LGBTQ archives in two cities ensure that history lives on

Durham County Library joins Charlotte in saving records of queer life

DURHAM, N.C.—History has been made for the LGBTQ community over the past several decades, but preserving that history is as important as the events themselves. That’s the philosophy that guided the Durham County Library to begin an exhibit on LGBTQ history through the North Carolina Collection.

The collection archives stories from specific demographics in Durham. Other topics covered in it are from the civil rights era, and soul music in Durham. The idea to include LGBTQ history in this collection came from Luke Hirst, who arrived in Durham in 2004 from Florida.

Hirst teamed up with Durham County senior librarian Lynn Richardson to organize the collection. Richardson headed the North Carolina Collection for sixteen years.

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“The LGBTQ people of Durham have made so many contributions,” Richardson told Indyweek. “It’s an activist community and it has a history worth telling.”

The collection’s online exhibit includes scanned documents and photographs donated by community members. Oral histories, testimonies from LGBTQ community members, are also being collected through the Story Room at the Museum of Durham History.

“I’m glad this rich history is going to be preserved,” said Joanne Abel, 67, one of the subjects who contributed her oral history. “It’s a real affirmation that the community feels like it’s important enough to save. This project creates a safe and fun space for us. Everyone’s story is important.”

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Durham isn’t the only city seeking to preserve its LGBTQ history. In 2015, University of North Carolina-Charlotte (UNCC) began work on an the newly-named King-Henry-Brockington Archive organized by Joshua Burford of UNCC’s Multicultural Resource Center.

Burford curated the 2014 exhibit LGBTQ Perspectives on Equality at the Levine Museum of the New South. The exhibit focused on Charlotte’s LGBTQ community and the strides it has made in recent history. Burford was also featured as qnotesPerson of the Year in 2014.

Now, UNCC, like Durham Library, is collecting oral histories from prominent LGBTQ community members. According to Burford, all activists, young and old, are important to the project.

“We want people who’ve been an active, visible part of the (LGBT) community for years. And we also want those who have taken a less visible role and maybe don’t see themselves as leaders,” Burford told The Charlotte Observer. “We want [young people] to see themselves as part of history and to make that connection to the generations before them.”

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