The James B. Duke Memorial Library at Johnson C. Smith University is working to create a web and mobile app for publishing historical photographs, documents, and oral histories documenting the Historic West End in Charlotte, NC.
The Historic West End is a vibrant, 150 year old African American community that surrounds the university on the west side of Charlotte. It is the only black neighborhood in Charlotte that was relatively untouched by urban renewal policies in the 1960s and 70s, and has maintained its historic character over time. Many residents of the West End have been lifelong neighbors, and families have lived there for generations, since the neighborhood’s inception. Urban development and rising gentrification now threaten this historic area.
The library will document this history through an app that will display photographs, documents, oral histories, and other digital collections on a map of the West End, showing where the historic materials were originated on a contemporary map of the area. First, the library will map existing digital collections such as the James G. Peeler collection of photographs and negatives. Peeler was a photographer in Charlotte who documented the lives of many black neighborhoods by shooting important social, political, and religious events. After mapping existing collections, the library will then work with the community in the West End to digitize additional photographs and documents, and collect more oral histories from residents. These digital collections will be mapped as well and displayed in the mobile and web app.
Through this project, the library seeks to become a model for cities across the country where neighborhoods are being similarly affected by gentrification. The project seeks to provide a way for a new generation of students to connect with African American history in Charlotte, and to launch a series of digital maps on other neighborhoods that will create a new model of participatory community history wedded with technology.