Midtown: Community

Shared stories become nuggets of local history

As I share memories with my husband and our daughter about this city of my roots, I clear the way for their own understanding of the push and progress that leaves some things changed and many of us amazed by what’s new, and still the same. It provides me an appreciation for our stories, as teeny-tiny as some are, as nuggets of history.

There’s also room to lament what we’re losing.

I’m reminded of that by the passing of Hubert Poole, a son of Historic Oberlin who became one of the country’s first black Marines and one of Raleigh’s iconic athletes, educators, coaches and recreation and civic leaders. It was Poole who told me new stories about my Daddy last year, although I visited to pen Poole’s story. Had his wife, Mary Poole, not reached out to me, I may never have spent time with Mr. Poole, never known what he shared about my dad.

Another reminder is the struggle and sudden closing of the Hargett Street YWCA after 110 years.

So is the effort to embrace the energy of ideas to revive and reinvent St. Agnes Hospital. Known from 1896 to 1961 as the best hospital for black people between Virginia and New Orleans, it now sits at the corner of Oakwood and State streets, a stone shell built with granite that St. Augustine’s College quarried from the campus.

Things are bubbling, too.

The South Park-East Raleigh Neighborhood Association’s preservation of African-American history and contributions in Southeast Raleigh is well under way with maps, a video and an indoor-outdoor museum at the John P. “Top” Greene Center.

Renovations at the Richard B. Harrison Library include a tribute to Wake County’s first African-American librarian with the Mollie H. Lee Collection of books, documents, memorabilia and photos.

And plans for St. Agnes have momentum.

A rehabilitated St. Agnes could house the college’s Allied Health Program, started with federal funds secured by U.S. Rep. Brad Miller, a Raleigh Democrat; medical care clinics supported by Coldwell Banker; and the school’s first graduate-level physician’s assistant program. School officials also dream of reinstating the St. Agnes nursing program and suggest a museum of artifacts from the old St. Agnes Hospital as part of the renovation.

“I hope this also is a celebration of the future of St. Agnes,” Miller said, last month during Celebrating the Legacy of St. Agnes, a black history program of the North Central Citizens Advisory Council. Preservation, he noted, “connects us to the past and reminds us who we are.”

It’s people like Irene Clark, a retired St. Augustine’s biology professor who sought and oversees what’s left of St. Agnes – photographs, medical equipment, uniforms, beds, medical records – who can help us.

“I just hope we will realize the value of that place that looks like it’s in shambles now,” Clark said, noting the school and the community can take St. Agnes “from forgettable to unforgettable.”

Dr. Allen Mask, a WRAL Health correspondent who opened a Southeast Raleigh Urgent Care facility, agrees that reviving St. Agnes now – alongside the Greensboro Civil Rights Museum and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture – would honor an important legacy in an era ripe for archiving history.

“In the moment, we need to think about what a big deal this is,” he said. “This is a big deal today; a huge deal.”

He’s right.

On the heels of the 50th anniversary of Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game as a Philadelphia 76er – and no proof save a picture of him smiling with a piece of paper with a hand-written “100” on it, there’s news my alma mater plans to offer current UNC-Chapel Hill students a chance to electronically preserve their academic work. And a favorite website gave me “11 Things Your Kids Have Probably Never Heard,” a series of videos featuring long-forgotten sounds of a rotary telephone dialing, a TV channel changer, a typewriter and so on.

What a wonderful thing to share.

A Midtown resident, who introduced us to the Chinese community a couple years ago, is sharing again.

This time Lieceng Zhu used a speaker’s class to share stories about her life and culture. One is the story of July 7, Chinese Valentine’s Day and the festival born of a beautiful and sad love story. Another story celebrates the “privileged position” plants have in Chinese culture. Still another tells a personal story of both tragedy and healing.

We should all tell our stories, seek others’, and find ways to share and preserve them. It’s the only way our newest neighbors will know the history on which they stand.

I invite you to follow our neighbor Lieceng Zhu’s lead. Share them with me!

One somebody’s memory – no matter how small – can be everybody’s little nugget of history.

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