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Deborah Gray: Preserving Community Treasures Inside and Outside the Vault

Isaac Hathaway

Isaac Hathaway with one of his sculptures, Isaac Scott Hathaway Collection, UMCC016, Courtesy University Museum and Cultural Center Archives, University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff

Plan for oral history recording booth at the Tuskegee History Center

The future oral history recording booth at the Tuskegee History Center. Courtesy Design Display of Birmingham, Alabama

The Tuskegee History Center is a museum dedicated to preserving and interpreting the history of Tuskegee and Macon County, Alabama. Tuskegee, known for its historic connection to world-renowned educator Booker T. Washington and modern-day Tuskegee University, is a member of the Historic Black Towns and Settlements Alliance (HBTSA), an organization dedicated to preserving historic African American towns. 

Archival Seedling Deborah Gray is the managing director of the Tuskegee History Center. Her Seedlings project was designed to focus on the archival processing, organization, and collection management of papers and other historical materials of Isaac S. Hathaway. Hathaway was an educator at Tuskegee, a pioneering sculptor, and the first African American to design a U.S. Mint coin. Hathaway designed the first U.S. Mint coin to feature an African American: Booker T. Washington. Another aspect of Gray’s collaboration with the Community-Driven Archives initiative involves continuing the transformation of an abandoned bank building into a museum—the Tuskegee History Center— with plans for the installation of a permanent oral history recording booth, inviting visitors to share their stories. 

Honoring Isaac S. Hathaway

Created for Black History Month 2021, this image appears on the digital billboard advertising the Tuskegee History Center. Courtesy the Tuskegee History Center

"When I learned of the Southern Historical Collection’s Archival Seedlings program, I viewed it as a great opportunity to help train the next generation of history keepers, towards advancing the sustainability of many small-town cultural preservation organizations. Through the tools and training shared through UNC’s Archivist in a Backpack and Archival Seedlings monthly instructional webinars, along with my training from Tuskegee University and National Park Service oral history workshops, new possibilities for preserving history became readily available."  

- Deborah Gray