North Carolina’s black culture gets a boost in wiki-dom

jshaffer@newsobserver.comApril 14, 2013 

— He owns a rich history as a bluesman and part-time bootlegger – a guitar-picking fixture of Durham in the 1930s, a man who rubbed shoulders with the likes of folk-era popularizers Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee.

But Willie Trice lacks the briefest mention in the one place that might rescue his fading memory: wikipedia.org.

Trice isn’t the only one short-changed by the online encyclopedia. Choreographer Chuck Davis, known worldwide, also gets snubbed. Millie and Christine McCoy, the singing, dancing conjoined twins who earned the nickname “the two-headed nightingale,” merit only five paragraphs.

So on Sunday, a squad of volunteers sat down at UNC-Chapel Hill to beef up North Carolina’s wiki presence, adding and altering entries about the state’s distinctive black culture.

Bluesman Trice will meet a generation of Web searchers thanks to Jessica Wood, a UNC library science student who helped pluck him from obscurity.

“He hung around with Blind Boy Fuller and those people,” she said, referring to another influential Piedmont bluesman.

Wikipedia is the world’s sixth-most-popular website, consisting of millions of entries describing topics that vary from Christopher Columbus to death metal. Written and edited by volunteers, the 12-year-old site has morphed into the electronic Encyclopedia Britannica – the first place people go to find things out.

Throughout its history, Wikipedia has taken some hits for its accuracy – often for omissions rather than for mistakes. But studies have generally shown its content to be corrected quickly when entries are either logged incorrectly or vandalized.

Sunday’s edit-a-thon came about through the North Carolina Collection at UNC’s Wilson Library, which aimed to get its resources in front of more eyes. Roughly 30 people from around the state signed up to tackle a list of suggested entries.

“There are a lot of glaring holes,” said Emily Jack, a librarian with the North Carolina Collection. “We put together a pretty long list of people who only have a few sentences.”

Among them:

• The “5” Royales, a rhythm and blues band from Winston-Salem in the 1950s.

“The interesting thing is why the “5” is in quotation marks,” said Carolina Zarzar, a student intern helping with the edit-a-thon.

•  Charlie Scott, a former NBA basketball player who was the first black scholarship athlete at UNC.

•  North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Co., the oldest and largest black-led financial company.

•  The Royal Ice Cream sit-in of Durham in 1957, which is mentioned only in a larger entry on sit-ins in general.

The edit-a-thon was a first at UNC, but other institutions across the country have held them to boost awareness of their niches. The Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library held one in February.

“There’s this perception that Wikipedia is this place where there’s a lot of crackpot information,” Jack said. “That’s really not the case anymore.”

Ask Willie Trice, a lonesome bluesman no more.

Shaffer: 919-829-4818

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