Durham Magazine April 2019

Page 58

durham 150


History Groves honor those who made Durham the city it is today By Brandee Gruener | Photography by Beth Mann


ourteen plaques scattered around Durham contain stories about the people who dedicated their lives to the betterment of our community. These honorary sites, known as History Groves, feature environmentalists, teachers, philanthropists, business owners and others. Some contain gardens, others a bench with a simple memorial. Steve Channing, local historian and documentary filmmaker, spearheaded the idea while on the board of the Museum of Durham History. He had an interest in bringing history outdoors to the public, an appropriate project for an institution that touts itself as a “museum without walls.” “What is the purpose of history if not to remember, as the cliche goes, ‘on whose shoulders we stand,’” Steve says. He was driven first to honor John Hope Franklin, a trailblazer in African-American studies and “just a tremendously admirable figure, a noble person.” With the help of a Durham Parks and Recreation open trails grant, the Franklin History Grove was installed with a bench at Durham Central Park in 2012. After that, Steve considered how to honor more of the city’s leaders. It seemed appropriate to open that question up to the people of Durham. The History Groves became a true community effort, made possible by fundraisers, landscapers and volunteers who maintain the sites. The museum continues to provide some funding and assistance with the projects. Steve says they are working with groups that want to honor a Duke historian and a CEO of Liggett & Myers Tobacco Company. Finding open land for sites can be tough, but he’s determined to remember the people who made Durham unique. He believes the groves serve as reminders that history matters. The legacies of those who came before inspire others to continue those missions today. Here are just a few examples: Dr. John Hope Franklin, Durham Central Park Andre Vann’s office at N.C. Central University contains an autograph of every book Dr. John Hope Franklin ever wrote, photos, conference programs and more. You could say the history instructor and archivist is a fan. The first time the two met, they discovered a Harvard connection. Andre’s great-great aunt ran a boarding school for black students attending Harvard University. Dr. Franklin stayed at the boarding house next door as a doctoral student and still remembered her 50 years later. The academic world for African-Americans in that time period was small and tight-knit, and earning a doctorate in history was extremely rare. Racial tensions were high in the 1940s, but Dr. Franklin “never allowed the constraints placed on him by his race to hold him back,” Andre says. Dr. Franklin taught at N.C. Central, then called the N.C. College for Negroes, and published the seminal textbook, “From Slavery to Freedom: A History





april 2019

of Negro Americans.” It was updated and used in African-American history courses for decades. In the 1950s, Dr. Franklin went on to become the first African-American chair of an all-white faculty at Brooklyn College. He took teaching appointments around the country, participated in the civil rights movement of the 1960s, earned a presidential Medal of Freedom and served on a national panel on race relations. In 1983, he returned with his wife to Durham to teach at Duke University, where the law school eventually founded the John Hope Franklin Center for Interdisciplinary and International Studies. Though Dr. Franklin died in 2009, Andre says his “lengthening shadow” lives on in the historians he trained. His son John Whittington Franklin is at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. Many historians in African-American studies, including Andre, continue to share Dr. Franklin’s pioneering work today. Dorothy Kitchen, Oval Park Dorothy Kitchen taught music to scores of neighbors in Watts-Hillandale over the years. Fittingly, they honored her at Oval Park with a violin bench sculpted by artist Perry Whitted and a performance by a children’s chamber group. “I was so thrilled with that,” Dorothy says. “I thought that was such a beautiful thing.” The growth of the Duke University String School over 50 years was another beautiful thing. Dorothy, who studied at Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester and Brandeis University, formed the school with Arlene di Cecco of the Ciompi Quartet in 1967. Dorothy remained the director until retiring in 2014. There weren’t many formal music education options for children in Durham then, so demand was high. Dorothy’s 25 students met in a campus