Library to sponsor community history day in April

Published 8:03 am Wednesday, March 27, 2019

History happened whether people remember it or not, but in many cases, the lessons it can teach might very well disappear if no one is able to access its contents.

With a partnership with Black Appalachia and East Tennessee PBS, the Elizabethton/Carter County Library is sponsoring a Community History Day on Saturday, April 6.

Joseph Penza, an archivist at the library, said he got the idea to host East Tennessee PBS after seeing the community history day in action in Kingsport.

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“I thought this was a great way to inject people’s stories into our records,” Penza said. “I thought I would love to do this in Carter County.”

During the event, representatives of East Tennessee PBS is asking members of the Carter County community to bring in any old-time photos or family stories they would like to add to an archive of historical knowledge. Those who come in will take part in a video interview describing the photo, article or story they are presenting to the community.

Those submitting a photo or written article will not lose their timeless original and will receive a digital version of their submission, which will also appear on the organization’s website.

Penza said community history days like this are vital to compiling a true account of how people used to live in a given region.

“When you create an archive, you start with a lot of the municipal stuff,” he said. “This includes city and county mayors. We are looking to fill in the missing voices of communities, like minorities and artists, those who felt inferior.”

To further illustrate this commitment to the true nature of the East Tennessee community, Penza said he did not want the event to just be located at the library, as he said it was too impersonal. As a result, he organized a different meeting place: Phillippi Missionary Baptist Church.

“It is one of our most historic black churches,” he said.

He said celebrating the diversity is crucial in order to avoid perpetuating stereotypes about the region.

“The word Appalachia is still talked about in academia,” he said. “It is not homogenous. There is a diversity here.”

He said part of this process already started with the Cedar Grove Foundation’s efforts to chronicle the history of African-Americans in East Tennessee. He said an event like this is just continuing this tradition.

He said East Tennessee PBS is not replacing any existing physical archive, but rather it serves to make said materials more accessible to those who live too far away from such an archive.

“Methods of preservation and archiving are pointless if they are not accessible,” Penza said. “We want people to be able to research them.”

The church is located at 200 Horace Leftwich Lane in Elizabethton, and East Tennessee PBS will be there from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. that Saturday, April 6.