Black History Committee partners up to preserve history

Sinclaire Sparkman • Updated Oct 27, 2017 at 9:00 AM

A research program from Vanderbilt University will visit Lebanon on Saturday to hear some local history and plan creative ways to keep those stories alive in partnership with the Wilson County Black History Committee.  

The Wisdom of the Elders helps document neglected layers of community history through hearing the voices of older community members, especially those of African Americans, and then helps the group make something to preserve that history. The method of recording the history comes in various forms. Past workshops have created community history books, genealogy quilts, clay sculptures, short stories, poetry, cookbooks and other things to preserve the history brought to light during the meetings.  

“We believe that elders are lifelong innovators who have been through so many things. We want to give them the opportunity to share those stories and life lessons,” said Brooke Hazen with the Wisdom of the Elders project. 

Ifeoma Nwankwo, associate English professor at Vanderbilt, created the Wisdom of the Elders program in 2012 as a combination public scholarship program and health study. The program has run successfully in Murfreesboro since 2012, and won the 2013 Tennessee Parks and Recreation award for best program in the state for intergenerational, senior or youth category. The Murfreesboro program changed its name to the African-American Voices of the Past and Present in 2015. 

The program also started a series in New Orleans in 2016. The group there is currently working to create a cookbook of local culinary delights. 

The Wilson County Black History Committee will also celebrate its 23-year anniversary at Saturday’s workshop. Twelve people started the group in 1994 with the mission of bringing Wilson County African-American history to light. 

The committee published the book “In Their Own Voices: An Account of the Presence of African Americans in Wilson County” in 1999. 

“The Wilson County Black History Committee is endeared to ensuring that the legacy of the contributions African Americans made to Wilson County and Lebanon, Tennessee are remembered and honored,” said committee president Mary Harris. “They also work tirelessly to promote a positive awareness of African American citizens who have helped in the overall development of the county as well as the entire nation.”

After publishing the history book, the Black History Committee turned efforts to create the Roy Bailey African American History Center, which opened in 2005 at 115 E. Main St., Suite B, in Lebanon. 

In 2007, the committee bought the historic Pickett Chapel on Market Street and is currently working to restore the 190-year-old building for use as a new location for the history center. 

The Wisdom of the Elders event will be Saturday from 1:30-3 p.m. at the Lebanon-Wilson Chamber of Commerce office at 149 Public Square in Lebanon. Light refreshments will be served, and everyone is welcome to attend and share a story. 

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