“Beyond Bricks and Mortar” exhibit begins community tour

“Beyond Bricks and Mortar: Revisiting the Sycamore Hill Community,” a Joyner Library photography project that shared a missing piece in the history of the displaced community, has started its traveling tour to reach local community members.

Now on display through August 23 in the EPPES Recreation Center Multi-Purpose Room visitors, and citizens of Greenville and surrounding areas are invited to visit the exhibit and learn about the predominately African American community that was displaced by a redevelopment project in the 1960s.

“We are thrilled by the opportunity to display this exhibition in various community locations,” said Heather White, assistant director for assessment and engagement. “It is central to Joyner Library’s mission to not only help document and preserve regional history and culture, but to also make it publically available.”

Sycamore Hill Missionary Baptist Church was founded in 1860 and was originally known as the African Baptist Church. The name was changed in the 1880s and referred to the sycamore trees surrounding the church’s location on the corner of First and Greene streets. The large brick church featured in the exhibit’s historical photographs was constructed in 1917 and was a Greenville landmark for half a century. When the Town Common Park was created in the late 1960s, both the church and the vibrant community that existed around it were forced to move.

With the support of a North Carolina Arts Council Grassroots Grant and additional support from the Friends of Joyner Library, the Beyond Bricks and Mortar project began in late December, led by a team from Joyner Library including Charlotte Fitz Daniels, programs and events coordinator at Joyner Library, Heather White, assistant director for assessment and engagement at Joyner Library, and ECU graduate and professional photographer Michelle Butterfield.

“We were honored to help the Sycamore Hill community tell their story and excited about the possibilities with this project, said White. “It was overwhelming to have such a large participation in the portrait project, which speaks volumes to the strong sense of community and connection this group continues to feel even years later.”

On Dec. 27 and 28 of 2016, former Sycamore Hill community members and their descendants were photographed as close as possible to the sites of their former homes and church, many of which were located on what is now Greenville’s Town Common. Narratives from the former residents and family members about their memories of living in the Sycamore Hill community were collected by the Joyner Library team to accompany the portraits.

Historical images of the Sycamore Hill Missionary Baptist Church and the surrounding neighborhood from the Joyner Library Digital Collection are also included in the exhibition.

The exhibit illustrates that a community is much more than the bricks and mortar used to construct its homes. The photographs and narratives featured showed how the ties that bind are found in human connections.

Joyner Library Director Janice S. Lewis said, “Many of the people we interviewed were children or teenagers when their lives were disrupted by the destruction of their neighborhood. Their pride in their community, their church, their schools, and their families could not be destroyed, however. We are glad that we are able to preserve and share this small part of their history through the Beyond Bricks and Mortar exhibit.”

The traveling schedule for the exhibit includes two additional locations this year. For the month of September, it will be on display at the Pitt County Arts Council at Emerge and then at the South Greenville Recreation Center from October 3 until January 31, 2018.

EPPES Recreation Center is located at 400 Nash Street in Greenville, NC and open to the public on Monday-Friday from 9:00 a.m.-9:00 p.m. and on Saturday from 12:00 p.m.-4:00 p.m. For more information about the EPPES Recreation Center please call (252) 329-4548.

For more information about this and other Joyner Library projects please contact:
Heather White, assistant director for assessment & engagement at (252) 328-2870 or whiteh@ecu.edu