As the “Little Museum that Could,” Durham’s Museum of History is fast becoming known as inclusive and innovative. Recent exhibits have celebrated the stories of health care and soul music, of credit unions and denim . . . and basketball legend Coach John McClendon!
Reaching out from its unique History Hub venue downtown, the museum is also taking history to the people, through its History Grove project. The Museum envisions History Groves as a way to encourage appreciation of Durham’s rich past and to build neighborhood pride by creating spaces around town and in the county that celebrate the people and places that make this community so special.
History Groves are being established in a variety of locations, at schools, in parks and in other open spaces. The Groves often include new trees and other plantings, benches, and a plaque noting the honoree and the Museum website, museumofdurhamhistory.org. Thanks to contributions of funds and labor from private and public sources, three Groves have already been created, and many more are in the works.
Where are they, and whom or what do they recognize? As one who has enjoyed living in Durham and helping to document its history for many years, I began the project with a personal mission: to honor my lifelong mentor and friend Dr. John Hope Franklin. Dr. Franklin had deep Durham ties, teaching at what was then North Carolina College for Negroes and later at Duke. I approached Ann Alexander at Durham Central Park about creating a History Grove there, near the Farmers Market. She and her board were enthusiastic supporters, and with the help of landscaper Jonathan Nyberg and his colleagues at Meadowsweet Gardens, plus a granite bench seat that had a previous life as a paving stone on Roney Street, the first Grove was dedicated in 2012. It sits next to Grace Garden, to the rear of the Market.
Last March, Albright Community neighbors celebrated the planting of a second History Grove, at 1017 Juniper St.. The site honors Dorothy Kelly, Junior Kelly and the Albright Community Association, which has worked for over 30 years to make their East Durham neighborhood a better place to live, work and play. Sheldon Galloway of Garden Environments provided expert landscaping support.
A third Grove was dedicated at the Maureen Joy Charter School to honor Jay Rogers Jr., Durham’s Local, State and National Teacher of the Year in 1972, the first African American so honored. A new grove is moving forward at Durham’s demonstration farm on North Roxboro Street, while Morehead Hill neighbors are working on a Grove to honor longtime civic advocates Mary and George Pyne, and the Holton Resource Center will recognize the school campus site of the Durham Bulls’ first baseball field! Much of this progress is thanks to the enthusiastic support for “Groving” from many city and county leaders, at Parks & Recreation, Duram Public Schools, Durham Open Space and Trails, and other agencies. In time, we’ll plan a bike tour of grove sites across Durham and encourage school PTAs to “Adopt”a Grove!
A museum volunteer can help guide you and your neighbors in creating a History Grove in your own community. Honoree selection and ongoing grove maintenance are provided by the neighborhood group or sponsoring organization, in consultation with Museum staff and advisors. Expenses are a sponsor’s responsibility with funding help from the Museum. If you are interested in finding out more, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Nick Allen, community engagement coordinator for Durham City’s Neighborhood Improvement Services reminded us at the Albright community dedication that “Stories motivate, teach and build community. Every Durham neighborhood has a story to tell, and History Groves are giving neighborhoods a unique platform to share their stories.” Our History Grove project is expanding the footprint of the History Hub, and more important, helping deepen appreciation for Durham’s rich heritage.
Steve Channing is on the Museum of Durham History’s board of directors.