The Latest Gravy: Jews in Natchez, Mississippi

From the Southern Foodways Alliance (text by Tina Antolini):

When Robin Amer visited her Mississippi grandparents as a little girl, her most memorable experiences revolved around food. They would go to Sunday lunch at Stanton Hall, a historic plantation mansion with a carriage house that had been converted into a restaurant. “It seemed stuck in time,” Robin says. They’d eat fried chicken, tiny biscuits with strawberry jelly, tomatoes and fruit suspended in aspic. Her grandparents would go every Sunday, dressing up to meet their friends who were coming from church. But they, themselves didn’t go to church—because Robin’s family is part of Natchez’s once large and thriving Jewish community.

There have been Jews in Natchez since the 1840s, and, over the years, their culinary traditions have hybridized with the ones on display at places like Stanton Hall. In the new episode of Gravy, Robin returns to Natchez as the Jewish community is dwindling to see what’s left of those traditions, and what might be lost when they’re gone.

Listen here.

Rising to the Digital Challenge

The challenge for first-year American Studies PHD student and DIL graduate associate Charlotte Fryar: build a prototype interface in DH Press for interacting with historical film footage that could be used online and on touchscreen tablets.  Oh, and can you do it in six weeks while you’re assisting for an undergraduate class, working on other lab projects, and taking a full load of classes?

The specs: display, index, and geo-tag identified individuals, places, and events from a film shot in 1942; locate them on interactive map (include contemporary street views); and create a space for streamed audio and transcripts of comments about and memories of the film and the people/places/events it depicts.

The answer: a resounding “yes, I can!”  Here is what she (working under the guidance of Michael Newton and with the latest version of DH Press) came up with.

The film chosen for this use-case is H. Lee Waters’s “Gastonia, 1942,” preserved and shared on YouTube by the Duke University Special Collections Library.  Charlotte used two brief scenes from the film as test content: a shift change at the mill, and workers and their families gathering at the neighborhood movie theater, the Carolina, where they would be able to “see themselves as others saw them” a few weeks later.

The prototype will be further developed this summer in conjunction with the DIL’s Digital Loray project and the Loray Mill’s planned history center.  “Seeing Ourselves” also grows out of discussions with UNC Folklore grad, Martin Johnson (Catholic University) about developing tools to reveal the remarkable work of the hundreds of local and itinerant filmmakers in the US and around the world.

Charlotte’s prototype also points to many other materials and use-cases that could take advantage of these features of DH Press: oral history, folklore, and ethnographic interviews;  home movies; and family history come to mind immediately–and to other settings in which DH Press can be deployed: historic sites, museums, K-12 learning units, college-level classes, online learning. 

Here are two demos of “Seeing Ourselves,” starring Charlotte, produced and directed by Will “Star Wars” Bosley, General Manager of the DIL.

“Seeing Ourselves” debuted as a part of Robert Allen’s presentation at the Arclight Symposium on the application of digital technologies to cinema and media history at Concordia University in Montreal the week of May 11th.


See Yourself Screen Demo from Digital Innovation Lab on Vimeo.

Victoria Bouloubasis collaborates on digital piece about North Carolina activism surrounding the “forced disappearance” of student in Ayotzinapa, Mexico

Folklore Master’s student Victoria Bouloubasis collaborated with fellow journalist (and current UNC JOMC grad student) Andrea Patiño Contreras on a digital piece about the North Carolina activism surrounding the “forced disappearance” of students in Ayotzinapa, Mexico last fall. Bouloubasis and Patiño Contreras documented the Ayotzinapa parents’ visit to NC through a series of short Instagram videos and essays. They chose this medium to match the contemporary form of online activism fueling the movement. They wanted tell this story through the voices of the #Caravana43 and the NC immigrants (#NC43) who brought them here. Bouloubasis and Patiño Contreras felt that their voices are indicative of a changing South and a civil rights movement not yet laid to rest.

Check them out on Victoria’s (@thisfeedsme) or Andrea’s (@andreapatino) Instagram page.

There is also a Medium page with the full story:

The two students will present their work on Thursday at 6pm at the Hayti Heritage Center in Durham. The event, Las Semillas de Ayotzinapa, Cruzando Fronteras (Seeds of Ayotzinapa, Crossing Borders), is a presentation by Raleigh activist Monserrat Matehuala who worked on the case in Mexico and her mother, Martha Hernandez, who organized here.


The Department of American Studies Celebrates Distinguished Career of Professor Joy Kasson

On Tuesday, May 5, the Department of American Studies honored the distinguished career of Professor Joy Kasson with a celebration at Crook’s Corner. The event was co-sponsored by the Department of American Studies and the Department of English and Comparative Literature.

The night included music, dinner, toasts, and merriment. The department created a memory book in Professor Kasson’s honor.

Joyfest Program Final

Looking Back on State of the Plate

State of the Plate, the ninth meeting of the Navigating the Global American South conference and the first to examine foodways, convened in late March to examine southern foodways, histories, economies, and more.

state of the plate conference

“State of the Plate” at UNC’s FedEd Global Education Center delved into the pressing complexities of southern foodways, past and present. Art by Tripp Tuttle.

Speakers engaged the role of Lumbee Indians in contributing to core southern food traditions; to the social significance of white bread; to the dominance of corn in southern foodways and economies.

For more, including the panelist assertion that the South has “no fine dining experience,” take a look at this wonderful writeup from UNC Global’s Shannon Harvey.

Sara Camp Arnold Milam (MA, 2012) Wins James Beard Award!

Sara Camp Arnold Milam, graduate of the Folklore Program in the Department of American Studies and 2015 James Beard Award winner. (Photo credit Pableaux Johnson)

Sara Camp Arnold Milam, graduate of the Folklore Program in the Department of American Studies and 2015 James Beard Award winner. (Photo credit Pableaux Johnson)


Hearty congratulations to Sara Camp Arnold Milam, who in a few short years has transformed the Southern Foodways Alliance’s Gravy from a black-and-white, twelve-page print journal to a colorful, rich, and filling sixty-page quarterly publication and biweekly podcast … and who in recognition for her efforts has received a 2015 James Beard Award for Publication of the Year! Read more here.

From Sara: “It was such an honor to win the James Beard Award for publication of the year. I’m pleased that the Beard Foundation recognized our multi-platform approach to storytelling—first a print magazine, and now a sister podcast. I’ve been editing the print side of Gravy for five years now, beginning when I was a grad student at Carolina. I’m so grateful for the education I received in the folklore program, which helps me ground Gravy’s content in foodways and cultural studies scholarship.”

Sara’s thesis, “Branding and the Value of Folk Narrative: The Carrboro, North Carolina Farmer’s Market,” was supervised by Marcie C. Ferris (Chair), Bernard L. Herman, and Danille E. Christensen.

Emily Wallace: In the New York Times, on Mayonnaise

Folklore alumna Emily Wallace (MA, 2010) has built on her degree work on southern foodways to become the region’s expert on that essential condiment, mayonnaise. And the New York Times  has come calling. Take a look at their recent pieces on mayo and on building sandwiches, both of which quote Emily.

Duke's Mayonnaise.

The header for Emily’s graphic history of Duke’s mayonnaise. Illustration by Emily, of course.

Congratulations, Emily! And keep up the good work. For more of that good work, including Emily’s illustrations of quintessential southern foodstuffs, take a look at her website:

Mayors of Black Towns Gather at Carolina

Two of our American Studies faculty, Bill Ferris, Associate Director of UNC’s Center for the Study of the American South and Marcie Cohen Farris, Associate Professor of American Studies invited mayors from five black towns to inaugurate a collaborative venture intended to draw attention to and bring resources to these historically significant places. Mayors from Grambling, Louisiana; Eatonville, Florida; Mound Bayou, Mississippi; and Hobson City and Tuskegee, Alabama participated. Learn more about the event in this feature by WUNC.

Digital Innovation Lab participates in grand “re-opening” of Loray/Firestone Mill

The decades-long struggle to restore and repurpose the iconic 113-year-old Loray/Firestone Mill in Gastonia, NC, was celebrated at a grand “re-opening” on March 26.

The more than 400 business, civic, and non-profit leaders attending – including Gov. Pat McCrory and Dept. of Cultural Resources Secretary Susan Kluttz – recognized the contributions made by Preservation North Carolina, community advocates, and developer Billy Hughes and his partners, Loray Redevelopment LLC, to save the mill.  Named for the two local families who founded the mill in 1902, Love and Gray, it was operated by the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company from 1935 until its closure in 1993.  Both families participated in the celebration.

Digital Loray also made its premier at the event. This digital and site-based public history project documents, interprets, and shares the long, complex history of Gastonia’s Loray/Firestone Mill and mill village, from the Loray Mill’s construction to the present day.

Digital Loray is a hallmark project of the Digital Innovation Lab (DIL).  Administered through the Department of American Studies since 2011, the DIL extends the work of the department by developing public-facing digital humanities projects in collaboration with other UNC units, other universities, and cultural heritage organizations across North Carolina.

American Studies major Karen Sieber; graduate students Charlotte Fryar, Elijah Gaddis and Mattea Sanders; faculty member Robert Allen; and postdoctoral fellow Julie Davis; along with Digital Innovation Lab General Manager Will Bosley guided the attendees through the digital tools and technologies that tell the human stories of this place, from multiple perspectives.

Elijah Gaddis demonstrates the digital archive, a part of Digital Loray.

Elijah Gaddis demonstrates the digital archive, a part of Digital Loray.

Digital Loray includes an online archive of digital materials (1,500-plus and growing) related to the Loray/Firestone mill and village.  It also interprets the history of the mill and village through interactive maps, multimedia timelines, individual and family stories, and scholarly essays.  Digital Loray’s goal is to engage members of the Loray, Firestone, and mill village communities — past and present, local and distant — as active participants at all stages of the project.

In January, developer Billy Hughes asked Digital Loray project director Julie Davis to make the history of the mill and surrounding village a key part of the festivities.  Davis mobilized the Digital Loray team and local community partners to produce content for six interactive history stations that were placed throughout the event space.  They showcased some of the extraordinary documentary material now organized and made accessible through Digital Loray as well as interactive exhibits based on the collection.  Davis and DIL General Manager Will Bosley also facilitated installation of a 22’x7’ wall graphic from the mill’s original 1900 architectural drawings, shared by the National Museum of American History.

Karen Sieber demonstrates the digital “reconstruction” of the huge Loray Mill Village as it was a century ago

Karen Sieber demonstrates the digital “reconstruction” of the huge Loray Mill Village as it was a century ago

American Studies major Karen Sieber demonstrated the digital “reconstruction” of the huge Loray Mill Village as it was a century ago–a mapping project on which she has worked for the past year.  American Studies Ph.D. student and DIL graduate assistant Elijah Gaddis showed off some of the thousands of images in the Loray Digital Archive, which he has helped to preserve and make publicly accessible for the first time.  The map and archive were built using the most recent version of DH Press, the digital humanities toolkit developed in the DIL by technical lead Michael Newton.

At the March 26 event, the Gastonia community also had the opportunity to meet Digital Loray project director Julie Davis, the Carolina Digital Humanities Initiative Postdoctoral Fellow in the DIL.  Davis now lives in the renovated mill as UNC’s public historian in residence.  There she is developing exhibits and public programming in collaboration with the Gaston County Museum of Art and History and the Gaston County Public Library.  The hub of these activities will be the Alfred C. Kessell History Center, an 1,100-square-foot space at the center of the renovated mill, made possible by UNC-Chapel Hill alumnus Rick Kessell (’70).

Dr. Davis also teaches in the American Studies Department.  Her students both learn from and contribute to the development of Digital Loray and the history center.  She will teach a UNC Summer School “field course” on the practice of community-engaged, digital public history, based at the Loray Mill in Gastonia, from May 13-June 15, 2015.

Directed by American Studies Professor Robert Allen, the Digital Innnovation Lab develops tools, approaches, and work processes that make it easier, cheaper, and faster to produce immediately useful digital projects by scholars, students, and cultural organizations.

Supported by a gift from Preservation North Carolina, Digital Loray is the most ambitious public project the lab has undertaken.  Through it, the DIL is developing new models for connecting UNC with local communities, linking graduate training and undergraduate learning with engaged scholarship, and refining digital tools that will help transform public history and public humanities.

The future Alfred C. Kessell History Center.

The future Alfred C. Kessell History Center.

Both the mill and its preservation have great historical significance.  When it opened in 1902, the Loray Mill was the largest textile mill under one roof in the South.  Over the first two decades of the huge mill’s operation, thousands of families moved to Gastonia to work there–some from as far away as Tennessee.

Whole families worked in the mill.  Documentary photographer Lewis Hine photographed children as young as ten among them in 1908.  In 1929 a strike resulted in international press attention, two murders, sensational trials, and deep and lasting scars within the community.  For most of its history, however–from 1935 to 1993–the mill was operated by the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company.  Thousands of families in Gaston County worked at “the Firestone” and lived in the neighborhoods around it in West Gastonia.  The mill’s rich social and cultural life during the Firestone era is chronicled in the mill newspaper, The Firestone News. At the request of the DIL, UNC Library’s North Carolina Digital Heritage Center digitized and published online the complete run of the paper from 1952 to 1993.  Both the mill and the mill village are on the National Register of Historic Places.

The mill was closed in 1993 when operations moved to a new plant in King’s Mountain, N.C.  Redevelopment of the mill as a mixed use site–189 apartments, 80,000 square-feet of commercial and retail space, restaurants and event space, and a neighborhood police station–has taken more than a decade.  Dedicated community archivists, chief among them Bill Passmore, Lucy Penegar, and Tim Ellis, helped to preserve thousands of irreplaceable photographs and artifacts documenting mill and community history and have worked with the DIL to make them available to the public for the first time.
With more than $45 million invested in the 630,000 square-foot facility, the Loray Mill is the largest structure under one roof in the history of North Carolina to be restored and repurposed in this way.  Local officials hope that the reopening of the mill will help to spur economic development in West Gastonia.  The launch of Digital Loray and the programs and activities that will make use of it in the history center over the coming months are an important part of the “restoration” of this iconic site and the revitalization of this community.

To learn more about Digital Loray; use the interactive archive, map, and timelines; and explore the history of the Loray/Firestone mill and village, visit the project’s website at