Sewanee), James “Jimmy” Staten (Belvidere), Carl Hill (McMinnville), Sandra Davis Turner (Sewanee), Elmore Torbert, Jr. (Tullahoma), Jackie Duncan (Tullahoma), Doug Cameron (Sewanee), Tanner Potts (Sewanee), Robert Lamborn (Sewanee), Hannah Pommersheim (Sewanee), Nicky Hamilton (Sewanee), Sarah Sherwood (Sewanee), and Woody Register (Sewanee).

The Sewanee Black History events are sponsored by the Project on Slavery, Race, and Reconciliation, a program launched by the University of the South to study and make known its historic entanglements with slavery and slavery’s legacies. The digitization fairs are made possible by a Common Heritage grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Additional support comes from the university’s Gerald Smith Experiential Learning Fund and the McCrickard Faculty Development Fund.

For more information, a Facebook page describes the activities. Community members can reach the Initiative by email or by phone (931) 598-1085.