Photos: Roberts shows DVDs to Reverend Andrew Penns; photos from museum
Students in Dr. Joanne Roberts’ spring semester urban sociology class routinely get out of the classroom. Their assignment: get to know the neighbors in the North Park community just north of the Hardin-Simmons University campus.
Roberts, head of HSU’s sociology department, says part of their study is learning how people living in a neighborhood can make significant changes to the way people live – in the quality of life.
“Our class looks at community renewal, more specifically Christian community renewal, on a grass roots level. Students learn in this real life setting about things they can carry with them into their own future communities. They learn how to be good neighbors and that all people want the same things, like safe communities in which to live,” says Roberts.
“Students learn and meet people, by attending neighborhood association meetings and by walking the neighborhood to meet residents. We also map and survey the neighborhood and conduct voter registration drives,” says Roberts.
Last spring, the HSU urban renewal class was honored by its selection to help with a new museum project. An urban renewal group, ICAN, short for Interested Citizens of North Abilene, asked the 19 students in the class if they could help with the content for the new ICAN museum.
The project, interview and video people who grew up in the Stevenson and Carver neighborhoods of Abilene from 1954 - 1970, people who remember what it was like to attend the only African American high school in Abilene prior to desegregation.
Roberts says the 16 people interviewed by the sociology students were chosen by Petty Hunter, Odis Dalton, and Reverend Andrew Penns, all of whom are active in the ICAN museum project. “The students working on the class project learned to ask significant questions,” says Roberts, like, “’Who did you look up to, and who were your role models?’ ‘What was it like growing up when communities were still segregated?’ ‘What were the good things, the strengths of the neighborhood?’”
Rachel Feese, a history major and political science minor from Keller, Texas, spent this past summer editing the interviews and preparing a continuously looping 15 minute video that will play in the new museum.
Feese says she worked two or three hours, three or four times a week on the project. “The hardest part was deciding what to keep and what to cut. All of the video contained such great personal stories about what they remembered, I tried really hard to put something different in each video and to cut out things that were similar, says Feese”
Temporarily located at 701 Mesquite Street in the Carver neighborhood, the museum includes a number of poignant photos, says Roberts, like one where black soldiers returning from WWII followed behind the white soldiers.
Pieces from the museum were displayed in the auditorium of the Abilene Public Library earlier this week as ICAN members came together to plan for the larger, permanent museum slated to open in 2014. Bits of memorabilia, photos of soldiers, of students and activities at Woodson High School, were sprinkled around the room. Roberts presented the final edited version of the interviews that will play in the museum. Roberts also presented edited DVDs, a longer version of the interviews, to each of the participants.
Roberts is grateful for the project. “Students learned about some very significant events in history due to their participation. They were amazed at how tight-knit the African American community had been at one time, and how a sense of that community was taken away with desegregation,” says Roberts. “So much of the community revolved around the Woodson schools, when desegregation happened, a sense of community was lost and that was not easy.”
Rachel says she learned that life for each person was different. “The biggest thing they all had in common was that they saw a change to Abilene in general. The way people treat each other was a change brought about by time and acceptance of each other.
“They believe their neighborhoods have started deteriorating and all seem hopeful for the neighborhood to return to a better state. As a history major, I found the individual stories of great interest. I learned more about how race affected the world in which I now live,” says Feese. “You always think that racial problems only happened somewhere else. I thought it was so interesting to learn about the past from people at the places I actually go to daily. The whole project taught me that you never really know what life was like unless you ask people who lived through it.”
Roberts says, through the course of the semester, she wants her students to build a relationship with HSU’s North Park neighbors. “I want students to learn that building relationships makes all of us better neighbors.” Toward the end of the semester, Roberts says, “We’ll throw a big party, thanks to some financial help from the HSU Academic Foundation. It will be a celebration for a community that continues to thrive, replenish and renew itself.”