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Historian talks of shared heritage

It was a mixture of music, laughter and remembrance.
The Timken Room at the Florence Shanklin Memorial Library was packed Monday night for a program on East Lincoln’s African American history as part of the celebration of Black History Month.
East Lincoln black historian Rudolph Young presented the program and drew murmurs from the crowd during the initial moments of the program when he said the people attended because they felt guilty about black history.
“Ya’ll don’t know anything about me,” said Young.
More than 50 people packed the library for the program which was sponsored by the Shanklin Friends of the Library.
Young said the term “black history” is a real turn-off for him.
“The way we do genealogy is through life,” said Young. “We’re not talking about African American heritage but a shared heritage. People don’t believe they have a shared heritage but they do.”
Young said during a two-decade span of giving lectures in schools, he discovered that much of his time was spent giving background information, that the children didn’t have an opportunity to learn anything about their African American heritage.
“I also learned that older kids don’t know anything about their heritage, while the younger kids are eager to learn,” said Rudolph.
The program – Young said it wasn’t a lecture – was audience-interactive.
Young said the challenge today is how to teach African American heritage without teaching racism.
“Many of you are shaking your heads saying it can’t be done,” said Young. “I’ve done it.”
Young added he learned that through “captive” audiences, people learn more about heritage than ever before.
At one point, Young asked members of the audience why they were there.
Jim Patterson simply answered knowledge.
“Knowledge is power,” said Patterson. “Once you have it, nobody can take it away.”
Young pointed out that in genealogy, which he defined as the history of families, that words mean different things.
“Simply by talking to you in a conversation, I can learn a lot about people,” said Young, adding the key to discovering heritage lies in interviewing.
“While you can’t take anything personally in an interview, that is the normal reaction,” said Young.
The more than 60 minute program was a mixture of laughter, honesty, information and attitude.
At one point, Young told the audience to make a covenant not to lie.
“If you don’t want to make this covenant, then leave now,” he said.
One of the people Young focused on was Hannibal Smith, whom Young said had 5,000 descendants.
“Smith came to Lincoln County in the 1800s,” said Young. “Half of the people sitting in this room tonight are his descendants.”
When Young was growing up on the N.C. 73 side of Plank Road, he said he didn’t know anything about Smith.
The more research he did, however, turned up an important discovery.
“I, too, am a descendant of Hannibal Smith,” said Young.
Young also said that five percent of Caucasians have black ancestry, while 98 percent of black families came from Europe.
Lillian Burke with the Florence Shanklin Friends of the Library said it was the first time ever the library held a Black History Month program.
“I’ve lived here for two years and there never has been a program on Black History,” said Burke. “When I suggested it to the library board, they thought it was a good idea.”
She added Young’s style of presenting a program was something she didn’t expect.
“We need to continue to tell stories similar to what Young told tonight, or those stories will die,” said Burke.
Shirley Hunter-Moore came back to east Lincoln to hear Young’s program. She grew up in the Denver area and graduated from East Lincoln High School.
“The area I once grew up in is changing rapidly, both physically and culturally,” said Hunter-Moore. “People want to hang onto a piece of their past.”
After the program, Young said his passion for history started once he returned from England to east Lincoln in 1976.
“I started by doing research on my own family,” said Young, adding he’s discovered in his research there were only 50 common African American ancestors that are in Lincoln County.
The main message Young reiterated to the audience time and time again involved heritage.
“We all have a shared heritage,” said Young. “One of the things I teach all people is that everyone came to America in the same way, through broken and segmented families.”
Young added he doesn’t feel his style of presentation is controversial, like when he told the crowd the Emancipation Proclamation is a “piece of you-know-what.”
“Everyone thinks they know everything about slavery but all they know is stereotypes,” said Young. “Everything I say I can back up with research.”
by Jon Mayhew

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