For the past six years, Cornelius’ Black History Month Celebration has been a day in which deeply rooted, local African-American families have been provided a venue to orally share their stories with the community.
This year’s celebration, coordinated through the efforts of the Smithville CommUNITY Coalition and Cornelius’ Parks, Arts, Recreation and Culture Department, will focus on how residents can revisit that history every day of the year.
The annual gathering will be held 1-3 p.m. Feb. 18 at the Cornelius Town Hall. It is free and open to the public.
One of this year’s featured speakers is Jan Blodgett, Davidson College E.H. Little Library archivist who recently directed a project in which local African-American residents could preserve their history through recordings and photographs.
The other special guest is Marshall Lowery, who recently self-published a book that chronicled how his Lake Norman area upbringing led him to a successful career and a fulfilling life.
I think it’s very, very important for self-esteem issues for the young and the old to know that even in the Smithville and Cornelius days (African-Americans) were there and participated. We helped build the communities, the social affairs, everything that Cornelius is today.
The Smithville CommUNITY Coalition was formed by Smithville residents in 2011 to specifically keep Smithville’s historical contributions to the Town of Cornelius relevant and to support the neighborhood through service projects and cultural programs.
“Our coalition objective is to do what we can to revitalize the community,” said Ron Potts, a coalition officer. “Each year we’ve really been focusing on local people that have made contributions to the Cornelius community.”
Starting with the first Black History Month Celebration in 2012, the coalition always invited members of a popular Smithville family to share their history at the event. Potts’ family was one of them a couple years ago.
This year, the coalition deviated from its plans a bit and originally scheduled two local authors to make presentations, including Marshall Lowery. The other bowed out.
Lowery, who lives in Charlotte, says he grew up about a mile south of Cornelius. He attended elementary school at the Ada Jenkins School and spent his middle school years and early high school years at the Torrence-Lytle School in Huntersville.
As integration reached local schools in the mid-1960s, Lowery says he attended North Mecklenburg High for a couple of months before dropping out for good.
As an adult, Lowery fought in Vietnam, worked for IBM and owned an income tax preparation business that still has an office in Cornelius. In 2016, he published “If You Wanna Help the Poor, Then Don’t Be One of Them,” a personal memoir of his life.
“If you don’t know where you’ve come from you won’t know where you’re going,” said Lowery, 67 and semi-retired. “I’m a firm believer that right now is all you’ll ever have.
“I think it’s very, very important for self-esteem issues for the young and the old to know that even in the Smithville and Cornelius days (African-Americans) were there and participated. We helped build the communities, the social affairs, everything that Cornelius is today.”
The Davidson College Library staff has taken steps to help preserve that history. Last year, it received a Common Heritage Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities in which recipients were allowed to use the funds to develop a project through which local residents could share their local history.
Inspired by feedback she received through community meetings and from community leaders, Blodgett felt it was important to concentrate on African-American history. Library staff targeted local neighborhoods that have had predominantly African-American residents: Smithville in Cornelius, Davidson West Side, and Pottstown in Huntersville.
Since October, library staff have interviewed more than a dozen residents and recorded more than 10 hours of oral history. They have also collected 100-plus documents and photographs.
“We did have some people come in (to the library),” said Blodgett. “We found it easier to go to them one-on-one. We contacted several groups and put together an advisory board. They were people from churches, from the community, telling us how we should go about this.”
Much of this history will be presented at this month’s Black History Month Celebration. Among Blodgett’s display will be five foam core boards that cover a range of local black history: education, business, religion, community and service.
Joe Habina is a freelance writer: email@example.com.
Want to go?
Cornelius’ Black History Month Celebration will be 1-3 p.m. Feb. 18 at the Cornelius Town Hall, 21445 Catawba Ave. It is free and open to the public.
The Davidson College E.H. Little Library is still archiving the information it has collected. Some can be found at the website: libraries.davidson.edu/archives/shared.stories.