Winston Salem Visitor Guide - 2018 - 11
TIME IS TELLING St. Philips African
Moravian Church; (below, left to right)
Franklin Vagnone, Cheryl Harry, and
UNCOVERING OLD SALEM'S HIDDEN HISTORY
BY: MICHAEL BREEDLOVE
Photographs courtesy of Old Salem Museums & Gardens
istory is all around us. Sometimes all you need is
a fresh perspective and a curious spirit. Case in
point, the new Hidden Town Project at Old Salem
Museums & Gardens, a groundbreaking cross-study
of history, archeology, and anthropology that explores the life
and legacy of Salem's enslaved and free Africans and AfricanAmericans. While the project is still in its infancy, it's already
having an impact on the visitor experience. Tour-goers will now
find Hidden Town displays in all of the exhibit buildings, including
a previously non-interpreted room in the Salem Tavern Museum
that's been transformed into a room of reflection.
Until now, most of Old Salem's African-American interpretation
has centered on historical sites, namely St. Philips African Moravian
Church, the oldest standing African-American church in North
Carolina. But Frank Vagnone, president and CEO of Old Salem,
says there's a richer story to share. "No other heritage site in the
U.S. is investigating this narrative to this scale," he explains. "It's
something we consider vitally important."
To date, the Hidden Town Project has reviewed more than
5,000 photos and a million documents, ranging from maps and
diaries to memoirs, to uncover the details of everyday life for
African-Americans in Salem: Where did they live? Where did they
work? How did they contribute to the town's growth?
"The project allows us to paint a much more inclusive picture of
life in Salem," says Cheryl Harry, human resources manager for Old
Salem and a co-chair of the Hidden Town Project. "The St. Philips site
has been great for interpretation, but it only gave us one perspective,
one point in time. There was always much more to the story."
Officials plan to augment the findings with art exhibits, salon
discussions, community events, and more. The long-term hope
is that the project not only improves the visitor experience in Old
Salem, but also our society as a whole.
"I think [the project] illustrates the usefulness of history and
how it can impact decisions we make," says Martha Hartley, Old
Salem's director of research and planning. "We need to pay
attention to what's gone on before us and not make those same
mistakes over and over again. There's a lot we can all still learn."
To learn more about Winston-Salem's African-American roots
and request the African-American Arts & Culture Guide, go to
VISITWINSTONSALEM.COM | 11