New outdoor exhibit at JCSU explores the legacy of urban renewal

New outdoor exhibit at JCSU explores the legacy of urban renewal

Beacon of Light at Johnson C. Smith University. Photo: Ashley Mahoney/Axios

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RCLM 37 is a love letter to the Beatties Ford Road corridor.

It highlights the history of people who shaped the neighborhood and its current residents. An art exhibition of the same name, including a documentary and soundtrack, has been on view at Johnson C. Smith University’s James B. Duke Memorial Library, a partner in the project, since 2019.

  • RCLM 37 II opens on Oct. 16 at 11am in the university’s outdoor classroom between the chapel and the New Science Center.

Creatives on the project: 

  • Monika Rhue, project director and JCSU director of library services and curation
  • Janelle Dunlap, creative director
  • Interior designer Quintel Gwinn designed Open Book
  • Sculptor Stephen Hayes designed Beacon of Light
  • Lavonte Hines created the soundtracks and videos
  • Marcus Kiser, graphic artis

Why it matters: Beacon of Light and Open Book, the featured works in the exhibit, are JCSU’s first outdoor sculptures on campus. RCLM 37 II received a $50,000 grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services Museum Grants for African American History and Culture.

  • The exhibit explores how urban renewal displaced Black residents along the corridor, while also focusing on George E. Davis and Henry Lawrence McCrorey. Both were former Historic West End residents and advocates for the education of Black people.
  • Beacon of Light highlights Biddle Memorial Hall, which was built by students of then-Biddle University in 1884. It alludes to Davis as a beacon for education in Black communities.
  • Open Book includes Lawrence’s original handwritten letter, the Future of the Negro, along with images of a young McCrorey and Black craftsmanship.
  • “I had been wanting to return to McCrorey’s essay, the Future of the Negro,” Dunlap told Axios. “I didn’t get to use it in the last installation, but I really wanted to figure out some way to use it in this one.”

Davis became the first Black professor at JCSU and the first Black professor at any four-year Black college in the south in 1886.

  • He taught math, natural science and sociology for 35 years, becoming the university’s dean of faculty in 1905.
  • Davis went on to become a Rosenwald agent, raising more than $600,000 to build schools for Black children across North Carolina. They were known as Rosenwald schools, and he helped establish 5,300.

McCrorey is the longest serving president of JCSU and the second Black president of the university.

  • He also attended JCSU, graduating from the school of arts program in 1892 and the theological seminary in 1895.
  • McCrorey became JCSU’s president in 1907, serving until 1947.

    What’s next: Rhue envisions using the space for outdoor conversations on urban renewal and the history of JCSU.

    • “The story can continue in a non-traditional way,” Rhue told Axios.
    Open Book sculpture at JCSU.

    Open Book sculpture at JCSU. Photo: Ashley Mahoney/Axios

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