Roanoke College Students Create Digital Archive Documenting the Area’s Civil Rights Era

Last semester students in an introduction to public history class at Roanoke College in Salem, Virginia, created a digital archive of newspaper and other clippings collected during the civil rights era by the Hill Street Baptist Church in Roanoke. The project documents efforts in the area to desegregate lunch counters. movie theaters, and public schools during the 1950s and 1960s.

Gregory Rosenthal, a Roanoke College assistant professor who spearheaded the project, said students spent several weekends working in the Raymond R. Wilkinson Memorial Library at Hill Street, coordinating with the church to carefully scan the articles, which were housed in a large scrapbook protected by a vacuum-sealed bag. The library’s namesake, Raymond R. Wilkinson, served as Hill Street’s pastor for 33 years and also was president of the Roanoke chapter of the NAACP from 1959 to 1969.

The digitized archive is now available to the public through an online database. The Roanoke College history class also created a timeline that highlights some of the major issues experienced by the Black community during segregation, such as the dump operated in Washington Park, which posed numerous health risks to the historically Black neighborhood.

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