Beyond Bricks and Mortar:
Revisiting the Sycamore Hill Community
Exhibit preserves history of Sycamore Hill community
GREENVILLE, N.C. (2/7/2017) – “Beyond Bricks and Mortar: Revisiting the Sycamore Hill Community,” a photography project that shares a missing piece in the history of the displaced community, has opened at East Carolina University’s Joyner Library.
On display in the Janice Hardison Faulkner Gallery through March 26, the exhibit illustrates that a community is much more than the bricks and mortar used to construct its homes. The photographs and narratives featured show how the ties that bind are found in human connections.
Students, visitors, and citizens of Greenville and surrounding areas are invited to visit the exhibit and learn about the predominately African American community that was displaced by a redevelopment project in the 1960s.
According to Joyner Library Director Janice S. Lewis, “The Beyond Bricks and Mortar project furthers the mission of Joyner Library and ECU to celebrate and preserve the life stories, art and images that represent the regional culture of eastern North Carolina. It is particularly timely as the Greenville City Council continues to discuss a planned memorial near the former location of Sycamore Hill Missionary Baptist Church, now part of Town Common. Recent meetings attended by former residents and church members provided an opportunity for us to learn more about the community, its importance, and the need to document its history before more time passes.”
Sycamore Hill Missionary Baptist Church was founded in 1860 and was originally known as the African Baptist Church. The name was changed in the 1880s and referred to the sycamore trees surrounding the church’s location on the corner of First and Greene streets. The large brick church featured in the exhibit’s historical photographs was constructed in 1917 and was a Greenville landmark for half a century. When the Town Common Park was created in the late 1960s, both the church and the vibrant community that existed around it were forced to move.
With the support of a North Carolina Arts Council Grassroots Grant and additional support from the Friends of Joyner Library, the Beyond Bricks and Mortar project began in late December, led by a team from Joyner Library including Charlotte Fitz Daniels, programs and events coordinator at Joyner Library, Heather White, assistant director for assessment and engagement at Joyner Library, and ECU graduate and professional photographer Michelle Butterfield.
“We are honored to help the Sycamore Hill community tell their story and are excited about the possibilities with this project, said White. “It was overwhelming to have such a large participation in the portrait project, which speaks volumes to the strong sense of community and connection this group continues to feel even years later.”
On Dec. 27 and 28, former Sycamore Hill community members and their descendants were photographed as close as possible to the sites of their former homes and church, many of which were located on what is now Greenville’s Town Common. Narratives from the former residents and family members about their memories of living in the Sycamore Hill community were collected by the Joyner Library team to accompany the portraits.
Historical images of the Sycamore Hill Missionary Baptist Church and the surrounding neighborhood from the Joyner Library Digital Collection are also included in the exhibition.
Amber Nannette Harris participated with her father in the project. “Listening to these stories is a scar for me too,” she said. “They’re my parents and these are my family, and I am happy to stand here and in the gap for those who have gone before us. These sacred grounds will forever be home in our hearts,” said Harris. “This acknowledgment is a start of a healing process.”
A public celebration honoring the Sycamore Hill community and recognizing participants in the project will be held on Friday, March 3 from 5-8 p.m. in the Janice Hardison Faulkner Gallery in Joyner Library. The celebration will include a short program at 5:15 p.m. and will be a part of the First Friday Artwalk series, with service by the Jolly Trolley.
“It is projects like these that allow Joyner Library to continue our commitment to documenting regional history and culture,” White explained. “Our goal is to honor our local community while supporting ECU’s strategic mission as a national model for student success, public service, and regional transformation.”
“I want to thank the former residents of the Sycamore Hill community who generously shared their memories with us,” said Lewis. “Many of the people we interviewed were children or teenagers when their lives were disrupted by the destruction of their neighborhood. Their pride in their community, their church, their schools, and their families could not be destroyed, however. We are glad that we are able to preserve and share this small part of their history through the Beyond Bricks and Mortar exhibit.”
After the exhibit closes, the images will be preserved and will continue to be available online as part of Joyner Library’s Digital Collections. The library hopes this project will be the seed for more extensive outreach and collection of regional history, including the history of communities that have been underrepresented in archival collections.
Joyner Library will also hold a Community Scanning Day on Saturday, March 4 from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. at the Sycamore Hill Missionary Baptist Church located at 1001 Hooker Road, Greenville, North Carolina 27835.
If you have historical photographs of the Greenville area or related items that you would like to have scanned, please contact: Charlotte Fitz Daniels at FITZDANIELSC16@ECU.EDU or 252 328-0287
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East Carolina University
Greenville, NC 27858
Janice Hardison Faulkner Gallery
East Carolina University
January 20 – March 26, 2017
Friday, March 3, 2017
5pm until 8pm
North Carolina Arts Council Grassroots Grant
Friends of Joyner Library
Community Scanning Day
Saturday, March 4, 2017 – 9am until 1pm
Sycamore Hill Missionary Baptist Church
1001 Hooker Road – Greenville, North Carolina 27835
Help us preserve your history! If you have photographs of the downtown Greenville area, or other items please contact: Charlotte Fitz Daniels at FITZDANIELSC16@ECU.EDU or 252 328-0287
December 28, 2016
WITN – Channel 7 – 6pm news
Forgotten Greenville community gets history preserved
December 28, 2016
WNCT– Channel 9 – 6pm news
Beyond Bricks and Mortar to piece together Greenville Town Common’s past
December 28, 2016
The Daily Reflector – Front Page
Project saving memories from Sycamore Hill
For more information please contact:
Assistant Director for Assessment & Engagement
Joyner Library – East Carolina University