History Matters

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History and friendships matter

By Timothy Collins

Greenville, NC—History matters. Friendships matter.

That's how I found myself in Greenville, NC, on June 20 and 21 to celebrate the dedication of a book by my friend, Sam Barber, called Journey to the Purchase of Brown Hill Cemetery.  

The book, to be published soon, describes how racial inequalities followed black folk even after they had died. Historic records from the late 1800s, for example, show fewer blacks were buried than the number who had lived in the area. Considering alternative scenarios based on those records suggests the possible desecration of bodies by merely tossing then in the Tar River or abandoning them in the rural countryside to be consumed by wild animals.

More recently, about 100 deceased blacks were lost in a transfer of remains from the Sycamore Hill Baptist Church Cemetery in the city's urban redevelopment area to the Brown Hill Cemetery during the late 1960s. Through persistent effort, Sam was able to retrieve the names, offering the possibility that those lives could be commemorated with a monument, even though their remains are lost. The circumstances leading up to the sale of the church where the bodies were buried shows the breach of trust between the city government and its black citizens.

My decision to accept Sam's request to edit his book represents another phase of a long friendship. I have known Sam since 1973, when I took African American music courses from him at Ohio State University. The tie that turned into a lifelong friendship stemmed from work my late father, Neil Collins, did from 1939 to 1941 as advance man for the Wings Over Jordan Choir national tour across 38 states. That show by a black choir was broadcast over the CBS Radio Network every Sunday morning until the late 1940s.

I am glad my father engaged in important work that probably helped improve race relations. I am also glad that he unintentionally built a bridge to the future that allowed our family to have a lifelong friendship with a wonderful teacher and scholar.  

History and friendships matter.

At the book's dedication, I was privileged to deliver a tribute to Sam and his book. It is heartfelt, and I hope you enjoy reading it.

June 30, 2015

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With my friend, Sam Barber, at the dedication of his book, Journey to the Purchase of Brown Hill Cemetery.

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