When we turn over the past in our hands, breathe it in, feast on it with our eyes, we develop a better understanding of the present, and quite possibly, a more profound appreciation for the forces that shape our future. For a sensory journey of this sort, start in UNC Charlotte’s Atkins Library Special Collections, located on the 10th floor.
The University Special Collections houses documents and artifacts that provide a richer understanding of how our communities have evolved socially, culturally and economically. Holdings have grown exponentially in the past three decades, from Miss Bonnie Cone’s official files, a few manuscript collections, and a rare book collection of about 500 volumes (featuring around 100 books known euphemistically on campus as the “erotica collection”) to more than 8,500 rare books, 1,500 oral history interviews, 4 million manuscripts items and approximately 1.4 million items in the University Archives.
The collection continues to grow with new donations and purchases. All of the collection materials are carefully documented, preserved, and cataloged.
Katie McCormick, assistant university librarian for special collections, and her colleagues work to preserve the history of the University and the greater Charlotte region.
“Having access to these resources is important for student and faculty researchers,” said McCormick. “By examining these original pieces, they better understand society and history and know where we came from, where we are today and, maybe, where we are going.”
In order to preserve the region’s history, McCormick spends a portion of her time cultivating sources to add to the collection as well as collaborating with community organizations, such as the Levine Museum of the New South and the Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture.
“If we are looking to create a public program that will inform and educate the community, we often partner with area organizations,” McCormick noted.
McCormick also works strategically with faculty on how to integrate original, primary resource materials into the curriculum and how to engage students in working with these unique items.
“My favorite part of the job is getting people into Special Collections or taking materials into the world, whether through classrooms or exhibits,” said McCormick.
Curious about what exactly you might find on the 10th floor of the Atkins Library, aside from an unadulterated view of campus? Here’s a sample:
Original MASH unit born in Charlotte
A group of Charlotte-area doctors, nurses and businessmen with no medical training banded together to form the U.S. Army 38th Evacuation Hospital. The medical unit, activated in 1942, supported front line aid stations and mobile surgical units in England, North Africa and Italy from August 1942 to July 1945. Hailed as the original MASH unit, the 38th Evac was featured in Time and Life magazines. The 38th Evac collection contains official reports, a unit history, photographs, correspondence from members to their families, and maps of encampments.
Golden Boy: Newspaperman, humorist, activist, prophetic voice
Best-selling author, newspaper publisher and all-round colorful character Harry Golden made Charlotte his home in 1941. A New York native, Golden settled in North Carolina and quickly became known as an outspoken opponent of racial segregation and Jim Crow laws. Golden shared his political views and reminiscences of his boyhood in his publication, the Carolina Israelite, and rubbed shoulders with some of the most influential people in American life. The Golden collection includes his influential newspaper, as well as his letters and other memorabilia.
A Twist of Fate: Martin Luther King Jr.
On April 2, 1968, Dr. Reginald Hawkins received a Western Union telegram announcing that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would postpone his tour of the Charlotte region to remain in Memphis, Tenn., to lend support to striking sanitation workers. On April 4, the day after he delivered the speech titled, “I’ve been to the mountaintop,” King was assassinated by a sniper while standing on his hotel room balcony. The infamous telegram is part of the Reginald A. Hawkins collection, which documents Hawkins’ professional, political, and civil rights activities.
More information, including transcripts of oral history interviews and other interesting tid-bits, is available online here.