BELOIT - Do you know a local story that needs to be told?
If so, students in Beloit College's class ""History Harvest": Black Migration to Beloit 1910-1970," want to hear from you.
The class will be taking pictures and video footage of local artifacts to create an digital exhibit that can be used by the public at large.
The first ""History Harvest"" will be held from 2-7 p.m. Friday, March 22, at New Zion Baptist Church, 1905 Mound Ave.
Attendees are invited to share letters, photos, objects, and/or stories of their own or their relatives' migration to Beloit.
"The hope is to gather stories that aren't already well-represented in the present history of Beloit," said Beloit College Professor Beatrice McKenzie.
"We want those who have families who came up with the Great Migration to please share their stories with us. This is an opportunity to share this information with the young people in Beloit," said Jackie Jackson, who has been a co-leader in the class.
The Great Migration refers to the period between 1915 and 1970, when millions of African Americans fled segregation in the Southern U.S. Most went north, in search of fairer treatment and better jobs.
Beloit was a primary destination for migrants from Chickasaw County, Mississippi. Newcomers typically sought employment at one of Beloit's many factories, including Fairbanks Morse and Beloit Iron Works, according to Beloit College students Nadia Mitnick and Rose Johnson.
"History Harvest" organizers invite members of the public to bring an item or two and stories related to the Great Migration to the event. Anyone who migrated from the south to the north during this broad time period, 1910-1970, is welcome. Attendees may tell their personal story or the story of a relative, such as parent or grandparent. They can attend with a relative or friend.
Organizers encourage persons related to the family of Beloit civil rights leader Rubie Bond and Beloiters related to Ida Mae Brandon Gladney to attend. Gladney's life, one of three followed in the book "Warmth of Other Suns," is an aunt of retired Beloit school administrator Barbara Hickman.
Each artifact and story will be digitally captured and then shared in a web-based archive for educational use and study. Attendees, for example, could bring in a train ticket to Beloit, an employee recognition item or photograph with an accompanying story.
"The idea is to get a history that hasn't been told before and hasn't been stored in the local archives," McKenzie said.
McKenzie, Jackson, Beloit College Professor Ellen Joyce and Community Resource Specialist Wanda Sloan have helped make the "History Harvest" class a reality.
McKenzie said the Beloit Historical Society has been an important partner in this venture, offering to open its archives to student researchers, host the online exhibit and host a follow-up physical exhibit and brief celebration of the harvest on Saturday, May 4.
For students, preparing for the Harvest has been enlightening.
Student Nadia Mitnick has been doing detective work surrounding a rally protesting job and housing inequality which was held in Beloit in June of 1963 with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s brother, A.D. King.
"So much in higher education is all theoretical, but this is liberal arts in practice. It's going out and doing something for the community," Mitnick said. "It's bringing the public and history together. The point of the harvest is to assemble in a free online archive anyone can access."
For student Eva Laun-Smith, the class is more personal.
She's been learning more about her grandma Doris Kent. Her grandmother came to Beloit from Mississippi around 1968. As a child, Laun-Smith said she has been hesitant to inquire too much about family history, because it sometimes can include painful memories.
"For a lot of black folks these experiences can be very traumatizing and a lot of families don't talk about them," she said.
Where Laun-Smith's grandmother grew up, there was a "hanging tree" in which black people were lynched. When her grandma temporarily moved back to Mississippi (before Laun-Smith was born) the town board voted against having a white cross put in the location to honor those who died at the tree. Laun-Smith said it was an example of some of the hurtful stories from histories which families may carry and only talk about quietly or privately.
Despite some of the tragic experiences associated with the Great Migration, Laun-Smith is eager to have more stories told openly.
Laun-Smith said she didn't hear a lot about the migration in high school. She enjoys her class at Beloit College and sharing what she has learned.
"These stories are important to relay to the community. If you don't record them, they are lost," Laun-Smith said.
Laun-Smith noted that not all migration stories were painful. Many people had positive stories of launching new careers, creating new kin groups and having opportunities in Beloit as well as having fond memories of the South.
Beloit College students Katelynn Sinclair and George Jacobsen said they have been studying Rubie Bond prior to the event. They have rounded up a newspaper article about her and a Beloit College personal history card and commencement program.
They said the best part of the class has been getting to know the community better. They hope the harvest will not only inspire people, but leave the community with something to help others learn more about its history.