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May 2007

Photographic memories

The 1963 black-and-white photograph captures a sea of young faces. Some smile; some look pensive; some simply look away. In time, these students grew up, got married, moved away. The names and the stories behind the faces were lost. Until now.

1963 class photograph from High Point’s Rosetta C. Baldwin School

1963 class photograph from High Point's Rosetta C. Baldwin School

In January, Dr. Benjamin Filene, director of UNCG's public history program, handed his nine graduate students the 1963 class photograph from High Point's Rosetta C. Baldwin School. Their assignment: find these people, learn their life stories and share them with the public. The result is part of an upcoming exhibit at the High Point Museum.

Filene and his students used marriage certificates, city directories, censuses, land records, birth certificates and other public and archival documents to identify 35 of the 42 students. They then recorded interviews with 15 of the students and their relatives to bring their stories to light.

"This is like detective work," said Filene. "Sometimes people think history is just about famous people and big events that grab headlines. We're trying to tell the stories about ordinary people and their real lives."

The lives of those seen in this photograph centered on the Rosetta C. Baldwin School, which educated four generations of African Americans in High Point. Baldwin began the school in her living room in 1942.

"I can remember to this day she had a presence about her a spiritual type thing," said former student Jeffrey Faust. "It was overwhelming; it demanded your attention. She commanded everything that went on around her."

UNCG students uncovered additional memories of the school and its dynamic leader as they spoke to other former Baldwin students.

"Once we began to find people from the photograph, the task was to convince them they had a story to tell," said student Laura Lawfer. "People would say that they didn't have anything to say, that their stories weren't important, but once we started asking questions about things near and dear to their hearts they got involved and realized we truly were interested in what they have to contribute."

Audio excerpts from those interviews, along with photographs and quotations, are part of the High Point Museum exhibit which will run through August 20.

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