Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Welcome to historic Hillsborough.

Props to Laurie Paolicelli, executive director of the Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau, for commissioning local writers to write about their home towns. Today in the Chapel Hill News we have Michael Malone's rhapsodic take (scroll down for the story) on Hillsborough and its "small-town charms."

This may be the first promotional article on Hillsborough in modern memory that mentions Judge Thomas Ruffin not only for his general high acclaim as an early 19th century jurist but also for his infamous decision in State v. Mann--the 1829 opinion in which he wrote, "The powers of the master must be absolute to render the submission of the slave perfect."

Michael Malone ought to know: he and his wife, Maureen Quilligan, have in their own back yard the small, beautifully preserved office that Ruffin worked in; the Burnside property, where they live, next to St. Matthew's Episcopal Church, where he is buried, was the site of his home.

Has southern history turned a corner? Is it finally OK to talk candidly, even in the local newspaper, about our troubled, troubling past?

Tim Tyson thinks it has and is. Earlier this week he spoke on "The State of Things" about his upcoming course, through Duke's Center for Documentary Studies, called "The South in Black and White," as well as about his experiences lecturing on race around the state.

I sense a kind of new openness. There’s something going on out there, and I don’t exactly know, but I know that when we’re going to high schools and community colleges and churches these days we’re seeing a new willingness to talk about history in an open way and to tell the story a little differently. . . .

The fact that here in the South right now we’re seeing a new imagination about our prospects and this willingness to talk about race and history is not a surprise. If you look globally, everywhere where people are struggling for decent wages, for the dignity of human personality, for basic human rights, you will hear the vision of the black South that we’ll be studying in this course. This culture already echoes around the world, wherever people are standing up against what Dr. King called “the thingification of human beings.” The black South echoes for the ages. It’s a world historical culture that has come about in the South, of immense importance.

Next week I'm having lunch with Laurie Paolicelli, county commissioner Barry Jacobs, Afro-American Studies professor Tim McMillan, and others to talk about ways to highlight the history and experience of blacks in Chapel Hill and Orange County.

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