Authors open the book on Davidson history
by Staff Writer
DAVIDSON – Finishing their book on the history of a town isn’t the end of the conversation; they hope it’s the beginning.
Davidson College Archivist Jan Blodgett and History Professor Ralph Levering sifted through newspaper clippings, history books and oral histories from living sources to author “One Town, Many Voices: A History of Davidson, North Carolina.”
The Davidson Historical Society published the book, available now at www.DavidsonHistoricalSociety.com and Main Street Books, 126 S. Main St., Davidson. Blodgett and Levering tell the town’s history from 1837 to the present through the eyes of its residents.
Blodgett got the idea for a modern history of the town in the 1990s at a meeting of Common Ground, a community group that brought together representatives from different churches.
Claire Heast, a pastor at Reaves Temple AME Zion Church, raised a concern that struck a chord with Blodgett.
“There was a sense that the African American was somewhat invisible in Davidson,” Blodgett said. “As an archivist, I could do something about that, give this town something that they might need, which is their stories.”
Blodgett gathered stories from college archives, newspapers and interviews.
Levering saw changes in town through the interview and research process, like the population explosion, changes brought by Lake Norman and Interstate 77, and the relatively recent disappearance of open racism. But a sense of place and community has remained.
“The concept of community service has always been prominent in Davidson,” Levering said. “People reaching out has always been valued.”
One memorable source was Ralph Johnson, a longtime Davidson businessman since the 1910s. The part-Scots-Irish, part-black man ran a successful barbershop on Main Street from the 1920s to 1971. Johnson incited Davidson College students and faculty to boycott and picket in front of his store for a month when he refused to integrate it in April 1968.
Telling Johnson’s story at a town Civics 101 class recently inspired residents’ own stories about the pickets, Blodgett said. One attendee remembered seeing the picketers while touring the college as a high school student.
Those are the conversations Blodgett and Everett want to stir up.
“Our hope is this is the beginning, not an end,” Blodgett said. “We didn’t write the book to close the conversation. We want to start the conversation.”
Readers can search for families, names or businesses in Davidson College’s archives of manuscripts, sound files, photographs and artifacts at sites.davidson.edu/archives/indexes-databases/.
Community School of Davidson students are trying to expand the town’s historical record and preserve even more personal stories, too. Students will have a Story Corps booth at Davidson Town Day, May 5, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the Village Green to record residents’ oral histories.