Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Bennett College for Women to House Truth and Reconciliation Process Archives

From a recent press release:

The Carnegie Negro Library at Bennett College for Women, 900 E. Washington St., has been chosen to house the archives of the Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Greensboro Truth and Community Reconciliation Project, the two entities announced in a joint news conference at the Holgate Library at Bennett College for Women today (Wednesday, Jan. 25).

The Project made history in 2003 when it launched the democratic process that created the independent Commission and charged it with examining the context, causes, sequence and consequences of the violence of Nov. 3, 1979, which resulted in the deaths of five people, including former Bennett student body president Sandra Neely Smith.

Greensboro has received international recognition as the first American community to try truth and reconciliation as a route to restorative justice. With today’s announcement, students, scholars and people from other communities needing information will know they can find it at Bennett College.

“As a part of this gut-wrenching part of history, Bennett College for Women is excited about continuing its involvement by becoming part of this truly outstanding and one-of-a-kind initiative,” said Dr. Claudette Williams, the college’s executive vice president. “This will not be just something to look at, but something from which you can learn.”

Dr. Williams, said the archive will support Bennett’s mission, which includes offering “educational processes that build community, foster authentic research, create knowledge, and advance scholarship and personal empowerment.”

The Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Archives will preserve for future generations such items as audio files of statements taken by the Commission; video footage of public hearings, other public events and key meetings; photographs and other memorabilia; and documents such as depositions, transcripts and copies of the Commission’s final report, which will be released in April.

The Carnegie Negro Library was built on the corner of East Washington and Macon streets during the 1923-1924 school year. Funded by the Carnegie Foundation, the library was maintained by the city as a public library for blacks. When the city built a black public library, it deeded Carnegie over to Bennett College. Over the years, the library has been used for office space and was renovated in 1999.

In keeping with the Commission’s Mandate, Commissioners, Commission staff, and Project leaders worked together to choose among the three proposals submitted. The others were submitted by the libraries of N.C. A&T State University and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

“We are extremely thankful for all three of the wonderful proposals we received,” said Jill Williams, executive director of the Commission. “Bennett’s proposal was deemed the strongest, primarily because of the College’s commitment to making it a dynamic centerpiece in its library’s offerings to students and to the public.”

Former Greensboro Mayor Carolyn Allen, co-chair of the Project’s Local Task Force, noted that the Project was started to serve the entire community, which Bennett College also does. “It’s significant that this will be available through a college that has contributed so much to Greensboro through the decades, and that was the campus home of Sandi Smith,” Allen said.

Joyce Johnson, an initiator of the Project and a close friend of the late Smith, agreed: “To have an institution that will cherish this work as much as those of us who have been working on it is very important,” she said.

In organizing and maintaining the archive, Bennett will work closely with the International Center for Transitional Justice (, which has served as a consultant to the Greensboro process, as it has in other nations including Peru and East Timor. Bennett’s Dr. Williams and Commission research assistant Elijah Mungo will travel to Yale University next month for a three-day conference coordinated by ICTJ and involving archivists from several international truth commissions.


Blogger Joel said...

Bennett seems like a very good choice. I hope this will prove to be another nice tid bit to add to Bennetts growing reputation as well. As Bennett prospers our city prospers.

11:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is amazing after all that has been discussed that the T&R Commission and the Greensboro Truth & Community Reconciliation Project have a joint press conference to show everyone again that they are joined at the hip. Even the N&R reported (and they were obviously correct in doing so) that the GTCRP and "their investigative arm the T&R Commission" will house their research papers at Bennett.

Only the final report will actually prove how tightly joined at the hip these two groups are. Whatever happened to the "illusion" that the T&R Commission was in independent entity?

I guess we will all finally judge the independence when the report is released or will that even matter? After the GTCRP spins the report to support their narrow view of Nov. 3rd the whole idea of an independent commission will be moot. Others will read the report but their insights will quickly be overwhelmed by the consistent GTCRP spin. I hope the next city in the US learns from these glaring mistakes that have insured limited community support for this process.

7:46 PM  
Anonymous Jill Williams said...

Thanks for sharing your concerns. The News and Record made a mistake (and corrected it in the print version the following day) in printing that the TRC is the investigative arm of the GTCRP. The reporter was someone who has not reported on this process in the past.

As many have correctly pointed out, the similarity in the names of these two organizations has made it difficult for newcomers to this process to understand the distinctions between the groups, but they are indeed two independent organizations. The Mandate for the GTRC, which was written by a collaboration of the National Advisory Board and Local Task Force for the GTCRP establishes the Commission's independence, but also requires that the Commission and the GTCRP make a joint decision about where the archives will be housed.

This joint decision was a practical one because the GTCRP also has materials related to this process that need to be archived. It only makes sense for these documents to be housed in one place so that future students of this process can learn from it.

Yes, there are many lessons we've learned in Greensboro that hopefully will help other communities to create stronger TRC processes. As I've said on numerous occasions, the similarities in the names of these two groups is one of those mistakes. I can't see how the joint decision on where to house the archives, however, should be seen as anything but a necessary collaboration, given the importance of making this information easily accessible to interested people.

3:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Having joint events like press conferences between the T&R Commission and the GTCRP insures that most people confuse the independence of the Commission. The Commission (not just the overlapping names) has been responsible for adding to this community confusion. Even when the GTCRP went before the City Council the Commission did not sufficiently respond that the GTCRP did not speak for the Commission. The Commission has never made the distinction between these two groups crystal clear to the community. Obvious confusion exists within the Commission itself and that confusion is repeated by the media.

Housing the archives of both groups under one exhibit will continue this confusion forever. To make a clear distinction the archives should be in two different areas at Bennett.

Is Bennett clearly aware that the two groups are distinct, independent and separate groups? Are they going to attempt to clarify the differences in the exhibit?

As was mentioned above how will the Commission prevent the GTCRP from being the primary spin agent for the final report? It is not that the GTCRP does not have a right, like everyone else, to its point of view but its interpretation of the final report should not be given greater weight. We can bet that the GTCRP spin on the final report will do everything possible to pick out whatever they can to support the survivors' 26 year old conspiracy theory. Greensboro may be left with a good report from the Commission but the Commission will shut down and the GTCRP will become the default controller, owner and spinner of the Commission's work. It is not right for the Commission to continue to ignore this problem. Or maybe the Commission and the GTCRP really are joined at the hip and the independence of the Commission is not the reality.

10:18 PM  
Anonymous Jill Williams said...

We are still in the process of working out archiving details with Bennett College. I'm reasonably certain that Bennett staff understand the distinction between the Project and the Commission, but your suggestion is a helpful reminder to make sure this is the case in our next meeting. Thank you for that.

Every Commissioner and Commission staff person is clear about the distinction between these two organizations. I can personally assure you that folks involved with the GTCRP have no more influence over the Commission's work than any other interested indivdiual or organization. In fact, there are times when I am concerned that, reacting to the public perception that the two groups are "joined at the hip", the Commission is less receptive to support from members of the Project than it is to offers of support from people representing other organizations. But regardless of this, there is no confusion among anyone involved with the Commission about our independence.

We are very concerned with doing everything that we can to maintain the integrity of our final report, which means trying our best to frame it for the community in our own terms. One labor-intensive way that we are attempting to do this is to put together a video introducing the report and findings to the Community. The reality, however, is that most members of the Greensboro community and beyond will have to rely on the mainstream media and other organizations to deliver the information of the final report to them. For example, the News and Record will likely play a large role in the dissemination of this information and, no matter how well intentioned they are, that reporting will be filtered through their own "spin." Certainly the organization most committed to this process (other than the Commission) is the GTCRP. If other organizations do not step up to help with sharing this report with the community, then I anticipate that the primary "spin agents" will be the News and Record and other local media outlets, the Associated Press, and the GTCRP. In the next two or three months, the Commission will be working hard to find groups who can officially receive the Commission's report. We hope that these groups will collaborate in some ways to facilitate the dialogues around the community based on this document and video. More on this will come in later posts.

Thanks for all of your thoughtful comments.

4:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The GTCRP is part of the story of the Commission -- specifically, its origin. I think we tend to forget that there would be no Commission for us all to rally behind, had there not been a Project with the foresight to put in motion a democratic process for nominating them. I have no trouble understanding why co-housing the archival material makes sense -- students of this process in the future will benefit from having all the material in one place. I hope and believe that Bennett, the Commission, and the Project are in favor of making some distinctions, and that everything will be cataloged responsibly.

We've been over this ground before; a lot of these types of initiatives are begun by the victims of a tragedy, because in seeking the causes behind a community becoming fractured, the victims' search for justice is a legitimate place to start. It does not necessarily mean that that is where it ends.

The Project folks will have their say, the police will have their say, the mayor and ex-mayor will have their say, the newspaper will have its say, and every single individual who wants to can also have his or her say.

Anon, as to your question "how will the Commission prevent the GTCRP from being the primary spin agent for the final report?" I would answer that I don't see that as the Commission's job. If your view is different from theirs, it's your job. It's up to all of us to keep from letting our heads be spun. Of all the groups to worry about regarding spin, I'm more worried about the more powerful who have more to lose.

I'm grateful to the Commission for taking on this task in order that we all might enjoy a better future in Greensboro. There are thousands of good people in this city, Anon. Have some faith.

4:06 PM  

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