Historian Seeks to Unite City through Knowledge of Past; Her Dream Is to Use Teens for a Citywide Oral History Project
Conner, Deirdre, The Florida Times Union
Byline: DEIRDRE CONNER
Carolyn Williams didn't set out to become one of North Florida's most prominent local historians.
But after moving back to her hometown in the 1980s, the Jacksonville native has found herself immersed in the too-often forgotten history of the city. Williams, an associate professor in the history department at the University of North Florida and author of a photo history of Jacksonville, speaks tonight at the Karpeles Museum on a broader history of black life in Jacksonville.
Williams, 60, has developed a course on public history, which makes the subject accessible. She's working on a second book of photographs focusing on African-Americans in Jacksonville. And she dreams of doing a citywide oral history project, getting teenagers to tape and video the stories of their grandparents and great-grandparents. The city, she said, has a rich and diverse history that stems from Native Americans, a variety of European settlers and waves of Africans.
She spoke to the Times-Union about the impact local history can have.
How did you get interested in the history of Jacksonville?
I got involved with the Jacksonville Historical Society. They assumed I knew a lot about local history, but I didn't. I did an exhibit for the historical society ... looking at the first beaches for blacks during the area of segregation, called Manhattan Beach. From there, I just got more and more captivated by local history. And then I got involved in the local history group in my neighborhood, Durkeeville, where I grew up.
There are a number of very good local historians, people who are kind of self-trained historians, but they really do make a major effort to get the story straight. They do research in the various archives around the city and state, and they help supplement the work of the scholars by doing that.
How can history help revitalize a community?
One of the ways is instilling pride, and encouraging people to invest in the community. Right now, what is happening [in Durkeeville] is we're trying to get more businesses to relocate to the area ... showing that earlier there had been a number of small businesses and medium-sized businesses in that area, and that can happen again. That's how we're using it, as kind of a marketing tool. …