Graduate student invites Florence to gather history

by Life Editor Tyler Hargett

While some may view family heirlooms as worthless in terms of money, this does not mean they do not have historical value.

To make sure items with valuable African-American history ties are not wasted, graduate student Brian Murphy is managing the Florence African-American Heritage Project.

This is an example of a “history harvest,” a community history project where citizens bring historical artifacts, photographs, stories and documents that receive scanning, recording and are collected together in an online database for public access.

“History harvests are a very effective means to engage with community groups who might feel their stories aren’t historically relevant, but that are, in fact, critical to our understanding of local history and how people situate themselves in their own communities,” said Brian Dempsey, assistant history professor.

In this instance, Florence citizens may bring anything related to African-American history.

“When people are doing scholarly articles (or) family research, they can go to (this database) and look and see that history sort of represented in one place,” Murphy said.

Dempsey said having a harvest centered on African-American history is great for Florence because of its underrepresentation in the community.

“The complexities and contributions of African-American history and culture are often overlooked or severely underrepresented (in Florence),” he said. “This history harvest provides an important opportunity to add much needed raw material and perspective to the evolving Florence and Shoals cultural narrative.”

Project Say Something is leading the event in partnership with the Florence-Lauderdale Public Library.

Murphy, a Project Say Something board member, said he pitched the idea for a harvest to the board last year, and it was quickly approved.

“(The board) would talk about what a great and rich history Florence has, but it seems as if the African-American part of that is sort of neglected, left out (and) overlooked,” he said. “So, (the harvest) was a way to fill in that gap a little bit or have African-American people in Florence be able to come out and have their history represented somewhere as well.”

Besides being used for a database on the library’s website, contributed items will also help organize a fourth-grade educational packet, become a part of the online 2018 Florence bicentennial timeline and be unveiled during Black History Month at the library.

Murphy said the harvest is an important event that can benefit everyone in the community and not just those who bring items to the event.

“Having a comprehensive story of the community that’s told and available for people to access is a really important legacy that we can leave to future generations,” he said.

Graduate student Cathy Wood, who is helping with the harvest as part of a public history class project, said realizing the value of family items is important because they are what make up history.

“The everyday things that everyday people do (is) what constitutes history,” she said. “Those artifacts and those mementos are just as important to all of our stories as it is to the individual stories.”

The first event will be Sept. 17 from 2-5 p.m. at Trinity Missionary Baptist Church, followed by two more in October and November. Private meetings are also available if the event dates are not feasible.

For more information, contact Brian Murphy at 256-765-5028 or [email protected]