The South Park-East Raleigh Historic District is notable for its once high number of African-American owned businesses, cultural and civic institutions, and largely still-intact late 19th and 20th century architecture.
Working through a studio course in the College’s Downtown Studio in 2008, Kermit Bailey, an associate professor of graphic design, and a group of students met with neighborhood leaders to begin gathering and preserving their neighborhood’s history.
The writing was on the proverbial wall: South Park could be radically transformed as the City of Raleigh revitalizes its downtown.
“I realized the neighborhood residents needed some way to coalesce their story in a very tangible way, even if it gave just a ‘glimpse’ of that history,” said Bailey. “They also needed persuasive tools so they could be their own advocates for public funding and grassroots organizing. I knew graphic design could be a very effective first step in the articulation of their complex story.”
A sustained effort was going to be needed. So in Spring 2009, Bailey wrote for and scored a $10,000 University Extension, Engagement, and Economic Development Grant to document the neighborhood’s cultural legacy through a series of “knowledge maps”—giant posters on one side, intricate guidebooks on the other.
“Generally speaking, a knowledge map is about documenting a record of assets,” said Bailey. To gather those historical assets, it would require Bailey and his student team to spend over nine months in the community digging through community archives and interviewing older residents “to connect the cultural dots.”
The students—Susan Baker, Sarah Blackmon, TJ Blanchflower, Sam Cox, Riley Huston and Amber Majors—performed a level of community research not usually expected of graphic design majors, Bailey said.
And rarely has history been rendered so beautifully. Part scrapbook, part travel guide, the pieces can be displayed as a museum exhibit or as a takeaway for tourists. There are three maps, each telling a different angle of the neighborhood’s story, from an overall survey of the neighborhood, to a map that focuses on the archives, to another on the rich history of Chavis Park.
The project has been well-received by the community, said Lonnette Williams, a neighborhood resident who served as an outreach consultant for the project and is hard at work building a permanent museum exhibit at the John P. “Top” Greene Community Center.
As a child in the 1950s, Williams would visit her grandparents in South Park. In walking distance from their home was the 37-acre Chavis Park, a Works Project Administration effort that included a train ride, carousel, Olympic-size swimming pool, and dance pavilion.
But the history of the park and so much else is in danger of being lost. “So many of the landmarks are not here anymore,” said Williams. “Without those maps, we have nothing to show.”
The project also informs the younger generation in South Park about a proud heritage.
Said Bailey: “It would be my greatest hope that these maps permeate and stretch minds to a higher level of cultural awareness.”
Copies of the maps can be purchased from the South Park–East Raleigh Neighborhood Association (SPERNA) for $8 each or $20 for the full set of three. Write: SPERNA, P.O. Box 25801, Raleigh, NC 27611.