Research in Oral History: LGBTQ Activism in the NC Triangle Area

-written by Aaron Lovett, History and Communication Studies, Class of 2017

-editor Monica Richard

Before coming to UNC last fall, I thought research was something only done in the physical and life sciences. So when I heard about undergraduate research, I imagined chemistry and biology majors spending all day in a lab, manipulating a plethora of confusing technical instruments, wearing huge goggles and white lab coats, examining bacteria, and conducting experiments on mice.

Ian Palmquist Photo source: http://tiny.cc/brp8jx

Ian Palmquist
Source: tiny.cc/brp8jx

That was not at all where my interests were. But during my first semester at UNC, I took a research-exposure first-year seminar in history, and through that course realized that research could be done in any subject. After hearing about UNC’s Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF), I decided I wanted to apply for the chance to conduct research of my own.

As a member of the LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer) community, I wanted to learn more about being queer in the Southeast United States, an environment historically hostile to queer people. Throughout American history, people who are now collectively identified as LGBTQ have been branded as deviant, ignored, and hated.

Alexis Gumbs Photo source: http://tiny.cc/lvp8jx

Alexis Gumbs
Source: tiny.cc/lvp8jx

Religious fundamentalism and social conservatism in the South have exacerbated this issue. Making matters worse, there is a slim amount of studies and literature on LGBTQ topics in general, let alone LGBTQ issues in the south.

However, through the Southern Oral History Program at Chapel Hill, I learned that oral history was a valuable method for learning about oppressed groups of people whose history is not thoroughly documented in official texts. So, I began an oral history project on LGBTQ activism in the Triangle area, to learn about queer history firsthand from people who have devoted their lives to shaping it. My second semester at UNC, I received the Pine Tree Fund SURF for research in LGBT Studies to fund my research.

For the project, I interviewed hardworking local activists such as Ian Palmquist, Alexis Gumbs, and Carlton Rutherford. Ian Palmquist, a UNC alumnus, is the former Executive Director of Equality NC, a statewide LGBTQ political action committee, and currently works at Equality Federation, a nationwide advocacy organization.

Pastor Carlton Rutherford Photo source: http://tiny.cc/6op8jx

PR Carlton Rutherford
Source: tiny.cc/6op8jx

As an experienced lobbyist and political activist, he offered valuable insight into how various progressive lobbying groups helped pass the NC School Violence Prevention Act in 2009, the first law in North Carolina history to include the terms “sexual orientation and gender identity,” and the first piece of legislation in the South to include the phrase “gender identity.” Carlton Rutherford has been a pastor for several years at St. John’s Metropolitan Community Church in Raleigh, which offers an all-inclusive space for religious members of the LGBTQ community. His experiences as a gay man of color and clergy member brings to light the many intersecting identities of LGBTQ people. Alexis Gumbs is a queer feminist activist whose work documents the histories of queer black elders; she received her PhD in English, Africana Studies and Women’s Studies from Duke University and is a widely published writer on LGBTQ topics. Younger than most of the activists I interviewed, she was able to not only add a queer woman of color’s perspective on LGBTQ activism, but also represent a newer generation of progressive activists.

My research experience taught me two critical things. First, that there are people from myriad and diverse ethnic, religious, and political groups, who share many of my past experiences. The ability to speak to and learn from them has been invaluable. Second, not all learning happens in the classroom – rather, some of the most valuable knowledge is gained through personal experience. There is so much you can learn by going out into the world and actually finding knowledge, archiving it, and reflecting upon it. And this process of retrieval, documentation, and analysis benefits not only the individual researcher, but the community they are a part of as well.
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Capturing the Past in the Present

written by Olivia Dorsey

edited by Daijha J. Copeland

Olivia Dorsey B.S. Information Science Afri Amer &Diaspora Stds Minor  from Clayton,NC

Olivia Dorsey
B.S. Information Science
Afri Amer & Diaspora Stds Minor
from Clayton, NC

Upon entering into Carolina, participating in undergraduate research had never crossed my mind. I just wanted to hone in on my technical abilities to produce websites and graphic designs, which was my passion. After taking an African, African American, and Diaspora Studies course my sophomore year, I acquired an interest in African American Studies. After hearing about the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) from a friend who was a recipient himself, I was convinced to apply.  I decided that I would use my SURF experience to challenge myself; I would combine my two passions for history and technology. The skills in web development, which I had developed in my years at Carolina, would allow me to create a digital collection, preserving damaged historical photographs from families in the area.

To conduct my project, I traveled to Franklin, North Carolina where I would be able to digitize the family photographs of those who may or may not realize the historical or sentimental value. Many people had their photo albums tucked away, and had even forgotten about them. Yet when asked to see the photos, they were eager to relive those memories and take me along for the journey.  By the end of the project, I created FranklinMemories.com, a website, which holds about 200 photographs and several interviews capturing Franklin’s past.

A photograph of unknown individuals, take from the album of Carrie Stewart Franklin, NC

A photograph of unknown individuals, take from the album of Carrie Stewart
Franklin, NC

In Franklin I created bonds with people there that I will continue to cherish. Next semester, I will be attending the School of Information and Library Science, at Carolina, in pursuit of a Masters of Information Science to study the Digital Humanities. Because of my SURF project, I want to pursue a career as a developer of Digital Humanities projects.  I am not only focusing on web design, but also 3D modeling, motion graphics, and other avenues that I feel will only enhance historical projects. I really hope that by creating these projects, I can continue to make local history accessible to those within the community who may not know about their history or who may not have the means to access it.

I encourage anyone who is planning to pursue a research project, whether funded through SURF or not, to be persistent. If your project is something that you are passionate about, you will be able to find a way to make it happen. But I also think that in order to make your project successful, you must be willing to challenge yourself. divider

Inspiration Within and Outside of the Library

-written by Elizabeth “Liz” Tolleson

-edited by Daijha J. Copeland

B.A. History Major from Pleasant Hill, CA

Elizabeth “Liz” Tolleson
B.A. History Major
from Pleasant Hill, CA

After graduation I plan to seek a career creating comics based upon historical people and events. I felt that in order to do comics about history, I needed to know about my female predecessors and the history of comics. To that end, I chose a research topic that paralleled with my career path. My topic focused on 19th and 20thcentury American female cartoonists and their contribution to the field of comics. I began my research sitting in front of the computer and searching databases, then I soon realized that I needed to be more active in my approach.  While visiting a friend in Chicago, I decided to visit the world renowned  University of Chicago’s Joseph Regenstein Library where I did some preliminary research on their databases. This visit confirmed my suspicions that I would have to do a lot of digging to obtain the information on female cartoonists that I was looking for.  I trudged along and then visited the Art Institute of Chicago’s library to use their database. I was able to read a catalogue from a 1989 art show on cartoons and a thesis done by a student at the Art Institute in 2000. Slowly but surely I was finding the pieces to the puzzles that aimed to create.
Along with diving into the unknown of archival research, I also stepped out of my comfort zone and reached out to THE woman in the realm of female cartoonists, Trina Robbins. Robbins founded the underground comic Wimmen’s Comix in

First Female Cartoonist: Rose O’Neill Photographery: Gertrude Kasebier, from http://thecarbonworks.com/blog/?p=1459

First Female Cartoonist:
Rose O’Neill
Photographery: Gertrude Kasebier
from: http://thecarbonworks.com/blog/?p=1459

the 1970s and continues to write and publish comics and graphic novels today. She has also spent the last few decades researching, writing and publishing histories of women cartoonists in the 19th and 20th centuries, and has done much to preserve the history of many women cartoonists who would have been otherwise forgotten, especially the first woman cartoonist, Rose O’Neill. Robbins has inspired and encouraged other women, like myself, to continue researching, writing about and publishing information on women cartoonists.

During my meeting with Robbins, she encouraged me to attend the annual Copper Con convention in Mesa, Arizona.  CopperCon is a convention hosted by The Central Arizona Speculative Fiction Society where fans of science-fiction and fantasy come together to listen to and meet authors, check out shows, and purchase collectable items. When I got to CopperCon I connected with Robbins who introduced me to Liz Safian-Berube. Safain-Berube was the only female illustrator employed by DC Comics during what is known as the Silver Age of comics (1950’s-1970’s). Safain-Berube shared her perspective on the significance of women cartoonists working during the 20th century. Being able to meet Robbins and Safain-Berube along with my database searches in libraries and museums has provided me with a well-rounded view of 19th and 20th century female cartoonists and deepened my understanding of my research topic.

 

 

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