by Amy K. Lavender

Chancellor Henry M. Huckaby and Georgia Historical Records Advisory Council (GHRAC) Chair P. Toby Graham presented the Center for Public History at the University of West Georgia and UWG alumna Tonya McNealey with awards during the 14th annual GHRAC Archives Awards ceremony at the Georgia Archives on Wednesday, Oct. 26. The GHRAC Awards recognize outstanding efforts in archives and records work in Georgia.

Archival Accolades: UWG Staff, Alumna Bring Home State Historical Records Awards
L to R: Henry Huckaby, Tonya McNealey, Toby Graham

Tonya McNealey was presented the GHRAC Award for Excellence in Student Research Using Historical Records at the graduate level during the ceremony.

McNealey won the award for her thesis, entitled “Organizing for Civil Rights: A History of the Voter Education Project, Inc.”

“Tonya’s thesis makes a path-breaking contribution to Georgia’s history by bringing an influential, yet little-studied, Atlanta-based civil rights organization’s story to light through the use of recently release primary sources,” said UWG Assistant Professor of History Larry Rivers, who nominated McNealey for the award.

Rivers said he nominated McNealey because he felt her research was truly outstanding and shed some light on local events surrounding the Civil Rights Movement.

“Between 1962 and 1992, the Voter Education Project helped fund voter registration and other education initiatives, such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference,” he explained. “This played a major behind-the-scenes role in the battle against segregation.”

McNealey said she chose to do her thesis on the Voter Education Project because she was interested in how civil rights organizations collaborated after the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

“It was my goal to highlight local organizing during and after the Civil Rights Movement,” she said.

Rivers said this is exactly the kind of research needed around the Civil Rights Movement.

“When we talk about the Civil Rights Movement, you hear a lot about Selma and Birmingham, Ala.,” Rivers said, “but the major events in Georgia aren’t that well remembered in popular culture, so it’s important for historians to delve into these other events and get a sense of the bigger picture.”

L to R: UWG graduate student Chanell Lowery, Director of the Center for Public History at UWG Ann McCleary, Assistant Director for the Center for Public History at UWG Keri Adams, and UWG graduate student Heather Rodriguez
L to R: UWG graduate student Chanell Lowery, Director of the Center for Public History at UWG Ann McCleary, Assistant Director for the Center for Public History at UWG Keri Adams, and UWG graduate student Heather Rodriguez

Also taking home a prize from the ceremony was the Center for Public History at the University of West Georgia, which returned with the GHRAC Award for Excellence in Archival Program Development in a State Institution.

The center was recognized for their new heritage tourism initiative and accompanying guidebook “The West Georgia Textile Heritage Trail.”

The west Georgia region has historically been a powerhouse of textile production, from cotton and hosiery, to apparel, chenille and carpet. The mills’ presence transformed families, livelihoods and communities. Established in 2011, the Textile Trail invites community members and tourists alike to explore and share their connections to this story and discover the landscapes and cultures along the route.

To tell the story, the center produced a publication that includes a collection of photographs from 33 communities and 19 counties, from Columbus to Dalton. The project involved graduate and undergraduate UWG students as well as center staff, who conducted research in 26 archives and repositories.

“It’s been a long process of gathering and scanning pictures, researching archives, and building relationships for about a year,” recalled Keri Adams, assistant director of the Center for Public History. “That continued into the second year while we were putting the book together, and students did a lot of the field work required for the book.”

Center staff used this project as an opportunity to work with local repositories to develop, preserve and protect their own collections.

“We had to create relationships in a lot of communities to be able to find all these photos, but it also helped us preserve their archival material,” said UWG graduate student Chanell Lowery, who helped compile the book. “It’s their story. People want their story told, and the award shows just how important the Center for Public History and the study of history are to our community and university and how we’re playing a larger role in telling the stories of our past.”

Through the Textile Trail’s annual and regional meetings, UWG staff have promoted the importance of archival protection and are continuing to develop the trail as a tourist destination as well as a historical site.

“The book is meant to be a guidebook for the textile trail,” explained Dr. Ann McCleary, director of the Center for Public History. “We’re trying to get it in as many communities as possible to drive readers and visitors to go see these communities. Right now, we’re working on brochures for the walking and driving trails as well as website content, and all the information for those items is based on the research we did for the book. It was critical for us, and it really was a team effort.”

Posted on November 3, 2016